Seattle’s the hottest team in MLS, so why not more buzz?

5 Comments

Who’s the hottest team in Major League Soccer? Judging by wins and losses alone, there’s no doubt. It’s the Seattle Sounders.

Twelve points in their last four games is an unmatched haul. Expand the scope to a team’s last five, six games (when Clint Dempsey joined the team), and Sigi Schmid’s team is still the league’s form side. Since July 29, the Sounders have won seven of eight, climbing from near the bottom of the West and into second place.

So why isn’t there more buzz about the Sounders? Big analysis pieces about their rise? Videos comparing them to Real Salt Lake, asking whether the West’s leaders should be scared? Why aren’t we asking whether this is the year Seattle will break through?

People who’ve watched the games know, and if you look beyond mere wins and losses, it’s easy to spot. Seattle’s last five victories have all by one goal, hinting at a fragility that belies their rise.

Portland’s injury issues. Columbus’s inability to capitalize 11-on-10. Game-winning own goals from Doniel Henry and Gonzalo Segares. The mere quality of Chivas USA. These aren’t circumstances that wow, particularly with RSL scoring 11 goals in their last three games.

But for Seattle, it’s all part of a process – a process that makes the current hot streak a welcome bonus. Clint Dempsey is neither in full shape nor fully familiar with his new teammates. Along with Eddie Johnson, he’s been away from the team on international duty. Obafemi Martins has been hurt. Now Brad Evans has gone down. Seattle hasn’t even been able to discern who their best XI is, let alone give them time to gel.

And that was supposed to be the goal all along. When Seattle acquired Dempsey, they were outside the playoff picture, though with a glut of games in hand, they always looked good bets to finish in the top five, provided their improved on the field.

source: AP
With two games in hand, Sigi Schmid and the Seattle Sounders are only two points behind Western Conference leading Real Salt Lake, their 1.77 points per game the best rate in Major League Soccer. (Photo: AP)

That was the only mission. Start playing better, and making the playoffs will take care of itself. And rather than worry about tracking down RSL or finishing at a certain level in the standings, the real value for a team hungry to claim an MLS Cup would be playing the best soccer possible come the postseason. If near-term results had to be sacrificed for long-term form, so be it, even if short-term results where still important.

That’s leads to a scary thought, in light of Seattle’s impressive run: What happens when Schmid’s attack really begins to click? Since Dempsey arrived, they’ve failed to score more than one goal in a match without the help of an opponent’s own goal (averaging exactly one conventional goal per 90 minutes). Certainly that attack will improve, if from increased familiarity alone. Yet while they’re still finding their stride, they’ve gone 5-1-0.

The other factor in this run: Seattle’s only faced one playoff-sitting team since Dempsey arrived. That was a depleted Portland, at home – a game in which Portland were the better side over the first 45 minutes. Starting with Friday’s match against RSL, all that changes. Six of Seattle’s final eight games will be against playoff-sitting teams, including two games against the defending champion Galaxy.

So yeah, there are reasons why we’re not talking about Seattle, yet, but that’s likely to change. They’ve ridden a string of close results against relatively easy competition to second in the West, but as their attack improves, they’ll start to transcend those performances. Against a tougher schedule, that may not lead to improved results, but we should get a better idea as to whether Seattle’s worth title-contender buzz.

A couple of big wins over RSL or LA, and those “is this the year” pieces will come.

Steven Gerrard didn’t want any part of Coutinho in training

AP Photo/Clint Hughes
Leave a comment

Steven Gerrard has issued some fairly hilarious comments regarding former Liverpool teammate Philippe Coutinho.

The Premier League legend admits there were days in training that the sight of the Brazilian wizard on the other side of the pitch made him lash out.

[ MORE: Palace fans must be patient ]

It seems Gerrard wanted nothing to do with marking Coutinho in small-sided games, and the idea of “Stevie G” spouting off in frustration when Brendan Rodgers posted Coutinho across from him is a wonderful mental picture.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He’s impossible to defend against,” Gerrard told BT Sport after Saturday’s game.

“I mean when I used to train against him, I’d hate it if I was on the opposite five-a-side team. I wouldn’t go near him. And sometimes I’d say to him: ‘Keep away from me! He can embarrass you [as a defender]. He can stand you up, he can both ways, he’s got such a low centre of gravity. He’s sharp, he’s quick and he’s two or three steps ahead of defenders. He’s so, so clever.”

Again, the vision of Gerrard throwing his hands up with a “Nope, not having this today” is amazing. Even if exaggerated, we love it. We picture that old meme with the office worked tossing papers through the air.

Patience with Hodgson required by Palace

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson is 0-2 in his new gig and the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t exactly within touching distance.

