Seattle v. Colorado: One Big (DP) Thing and Several Smaller Ones

Speaking as a Portland Timbers fan, goddammit. Speaking as a U.S. Men’s team fan…I’m sorry. Dropping the blasphemy is the best I can do right now. I lost money on this thing (you don’t want to know) so it’s going to take some doing to get over the bitterness.

Hell of a win for Seattle, obviously, as most 4-0 wins are. What impressed most was the slow strangulation of the Colorado Rapids – something that goes double after an opening 10 minutes that saw a number of Seattle players cough up the ball (Djimi Traore, Osvaldo Alonso, etc.)

One thing I noticed, though: this team is fucking addicted to heel-flicks. MLSsoccer.com typically posts a sort of “best plays” compilation (example): I imagine it’s going to be lousy with Sounders highlights.  I blame Clint Dempsey. Speaking of…

The Big (Obvious) Thing
Clint Dempsey owns his DP label in 2014. And in a very, very complete way. He’s dropping toward midfield to facilitate possession, riding challenges, dishing passes (2 of every three coming off one of his heels) and he’s getting kicked for his troubles, often. See: Mari, Jose (though it wasn’t as bad as Kasey “Shameless Homer” Keller made it sound. Useful as that can be, Dempsey’s also unlocking defenses with those same showy (admittedly entertaining) moves. (Still, fuck him.) The way Marco Pappa continued his run into the box on the way to Seattle’s second goal testifies to his teammates’ faith in Sir Clint’s ability to play out of trouble. Dempsey appeared completely closed down – two defenders closing around him, with two more between him and the goal – but he popped the ball free (with the heel, natch) to Pappa, who shot toward a mitten-handed Clint Irwin, who bobbled it for, yes, Clint “Goddamn” Dempsey to clean up. More troubling still (for the rest of us, anyway) is the way Dempsey took the set-up role from Obafemi Martins, who has ably filled that role for the past couple games.

Bottom line, Seattle pinned Colorado into their defensive end and just ran at them and ran at them and ran at them. The Sounders did it with enough ease to make it seem like they’ll be able to do this against any team they can pin back. Sigh…and oh my gawd. The thought of Seattle-ites with another reason to feel smug does turn the stomach.

Other Smaller Things
– Keller got one big thing right in this game: Colorado passed Seattle the noose by giving the Sounders second and third chances. And Irwin had a terrible game, coughing up rebounds readily and often as a 20-year smoker coughs up phlegm. By contrast Stefan Frei held on firmly to the few shots he faced. It mattered.

– Similar contrasts defined this game: Consider Dempsey versus Edson Buddle; Martins v. Gabriel Torres; DeAndre Yedlin v. Chris Klute; Alonso v. Nick LaBrocca. The Rapids won only one of those match-ups by my count – I put LaBrocca over Alonso and by some distance – and maybe they punched even with Klute v. Yedlin, but the forward comparison was elementary school versus college. Torres did nothing and Buddle did little more than give up the ball.

– Bottom line – and I think it’s pervasive – Colorado doesn’t have much for final third game. They’ve thrived on PKs, but even those (or at least two of them) came from through-balls that originated fairly close to midfield – typically through the absent Dillon Powers. Might have mattered last night. It’s fair to assume that the Rapids would have fared better with a little more control up top. It’s fair, even if you don’t buy it.

– Several Rapids players had good games; that’s the weird thing. Drew Moor might have got beat on a couple scrambles, but he also cleaned up a ton of mistakes. Mari was good and LaBrocca very good. (I won’t lie; I’ve always liked LaBrocca; he does bald men proud.) It just wasn’t enough with everyone else not quite there.

– Finally, that sweater Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni wore? Totally DP-caliber.

MLS Week 7 Feelings Check: Sister Kissing and Absent Forwards

ImageAs just about anyone who cares to know knows, Major League Soccer has a major sister-kissing problem. Hell, the Chicago Fire’s already well around second base, but more than a few other teams – my Portland Timbers among them – well, let’s just say they’re grasping at all the wrong bra straps. Look outside the nuclear family, boys, and chalk up some decent, American wins. Ya sickos…

This has been commented on and, fortunately, there is an upside. Those ties are a fucking god-send when your team is struggling to get started. At least one team comes to mind…with hope’s wings a-flutter over it.

A couple other thoughts occurred to me over this past Week 7, things that don’t fit neatly into the team-by-team narrative that will unfold below. On that, I quit Power Rankings cold turkey (seems to be the only way), so don’t read anything into the order below; I listed all 19 teams in the order that they came to me. And that’s it. I’ll make my measure of them in the comments (and why the hell do I sound like a late 19th-century prospector tonight?).

Getting back to those trends, how many teams are suffering from lost gambles on certain forwards to solve the problem? Think Eddie Johnson, Teal Bunbury, and, more recently, Andrew Wenger (no, I will not give him time to get going). There are more, I’m sure. What about the struggles of once/former stars like Marco DiVaio, who has failed to get going so far, or even Will Bruin who promised so very much….though that was in one game…maybe we all should have seen that coming.

On a related note, I’m not even sure the Timbers have a forward… Continue reading

FC Dallas v. Seattle: Deuce Drops a Deuce in the Big D

This week has been lousy with talk of Clint “Deuce” Dempsey. Whether serving as the poster-boy for Major League Soccer’s lopsided salaries (he was on the crawl, people, I swear!) or as talisman for the Seattle Sounder’s (fucking!) triumph over FC Dallas, Dempsey featured on Yahoo!’s crawl not once, but twice.

Then we had the week before when his hat-trick against my struggling Portland Timbers made him the talk of the league. I resisted the talk, whether out of partisan spite or a habit of taking my hype in small spoonfuls. Still, Dempsey’s performance against Dallas this weekend has forced me to confront some demons. And to cough up a couple bucks. Sumbitch.

