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Louis van Gaal blasts Sounders field; A simple web search proves him full of it

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England is a much better place than the United States, because there is no One Direction.

Better place for soccer, that is, because we’re pretty sure One Direction comes from England, and that one of those heartthrobs sure knows how to dribble and stuff.

[ MORE: Ex-CONCACAF boss used what for bail?!? ]

According to Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal, though, England is a better place for soccer because venues like Old Trafford don’t use their facilities for anything other than the beautiful game, unlike CenturyLink Field, a place that didn’t fit the bill for LVG on Friday (This story broke over the weekend, but I wasn’t on shift and I’m happy to type about this now).

From OregonLive.com:

“The pitch was difficult,” Van Gaal said. “Also, the first surface [underneath] is artificial and the grass is always moving. You saw a lot of players slipped. You can get more injuries, which is a concern.”

Van Gaal noted that a One Direction concert was held on the field a few days before the match and said that in England, a soccer field would never be used for multiple sports or other forms of entertainment.

“In England we have Old Trafford and it is only for football,” Van Gaal said. “It is not for entertaining. There is no One Direction. In England we live for football but in USA they live for American football and baseball.”

Of course, Van Gaal is kinda full of baloney. Only for football? Old Trafford has played host to rugby matches (above) and will again in October for the Super League finale.

Though the last one came in 2008, Old Trafford has hosted concerts inside its hallowed gates and boxing matches as recently as the 1990s.

And One Direction is playing three nights at the home of the Red Devils’ noisy neighbors in a month or so.

Finally, forget Manchester United’s boss: The real Boss has a say in this whole thing.

What We Learned from Seattle’s first round win over Colorado

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Seattle eliminated Colorado on Wednesday night, advancing in the MLS playoffs with a 2-0 win at CenturyLink Field. Here’s what we learned:

  • Either Oscar Pareja got it wrong, or his team didn’t execute

Actually, both. Pareja seemed to want to get German Mera into the team without sacrificing Shane O’Neill, which means sense. Shane O’Neill is a very good player.

Moving him to right back may have been about matching up with Eddie Johnson, but given Mera’s actually slightly shorter than O’Neill, there are a couple more likely explanations. Maybe Pareja just didn’t want to go with a 20-year-old, first year starter in central defense in the playoffs. Also, the Colorado boss may have seen something in Sunday’s against the Whitecaps that compelled him to made the call. In the process, however, he shook up two positions along the back, a disruption that showed during the match’s first half-hour.

That wasn’t Colorado’s only problem. Against Seattle’s narrow formation, they neglected their width, even though they should have had a huge advantage down their left. Chris Klute, however, was a none factor, with the Rapids trying to build through the middle to Gabriel Torres. Against a three-man middle that got help in the defensive phase from Clint Dempsey, Colorado was at a loss. All the speed Pareja had injected into his starting lineup went to waste.

Once we hear from the Colorado boss, we can start to lay blame. But something clearly went wrong. Either the Rapids failed to execute the plan, or the plan was destined to fail.

[MORE: Evans blast, Johnson insurance sees Seattle past Colorado, into the Western Conference semifinals]

  • Seattle’s midfield dictated the first hour

Colorado only generated three meaningful chances in the first hour, and I’m using “chances” pretty liberally. Martin Rivero got behind the defense in the first half before electing to blast a speculative shot toward the Emerald City Supporters. Near halftime, the Argentine attacker nailed a ball from 20 yards  right at Michael Gspurning. Near the hour, Deshorn Brown tried his low percentage luck from 19 yards out.

The rest of the time, Colorado couldn’t connect with Rivero. Seattle’s three true midfielders kept the Rapids from having success through the middle, while longer play was snuffed out by Djimi Traoré.

Colorado needed to go wide, and they did so occasionally. But they almost always went right, where their natural central defender was left trying to create something going forward. Meanwhile, on the other side, the league’s best left back was forgotten.

