Thierry Henry & the Designated Players – Sounders vs New York Red Bulls

23 06 2011
Seattle Sketcher, Gabi Campanario

Sales on Sounders by Gabi Campanario - 8/5/09 @ Barca Friendly

Dramatic matches.  Dramatic endings.  Sounders FC are born from the dramatic cloth of Rave-Green inception.  The short turnaround to Thursday’s home match at Qwest Field, means the next chance for Sounders faithful to support their club to the next level of dramatic inception is only a work-night away.

Intriguing home stadium changes will take place Thursday.  Same place, different name.  Qwest Field will officially be announced as CenturyLink Field.  How this name change will be written is up for debate.  I see C-Link.  Which gives upset traveling fans or disappointed home fans an easy “clink” opportunity.  A non issue really, unless Timbers fans are ever handed three points from some sort of Buddle-Juninho-Hassli-esque miracle shot.  Sideline whisper:  How many more “wonder-strikes” do we give up before these magic goals are renamed Sounder-normal?  Back to the blog:  Using “clink” against the Sounders will make for an easy cheese-wiz first layer dis, but nothing that sticks too long.

Thursday marks the Sounders Front Office first attempt at opening up the entire stadium.  All upper-level seats will be uncovered for an enticing $15.00.  It should prove a good first test to see how fans long-awaited “more seats” request works with short notice.

Speaking of wonder strikes.  Ranking high among the Sounders growing list of dramatic finishes, is last Saturday’s 90th minute stoppage-time thriller against Toronto FC, by Fredy Montero.  Mauro Rosales, fouled at the top right side of Toronto’s penalty box gave way to the free kick.  Freddy Montero stepped up with strong intent and purpose.  His strike curled over Toronto’s wall and into the left corner of Stefan Frei‘s goal.  Barely out of reach of Frei’s diving fingers.  It was another winner for what is becoming standard Sounders fare.  Late match heroes making late match drama.


Toronto FC, "Reds"

One expected fan-thrill, and another Sounders first for Thursday’s match is already certain not to happen.  Thierry Henry, the former French National Team, and Arsenal superstar, playing for the Red Bulls of New York, was issued a red card in the 90th minute of his match against the Portland Timbers last Sunday.  Any attending fans disappointed by his absence, will likely be thrilled by the Sounders desire to play for no fewer than all three points for the win.  New York will be ready to irritate and frustrate Seattle’s attempt to score early and often.  Star power aside, the importance of the match wont be lost on the Sounders players.

Eric Hassli, proved Seattle is a good place for aging French strikers to score dramatic goals.  With Henry out, a pair of french-kissed strikes are completely out of the question.  That is unless Sebastian LeToux is holding an ace in his pocket for when Philadelphia comes to clink one in on Sounders at C-Link later on in colder October.

The Sounders victorious match last week with Toronto FC completed the first half of this 34 match season with a decent 6-win, 4-loss, 7-draw record.  The 25 points have the Sounders sitting third in the Western Conference.  With most teams close behind and holding games in hand, a string of wins could launch Sounders FC into a successful second half season playoff push.  This Sunday is another short home match turn around to face visiting New England Revolution.

The Sounders continue to make lineup adjustments searching for a better winning touch.  Fredy Montero, was given an active “Free-Roam” role last week.  Which could prove valuable against New York.  Michael Fucito, hitting post last week, and being close to striking net so often all season, means he is due to taste joy. Montero, regaining confidence with his dramatic free kick also means he will be a marked man.  That is a good thing for Sounders FC.  With Fredy heavily marked again, Fucito’s speed combined with Mauro Rosales’s crosses and technical ability to get into dangerous positions, as well as create space for other players to get into dangerous positions, means opportunities for either Fucito speed, or Montero poise are likely elements to ignite 40,000 plus into celebration.

New York Red Bulls

Thierry Henry can come to Seattle riding the Red Bull bench, but he can’t come to Seattle without at least a little DP (Designated Player) conversation.  Should your Major League Soccer team have one?  If so, how much should your club spend?  (See Derek Ciapala’s piece on AS Roma’s Francesco Totti possibly coming to the LA Galaxy this season).  The NASL filled itself with aging, and overpaid stars and eventually folded.  Major League Soccer’s slow expansion of Designated Players has proven safer and smarter.  Some teams do not yet have a Designated Player.

Would Seattle have sold out their first season without Freddie Ljungberg?  Possibly not.  On the other hand, interest has seen a ground swell beyond famous players.  Passion and participation in soccer is common and longstanding throughout the Northwest.  Seattle was Broadway for US Soccer before US Soccer had found Broadway.  This Thursday’s stadium-wide opening would have happened on its own.

