8 Things Sounders Need for MLS Success – Part 2 .. luck and more
Sounders FC are genuine contenders for MLS honours in 2012. It was more than evident at the weekend with the 6-2 win over ChivasUSA that the side is gelling better every week.
In Part 1, we looked at the first four of eight factors they will need to run more for them – than against them -when the play-offs arrive; San Jose Earthquakes running out of steam, a decent draw, new players acclimating and Vancouver’s arc.
Here are the remaining four:
This might seem blatantly obvious. Everybody needs luck, especially in a league with a semblance of enforced play parity with narrow margins of player quality advantage. OK, maybe Barcelona don’t need luck. Well not every week.
“Luck” embodies that range of external factors outwith a club’s control.
Sounders have had some ill luck and some good luck so far in 2012. Ricardo Salazar’s sudden impulse to enforce a rarely enforced rule in a penalty shoot out is ill luck. So was Mike Gspurning’s freakish injury taking a goal kick against LA.
Playing the Whitecaps twice when they are brutally weakened is good luck. So is traveling to Dallas when they had nine regulars unavailable. Don’t let Sigi Schmid’s eagerness to mention just one side of the equation fool you. There has been plenty to go about in both directions but how it flows from this point forward is vital.
i) Factor one is injuries. As we said earlier. Rosales’ injury coupled with Morales’ availability may have tipped the play-off balance last season. Rosales has been kicked about a few times since this season but he might want to look at the self-preservation abilities of Fredy Montero. Montero is also a target for defenders but seems to have an extraordinary and instinctive knack to remain unscathed.
Two key injuries to a player and his deputy at the same time is ill luck, such as the earlier goalkeeping crisis. Sounders have decent depth in many positions but an injury to Osvaldo Alonso would be hard to remain unscathed from, whereas Pat Ianni stands ready to replace either Jeff Parke or Jhon Hurtado.
The club is however better positioned than most to withstand one or two. Sporting Kansas without Aurelien Collin are at quite a loss and we have already seen what happens to LA Galaxy when Omar Gonzalez is not available.
ii) Suspensions. The MLS Disciplinary Committee has been fairly generous to Sounders this season. Osvaldo Alonso has evaded sanction for a range of pretty brutal tackles and Eddie Johnson’s swing at Carlyle Mitchell was surprisingly ignored, although a ‘gesture’ at Chicago fans was selected for sanction.
This proves that we do not fully know the guidelines by which this group of individuals operate. This makes it hard to predict
Within their work are the micro decisions referees make during a game. Some referees are known to be more lenient than others. Each has his own style. Not being allocated the card-happy referees is great news for defenders and enforcers (such as Alonso and Collin) but not such good news for the forwards and creators who are going to get clattered a few more times eg Rosales, Dallas’ Davide Ferriera or RSL’s Javier Morales.
Sides with more creators than enforcers will benefit from strict referees and vice versa.
iii) Bouncing balls and penalty calls. Bouncing balls and penalty calls make up the third clump of the variables.
Sometimes you get a penalty and sometimes not. A softish free kick might be called your way and lead to a goal. A linesman might not see your forward tugging the shorts of a defender before he rises to head the kick in. He may call a ball over the line or not depending on his positioning and whether a stray limb blocks his view of an incident.
Those key events can happen at home where the crowd can sway a linesman to your opinion or away where they will convince him otherwise.
One way or another, there will always be things the coach and the players cannot control. They have to bounce your way more than they don’t.
It’s not a by-product of the quality of refereeing. It happens in every league in the world.
6. Fredy Montero pacing himself
In the article, For the first time I looked at the Sounders and thought ‘they could win MLS’, we put forward the idea that Fredy Montero was pacing his season to make sure he was fit, fresh and ready for the play-offs.
As one of the few men still around to have witnessed the three play-off disappointments, he has very good reason to want to avoid a 4-peat.
In recent weeks, some observers have called his efforts half-hearted.
Against Vancouver, Schmid himself resorted to the traditional tactic of benching Montero to improve performance which has worked so often in the past.
However, it was confirmed this was due to a family emergency as opposed to any other factor, so we should take this at face value.
It is our contention that far from being half-hearted in his approach, a new smarter Montero has grown into the teenager’s skin and is reading the game better to avoid using up energy. His skill at avoiding injury from tough tackles always seems to have been instinctive.
What we have seen is Montero adding several degrees of ‘matchcraft’ to his skill set.
Yes, he is running less but the outcome might be he is ready and effective for the November bun fight.
Schmid seems very happy with Montero’s 2012. Speaking last week, he said:
“He’s got eight goals. We said at the beginning, goal scoring is a situation for a guy like him or for Eddie (Johnson), they’re a little bit streaky always with that.
That’s the way forwards are. Eventually, he said he’d find his goals. He’s found his goals lately, so he’s right comparable to where he’s been every season for us.”
For us, Montero is preparing mentally for the play-offs and is planning to be at his peak there. Nothing he is doing now threatens the inevitability of post-season play for his club.
