What went wrong with Seattle?
For the second year running, Sounders fans are agonising over a thrashing in an away leg that makes the return leg an uphill struggle. Firstly it has to be said that they are a round ahead of last year and they have finally won a play-off series. The two situations are not identical. They have averted crisis which a defeat in Salt Lake may have triggered.
Within the need to retain a sense of proportion, here comes the wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Reaction to the loss has spread across the widest possible expanse of realities, alternative and actual. The ultimate delusionals are playing up two potential handballs which if awarded would have (of course) resulted in goals and altered the course of the game.
Sigi Schmid pointed out that LA had taken a free kick from the wrong place:
“I think we fell asleep on the goal at the end of the first half, they took a free kick about 15-20 yards ahead of where the foul took place and we didn’t react quickly enough and as a result they get a goal.”
To be fair he has a point.
If every key refereeing decision goes your way, you’re likely to emerge with a better result than if they don’t. Schmid though far too often acts like he has an entitlement to every 50/50, 40/60 or even 30/70 call.
That argument and counter-argument was echoed out on the internet among fans, with both sides of the ‘Sigi or Referees’ debate being represented on the ECS Facebook Page:
“We had some bad luck with definitely one and possibly two hand balls in the box not called and no offsides called on the player that flicked the ball on to Donovan during the first goal. Hopefully Rosales will be healthy and we get some good luck at home.”
To which the response was short and to the point:
“Don’t even start this missed calls bullshit.”
Another elaborated his colleague’s point:
“I’m tired of everyone always so quick to blame the refs, bad calls, etc. This came down to Sigi’s lineup and substitution and game plan choices. It didnt help that we played lazy as fuck tonight.”
Schmid’s perennial case of a sense of injustice is weak and pathetic when juxtaposed with DC United’s Ben Olsen who could legitimately claim that Houston’s Andrew Hainault should have been sent off by referee Salazar just before half time.
Six minutes after the restart, Hainault scored the equaliser. Ouch! Now that was a game changer. Nothing that happened in LA came close.
Not every fan even accepted the side played badly. This again came from the ECS Facebook Page:
“Great Game Sounders!! You played hard tonight, LA Played harder, it seems.
Next week is where we take them! On our own turf! With our stands filled with ECS and Sounders fans! “
While some will still rush to read the PR spin on the post match quote sheets and put faith above reason, one poster on our own Facebook page thought the chances of anybody swallowing it whole were minimal:
“Surely even the most fervent, deluded, gullible members of the fan base cannot defend Sigi’s choices this evening. If they can, I’d like to read it! It would be the greatest work of fiction since the bible!”
We strongly suspect that the real audience for much of it is Sounders Majority owner Joe Roth. Fervent? Yes. But Uncle Joe did not get rich by being deluded or gullible.
The fact that Schmid brings up such a trivial incident as the misplacing of a free kick can result in one of two generic reactions among fans:
1) “Boo hoo us”.
There are still some fans who indulge in the pity party, pointing to every and any call as a substitute for real analysis of a bad performance. Entertainingly for fans of other clubs, they do it in public on the internet. It’s not exactly great for the image of the club.
2) “Sigi is running out of ideas to fix this”
One group who are less entertained by the public whining that follows every loss are those Sounders fans, who are more knowledgeable about the sport. They know when a defender is slow getting back, when a forward is taking shortcuts. They know that not every contact in the box through the course of a game results in a penalty. They have a ‘binder full of games’ from which to draw parallels with the incidents in Sounders games. They have perspective.
They know when a coach is substituting excuses for answers. They also know when a 4-5-1 was an attempt to leave a stadium with a 0-0 draw.
At the start of this journey, GM Adrian Hanauer promised attacking football or ‘offensive soccer’ in his actual words. He should not be held to that. It’s just one of those things you say, like “It’s a massive club,” when you sign for Aston Villa or “It’s a sleeping giant,” when you sign for Birmingham City. It’s PR.
Schmid should come clean and say his side played for a draw and his resources were not good enough against those available to Bruce Arena. So you don’t always play ‘offensive soccer’? That’s still better than ‘offensive PR’ in the wake of what is obvious to your more educated fans.
Besides, who – apart from us – remembers what Adrian said in 2009?
The whole thing still smacks of a club still more concerned with PR than fostering the growth of our sport through educating fans about the game. (Contrast that with Real Salt Lake’s policy of reetweeting and even including in club news blasts, even the most critical articles. Or, on a lighter note, Vancouver Whitecaps who retweeted our April Fool’s article parodying their obsession with corporatism even in the wake of the Uniglobe scandal.)
So what is the truth about last night or at least our truth, by which we mean an opinion?
