Monday Morning Thunder – What went wrong with Seattle?

Posted in Seattle

Published on November 12, 2012 with 20 Comments

Osvaldo Alonso looks to David Beckham for explanations
Photo: Ali Gilmore

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.

Tiffert was replaced by Andy Rose in both away legs

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.

Aussie Aussie Aussie. Oi Oi Oi! Andy Rose finishes more games than he starts.
Photo: Denise McCooey

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.

Related:

Sounders in Uphill Struggle After 3-0 Loss in LA

Galaxy v Sounders Photo Gallery

Sounders @LA Galaxy Player Ratings

* (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)





20 Comments

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  1. Good analysis. Not sure how you can be calm enough to actually frame a sentence this morning.

    Have to say that, even given the limitations in his squad, that may have been Sigi’s worst game as a Sounders coach.

    * Why start a guy (Caskey) who hasn’t played in 3 months to cover your weakness on the left? At least Brad would’ve understood his role. Which would’ve allowed …

    * Why start Tiffert as a nominal forward if you’re playing 4-5-1? For heaven’s sake, put him in the middle. Which lets you …

    * As you mention, start Andy on the right. At least he’s got a motor. Then you can …

    * Start two forwards. Why not Estrada and Montero? Give them 60 minutes together to see what they can do.

    As it was … Martinez on the right looked like a defensive tackle on ice skates. Yeah, he sort of did it, but just kept clogging things up. Tiffert didn’t know where he was supposed to be. Caskey, I think, was checking out the fans in the front row or something … I didn’t notice him until he was off the field.

    And Montero … I’m sorry. I think the Montero era of the Sounders has come to its end. He’s been on valium or something for all three playoff games. No fire, no passion. What happened?

    • I generally agree to everything except montero. His creativity in accepting passes and sending them on to create chances is really spectacular. Did we already forget who put the ball on martinez’s boot in a beautiful chip pass? His ability to be dangerous from a dead stop at the top of the box is established. Thus why he’s double marked often, or always.

      But he needs that someone to pass to. He needs someone to pull off markers to give him a little space. Who was that in this drubbing? It was johnson, only they weren’t on the field at the same time.

      • Indeed, and the extra man in midfield hardly improved that either.

  2. Also, Fantastic article.

    • Prost is, after all, the No Spin Zone!

      • I thought you were fair and balanced.

        • The first always. The second – only when sober.

  3. Having watched the Sounders since NASL day’s that performance last night must rank among the worst of the lot.Tiffert and Martinez were slow and non -existant and Stevie Z could have used more effectively. The killer for me was when Johnson replaced Montero keeping just one striker on. I left the pub at that point digusted.

    • Martinez had an amazing night, but he cannot pass the ball to himself. Much like Montero has nothing when playing alone or being the #1 guy, so goes Martinez.

      Montero is a #2 or #3 guy when it comes to offense. He scored more goals this year than he has in any previous, yet he does not lead the team.

      I would’ve had Estrada in for Caskey, and as for left back, which had better be the focus for the off season, I don’t know. Maybe rotate on the field, bring in Rose and pull Evans back?

      Playing Thurs, traveling Fri, traveling Sat, and playing Sunday seems unfair almost. I think LA knew it, especially after seeing our lineup. If you watch a replay, LA is keeping up tempo in the first half and then floors it a few minutes into the second. Seattle is left watching and looking completely worn out. It may not have been LA’s game plan, but once they were just running by the defense, who by the way worked their asses off in the first half, the flood gates opened.

      To back that up, just look at Gspruning. He is good, very good. He puts himself in the right place to make saves, to make them easy instead of having to do back flips to get a fingertip deflection. The defense in the second half was collapsing in so many different places at the same time, he has no idea where to set up to make a play. To back that up, just look at him after a close call or a score. When someone is out of position or makes a mistake, he is yelling and getting on their case to clean it up. Even he could tell the whole defense was gassed and there was nothing he could do about it and thus never corrects anyone.

      Should Seattle have chosen to play at home first? The few hours of no travel might have given some extra rest as well as being at home instead of a hotel however it still might not have changed the lineup.

      All I wanted was them to come home with a chance. I was at last year’s second game and I can say that was the best game I saw them play all year. I would even say it was better than any game they played this year. The weather was horrible and they still came out on fire. I look forward to Sunday.