If we are right, Montero could be ready to join Steve Zakuani, Osvaldo Alonso and Lamar Neagle as Sounders play-off goalscorers. But this time not in a losing cause.
7. Alonso/Johnson Discipline
Some factors are external and you need Lady Luck to guide them in your favour. Others are not. Some players, even some very good players like Wayne Rooney, contain a self-destructive streak. To prevent someone in the comments section citing Diego Maradona, there’s also Diego Maradona.
Obviously, it’s Kyle Beckerman who has been in the news yet again here for his red card against Tauro FC. Beckerman is a great player but receives more red cards in proportion to the amount of enforcing and breaking up play than he should. He makes unwise choices on too many occasions.
Sounders have two players though who fall into the category where doubts remain about, at best, their hair trigger decision making, and at worst their discipline.
You can take the line with both Eddie Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso that as long as they continue to evade serious sanction, then why worry?
The worry is that the leash runs out in the play-offs when there is a bigger national audience. Schmid has talked about Johnson’s discipline when asked but has downplayed the issue, seeking, in the case of the incident in San Jose, to transfer the discussion to other team’s players while adding:
“I’ll take care of Eddie Johnson. I don’t like it when other teams try and take care of my players.”
You can get some idea of Sounders’ sensitivity to this issue with this anecdote:
At that June 27th Press Conference linked above, a significant portion of the questioning, especially from the Tacoma News Tribune’s Don Ruiz, was about Eddie Johnson’s discipline. Schmid was as defensive as he sounds.
When the club circulated the transcript of the media teleconference to their press list, a far wider group than the 6/7 who actively participated, they completely omitted the entire discussion about Johnson. They did find time though to include Sigi’s views on the crucial matter of the reconfiguration of Gillette Stadium.
Alonso is a different matter. Although he sometimes strays over the line of fair play, he does so in an attempt to gain a playing advantage for his side. You take a calculated risk when you crock the opposition star player in the first eleven seconds as he did to Robbie Keane. If it works, you gain a severely discouraged opponent. If it doesn’t, you play on a yellow for 89 minutes.
Generally, Alonso has read referees superbly in 2012 and the lack of red cards this season is a testament to his wisdom. However the dissent he exhibited in the Cup Final, having once more evaded a card for an early foul, shows that his cool judgement cannot always be relied upon.
That said, the advantages having a tough Alonso brings Sounders in the course of controling a game, totally outweigh the risk of the odd suspension. As long as that suspension doesn’t come in a key play-off game.
It wouldn’t hurt for smart to get smarter.
8. Sense of Perspective
There is no nice PR friendly way to put this.
Sounders FC have to stop believing their own hype.
Most corporations regularly churn out a stream of feelgood PR gush about their own achievements. (Create a Google Alert for Virginia Mason if you doubt this.)
Since their corporate takeover by Vulcan, Seattle Sounders have occasionally resembled less a football club trying to keep its fans informed than the Propaganda Ministry of a Soviet-Era dictatorship.
Attendances were always a record of some sort, achievements were often a first in a stream of increasingly artificially created fields.
This is not necessarily or universally a criticism.
This stream of positive spin has an amazing upside which deserves mention even where there is a tone of caution. The club has created a brand-loyal army of what one could call ‘Hardcore Customers’ who love just being Sounders fans (as opposed to soccer fans whose beloved team is the Sounders).
They will buy significant numbers of jerseys in no matter how garish a colour, as well as visit the sites of whatever insurance company or African vacation destination the club is peddling.
The cash rolls in and finally, someone has found a successful recipe for making football profitable in the USA.
Have no doubts. This is great. That someone has found a formula to make our sport a good investment for the savvy investor in the USA is the best news the sport could have and despite our occasionally pejorative choice of language, we applaud it. If Joe Roth, Drew Carey and the Seahawks could not make money out of football in a town with such a deep heritage as Seattle, nobody would ever see it as a valid investment ever again.
The only downside is the possibility that the Sounders are tempted to believe their own PR and it engenders a sense of invincibility or even worse entitlement.
In all truth, it is our view that there is significantly less chance of this than previous years.
The 6-1 ‘edging’ by Santos Laguna imposed a serious perspective on the club very early in the season and that was re-inforced by the winless streak. They have stopped tooting their own horn at the same decibel level as before. Everything about the Sounders self-esteem is on a better footing, by which we mean more realistic, this season. They have even had several attendances that weren’t announced as records. Of course, one of those in itself became a first!
But old habits die hard and there is a concern that the hype machine will crank up with a few wins and have a deleterious effect on the perspective needed to approach a play-off tournament; a tournament full of other sides with more realistic perception of their abilities.
We don’t think it will happen.
But we know it won’t happen to Real Salt Lake, San Jose Earthquakes or Sporting Kansas none of whom seem to indulge in the same kind of hyperbole.
Sounders – keep it real. It will increase the chances of great things actually becoming the reality.
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