As fun as Ljungberg was at the start, his easy irritability was not easily adaptable for fans.  Halfway into his second season was a good time for team and player to part ways.  Management brought in Blaise Nkufo, fresh from his Swiss National team appearance in the 2010 World Cup.  It was a good half season and he delivered a solid playoff boost for the club.  But being a punchbag to absorb Montero’s physical punishment was not a role he desired.  So one hour before this 2011 season started he and the club also parted ways.

During the off-season, Montero was promoted to DP status.  Like any athlete or team making the cover of Sports Illustrated, it has not helped Montero’s productivity.  Before his free-kick game-winner last weekend, Montero had scored only two goals.  Some might call that unproductive, and question the Front Office spending.  Yet any team with a DP has a list of curiosities with its stars no different from the Sounders.  In LA’s case, Beckham has arguably a longer list.

Scoring goals is an expensive habit.  Sporting diamonds.  24 carat strikes, like Eric Hassli’s are worth a lifetime to some player reputations.  That goal will be a goal of the year candidate.  (See it here on my recent post)  Spending spectacular Designated Player money is sometimes necessary to acquire a player like Hassli.

Seattle Sounders FC

Seattle Sounders FC - 2009 & 2010 US Open Cup Champions

Is it more important for teams to find players to entertain, put butts-in-seats, and make us deliriously but joyfully buy their kit?  No single right answer exists.  In a perfect world, Roger Levesque would posses Ruud Van Nistelrooy goal poaching skill, and a one club career as long as Paul Scholes, of Manchester United.  Reality is, we have to learn to cheer on Nate Jaqua.  Starter or sub, lifting his spirit to put the ball into the net this Thursday is our job as fans.

Money can’t buy everything, but it does get good entertainment.  Entertainment doesn’t last a lifetime.  Building fan reputation and players that believe in that reputation, costs nothing and lasts forever.  At the end of the day, Sounders General Manager, Adrian Hanaueer is looking for the next soccer guy to sing “Spectacular, Spectacular”.  He is also looking for Ruud Van Levesque.  He has an unenviable task, but also has a knack for finding players, like Osvaldo Alonso, John Kennedy Hurtado, Leo Gonzalez, Alvaro Fernandez, and Mauro Rosales.

I believe as fans we set the precedent. We build the reputations and passionate spirit. The Front Office finds the role pieces to fulfill the object of our passion.  Occasionally a star will fit.  But if the money to bring talent is too high or the talent is too high above the club, then there are always ways of developing success outside of Designated Players.

© 2011 by Ryan Sales – Sales on Sounders

Contributions:  Fans Look:  Could AS Roma striker sign with the Los Angeles Galaxy?  By, Derek Ciapala, June 17, 2011

Disruptors & Distractors

30 05 2010

Round 11 vs Colorado Rapids

Colorado Rapids

Like San Jose, Colorado is another of the original MLS teams.  Twice appearing in the MLS Cup final but coming up short both times.  They also sport a US Open Cup in their trophy case, but it’s a bit dustier than the Sounders, as it came in 1999.  Two interesting historical points link the Sounders and Rapids.  The first is a personal side note, and US Mens National Team back up Goaltender, Marcus Hahnemann.  Hahnemann helped the A-League Sounders to back-to-back titles in ’95 and ’96.  Directly after their second championship in ’96 against the Rochester Rhinos, I met Hahnemann.  Actually it was more like the Mean Joe Greene, Coca-Cola add from the ’80’s.  He threw me his sweaty water bottle.  Yes, I did take a swig, and kept it as a proud souvenir.  The second connection is Sounders current Technical Director, Chris Henderson who is still the Rapids all time assists leader with 53.

Seattle Sounders – circa 1996

The Rapids are a team of two faces.  Always as good as any team in the league, but not always in form.  Sounds a little familiar.  The bad face, is their two main goal producers, Conor Casey, and Omar Cummings, who can light up the score board with the best, but have not been in top production form.  Meaning they could be due for a break-out game.  The good face, is a brilliant face.  Conor Casey was left off the US Mens National Team World Cup squad, barely.  Some say he should be there.  He was the 2nd leading scorer in MLS last year and has struggled this year.  Showing how quickly a player goes from being in form to out of form.  Edson Buddle, for LA Galaxy is amazingly in form this year, so he’s on the plane to South Africa while Casey stays home.  Is that fair?  To be continued . . .   My World Cup posts are coming soon.
Now back to the main event.  Those two, Casey and Cummings have not been in form but both are strong, quick and able to score in multiple ways all around the attacking end.  They are backed up in midfield by US World Cup 2006 standout Pablo Mastreoni.  Their defense is also strengthened by another US standout, Marvel Wynne, who played well for the US in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  The Rapids have the skill and intensity to be a MLS Cup contender, but they have not yet found that playoff bound groove.