[MORE: How it happened: More details on Seattle’s big win over Colorado]

  • Colorado’s midfield disappeared

Clint Dempsey had his best night with Seattle, a huge indictment of Hendry Thomas and Nathan Sturgis. Those two should have won their battle. Instead, Dempsey was allowed to serve as a focal point for the Sounders’ attack.

Perhaps the 24th minute yellow card Silviu Petrescu showed Thomas slowed down the rugged Honduran. Or perhaps he just had a bad night. If so, he picked a terrible time to do it. Not only were the stakes higher than he’s ever seen in MLS, but his holding partner was set to go quiet, too. Thomas and Sturgis was non-factors in their two-on-one matchup.

  • Eddie Johnson is a really, really tough matchup

When he’s staying between the center backs, Johnson’s bad enough, but when he drifts into the wide areas as often as he did tonight, he forces the opposition into a lot of decisions. Unfortunately, Colorado made few correct ones tonight.

So often we saw Johnson played the ball even with or wider than Colorado’s fullbacks. Unless you want release those fullbacks to mark and pressure him (problematic in its own right), it becomes very difficult to deny him that ball. Once he has it, though, it’s probably better to deny the ball back to the midfield and show him wide, forcing a goal-scorer away from goal, forcing him to provide service for his teammates. Encourage the nature striker to go continue to drift away from where he’s most dangerous.

With that in mind, here are Johnson’s Wednesday passes and heatmap:

source:  source:

Notice how many of them are from wide positions? Particularly along Seattle’s right, it doesn’t appear as if Colorado had much of a plan for how to deal with Johnson. While most of his passes go back to the middle, he’s still able to provide a wide outlet for his midfield, one that Colorado didn’t subsequently shut down (another issue with the Rapids’ holders).

Not every forward can be effective doing this. That’s the virtue of Eddie Johnson. In a more traditional role, he has the size, strength and speed to beat you straight up. Going wide, he has the skill and versatility to play as he did tonight. Colorado didn’t adjust.

[MORE: PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans]

  • The Sounders will need to generate more chances in later rounds

The Sounders were the better team. They controlled the game, dictating how it was played, and player-for-player had the better performances. This was a really encouraging performance.

They also generated four shots on target. Of their two goals, one doesn’t come if Colorado’s not desperately chasing the game. The other was a great finish, but it’s also a shot we often see put out of play. That time, however, Evans came good.

Seattle took a big step forward tonight, and within that step you can see the type of team that can compete for an MLS Cup. But even though they controlled Colorado, they still have to play better. They still need to improve.

Bonus what we learned: We’ve probably seen the last of Michael Gspurning for 2013.

ProSoccerTalk’s MLS playoff picks and predictions

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Major League Soccer’s 18th playoff season begins Wednesday. ProSoccerTalk’s writers have a few thoughts on how they might play out:

Who will come out of the East?

Liviu Bird: The New York Red Bulls

The Red Bulls have proven that they are actual contenders this year. They have only briefly relinquished first place and deserved to win the Supporters’ Shield.

Kyle Bonn: Sporting KC

With the Red Bulls getting all the attention, Sporting KC quietly won six of their last eight matches, conceding just four goals. For all the goals NY is scoring, KC have it in them to be the team that stops the NY hot streak.

Steve Davis: Sporting Kansas City

I know New York is the hot pick, but SKC has the better defense and better goalkeeper. Plus, lessons learned over the last two years – when good Sporting KC teams got so close – will pay off now.

source:  Richard Farley: New York Red Bulls

As much as I want to pick Kansas City, I think New York has enough to defend that number one spot.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York Red Bulls

Expect Sporting KC and New York to battle it out for the Eastern Conference, but New York gets it done.

Mike Prindiville: New York Red Bulls

I love to watch Sporting KC play and think a potential matchup against NYRB in the Conference Semifinals will be an absolute blockbuster. But as long as the Red Bull’s play up to their potential, they are the superior team.

Who will come out of the West?

