Sounders Lose to Hungrier Opponents but it’s not an Apocalypse
by Steve Clare
Last night’s loss in St Petersburg has prompted the predictable meltdown on the internet among some Sounders fans.
Some of the very same people who enjoyed the hullabaloo last season in Portland when Cal FC eliminated the Timbers are now behaving in much the same way.
It seems that head coach Sigi Schmid is the target of much of their ammunition. But is that fair?
Let’s put some facts out there before I start the editorial opinion.
Tampa Bay Rowdies are a good side. They fielded quality players some of whom would be at home in MLS squads. Luke Mulholland worked tirelessly on both wings. Takuada Yamada, Andres Arango and Daniel Scott were so dominant at the back that Sounders commentator Ross Fletcher referred to them as ‘imperious in the air.’
Georgi Hristov has a resume that exceeded any Sounder in Florida bar Obafemi Martins. Diego Restrepo has saved two penalties in two rounds and has made the loss of Jeff Atinella to RSL in goal much less painful.
Coach Ricky Hill has giant killing in his blood and judged his locker room perfectly, just as he did after his side lost badly in the first leg of the NASL final last year..
Sounders do have better players but Osvaldo Alonso’s indiscipline after last year’s final whistle rendered him unavailable. Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans were lost to the Nats. Sigi Schmid sent Djimi Traore and Mauro Rosales home. Pat Ianni was also suspended.
By the time Schmid removed Obafemi Martins and Shalrie Joseph to the bench, there was to be honest, very little difference in quality between the two starting XIs, certainly not enough to counterbalance home advantage.
With Yedlin also on the bench, you can only surmise that news of the Sounders starting XI engendered a “We’ll show those f***ers” mentality in the Rowdies locker room.
Tampa Bay, as the underdog, were always going to be hungrier. That selection, along with Sigi’s unwise pre-game comments that resting players would dictate his choices, seemed likely to insult the professional pride of the Rowdies players.
To the outsider, Sounders FC can often seem to have a habit of disrespecting others in the game whether it be opposing players, fans, administrators, officials.
That culture starts with the majority owner who has used public forums to insult such organisations as MLS, the refereeing fraternity and Manchester United. It has sold jerseys, and solidified brand loyalty, but it has lost them friends outside Seattle. I have seen the educated fans put their heads in their hands at the same time as the customers applaud like baby seals.
But Tampa Bay also had to be smarter. And they were.
Let me pick one example.
Sounders were trailing for the last quarter hour and Tampa were keen to run down the clock. When they had a free kick, a Sounder stood within ten yards to prevent them taking it quickly. Why? It’s not like they were in a rush.
All that achieved was to absolve the taker from restarting in time and allow him to wait until the opponent retreated. It gave him perfect cover to take his time and absolved the referee from hurrying the restart.
With hindsight, it is easy to criticise the choice of Martins to take the penalty. But it was the right choice.
He was the least tired and most experienced player on the pitch.
I felt that either he or Joseph might have been brought on at the interval, to allow for more time for Sounders’ superior quality to show and have an influence. However, there are always fitness concerns we do not know of.
Most importantly, it has to be said that disappointing as this defeat was, Sounders FC have lit up this competition over the last six (not four) years. US Soccer has cause to be grateful to them. It has been a wonderful run which always would come to an end one day but they have left an indelible impression on the tournament which will hopefully have a lasting effect.
And although these things sting, it ended in the best way. A defeat to a team who deserved to win, in a manner that highlighted the romance of cup competitions, against a great historic name in American soccer. And against a side with good Cascadia connections.
It’s not the end of the world or even of Sounders’ season.
The club are moving in the right direction in league play and May was far better than April.
In Djimi Traore, they have finally made an experienced signing from Europe that wasn’t completely wrong for them. Zach Scott, Brad Evans, Lamar Neagle, Jhon Hurtado and Leo Gonzalez are performing better than ever before. DeAndre Yedlin has been a revelation.
The squad is admittedly thinner than others in the Western Conference with players such as David Estrada, Andy Rose, Alex Caskey, Servando Carrasco and Sammy Ochoa really needing to be MLS Players performing in the Reserves, as opposed to the other way round.
But if any Sounders fan really needs cheering up this morning, we have one remedy.
Go and read the piece we wrote the day after Portland Timbers lost to Cal FC:
Football is cyclical. Cup competitions provide upsets. You get knocked down.
But you get up again.
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