      LA hates the field in Seattle, since they bring it up even when they are not playing in Seattle, it will be pretty cold, the crowd will be huge and at looking to make a difference. If Seattle plays like they did in game two of 2011, they have a chance. I think can do it, but I get a feeling they will give up a goal as well, which will pretty much kill it. LA is not Real, they have been there before,they are the reigning champs, and if they want to lock down, they can, although I would take a healthy Real backline and keeper over LA’s. All that being said, if Seattle does pull it off, it will be the greatest game I will have ever seen, not just because of the result, but because of what it will take to get the result.

  4. In playing second guess, which is sometimes the fun part, in times like these, more an opportunity to exorcize last nights demons, we’re all entitled to our opinions. What could have been done better, been done differently, what would have yielded a better outcome, we’ll never really know at this point. That being said, I felt trouble the minute the line-up was announced. I was shocked (and extremely disappointed) to see us in a 4-5-1 lineup. I can only really recall seeing us play in that formation once or twice before, and I don’t recall the results being much better.

    I wonder why at this point, this critical a juncture, the decision was made to go away from what we are, and what we do. It’s all well and good to play a more defensive minded strategy and game plan, look to get out with a draw, or a 1 goal match. But why select a formation we don’t play? Why force everyone out of position, and strand a single forward up top, with no hope of getting the ball with a chance to do anything with it, no support, no chance to apply any sort of pressure in the offensive third.

    The strategy employed, and the formation employed, created 2 additional critical errors that I saw. One, the formation failed to put our best players on the pitch. Playing a 4-4-2 this season, we held a good (albeit offensively struggling) RSL team scoreless for 2 matches, the same formation yielded two strong victories over this same Galaxy squad, and nearly a draw in the third match.

    By not featuring our best players, I feel like the match was over thought to a degree. In most occasions, the best results have generally come with your best 11 on the pitch. The failure to have any degree of offense allowed LA to focus on their game, and play the entirety of it in our defensive half. Secondly, the inability to challenge LA, to push their defense, to make them expend any effort protecting their goal, made it possible for the to camp out. The least dangerous place for Donovan, Keane, Magee, the rest of them, is in front of their goal.

    By letting them camp in our half, we put their best players, in their most dangerous positions, and hung our defense out to dry. A virtually hopeless endeavor for them, with no hope of counter attack, or escaping with a positive outcome for us.

    While nothing is impossible, it will be terribly difficult to overcome this start, and I think the beginning and end of this disappointment was our lineup, our game plan.

    • Some really really good points there. I encourage people to read Joe’s comments all the way through.

  5. Excellent article. Motivated me to do something I should have done long ago: DONATE! Thanks Prost.

    • Thank you Frank. That’s without doubt our favourite response.

      Our fiercely held independence sometimes makes finding advertisers a little harder than if we were more sycophantic to the clubs.

  6. When I saw the lineup I knew right away that Sigi was playing for the nil nil tie. The problem was that LA had no intention of playing along with that game plan. The Sounders looked the better team for the first 35 to 40 minutes, keeping possession, passing quickly and creating opportunities. Unfortunately the opportunities went mostly to waste because there was no one there to finish the play. How many crosses were sent into the box where there wasn’t a green jersey in sight. Martinez was playing on the wrong side to take advantage of his left footed crosses. Caskey shouldn’t have even been in the 18 let alone starting 11. And Tiffert was playing out of position and not very helpful at all in defense or offense.
    Had I drawn up the lineup card I would have put Fredy and Johnson up top, and if EJ wasn’t available then Ochoa. Martinez should have been on the left, and Estrada on the right. Tiffert and Alonso in the middle. Johansson at right back, Parke and Hurtado in the middle, and Evans at left back. And the strategy would have been to attack up the wings, with crosses into the box for EJ or Ochoa, with Fredy as the outlet.
    I don’t know if the result would have been better, but it could hardly have been worse.

    • That is about how I was thinking, or even putting Zakuani up top as that was his natural position in college..

  7. OK, I’ll admit I did react in a knowingly, kneejerk way to last night’s loss, by logging in and casting my vote against retaining Adrian. I’d kind of been in a wait and see mode and pretty much had every intention of voting for Adrian, but after last night’s result, I just couldn’t think of any other way of letting the club (organization, FO) know how incredibly angry and disappointed I was about the whole debacle last night.

