It’s hard to stomach what happened on Sunday night at the Home Depot center.
It’s even more hard to stomach considering what I saw the Sunday before when I was at Qwest Field for the first leg of it.
These weren’t the Sounders I had become accustomed to seeing since the MLS resumed after the World Cup break. These aren’t the fierce attacking Sounders who had found multiple scorers and only had to wish for a clutch goal for it to appear.
No, these Sounders were systematically dominated by a better team. In fact, the best team in Major League Soccer.
As much we love our Sounders and condescend the rest of the league for not having the kind of support and hype that the Rave Green machine has, our team still isn’t the best. It’s far from it, and they were exposed on Sunday.
The Los Angeles Galaxy have stars on every level of their team. They have Donovan setting the tone up front, Buddle the finisher in the box, Beckham the set piece wizard who runs the middle, one of the MLS’s fastest rising stars at Goal Keeper, as well as up and coming star Omar Gonzalez who in all likelihood will play for the United States in the next World Cup if his career progresses the way it should.
The Sounders have stars at a few places in their team. And some solid ones other places.
On Sunday it just wasn’t good enough.
It was incredibly infuriating to watch the Galaxy dominate possession. The closest the Sounders ever came to attacking was booting the ball down field on defensive possession praying for the ball to land on the chest of a Sounder. When Seattle got it near Los Angeles goal, the Galaxy defense would push the Sounders back, spread them out, and force them to make a mistake. When God forbid the Sounders got it into the box, they either failed to execute, or Ricketts made a terrific save on the ball.
And to me exposed a couple of deep holes for the Sounders.
They failed to adequately replace Freddie Ljungberg. Sure he was a whiner. Sure he thought he was a hot shot. But is there any question that the guy knew how the handle the ball in the midfield? Is there any question he was Seattle’s best option on set pieces? Seattle could not set the tone at all on midfield possessions, and set pieces were delivered into the box horribly under kicked. Those are areas Freddie was great for the Sounders at. Ljungberg finished the season with 10 assists, which would have tied the team lead in Seattle. With Montero, Zakuani, Nfuko and Nyassi, the Sounders have a great core of attacking players. But…who sets them up when nothing can get going?
I am not going to pretend like Ljungberg didn’t bring drama, because his level of dedication certainly decreased after disputing with the front office, and, that probably could not have been prevented, but I can’t help but imagine what could have been if Ljungberg had continued to play and perform for the Sounders as he did last year, and finish what he started here.
While those who detest Ljungberg might point out the roll Seattle went on without him, I’d point out the fact that Seattle only beat four playoff teams in the last half of the season, benefiting from an easy schedule.
But, that is all irrelevant at this point anyways.
What matters now is what Seattle does from here on out, and what needs to be fixed on the roster.
Depth is not a problem for the Seattle Sounders. In fact, they might have too much of it. What they need is proven quality and leadership.
Will the return of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado next year to the defensive back be enough to shore up major problems Seattle had at the beginning of the year? It probably helps that Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni came on very strong to help out Leo Gonzalez during the second half. Bring back James Riley and Seattle will hope to have a formidable back line.
In the Midfield maybe we can bank on the return of Brad Evans to bring stability when it comes to being able to possess the ball. There’s enough speed and scoring ability on the wings with Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi having break out seasons. Osvaldo Alonso is a solid jack of all trades and provides offensive moments at times, he’ll definitely be in the mix.
The wild card? Designated Player Alvaro Fernandez. Currently, he’s only on loan, we’ll see if that changes. He is definitely an intriguing prospect. I was extremely impressed with him just this last Sunday against Los Angeles when he was in the game and the tempo he helped set.
Upfront, obviously Fredy Montero is going to be the focal point of the club. But can we see an increased role for Nate Jacqua? What about Miguel Montano? Montano never saw significant action in MLS play, only in friendlies, Open Cup matches and CONCACAF matches, but is a prospect that Seattle is high on. I don’t know a ton about him but at only 19 years old he has to be a player to watch, if Seattle can hold on to him. Also who to watch? Last year’s Superdraft pick David Estrada.
But the most important thing Seattle needs to worry about? The expansion draft. Vancouver and Portland will be able to poach their roster, and Seattle will only be able to protect so many players.
But that’s a topic for another day.