Sounder

Sent off: Oh Osvaldo Alonso, what have you done? (video)

11 Comments

Seattle losing 1-0 in the second half at Portland was bad enough, but an incident that could cost their best midfielder the rest of the regular season? That’s made things so much worse for the Sounders, especially considering Osvaldo Alonso has nobody to blame but himself.

Around the 70th minute at JELD-WEN, after a half where referee Hilario Grajeda’s reluctance to blow his whistle saw the game’s physicality slowly escalate, Alonso swung an elbow into Portland midfielder Will Johnson’s face, possibly assuming his off-the-ball action would go unnoticed. But one of Grajeda’s assistants immediately ran onto the field during a moment when a John Kennedy Hurtado foul had sorted the teams into a number of small shoving matches. When the dust cleared, Alonso had a straight red card, leaving Seattle to chase an equalizer with 10 men.

The action is idiotic – the small mistake we’ve seen over and over from players who momentarily ignore the repercussions. Behind the play, Johnson came up behind Alonso and put his chest into the Sounder’s left shoulder, appearing to say something into his face. Alonso threw is left elbow, barely making contact with the Portland captain, sending Johnson to his knees. Minutes later, after order had started to be restored, Alonso ejected from the game.

Alonso’s damage wasn’t done. On his way to the locker room, Alonso had to be restrained from going after Corey Rockwell, the AR who reported Alonso’s foul. He then had words with the fourth official, Ricardo Salazar, before teammates managed to direct him toward the locker room. Suffice to say, Alonso did not leave the field in a timely manner, leaving all to speculate how long the all-important destroyer will be sidelined for the Sounders.

He’ll automatically miss time for the red card. Whether more time is tacked on because of the post-card outburst is up to the league’s Disciplinary Committee.

For some reason, this kind of trouble controversy seems to follow Will Johnson, who has also at the center of incidents involving Marc Burch and Alan Gordon in the last year. Regardless, Alonso’s been around long enough to know throwing an elbow into an opponent’s face will bring out a red card. He can’t let Johnson draw a dismissal from him.

Unfortunately, that decision will likely cost him the rest of the regular season.

.

The changing identity of … Portland Timbers FC

18 Comments

In a cold, scientific sense, Seattle’s acquisition of Clint Dempsey shouldn’t affect the Portland Timbers any more than it affects Major League Soccer’s eight other Western Conference teams, who only feel a slightly more acute impact than the 10 teams in the East. The emboldened Sounders only affect other teams in so much as they keep them from achieving their goals. With Dempsey in Seattle, each team is a little less likely to win against the Sounders and ever so slightly less likely to make the playoffs.

Portland’s relationship with Seattle is neither cold nor scientific. Even more so than the teams’ link to fellow Cascadia rival Vancouver, the Sounders and Timbers are judged relative to each other. As Seattle succeed in their first three seasons, they set an implicit benchmark for the Timbers. When Portland claimed last year’s Cascadia Cup, they dealt a significant blow to the playoff-bound Sounders. When the Timbers succeeded at the beginning of 2013 while Seattle struggled, the dynamic between the two northwest neighbors subtly began to shift.

[MORE: In pictures: Clint Dempsey, Seattle celebrate Deuce’s arrival.]

That’s why, after considering Seattle’s side of the Dempsey equation, people naturally looked to Portland, asking a series of questions: What will the fans think of this? How could the Timbers let this happen? Were they in the picture to get Clint? What happened to the allocation order?

How will Timbers owner Merritt Paulson react?

You can’t be familiar with soccer in the northwest without imagining Paulson’s reaction to this news. He’s never shied away from the rivalry, and in bringing Caleb Porter, he took a big step toward gaining a foothold in it. For much of the season, Portland was the right track team, Seattle was the wrong. But with one signing, Seattle has completely reversed that momentum, whether the standings reflect that or not.

Did Adrian Hanauer’s coup take Portland by surprise? If so, who’ll bear the brunt of the blame? Or was Portland, like so many around MLS, in tune with the whispers and just unable to compete with the Sounders’ financial might?

And if that’s what’s happened in some form, you couldn’t blame Portland if they tried to turn their cheek, go about their business, and golf clap their rivals in front of clenched teeth. Yet judging by their fans’ reaction, that’s easier said than done. Hardcore Timbers supporters across social media were incredulous as to how the allocation order was bypassed to allow Seattle to sign Dempsey. Even after MLS attempted to clarify the standing of Designated Players relative to allocation, there was the feeling that something other than Seattle ingenuity saw Dempsey land on Puget Sound.

[MORE: The changing identity of … Seattle Sounders FC.]