Player for player, Sounders FC are a good side but not a Champion side. In every outfield department, LA Galaxy had better players.
Jeff Parke has been fantastic this year. Omar Gonzalez’s mercurial career has only been set back by injury. Todd Dunivant is the most underrated full back in MLS. He has more quality than Sounders FC’s first pick at that position. Robbie Keane is EPL class. Eddie Johnson could not hack it at Fulham. It’s not just the Beckham thing. All over the pitch, Arena has better players. And he has Landon Donovan.
Though Arena has an excellent collection of players, he too was dangerously exposed when forced to deal with life without Gonzalez his star centerback.
The only exception to this mantra is Mauro Rosales. The mob outside Sigi’s office with pitchforks this morning must recall it was Schmid’s excellent reputation that prompted Guillermo Barros Schelotto to recommend Sounders to Rosales.
Schmid did not garner a good reputation among players for nothing. He attracts immense personal loyalty.
Sounders had lesser players and Schmid opted for a tactical plan that his players are neither used to, or good at. Liviu Bird will have a tactical analysis later on so we’ll wait for that before diving in there.
That Sigi Schmid is a regular gold mine of sob stories does not mean there are not some legitimate excuses and it would not be fair to exclude them from this piece.
The 2012 schedule calendar was not kind to the third seeds when the first seed is knocked out in the other semi final.
Two away games in four days is harsh on player resources.
The best antidote to limit travel is of course either winning the Supporters Shield or all three Cascadian sides entering the post-season. (Now who is being delusional? ;-))
The rules were known beforehand, and of course, winning your conference is the best strategy; but the harsh truth is that Sounders FC were not the best over 34 games either, trailing in 7th in the combined table and 3rd out of nine in the Western Conference.
Yes they had injuries but nothing as severe as affected direct rivals FC Dallas. Dallas played most of 2012 absent half their salary cap according to head coach Schellas Hyndman. Vancouver had defensive line ups that changed as often as the weather up there and the government in Quebec. Sounders handled life without Gspurning as inadequately as LA handled life without Omar Gonzalez.
If you see a Sounders fan blaming injuries, at least ask him of his knowledge of the problems that affected the competition. To do one without the other leaves you conducting a PR exercise as opposed to an informed analysis. Only one of the two will direct you to sustainable conclusions and possible solutions. The other will lead you back to a seat on the ‘Boo Hoo Us Bus‘.
Sigi was without Marc Burch his best left back in a self inflicted wound. There is no evidence that he would have played a masterful game when better players like Jeff Parke and Adam Johansson were left floundering. If anything, at least Zach Scott was only battling quality issues where Burch would have been battling mental and physical fatigue too. Scott had a better first half than some retaining his mental sharpness until the entire back line caved in
This brings us to the one man with no excuses, Designated Player Christian Tiffert.
Short of any revelation that he was playing through some sort of injury, his performances in both Salt Lake and Los Angeles were abysmal. For the money he is taking out of the club, his effort level was appalling. His influence on the game was negligible. The acclimation excuse can only go so far. The Bundesliga is every bit as much a smorgasbord of international footballers; equal to or more than MLS.
In LA, the men supplying crosses Johansson and Scott desperately needed a second runner into the box as an alternative to finding the mysterious pass that would reach Fredy Montero and by-pass Omar Gonzalez, as well as the massively improving Tommy Meyer. Time after time, there was no second green shirt.
Were the German and Brad Evans instructed to hang back rather than rush in, to prepare for the inevitable breakdown of the move?
If so, why bother sending Johansson all the way upfield, pulling him out of position and sapping his energy?
We only have questions. Only the men in the locker room will know what the plan was.
Stranger things have happened that a side losing a three goal lead in ninety minutes. Ask Adam Johansson.
He watched his Sweden team come back from four goals down in a one legged game in Berlin against the might Germans.
Arsenal came back from four down in a league cup tie just last month.
Sounders don’t need a miracle. They need a goal every half hour.
They also need a better plan, a lot of luck and their home ground to finish with the agonising in time for kick off.
Schmid can only really control the first of those three. To do so, he will have to admit that his last one was seriously flawed rather than once more deflecting responsibility elsewhere. He should probably consider starting ‘Aussie’ Andy Rose too.
At least Skippy* will work for you for 120 minutes something the Sounders are going to need, freeing up substitutions for tired and cramping players, or for a partly fit returning Mauro Rosales.
And if it’s not to be this year, he’ll have play-off experience this time next year.
Maybe he’ll have acclimated by then.
* (You Tube Skippy the Bush Kangaroo and don’t blame us if you can’t get the tune out of your head or spend all day mimicking Dame Edna Everage. It’ll take your minds off the game. No need to thank us)