Thoughts from Sounderland: Dempsey and Oba FTW

With the strike partnership of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, the 2014 Sounders are going places.  What happens when one — or both — are unavailable?  I’m not going to be a buzzkill and address that question today.

We’re going bullet point style today, because I have some tangential rants to get to:

— The Chivas PK was overall a bit harsh, but not necessarily anything outside of what “soccer luck” can explain. First of all, the nature and location of the foul was, quite literally, right on the edge.  It probably was a foul on Alonso — it was a perfectly legal slide tackle but then he swept through and took out Berrara, who was still on his feet and had a chance at the ball.  Although one could claim the contact started outside the box, the *foul* was clearly just inside the penalty area.  But what really irked me was Torres clearly balked on the PK, which by rule means it should have been called back to be re-taken.  So called “stutter steps” are legal, so long as the PK taker is moving toward the ball.  Torres, on the other hand, did this little dance that included about a quarter step backwards.  but… whatever.

— The best way to describe the Sounders first goal is a favorite old adage of mine — “monkeys fucking a football”.  Kennedy’s gaffe, Dempsey’s alert little donkey kick, and a fortunate carom gifted the ball to Neagle in a spot it’s pretty hard to miss from.  What more do you need to know about that goal than the fact Chad Marshall gets an assist for having a ball bounce off of him?

— Chivas, on the whole, maybe probably slightly outplayed the Sounders in the first half.  At least to the extent the Sounders were pretty sloppy and spent the first 20+ minutes getting their shit together.  Right at the end of the first half they created a wonderful chance which Mauro Rosales had a lead role in orchestrating.  Ultimately an alert Stefan Frei took one for the team to snuff it out.  Other than that, I’m getting to the point where I’ve decided the Sounders are just borrowing a page from the Seahawks playbook.  How many times the last two seasons have we watched the Seahawks dink around and play kind of crappy for much of the first half?

— Let me say this about Lamar Neagle:  if he is the second coming of Roger Levesque, I am okay with that.  That isn’t to directly compare the two, but I spent a lot of time cursing Levesque’s ineffectiveness as a wide midfielder and always felt he was only worth fielding as the top forward.  Neagle was actually’s highest-rated player in the match, which I attribute to the fact he had a goal, 3 total shots with 2 on frame, and a game-leading 5 tackles against 2 fouls.  Such a stark difference from last week when he was little more than a liability for his side.

— Chad Marshall is good.

— A red card for Chivas was coming, even if the actual foul that earned it may not have necessarily been a straight red.  For some reason, Chivas embarked on a “hack-a-Pineda” strategy; but what’s stunning is Pineda wasn’t even the most fouled player.  Oba suffered 7 of Chivas’ 26 total fouls — and that just counts the ones that were called.  It was ugly and stupid soccer for much of that match, the Sounders just didn’t have enough style to overcome it, but eventually they did.

— I still have no idea what to make of Marco Pappa.  What does he do? The Sounders continue to get very little from that position. Neagle is clearly the first-choice WAM — despite his flaws he certainly fits the “run through walls” narrative — but right now we seem stuck between an out-of-position Cooper or an apparently-its-gonna-take-half-the-season-for-him-to-get-into-form Marco Pappa.  Brad Evans didn’t do much in his substitute role, but I didn’t expect him to. So here we are… whither the WAMs?!

— The Dempsey to Oba game winner is probably the best goal of the season so far.  Go watch it a few dozen times.  Brilliant stuff from the start of the play in the Sounders’ end: good passing, dribbling, running, and finishing.  I really hope we can see lots of goals like that this season.

— 2014 NARRATIVE WATCH: I hope to make this [at least a semi-] regular feature, but the leader in the clubhouse for Narrative of 2014 is that the Sounders are a “family.”  Look how well they get along!  Look how willing they are to *fight* for each other!  NO ONE CAN BEAT US IF WE STICK TOGETHER AS A FAMILY!  This narrative has legs, clearly, but it remains to be seen what might happen if this “family” falls upon some rough times.  Will they decide there are assholes in the “family” they need to get rid of?  I know plenty of families that have members who can barely stand one another…

— It’s time I introduce my loyal blog readers to the two awards I will hand out at the end of the season.  The first is the Brad Evans Award for Sounder Player of the Year Who Isn’t Osvaldo Alonso, named after the inaugural and now 2-time defending winner Brad Evans.  The other is the Leo Gonzalez Award for Sounder Player Who Isn’t Necessarily Player of the Year but Deserves our Recognition, named for the guy who would’ve won the award last year but I wanted Brad Evans to win the ECS Player of the Year award so I gave Brad Evans the Brad Evans award.  At any rate, the current leader for the B-rad award is obviously Clint Dempsey, and the current leader for the Gonzo award is Chad Marshall, also for obvious reasons.