Sounder 'til I die

Seattle comes to the Rapids home pitch in Commerce City, Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.  They bring baggage of similar sounding issues to Colorado.  Difficult time finishing up front, great potential, but struggling to find their form.  So the game presents a perfect test for one team to rise above the other and attempt to gain mid-season momentum.  Seattle’s electric defeat of the Boca Juniors 3-0 in their mid-week friendly, hopefully sparked the team into preparation for Colorado’s physical toughness.

What the Sounders need to do is play with intensity from the start.  Rather than sit back as they did against San Jose.  Push the ball wide, create passing lanes in the Rapids defense, and get their chances on net.  Make the Rapids Keeper have to work.  If we keep him busy, good things will happen.  If we let the Rapids dictate the pace and possess the ball, it could be another frustrating night for Sounders FC.  This is not a “must win” game, but it is a “should not lose” game.  A draw tonight would be well received.

One player on the Sounders who could step up tonight to help the Sounders cause is Fredy Montero.  He may not be a pure goal “finisher” as some have stated about him.  His new role could be possibly more beneficial.  During the Boca Juniors match, he did not score, but he was a disruptor.  Tonight in the game against the Rapids his disruptor role could change the game.  It would force defenders to play him more tightly, but leave more Sounders unmarked.  It would also leave the Rapids defense unsure where Seattle’s attack will come from.  That could also help give the little extra moment for Zakuani, or Ljungberg to come in on goal or set up an assist.  Montero’s disruptor role could become defined for him tonight.  No pressure for him to finish, just put pressure on the other team all night long.

Post Match

“I don’t think we’ve walked off the field being an outplayed team.  We’ve got to keep working and keep our belief in ourselves, and the team spirit has to remain there”.
Sigi Schmid, after round 11”s 1-nil loss to the Colorado Rapids.

LA Galaxy being the exception.  The Sounders have played on the pitch as eloquently as Sigi speaks after a tough loss.  Falling to 3-5-3 is not how anyone saw this team.  It is a deep hole.  The Sounders are responsible for digging that hole.  Goals are all that could fill the empty void players, coaches and fans are feeling.  Because the on-field play is good enough to deserve a better record.  Sigi is right.  If the players keep their belief up, the way they are playing will earn better results.

Two players on their way to Sounders FC may help gain those results.  One is coming back from injury.  The other is new to join Sounders FC.  Nate Jaqua will rejoin Sounders FC in a week or two after recovering from a pre-season injury.  He provides a tall target up front.  A focus up top that will free Montero from his current do everything role.

FC Twente - The Tukkers

After the World Cup, Blaise Nkufo, the Swiss National Team striker joins Sounders FC from his former club FC Twente.   Blaise Nkufo, /Blaze Koo-foe/ has banked 114 goals for FC Twente, which brings a lot of hope to Sounders FC’s late season form.  No one man on his own can win a title.  But he can provide a spark of hope and distraction from frustration.  Nkufo brings experience, and an excited spirit to the team.  He will be fresh from South Africa.  Every player asking him the same questions as press, “what was it like?”  To the delight of all involved he will offer a distraction to all the usual questions about a disappointing season.  He will be covered in microphones, while the rest of the team prepares.  That is just what this team needs.  Distraction from disappointment and consistent work on game preparation.  That will keep the team spirit up and allow for good results to come.  Blaise will likely give the same on field distraction as he does off field.  Defenders will swarm Nkufo, like press junkies, leaving Montero marked by one defender instead of 2 or 3.  Ljungberg will have a tall target to provide him more ground and air options.

There are no guarantees in sports.  There is hard work, which allows the selfish belief in hope for great results.  In that type of sweat and hungry spirit there often lives a spark that makes those great results come true.  Sports is about watching the impossible become real.  Soccer is the essence of that truth.  This young team knows how to win.  They play like a winner.  Following the advice of their coach and incorporating two difference makers gives credibility to Sigi’s post-match comments.  All the elements exist for this team to find itself on a championship course.  If the players continue to work hard and believe the results will come.

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