Thoughts from Sounderland V9.2 — Oba Provides

Who’s that man who [sets up] scores in Green?!

After a sparkling start to the season, FC Dallas have fallen upon hard times.  They are without their Argentine playmaker Mauro Diaz (the rough equivalent to the Sounders without 2011-vintage Mauro Rosales) and were a weary bunch, having played 80′ with ten men in the 90+ degree heat on Sunday.  I honestly hope that they can get their schwerve back, as MLS really needs more teams like what Dallas was, and not like what Dallas is.

The visitors came out in roughly a diamond-ish 4-4-2-ish formation, looking to stifle the game by clogging the midfield — I think this is a common tactic we will see against Seattle this season.  Michel — the nominal left back — served as the team’s main playmaker in a  wingback role on the left, with the right back Zach Loyd staying deep to form a de-facto 3-man back line, with CDM Hendry Thomas tucked in to help.

The Sounders were in what I am still going to call a 4-2-3-1, but the attacking 4 were very fluid, constantly shifting their relative positioning on both the horizontal and vertical axes.  What didn’t change was the “W” shape in the back, with Evans, Ozzie, and Yedlin forming that top defensive layer in front of the center backs.

Hack-a-Sounder

Dallas committed 14 fouls in the first half, although things settled down in the second and they finished with just 18 total (forward Blas Perez lead the way with seven).  The Sounders, by the way, still lead MLS as the most fouled team — suffering an average of 16.9 per match.  I kinda hope to wear this as a sort of season-long badge of honor — “if you can’t beat us, foul us!”

On the other end of things, Sounders are tied with NYRB for 11th in fouls committed at 12.8 per match.  One thing I have noticed so far this season is that Ozzie is committing less fouls.  Last season, he was among MLS leaders in fouling — which is to be expected to some extent — fouling is endemic to playing his role.  So far this season, Ozzie has 17 total fouls — nowhere near being among the League’s leading foulers — in a three-way tie for the team lead with Yedlin and Neagle.  Last night, Yedlin lead the Sounders with 3 of their 11 fouls, while Ozzie had just one.  Meanwhile, Ozzie is the seventh most fouled player in MLS (on a per-match basis) having suffered 27, and drew four fouls — most in the game — Wednesday night.  He continues his evolution from “Honey Badger” to “el Coraz6n”.

It’s the passing, stupid

Every now and again you hear someone invoking the tired old narrative that “possession is overrated”.  Seeing as how possession is for all intents and purposes a passing statistic, and the ability of a team to successfully pass to each other is far more often than not intrinsic to success, this narrative has always struck me as rather insipid.

Seattle dominated the distribution game, passing at a 84 percent (417 of 497) clip to Dallas’ 73 percent (283 of 388). Key passes were 12 for Seattle (Oba with five) vs five for Dallas (Michel with three); final third passing was 129 of 164 (76 percent) against 54 of 94 (63 percent).  Think Clint Dempsey had a quiet game?  He was 18 of 20 in his final third passes — his only two misses being cross attempts (and as I’ve pointed out earlier, crosses are often low-percentage/high-reward plays, unless you’re Oba who was 4 for 4 on crosses yesterday including both assists).

But it wasn’t just in the attack.  This Sounders “proactive defenders” (that top layer of the fullbacks and CDM in the “W” defense) were 141 for 162 (87 percent) against 88 of 110 (80 percent) for Dallas.

Seattle is now fourth in MLS in overall passing success at 79.9 percent (Columbus leads with 83.2 percent) and have passed for greater than 80 percent in 4 of the 6 matches in the current unbeaten streak.  Speaking of which…

A tale of two teams

Since that last-second loss to Columbus, the Sounders have soared with 16 of 18 possible points, scoring 17 goals in the process.  Columbus, meanwhile, have just 3 of 18 possible points and just three goals scored.

I wrote after that match that Columbus earned a deserved win based upon their stylistic superiority — demonstrated by their effective distribution that night.  The Sounders lost the possession battle 62-38 — although playing a man down for the last 32′ certainly exacerbated that.  Also missing that night was Clint Dempsey.  That match seems a distant memory now.

Brad Evans, brought to you by Victorianox

Fullback is often a spot where utility players are deployed — this explains why Brad Evans was Jurgen Klinsmann’s go-to-guy at Right Back for the USMNT in Qualifying last spring and summer.  B-rad demonstrated that flexibility with a solid performance at left back Wednesday night.  He was 57 for 66 with two key passes and did his part defensively with nine recoveries — second most in the game to Ozzie’s 10.