To those fans, the balance that was starting to be established between the Sounders and Timbers has been thrown off by forces beyond Cascadia. After two inconsistent years, Portland’s own ingenuity had led them toward the top of the Western Conference. At the same time, Seattle was having a down season. Now somebody else has greased the wheels to give the Sounders another leg up. Combine a supporter’s intensity with the conflict in Major League Soccer’s published rules, and the fans’ anguish makes sense.

During the normally raucous atmosphere of Saturday’s Cascadia Derby, you could almost sense something was off. With Vancouver employing a physical approach early, the game’s style may have fostered that perception. Or maybe the feeling was pure confirmation bias. Regardless, when Portland unveiled their “ML$ TRANSPARENCY = LEGITIMACY” banner in the second half, you knew not even a visit from the rival Whitecaps could take Dempsey off the Timbers’ Army’s mind.

There’s the potential here to cause a bit of an identity crisis; at least, in comparison to the identity Portland had cultivated from March through July. Then, the Timbers’ were one of Major League Soccer’s 2013 darlings. Now, not only is there the potential for the Timbers to be pushed back into Seattle’s shadow, climbing out is even more difficult. If Seattle is your rival, and like it or not you are defined in terms of their relative success, then how do you realistically top the acquisition of the captain of the U.S. Men’s National Team? Try to sign Landon Donovan when his deal expires this winter?

[MORE: The changing identify of … Major League Soccer.]

Ultimately, the answer is to beat Seattle on the field, which was the goal all along. With Dempsey up north, that becomes more difficult, but he’s only one player. Particularly if the Timbers keep adding Diego Valeri-esque talents, that gap can disappear.

What can’t disappear is Portland’s connection to Seattle, one which may have become more difficult to reconcile on Saturday night. After the Sounders made one of the most notable acquisitions in league history, the Timbers are left with a bunch of questions. To the extent the answers change perceptions of the team remains to be seen.

The changing identity of … Seattle Sounders FC

21 Comments

The public face of Clint Dempsey’s transfer saga unfolded so quickly, it may take some time to come to grips with the implications. It’s difficult to imagine a bigger, more realistic transfer target coming to Major League Soccer, and four days ago, you couldn’t even consider Dempsey realistic. After Adrian Hanauer’s coup, we’ll have to get used to expanding our imaginations.

Once we calibrate, there’ll be a whole new way of seeing the Sounders. Instead of this crowd-drawing juggernaut aspiring to see its competitive goals match off-field success, a new perception will see Seattle as keepers of a war chest capable of eclipsing any in Major League Soccer. Like it or not, that’s often how fans characterize teams. The LA Galaxy are big-spending haves. The New York Red Bulls are big-spending haves. Now, Seattle Sounders are part of that axis of evil.

As Sounders supporters might chant, “no one likes us, we don’t care,” an irreverence that meets a new reality after Saturday truly made them the envy of Major League Soccer. Whether you like Dempsey as a player, whether you like the idea of committing such a large sum to one talent, Seattle did it. They became the first team to reach into Europe and pay a significant fee for a indisputably desirable target. Is Dempsey huge, worldwide headlines big? No, but these are exactly the type of acquisitions MLS fans have wanted since Day 0.

[MORE: The changing identity of … Major League Soccer]

For much of MLS’s history, those expectations have had to be tempered. Not so in Seattle. Now, those consistent 38,000-plus crowds have a new context. Now the backing of people like Joe Roth, Paul Allen, and Drew Carey has potential as well as prestige. For the first time, Seattle has shown hints of realizing the potential written in their DNA. They can indeed be Galaxy north.

With potential becomes expectation. Even though they currently sit in seventh, missing the playoffs is not an option. Once there, the type of collapses Seattle’s recently suffered in Sandy and Carson won’t be acceptable. Though sports history is littered with talented teams that lost for reasonable reasons, the Sounders will be expected to perform to a reasonable, high, championship-level. If they don’t succeed in bringing a title, they better force another team to o something exception.

For a fanbase that defined its team by trophies based on U.S. Open Cup success, silverware will be a priority, especially since the huge commitment of that fan base is what made this move financially possible. More U.S. Open Cups, please, but also Supporters Shields, MLS Cups, and start really competing for CONCACAF Champions League. If not now, at least acknowledge the club is now on that road. Seattle’s scope changed the second Dempsey unzipped his grey hoody.

Much of Major League Soccer, still toiling on the edge of profitability, hamstrung by the realities of a league still in its adolescence, won’t be happy about that. Reasonably (and admittedly), there’ll be envy. That, however, is the new identity of the Sounders, which means if MLS is truly in an adolescence, Seattle’s become the kid drives its BMW to high school, seamlessly aces all the AP classes, and dates the girl you want to ask to prom. And you’re not sure whether you hate them or want to be them.

These are your new Seattle Sounders.