The latest defeat is a 5-0 blowout at Manchester City, and the immediate road ahead is sobering: at Manchester United and home to Chelsea. Following a trip to Newcastle, who is in form, the Eagles have matches vs. West Ham, at Spurs, and versus Everton.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Palace is 0-6 overall and the first team in the history of the Premier League to go goalless through its first six matches.

Palace fired Frank De Boer after four league matches and a summer in which the club failed to add much to its squad.

And Hodgson is feeling his way through the dark. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this is the timing of Palace’s change.

From the BBC:

“I am learning about the team all the time and they are learning,” said Hodgson.

“Our focus has to be in May. By the latter part of the season the players must know what we are looking for. They should feel stronger by then.”

To be shooting for May has to be overwhelming for the Selhurst Park faithful but may indicate their most reasonable promise of life in the Premier League.

Palace fans cannot afford to get caught up in how Sam Allardyce saved them a year ago, because his turnaround coincided with the Eagles’ purchases of Luka MilivojevicMamadou Sakho, and Patrick Van Aanholt. An influx of talent does not save a season alone, but we’re fairly sure Alan Pardew would’ve relished the chance to work with two new backs and a stabilizing center midfielder.

Remember that Allardyce then retired, which says something given his willingness to bask in any light in which he can claim a modicum of credit.

So Hodgson, known for his relentless training methods, needs to be given his time. Palace will likely have at-most one point after the next two PL matches, and they may have not scored yet. History can be daunting, but supporters need to exhale and realize the road ahead is long.

Kenya loses hosting rights to 2018 African Nations Championship

Photo by Lefty Shivambu/Gallo Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

ACCRA, Ghana (AP) Kenya has been stripped of the right to host the 2018 African Nations Championship.

The Confederation of Africa Football cited “accumulated delays” in Kenya’s preparations for the tournament, which is the continental championship for players playing in their home leagues.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

CAF made the decision to take the tournament away from Kenya at an executive committee meeting in Accra, Ghana, on Saturday and opened the bidding process for a new host on Sunday. CAF says applications must be received by next Sunday and the new host will be announced in just over two weeks.

The African Nations Championship is scheduled to be played from Jan. 12-Feb. 4.

Kenya’s preparations for the 16-team tournament were already troubled before August when its presidential elections were nullified and a re-vote was ordered. That re-vote is scheduled for next month, and the political instability has meant preparations for the soccer tournament have been undermined.

CAF also says it is opening a tender process to recruit an audit firm to examine Cameroon’s preparations for the 2019 African Cup of Nations, Africa’s top soccer event.

Like Kenya, Cameroon’s readiness to host the Cup of Nations has been under scrutiny. CAF says it needs to examine the state of Cameroon’s “infrastructure to host the tournament,” with the 2019 Cup of Nations the first to be expanded from 16 to 24 teams.

MLS Snapshot: Red-hot RSL end Sounders’ unbeaten run at 13

Photo credit: Real Salt Lake / @RealSaltLake
Leave a comment

The game in 100 words (or less): With the Seattle Sounders’ 13-game unbeaten run now a thing of the past (and the final four of those games all draws), Real Salt Lake (two losses in their last two, including wins in four of their last five) might just be the hottest team in MLS not named Atlanta United (just one loss in their last 12, including wins in three of their last four; combined score: 17-3). Furthermore, Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Seattle at Rio Tinto Stadium boosts RSL into fifth place in the Western Conference, two points clear of the San Jose Earthquakes and Houston Dynamo, as Mike Petke’s side makes this year’s improbable, late charge toward the MLS Cup Playoffs, in much the same fashion Brian Schmetzer’s Sounders did a year ago. Jefferson Savarino, who scored one and assisted one on Saturday, has proven himself a star on the rise in recent weeks, and has RSL playing their best soccer of the year at exactly the right time.

[ MORE: MLS weekend preview — ATL host MTL; RSL desperate vs. SEA ]

Three moments that mattered

52′ — Savarino slams home Rusnak’s pass for 1-0 — RSL have themselves an attacking trio (Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Brooks Lennon) that loves to play together, and that joy really shines brightly in moments like this.

66′ — Mulholland slams home from Savarino’s cross for 2-0 — Savarino turned provider just 15 minutes later, getting in behind Joevin Jones, corralling Joao Plata’s through ball, and picking out Mulholland atop the six-yard box.

92′ — Rimando makes a stunning save to deny Dempsey — Clint Dempsey tried to sneak a quick free kick past Nick Rimando, but the all-time greatest goalkeeper in MLS history was over it.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jefferson Savarino

Goalscorers: Savarino (52′), Mulholland (66′)