Seattle Sounders need to ask tough questions of themselves

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Lots of questions need answers around camp Seattle Sounders today.

Clearly, things went very wrong, although the Galaxy’s extra day of rest, the game’s venue (L.A. was at home) and Los Angeles’ ability to locate top gear just in time all had influence on a night of Galaxy hammer-blow dominance.

Still, it was surprising to watch Seattle, an MLS “final four” team, after all, so helpless about it all. The visitors were mildly effective on defense, but for only a half, and more or less inept at the attacking end all night.  So let’s dive in:

  • What is this damaging disconnect between Fredy Montero and the playoffs?

He’s clearly a talented soccer player, one who passes the eye test and carries the statistical proof over a significant sample (47 goals in 119 MLS matches represents prodigious production.) But his post-season totals are alarmingly skinny: He has zero goals in nine games. Heck, Montero has just five shots on goal.

Not that it’s all his fault. Last night, stranded as an isolated striker, Montero had little chance to make anything happen. The lack of connection between Montero and attacking midfielder Christian Tiffert was in stark contrast to what was happening at the other end, where Galaxy men were whirling and twirling in a swell interchange that kept the Sounders defense in perpetual flummox.

  • Were the tactics and personnel decisions in Sigi Schmid’s 4-5-1 right?

Was it really the time to try something so unfamiliar?

Was attack-minded Mario Martinez really the best choice here? He wasn’t up the job defensively, and his choices to shoot from spots that could only be called wildly optimistic demonstrated an alarming naiveté.

Across the field from Martinez, was inexperienced Alex Caskey the right man for the job? Either way, the Sounders’ midfield was a mess, and an overrun mess at that, despite a numerical advantage in the center third.

  • What of goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, who picked a terrible time to have a lousy match?

We’ll pick this one apart in a separate post.

  • Didn’t the Sounders learn a doggone thing from last year’s 3-0 loss at Real Salt Lake?

There is a genuine psychological barrier between 2-0 and 3-0. A two-goal margin sounds manageable, especially at a place the Galaxy men do not like. (Artificial turf is the major scourge in Galaxy minds.)  So, win by a pair, the series rolls into extra time and you step lively with the home crowd in tow for the additional 30 minutes. That sounds doable.

But the third goal is a killer.

In last year’s playoffs, an opening leg got away from Seattle similarly. They refused to re-focus and re-group defensive at 1-0 and 2-0 down and conceded the killer third goal. The Sounders pressed bravely in the return leg but the margin was simply too unforgiving; Schmid’s men won the night 2-0 but fell on aggregate 3-2.

And yet, there they were again Sunday in Southern California. Schmid needed to be more emphatic about the night’s task, to concentrate on defensive shape and dogged effort at all costs, never mind if a goal or even a second goal finds its way through. And yet …

“It’s a hard one to take. It’s very similar to what happened last year when we went into Salt Lake, so it’s disappointing that we repeated that,” Schmid said after last night’s loss.

And a bit later he said: “…then we go through a bad period in the second half where we just lost our shape, lost our concentration, lost our focus, and they bang away two goals, and we’re actually a little fortunate it wasn’t three or four.”

(MORE: match analysis of Sunday’s 3-0 win)

(MORE: the Galaxy doing so many little things right)

(MORE: highlights, and the Galaxy’s brilliant movement on offense)

Can says he wants to play for “very big club” next year

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Liverpool swing man Emre Can – whose contract expires this summer – has not yet found a club to sign with yet, and the future free agent is playing up his own talents while looking for a new home.

“I have the self-confidence to say that my qualities are sufficient to play in a very big club next season,” Can told German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung. “I’m doing great in England. The Spanish league is also attractive. The same applies to Germany, where tactics are concerned, and the Italian club football, which has recently caught up.”

“Incidentally, the same applies to France, this league has now established itself as one of the best in Europe. Therefore, I do not want to exclude anything.”

However, Can also said that the Premier League’s spending power plays a major role, and singled out the German top flight – his home country – for its inability to pay top players.

“Sure, the Bundesliga would interest me, why not? Although I must say honestly that the level has waned in recent years,” he said. “The Premier League has the power to spend more money on players than the Bundesliga. This is very, very important for players.”

Despite those comments, the 24-year-old insists that money is not the ultimate deciding factor in where he will play.

“What counts for me is that I’m an integral part of the team and at a club with a chance of winning the title,” he added. “That’s what every footballer dreams of because that’s the reward of your hard work.”

Can has not ruled out a return to Liverpool, a club that he says “still feels like family.”

Wales boss Giggs claims he wont give in to commercial pressure to play Bale

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Wales is among the field of the China Cup, an international tournament in Guangxi, China, to play a pair of international friendlies this week.

New manager Ryan Giggs admitted there is outside pressure to play Gareth Bale in the event at some point, but admitted he will not put the Real Madrid star at risk just to appease sponsors. In fact, the only pressure he’s feeling is from himself.

“Any risks, stupid risks, I won’t be taking,” Giggs said. “But it’s also my first game and I want to get my best team out there.”

Wales missed out on the 2018 World Cup, and there’s little to gain from having Bale out on the field the entire time. Wales will play China in the semifinals on Thursday, and then meets the winner of Uruguay and Czech Republic next week.

According to reports, Wales would lose nearly $150,000 of its $1.5 million participation fee if Bale did not play.