— The AMA Supercross visited Seattle the weekend before last, and with the first home date in nearly a month coming up this weekend, I will once again implore you not to say anything bad about The X-box pitch at Century Link field.  If you want to be a recognized member of this “family” you will toe the line on the realities involving the Sounders playing on an artificial surface in a multi-sport municipal stadium better known as the home of the Champions of America Seattle Seahawks.  Microsoft paid good money to have their name bestowed on that sacred fake grass.  The field is fine, just fine — even FIFA says so/

— SPOILER ALERT.  If you haven’t figured out it was Sansa’s necklace yet I’m not sure you’ve been paying attention.  If you have no idea what I’m on about, just skip this bullet point.

— I write for a blog called NASORB so let me chime in with another [perhaps] semi-regular feature: this week South of Brougham.  The Mariners were swept by the Marlins over the weekend, and look well on their way to another sub-.500 finish after a somewhat confusing start to the season which saw them winning more games than losing.  Remember when this was a baseball town?  Remember the “you gotta love these guys” Mariners of old?  Let this team be a warning for the downside of the franchise system, which essentially guarantees the market value of teams and lacks any real punishment for failure.  MLB lacks the stringent economic controls of the NFL and MLS and this – along with the absence of the fear of being relegated for sucking too much – means ownership groups can cruise along in perpetual putridity indefinitely.  Like the Mariners, for instance.  I hate to open up the Costco-sized can of worms that follows even the most vague references to a promotion-relegation system, so I’ll save that for another day.  Now, NFL can get away with tight economic controls because it is SO IMMENSELY POPULAR that the league essentially prints money, and there is *plenty* of it to go around.  MLS?  Not so much.  The teams with money to spend are only allowed to spend it on 3 players, leaving the rest of their rosters to be scrapped together with a budget similar to the English 5th division.  It’s not particularly sustainable, nor is it a good way to run a team – or an actual business (which is to say a non-sport business, since sports isn’t real a business).  It’s not unlike the Mariners outbidding themselves on Robinson Cano by $65M then saying they’re done with free-agent signings.

— I believe that the next great tactical innovation in soccer is going to be little more than correctly describing formations and positions.  Let’s take for instance the way we describe defenders.  What we think of as a “back 4” is actually quite a misnomer: fullbacks are markedly different from centerbacks and in fact form a distinct layer with the central defensive midfielder (CDM) – or at least the deeper and more defensive-minded of the two holding mids in the alleged “double pivot” (a term I have come to despise seeing as how the two holders in a 4-2-3-1 or 4-2-1-3 would be expected to fulfill different roles just like a striker pairing in a 4-4-2).  This is what I have taken to calling the “W” defense and it is ubiquitous around the globe in formations and tactics.  In fact, i would describe the Sounders formation the same way I did before the 2011 season (the more things change, the more they stay the same), as the “W +”, the “+” coming from the shape of the 5 more forward players, with a box-to-box CM, 3 attacking mids/withdrawan forwards, and a “lone striker” up top.  You can call it a 4-2-3-1 if you wish… hell, call it a 4-4-2 for allI care; just so long as you realize that you are employing outdated nomenclature in doing so.  I would call it a 2-3-1-3-1 but most soccer fans would have no idea what I’m talking about.

— Up next is the first Smoke-a-Bowl match of 2014 (or 420 cup, or Cannabis Cup, etc).  Who can forget the inaugural Smoke-a-Bowl match last year on 4/20, which featured the Sounders first win of 2013 and Oba’s first goal as a Sounder?  I guess Colorado would be the current holders of the trophy, by way of the 5-1 comeuppance delivered unto the Sounders in Commerce City last October (the teams split the points evenly in the 3 matches last season with a July draw in Seattle).  Seattle would get the last laugh with the somewhat desultory 2-0 win in the playoffs over a road-weary Rapids side.  There is actually no small amount of history between these two teams, especially considering it was a Rapid player who essentially ruined Steve Zakuani’s once-promising career back in April of 2011.  I’m not even sure this particular player – the very embodiment of MLS hackiness (the guy has won 5 MLS Cups) – is even with the team any longer, nor do I care.  What we do know is that the Rapids have some youngish, quick players and are one of the worst teams in MLS in wining aerial duels, while Sounders are among the best.  We also know that they are among the MLS teams that have committed the fewest fouls per match so far, so hopefully we see some good soccer on Saturday.  You’ll have to get your drinks in early without he 1 pm kickoff.  Wake and Bake for the Smoke-a-Bowl, folks!