    I don’t want to wait until next year or until LA basically is broken up by retirements, transfers and so on. You prove your quality by beating the best, not by waiting for them to fade away. I guess, as pointed out earlier, the club still doesn’t have the quality to match up. Is the squad really so fragile that we can’t win without Rosales? There have to be alternatives. I’m not sure what’s up with Tiffert, but I’ve never felt he was in the right position when being played on the wing and I thing part of his issue is he’s lost confidence in Sigi’s ability to put him in the proper position to take advantage of his skills. Of course, this is just conjecture, but what are we posting here for anyway, hehe.

    As for last night’s formation, if you plan on experimenting, how about putting on the young speed guys and running LA around the field and try and exhaust them in the chase, instead of letting LA conserve their energy. They had played one more matches in the past 12 days, though you had 1 less day of rest. I’m just visioning here.

    It’s just terrible strategy when Montero is best when the ball is served to his feet and you continue to hopelessly lob long balls at him hoping he can somehow bring them down with Gonzalez all over him. Didn’t anyone scout the Galaxy against San Jose and see how he dominated Lenhart in the air in both legs. It was just useless to continue with that baloney over and over again. (Or was that bull-oney?)

    Unfortunately, to throw a wet blanket on the optimists (not that I’ve seen any on this page, hehe), just because the next match is at CenturyLink Field, it does not make LA less skilled. They just don’t like playing their DPs on it, but that doesn’t mean they won’t this time to try and close the Sounders out. Even when we were running them around the last game of the regular season, the club still weren’t able to get the ball into the goal against them. So Sounders have to score three or more and keep them relatively scoreless, which will take a major miracle. I will end this knowing I have stated the obvious, obviously.

    (I make no claims to being a futbol savant, I may have even forgotten part of my argument, if I was arguing with anyone.)

  8. That hurt about as much as RSL losing to Seattle. After that I have wanted nothing more than to watch Seattle take down LA. What happened? And all the comments about it being the bad calls…does SIgi really go back to the locker room blaiming refs’ calls even to the players.

    I would doubt it, and seriously hope not, but I wonder. There is an object in my office that never moves and into which I am always running. Each time I yell “somebody have that removed”.

    If I had a million dollars every time it was moved, I wouldn’t be a penny richer. Perhaps if I aimed my path a foot to the other side, the blasted door frame would stop bruising me. Perhaps Sigi, too, could learn to be smarter than the door frame.

    Bad calls go both ways, and teams that get bad calls still win some of those games. Drives me crazy when coaches blame refs, even Kreis. I don’t know enough about each of Seattle’s player strengths to offer valuable input, but play hard, play smart, and play on the same freaking page with a solid game plan.

    Next game Seattle 4, LA 0. Win the freaking thing, I love Seattle and can’t stand LA (mostly Beckham). I have hope: Last year Seattle fell asleep playing RSL in the first leg and went down 3-0. In the second leg they came alive and just barely fell short of tying it up thanks to Beltran’s headed save. They can do it this year.

    • “does Sigi really go back to the locker room blaming refs’ calls even to the players?”

      There’s no answer to that which will make him look good, but it’s a very good question.

  9. Good article (the grammar only lost me once this time!). I feel compelled to offer another tid-bit of useless two-cents, along the vein of your comments about Galaxy being top-level talent:

    The Sounders are barely 4 years old.

    Yes, we’re a very good four-year old team (and I feel obliged to add, “as an MLS team”), we’ve done amazing things for the league, we’re far better than all the other expansion teams, we have an amazing fan base… (maybe a little too adamant of a fan base, one thinks we should’ve won the title in the first year). But still, we’re barely four years old.

    Each year we’re forging new ground. With each big loss, we’ve improved. (To quote a comment on Sounderatheart, at this rate we’ll lose the MLS championship next year 3-0, and the year after that the World Club Cup to Barcelona 3-0.)

    I’d like to know of another team in the world that went from inception to league champs in 4 years. It’s probably been done, but in places like El Salvador (Metapan?).

    Just my incoherent morning thoughts.

    • LL.

      That’s a false comparison at the end when you wrote:

      “I’d like to know of another team in the world that went from inception to league champs in 4 years. It’s probably been done, but in places like El Salvador (Metapan?).”

      In most other comparable situations, new clubs have to start at the bottom of a pyramid and gain successive promotions before they can be league champions.