“I’ve not spoken to [Real Madrid manager Zinedine] Zidane, but I’ve spoken to Gareth,” Giggs said. “I’ve been in contact with him regularly in the last few months and I’m not stupid because it’s an important part of the season.”

Bale has been smothered by injuries – mostly calf problems – during his Real Madrid career, missing a stretch of over two months through October and November with hamstring issues. He has been fit since, but Zidane rarely risks Bale for the full 90 minutes. In fact, Bale’s only three full 90’s of the 2018 calendar year have all come in the last three weeks.

The 28-year-old has three goals in his last five La Liga games, including one off the bench in a 6-3 win over Girona last weekend.

International preview: What is to come over the next week

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With the 2018 World Cup less than three months away, countries are taking these last moments to see players within their selection pool and make tweaks to the squad and tactics.

This week’s international window has already kicked off with the likes of South Africa, Liechtenstein, and Andorra taking the opportunity to see the field, and World Cup countries take the field tomorrow – two, to be exact. And they play each other.

Denmark and Panama meet in a rare friendly between countries set to take part in the summer festivities, with the match taking place in Bronby at 3pm ET. The two countries chose to play knowing they cannot possibly meet in Russia 2018 until at least the quarterfinals, with their respective Groups C and G split apart across the knockout rounds.

The hosts are fantastic from set-pieces and focus their attack around Tottenham star Christian Eriksen. Panama’s midfield rock Gabriel Gomez will likely be tasked with keeping Eriksen quiet, something the Republic of Ireland was unable to do last time Denmark took the field as Eriksen bagged a hat-trick. Defender Andreas Christensen is headed towards the World Cup in fantastic form with Chelsea, having earned a starting spot with the Blues. With some injuries at the back, Christensen has also played out wide along the back line before as well, something to keep watch for.

On Friday, the heavyweights begin to see the field as Uruguay hosts Czech Republic. The South American nation received a friendly draw in World Cup Group A, but brought in a solid European side to match wits with after the Czechs finished third in their qualifying group. Japan also takes to the pitch on Friday, playing Mali on a neutral field in Belgium. The Japanese will need to be at the top of their game come summer, matched into Group H against Colombia, Poland, and Senegal.

England and Argentina have both scheduled games against European sides that disappointed by failing to make the 2018 tournament. On Friday, England travels to Amsterdam to take on a Netherlands squad in turmoil, while Argentina travels to the Etihad to meet Italy.

Russia and Brazil meet in Moscow on Friday, with over 50,000 tickets already reportedly sold for the match at Luzhniki Stadium. The hosts will then get another stiff test as they take on France four days later on Tuesday. If Russia’s squad has lots of work to do before hosting the World Cup, we’ll know in a week.

The main event on Friday will be Germany and Spain meeting in Dusseldorf in a matchup of the last two World Cup winners. Germany will be without Manuel Neuer and Marco Reus, but still fields one of the deepest squads in the entire world. The Germans don’t then get the week off, having to meet Brazil on Tuesday. If Jogi Low’s side comes out of those matches on top, they could cement their status as favorites headed into the summer.

France has a stiff test as well, meeting Colombia on Friday. Like Denmark and Panama, the two countries reside in Groups C and H, meaning they could not rematch in the World Cup until at least the quarterfinals. The French then go to take on Russia next week.


Denmark vs. Panama
Slovakia vs. UAE
China vs. Wales
Algeria vs. Tanzania
Malta vs. Luxembourg

Germany vs. Spain
Italy vs. Argentina
Russia vs. Brazil
Netherlands vs. England
France vs. Colombia
Portugal vs. Egypt
Uruguay vs. Czech Republic
Mexico vs. Ireland
Poland vs. Nigeria
Austria vs. Slovenia
Peru vs. Croatia
Austria vs. Slovenia
Greece vs. Switzerland
Norway vs. Australia
Mali vs. Japan

Sweden vs. Chile

Kuwait vs. Cameroon
Nicaragua vs. Cuba

Portugal vs. Netherlands
Bulgaria vs. Kazakhstan

Russia vs. France
Germany vs. Brazil
England vs. Italy
Spain vs. Argentina
United States vs. Paraguay
Tunisia vs. Costa Rica
Colombia vs. Australia
Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia
Egypt vs. Greece
Denmark vs. Chile
Japan vs. Ukraine

Alexis Sanchez says he “expected better” from himself at Manchester United

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Alexis Sanchez isn’t happy with his performance so far at Manchester United.

The Chilean superstar has scored just one goal for the Red Devils in 10 appearances since joining from Arsenal, and the club has lost three of those games and has been knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla.

Speaking with Chilean media on national team duty in Sweden, Sanchez said he expects more of himself and that he’s so far let himself down. “As I am self-demanding, I expected something better,” Sanchez said. “After my arrival at United, it was hard to change everything very quickly. I even hesitated to come here [to join the national team].”

Chile missed out on World Cup qualification, and has friendlies with Sweden and Denmark scheduled over the next week. With so little at stake, Sanchez was poised to take time off from the national team, but says he was convinced by Manchester City goalkeeper and Chilean captain Claudio Bravo to stick it out.

“The change of club was something that was very abrupt – it was the first time I’ve changed clubs in January – but many things have happened in my life that are difficult,” Sanchez said. “I had asked permission to miss these games, but then I thought better and spoke with Claudio and told him that we should all be united.”

Once the international break is over, Manchester United resumes Premier League play against Swansea at the end of March before an April 7th derby meeting with Manchester City.