Editors note: Harrison Crow is a guy we’ve been trying to get to write for North and South of Royal Brougham for a long time. He’s a key member of Sounders Nation, a great Sounders blog, as well as American Soccer Analysis with Matthias. You may recognize Harrison’s name as a guy who used to run Sodo Mojo, or as a guy who appeared on this podcast with Casey in July. You may also recognize him from Twitter, where you can follow him after you follow this link to his profile. Harrison will be writing weekly recaps of the week, and anything else he wants, basically.
This stuff is bananas.
The Sounders lost, at home, in the playoffs, to the favored Portland Timbers. If that doesn’t make you want to slap some random person on the street with one of those “just needs slapped” looks on his face, I don’t know what else would.
It’s a frustrating time to be a fan of the Rave Green – perhaps the most frustrating since the team entered Major League Soccer. The club has been on a tail spin akin to the last 10 years of M. Night Shyamalan’s career.
This past week we finally saw the team attempt to pull out of the nose dive. And while the match against the Rapids that helped the Sounders advance in the playoffs wasn’t one to remember five years from now—whatever, it was still one that had solid performances, good moments, and a net positive result that we could all live with.
Let’s drop back a full week and take a look at the Galaxy match before we talk playoffs recap. Coming out of the last six matches of funk, the Sounders needed something, really anything positive, from the final game of the season last weekend against the Galaxy. They came out full of energy and garnered seven shots in the first half which included an amazing heal deflection by Clint Dempsey for his first goal in a Seattle uniform.
Unfortunately, the second half saw the Sounders surrender 8 shots against their goal while only taking four shots themselves. This diluted the shot ratio from a +1.75 in the first half to -2.00 in the second half, and the Sounders ended the match with a total of 13 shots for and 12 against. Not to mention being subjugated to the play-in round against Colorado.
It was just lucky that Vancouver’s much malignant ‘Camilo’ decided the gold boot was important enough to wrestle away three points from the sterile Rapids in the final week of the season.
There are a lot of studies going on with match numbers and soccer analytics. But what they mostly come down to is how many shots a team is able to procure and how many they prevent. Good teams limit shots and better teams post high shot ratios. The Sounders have largely toed the line between being an average team and being a slightly better-than-average team when it comes to creating and diverting shots.
Posting a positive shot ratio against a team that has the best probability to win the Western Conference is a key take away. Forget the unfortunate defensive errors that led to Keane’s goal that helped the Galaxy come away with a draw in front of 64,000, moving L.A. into the third playoff spot. The Sounders were able to create opportunities throughout the game, something that, if they stay consistent in, could lead to a successful playoff run.
Fast forward three days to Wednesday night. A match that held the significance of moving on in the playoffs and a chance to play the hated Cascadian rivals from the south. The Rapids were down Dillon Powers and had a questionable Vincente Sanchez. Both marks in the Sounders favor.
Much like the match against the Galaxy, the Sounders came out strong, predominantly controlling possession for the first 25 minutes of the match. It culminated in the ’28th minute goal on beautiful strike from Brad Evans off a poor headed clearance from Drew Moor.
While much of the first half centered around all the good things that happened the second half was a bit more of a crunch. The Burgundy found themselves with more time in the Sounders final third. They also found a couple of opportunities to draw level as Gspurning, on two different occasions, inadvertently deflected the ball in the direction of someone wearing the wrong jersey color.
Fortunately enough, puzzling substitutions by Colorado’s head coach Oscar Pareja, specifically in taking out Martin Rivero in lieu of Vincente Sanchez, helped to neutralize the dangers in turn created by Sanchez. Rivero had largely been the tip of the attack. As if one questionable sub wasn’t enough, Pareja took it a step further as he removed speedster Deshorn Brown from the match, instead choosing to go with veteran Edson Buddle for the remainder of the game.
Fortunately, the upstart kids from Denver had little bite to go with their bark in that second half, leaving Eddie Johnson to finish things at the 93rd minute as he eviscerated the back line with his near-trademarked maneuver that even left the Japanese losing their minds in a manner leading one to believe they just imported the last season of Lost. No really, you need to watch this.
It’s easy, with the final score 2-0, to think the Sounders pretty much won handily. I mean they kind of did…mostly. The problem with that is looking at context and realizing that even though the Sounders out shot the Rapids 14-7, four of those 14 shots made it to the keeper. That, coupled with a pretty even share of possession (not that possession is a predictor of outcomes), and time evenly shared in the attacking thirds makes this a game that really could have gone a different way.
That said the Sounders were quick in their recovery. Only, now they would be missing two massive pieces. The first of which, and most obvious, being Goalkeeper Michael Gspuring. Gspurning earned himself a rather “quirky” red card after catching a ball a few steps out side of the goal box. “I wanted to be ready…” he told Seattle Times, Joshua Mayers “Then it bounced a little higher than expected, and I thought, ‘OK, I’m not too far from the box, so I should make a few steps back and catch it.’ I think I missed one step back.”