Sounders win appeal of Obafemi Martins red card

6 Comments

Simon Borg at the league’s official website does a great job of breaking down the weekend’s controversial calls. This week, one of the highlights was the Obafemi Martins red card incurred at Chivas USA, referee Ricardo Salazar having judged the Sounder striker kicked out at Gabriel Farfan in the 70th minute.

Of course, since it was Salazar that made the call, Sounders fans were even more enraged by what would have still been viewed as an unfair call (their heightened demonization of Salazar is nothing new). But the official was right on the scene when Farfan and Martins collided. And, as Borg notes, what looked like a well-after-the-whistle jab back at the new Chivas man could have been seen as violent conduct.

Here’s the video and his analysis, starting at 2:47:

[youtube http://youtu.be/SchsV8MkQs8?t=2m47s]

It’s not the most convincing red card, but Borg makes a good case. On the surface, there have definitely been worse decisions.

That doesn’t mean it was the right call, something Major League Soccer affirmed today, electing to uphold Seattle’s appeal of the Nigeria striker’s suspension:

An independent review panel has rescinded the fine and one-game suspension for a red card issued to Seattle Sounders FC forward Obafemi Martins in the 71st minute of Sunday’s game against Chivas USA. Martins will be eligible for Seattle’s game this Saturday against Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

I could go either way on this one. If Salazar’s close enough to make that call, I’m going to trust him. And if Borg breaks it down and makes a good case, even better. But if the review panel heard something compelling from the Sounders — something so compelling that they’re willing to overturn the decision — I’m willing to give that the benefit of the doubt.

So congratulations to the Sounders, who get Martins back for Saturday’s derby against Vancouver. But also, well done by the review panel to be willing to look beyond an ‘it could go either way’ video and hear Seattle’s case. It must have been a compelling one.

Dominance, media relations, and Seattle’s history with Los Angeles

4 Comments

Until this season, the Seattle Sounders’ history with the LA Galaxy had not been a good one. Most memorably, there’s the demoralizing Western Conference semifinal two years ago when the Galaxy scored early in Seattle (Edson Buddle 38′) and didn’t allow a goal until the 176th minute of their 3-1 win. There’s also the 5-1-2 record the Galaxy’s accumulated against Seattle from 2009 to 2011. Before the 2012 season, it looked like there was some kind of hoodoo Bruce Arena’d developed over Sigi Schmid.

That changed this season. With Seattle’s 2-0 win in early May, you could argue LA was still working through their early-season troubles. But the 4-0 drubbing the Sounders handed them in August? Though LA played makeshift back line (with David Junior Lopes and Bryan Gaul at fullback), that’s no excuse for one of the most embarrassing league results of the Arena era.

Even though LA beat Seattle in the season finale, 1-0, 2012’s results should give the Sounders plenty of confidence going into Sunday’s first leg of the Western Conference final. They shouldn’t have to do things like … resort to the clichéd sophistry of spinning media mishaps into motivation.

Alas, as we see in this Seattle Times’ report, coach Schmid is making a media department gaff into much more than it could ever possibly be:

But their opponent, the defending MLS Cup champion Los Angeles Galaxy, is doing its part to add to Seattle’s drive, starting with a faux pas by its communications department.

“L.A. thought they were playing Salt Lake,” coach Sigi Schmid said after Thursday’s playoff series win against RSL. “They put out a news release and said they were playing Salt Lake, so we hate to disappoint them. That’s motivation enough for us right now.”

Schmid often uses sarcasm and irony when addressing the press, usually to break up the monotony of the daily check-ins us content-hungry vultures demand of MLS coaches. His comments may be more playful than serious.

But let’s take them as they’re conveyed and assume Schmid either sees a slight or wants to make this into one. It’s no more than many coaches across many sports do regularly: Manipulate anything (and sometimes, everything) to try to get more out of their players.

The practice insults players’ intelligence. While I’m sure a handful of MLSers can be convinced into believing in a conspiratorial, malevolent LA communications department, it’s far more likely that this was an honest mistake – a team not doing a find and replace on a release drafted before the Thursday game started. Players are smart enough to figure this out.

What impression of players’ intelligence do you have if you’re trying to portray some evil LA P.R. managers taking matters into their own hands, giving the opposition a jibe. Or perhaps the scenario doesn’t involve such rogue behavior. Maybe the theory has the order coming Bruce Arena himself? It’s all a bit kooky.

That’s not to say there aren’t media matters that can ruffle feathers. Witness this week’s comment from Mike Magee:

“(The Sounders) have judged themselves based on their successes and failures against us,” he told LAGalaxy.com. “This is their MLS Cup.”

Who gives that to the media? Somebody that isn’t worried about firing up the opposition, a casual disregard that often (ironically) gets the opposition fired up.

Just another example of the subtle games people play this time of year.