The penalty was a bit of a hard-luck call, but not an unfair one — particularly given the fact Seattle were awarded a similar 50-50 penalty call last week.  Blas Perez made a smart run and caught Evans in an awkward position, making the most of the contact to draw the whistle.  It’s what good strikers do.

Who can forget the Sounders’ Adam Moffat era?

Hey, Adam Moffat made his third start for Dallas, and had an okay game.  Moffat is an okay player, but his time with the Sounders equaled their worst stretch in franchise history.  In his first start we lost 5-1 at Colorado, and the short-lived Moffat era culminated in that rather humiliating playoff capitulation to Portland.  Maybe that’s unfair to Moffat, but I don’t really care.  The fact that his presence helped facilitate Sigi’s switch to the diamond is reason enough for me to regard the Moffat acquisition as completely useless.

It helps if you can shoot

Indicative of Dallas’ negative tactics were their paltry shot totals, placing just 2 of 8 shots on frame — and one of those was the PK.  The Sounders have now given up just two non-PK shots on target in the last 180 minutes, while placing 15 on goal themselves — they went 9 for 19 Wednesday night.  You’re going to win a lot of soccer-football games with that kind of dominant SOT differential.

Marco Pappa got into the act with five total shots, although four of them were long-range efforts from outside the box including both his SOT’s.  Twelve of the Sounders shots were from outside the 18, but its worth noting that its hard to miss when you have Oba serving the ball to your feet from near point-blank range for one-touch shots. Neagle and Cooper both had one total shot each.  Dempsey’s “quiet game” included forcing Raul Fernandez’s two best saves of the night on a first half direct free kick and a point-blank kick save after a troubling Ozzie shot from distance rang the post.

This day in history

On May 9th, 2012, The Sounders defeated FC Dallas in Frisco TX. to climb to 7-1-1, but then embarked on a troubling 0-5-4 stretch brought on in part by a rash of injuries.  That 2012 season would ultimately end in frustration and disappointment, with Seattle losing the Open Cup Final in Kansas City in a PK shootout, watching Portland claim the Cascadia Cup, losing all three matches to eventual Supporters Shield winners San Jose and suffering another embarrassing first-leg 3-0 playoff loss in LA despite eliminating RSL, who had done it the year prior.

A lot of talk was volleyed about last offseason about the metaphorical “bar” of success for the Sounders, particularly with the rather rapid decision to retain Sigi Schmidt as manager.  I want to be clear about one thing: I was a proponent for finding a new manager after the rather humiliating end to last season.  My logic was simple — if you are ever going to fire a manager with Sigi’s resume, then last November was the time to do it.

What ultimately saved Sigi was that very resume, a resume that includes his time in Seattle. Trouble is, that time includes no MLS silverware.  Yes, the three Open Cup wins and four straight finals was a thing… in fact it was a very awesome thing that also got the team into the CONCACAF Champions League.  I feel like the CCL became something very important to Sounderland, and I for one am a little sad that this will be the first year since 2009 we won’t have any CCL matches.

I will be the first to admit it’s pretty asinine to talk about Sigi’s status at this point in the season, but it’s worth asking what exactly the expectations are at this point.  An Open Cup or even the best regular season record amongst Western Conference teams will get us into the 2015 CCL group stage, but don’t we really want MLS silverware this season?  Will anything less feel like a bit of a letdown?

Up Next

New England Revolution are amidst the logjam at the top of the Eastern Conference with 14 points, although they are second to SKC on PPM with nine matches (SKC has eight, NYRB and Houston have 10 each).  However, I have taken note of the fact they are whoscored.com’s two lowest rated team, ahead of only lowly Chivas (and why are they even still a thing?).  They seem to excel at absolutely nothing aside from grinding out results and playing the long-ball, having one of the highest ratios of long balls to total passes in MLS.

I’m going to bring up the squad rotation issue again — Marshall and Yedlin have played every available minute so far this season, Ozzie has played all but eight minutes, and Oba all but 12 while Pineda has now gone the distance in eight straight matches.  There is an extended World Cup break but the Sounders have a match every weekend up until then — that’s five more.  Giving some key players Sunday off gets them a full nine days of rest before the May 17th home date against hated San Jose.  Fatigue can lead to injury, and while none of us have access to the team’s biometric data tracking such factors, you can hope the training staff and coaches are paying close attention to those numbers.

Having said all that, Sunday presents another eminently winnable game against a pretty mediocre MLS opponent.  This may afford the team a good chance to demonstrate their depth and ability to grind out a result in a road game with a less-than-ideal lineup. At any rate, be sure to watch the match with your Mom.  Another win will be a good Mother’s Day gift for the whole family.