The second man, and a huge key to the Sounders tough defensive force, was youngster DeAndre Yedlin. Yedlin fell wrong on his ankle after trying to go up for a 50/50 header against Deshorn Brown. Unfortunately, he would go on to fail a late fitness test on Saturday afternoon prior to the Timbers match.
One interesting name to put in your hat is Dylan Remick. He’s been pretty active in training with the Sounders all year and even saw 104 minutes in all competitions. He was Seattle’s second round pick, 35th overall, from Providence, Rhode Island’s Brown University.
What makes Remick specifically interesting was the mention, by name, during Friday’s presser with head coach Sigi Schmid. Sigi cited Remick as a possible replacement to the injured Yedlin. Now, we all know that Zach Scott ended up taking the right back spot on Saturday night. But, it’s interesting that he continues to show up in discussions and finds himself in plenty of starting 18’s on the bench. I wonder what his role is with this club going forward in 2014.
Back to what the Sounders did do. They stuck with the diamond formation. And while this came to be widely scrutinized, I think it was the right call for the personnel they had available. I know that Adam Moffat was considered a goat or something to that extent. I’m actually not entirely certain what the issue was that most Sounders fans had with him. I felt like it was a bit of bad luck that he didn’t get a leg on that cross, and Hurtado shared at least some of the blame with failing to bump or get between the goal and Ryan Johnson.
A goal was going to happen by the Timbers. I called it on the American Soccer Analysis podcast. Portland was going to come at the Sounders and it almost seemed to catch the boys off guard. I’m not sure why, but it did. What was more frustrating to me was seeing Seattle failing once more to capitalize on their many shots.
Clint Dempsey, again, made friends with the opposing crossbar. Lamar Neagle had a couple of looks, as did Adam Moffat, and Eddie Johnson, too! All together the Sounders generated some prime chances, and it was frustrating to see them fall short. I guess much of that can be pointed to what Donovan Ricketts did between the pipes.
Ricketts deserves every bit of his claim to the Keeper of the year award. And sadly, once again, it’s a keeper in the running for that very award that seemingly shuts down every wave of attack the Sounders can muster, much like last year and the heroic performance of Nick Rimando.
I know that many people will talk about the consistent issue that we deal with in Seattle: their problems with “the first leg”. The problem with that narrative is that it’s been against various teams, and due to various issues. They don’t all boil down to a simple first-leg problem. While it’s a convenient narrative, it’s a wrong narrative. The only thing you could really point to, legitimately, is the coaching staff, which repeatedly has come under fire this season. It’s like Tim Kring and ‘Heroes’. After season 2 of Heroes, nothing could go right for him and nothing could satisfy the fans. Admittedly a lot has gone wrong for the Sounders that you could point to the leadership and hold them responsible.
That’s a decision that needs to be made by the Sounders front office this off-season, and I’m going to wager that it’s not one that will be made lightly. Okay, back to the Sounders-Timbers match. Let’s talk more about shots.
Sure, we generated 20 shots, and yes they were largely more impacting and meaningful than what the Timbers generated. But once again the boys had problems getting them on target. It’s great that they are generating more shots than what they did early in the season, and the added fact that they are generating a healthy shot ratio is important.
The problem is shots are only as effective as finding the goal. It’s crazy that they can’t put more on target. This lies with the entire attack, from Brad Evans and Ozzie Alonso to Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey.
Understand that there is a percentage of finishing that is luck. The rest is talent. The difference between the two often changes depending the striker, more talent you have the less luck is going to influence the situation. The problem with that is that Dempsey is been plagued with bad luck since arriving in Seattle. Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans both have seen bad bounces or amazing one handed saves on shots in the last few weeks, as well.
At a certain point there is a bounce back. The question is does that happen next week in the Sounders return to Portland? If I know that I would be paid… well, I’d be paid by a different organization, and I wouldn’t be boring all of you with all these words. I doubt I‘d be paid any more than what I am but a fella can dream, can’t he?
The questions going into Portland are whether we’ll see a return of Obafemi Martins, and if DeAndre Yedlin can continue to be that force on the outside creating width for the formation. Can Seattle get a quick equalizer in an open first half? There is every possibility the Sounders go down and win a match in Portland. In fact, historically speaking, it’s more probable than Portland winning at Seattle. The problem with historical data in soccer is that it is often used out of context, making it basically useless.
I don’t really know how to end this. It feels like a run-on ending. But here is the deal. The guys have a decision to make going towards the road match. They can show up and leave everything out there on the field, or they get rolled over by a team that wants it that much more than us.
Thursday you can throw out the stats, you can throw out the history books. This match is going to run on emotion and discipline. Both sides are near-even in talent, with coaches that have a great amount of experience in high pressure situations. Really, regardless of the outcome on Thursday, it’s going to be very exciting 90 minutes.