He’s not the fastest guy on the pitch – pretty sure I saw Chris Hedges win a foot race against him – but Dempsey’s fulfilling the playmaker role that (some) rumor(s) assigned to him in the preseason. And, lord, is he filling it well. Continue reading

What Really Separates Timbers from the Sounders (It Ain’t 6 Spots in the Rankings)

Image“They were probably six minutes from entering crisis mode. Then Clint Dempsey rode to the rescue, and Seattle got themselves a valuable road point. Still have to figure out that midfield, though.”

The problem with power rankings is the way they force false choices. For instance, in this past week’s rankings (wait…is it Week 6 or Week 5? Goddammit!), the Rankings Politburo commented on the defensive frailties of no fewer than five MLS clubs – six if you count the note on Houston’s “surprising” (yet real) trouble covering set pieces. That’s fine, of course, defensive problems are a thing, but how to rate one team’s defensive problems over or under the other? For example, why judge the Montreal Impact’s old/slow defense more harshly than the Portland’s Timbers’ flailing one?

Yes, yes, there is an answer, and you’re still comparing apples with apples; it’s just all Fuji versus Braeburn versus Gala. But citrus products of all kinds come into the mix, too, once one goes beyond the defense – e.g. when one calculates what a better offense (theoretically and practically) means to any given team’s overall comparative quality. Combine form, available personnel, and the way any given team stacks up against another and it starts to feel so much like a crapshoot to call the whole power rankings frame into question… Continue reading

Portland v. Seattle: Bring Back the Scabs

I went through a lot titles on this one. A sampling:

A Day of Four Miracles
(Because I never thought Diego Chara would score one goal, never mind two; then Maximiliano Urruti got one which let me believe in miracles, if only for a moment.)

Ref in Rave Green
(I try not to let bad officiating get to me, especially when it comes to bias, because I know it’s a tough job; also, I rely on video replay a lot to confirm that I’m not the crazy one; absent replay, I make wild accusations that may not hold.)

Ruining Diego’s Special Day
(People kept saying it was Chara’s birthday; I don’t know these things, but the Timbers collectively owe Chara a brand-new birthday cake…even if it isn’t his birthday.)

I chose because one I did because one thing about the game stood out. Though distracted by all the “live-tweeting” (which I really must stop doing) and the absence of a replay, I saw enough to count that the most incompetent, insanely inconsistent refeering I have seen in years. I want Hilario Grejada the fuck out of the referee pool. I’d rather watch the scabs, the alleged amateurs, and can’t believe that anyone else wouldn’t agree. We got the referee pool skimmings for this game. Continue reading

Seattle Sounders 2014 Season Preview: Do NOT Follow the Bouncing Deuce

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No, I literally could not help myself.

How’d 2013 Treat ‘Em: 15-12-7 (W-L-T), 42 gf, 42 ga; 4th in the West
Seattle’s stumble to the post-season made for harrowing viewing. Even for a neutral (well, hostile), it got to a point where each collapse made the case for politely avoiding the next outing. OK, yes, the darkness took over for the playoff series against Portland, when it did the soul good to see the little lambs pick their guileless way to the altar…ah, good times. All in all, the fanfare and hype surrounding Clint Dempsey’s arrival in the Emerald City became the season. Deuce became more of a distraction than an asset – Even Eddie Johnson’s “pay me” stunt grew from the signing – and the show goes on, courtesy of the off-season loan to Fulham. Then again, when your starting ‘keeper lets (at least) two goals in through the five-hole in the playoff stretch, your team has bigger problems than distractions. Seattle paid big for a pass that would take them past the first round of the playoffs only to find out it didn’t work when they got there. And that’s gotta hurt like a bitch for a club as ambitious as Seattle.

Exciting Additions! – Chad Marshall, Marco Pappa

Tricky Departures… – Mauro Rosales, Adam Moffat, Eddie Johnson (!), Jhon Kennedy Hurtado

Quality Parts: Osvaldo Alonso, Clint Dempsey (probably), Brad Evans, Marshall, Lamar Neagle, DeAndre Yedlin

It Gets Better If They Come Good: Kenny Cooper, David Estrada, Stefan Frei, Obafemi Martins, Pappa, Andy Rose, Djimi Traore

What I’d Expect Based on the Above:
For all that Seattle gained (Marshall might be great; ditto for Pappa) and lost (uh, how much offense did the Rosales/Johnson combination generate?), Seattle heads into 2014 with largely the same personnel and problems – e.g. 1) how to fit Dempsey into the attack; 2) how to tighten up the defense if they can’t get #1 to come together; and 3) giving Alonso a little help in central midfield. I didn’t watch Seattle a ton last year, but #3 stood front and center just about every time – and I think that’s the one issue they haven’t really attempted to address. After Michael Gspurning’s painful late year collapse, Frei looks like a huge upgrade – and he’s totally read to cope with getting shelled thanks to his time in Toronto. Pappa should give more energy than Rosales and could add goals on top of assists. Even Cooper, frustrating as he can be, could straighten out that offense…not that he’ll play as a target forward or anything…though that seems like it’d help…I dunno. Seattle’s just kind of a hard case, mainly because of clear risk of the larger mess swallowing up all those good parts. The job of getting all that crap oiled and to where it works falls to Sigi Schmid, obviously. It’s not beyond him, but, for my money, it’s not going to help that he’s on the hot seat from First Kick. With the West looking better as a whole, that task only gets harder. And that could mean that this very expensive team won’t even have a chance to make their annual bow out of the first round.

2014 Season Opener: v. Sporting KC, March 8