Liviu Bird: Portland Timbers

My pick is based on their strong season from start to finish. The turnaround Caleb Porter has engineered is nothing short of sensational, and they are the most consistent team in the league.

Kyle Bonn: LA Galaxy

LA did just enough to get in, and I’ll take experience over youth in crunch time any day of the week.

Steve Davis: L.A. Galaxy

The asterisk here is whether Landon Donovan and Omar Gonzalez are healthy. If they are, the Galaxy and all that collective playoff knowledge will be hard to beat. Plus, Robbie Keane is the best player in the MLS post-season.

Richard Farley: LA Galaxy

As hard-to-call as the West looks, I’ll take the proven commodity.

Joe Prince-Wright: Portland

I think the Timbers will get it done. Of course they’ve tailed off a bit, but I think they’ll come up big when it matters.

Mike Prindiville: Real Salt Lake

In a wide open and unpredictable West, those who grind the hardest, prevail.

Where we would PREFER to see MLS Cup (based on “best atmosphere,” or “not LA again,” or whatever):

Liviu Bird: Somewhere in Cascadia

Not just because it’s the shortest trip for me — the atmosphere here is the best in the country, and if you want to advertise MLS to the rest of the world, the Timbers Army is probably the best conduit.

Kyle Bonn: New York

What better way to complete the redemption story than in your own house? New York proved this weekend the stadium and atmosphere have what it takes.

source:  Steve Davis: New York

The Big Apple? As Christmas approaches? I mean, it’s so darned romantic! Plus, the Red Bulls were Supporters Shield winners, so there is a beautiful symmetry to it … in addition to all those pretty lights!

Richard Farley: Seattle

It’s all about the numbers. Also, Seattle’s not a bad place to throw a party.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York

It’s about time the Red Bulls won MLS Cup, and I think a sold out RBA would be a great advert for MLS.

Mike Prindiville: New York

A number of other stadiums are considered better atmospheres but to have Red Bull Arena finally filled to capacity and rocking-out for a final would be a thing of beauty.

Where are the dark horse favorites?

Liviu Bird: Seattle

It’s hard to call them dark horses because of the star power on the team, but Seattle could still make a run at the Cup. The Sounders have proven they can beat teams 5-0, be beaten 5-0, and everything in between. Anything can happen in the MLS playoffs.

Kyle Bonn: Portland

It’s not often first-place teams fall under the “dark horse” category, but with everyone off the bandwagon thanks to their poor(er) form down the stretch, they qualify. First order of business in playoffs: don’t lose. They don’t.

Steve Davis: Real Salt Lake

Alvaro Saborio’s scoring rate (52 goals in 97 MLS matches) is prodigious. Nick Rimando is tops in goal. Kyle Beckerman commands that strong midfield and some of those “kids” are going to be something else.  So remind me again why we aren’t talking about this team a little more?

Richard Farley: Portland

Only five losses all year.

Joe Prince-Wright: Colorado Rapids

On their day they can beat anyone in the league. So many good young players, and having come up against Dillon Powers and Tony Cascio in their college days, I know how good those guys are.

Mike Prindiville: Colorado Rapids

Probably the darkest of all dark horses but with Seattle’s poor form, Portland’s playoff inexperience and a little bit of luck, it could happen.

The 18th MLS Cup champion will be …

Liviu Bird: Portland

It’s Portland, for all the reasons I listed above. One final nugget: on only five occasions in 2013 have the Timbers failed to get at least one point on the road and all three at home — and that’s a formula for playoff success if I’ve ever heard one.

Kyle Bonn: LA Galaxy

It’s that experience thing again. So hard to pick against. I know, I know. I hate myself for going here too, but with having put New York out in the semifinals, the Galaxy get it done.

source:  Steve Davis: Sporting Kansas City

The league’s best road team (8-5-4 away in 2013) won’t mind playing in New York, so they’ll get through to the final … and they’ll host MLS Cup in KC.

Richard Farley: LA Galaxy

In the absence of a truly convincing alternative, I’m picking three-peat.

Joe Prince-Wright: New York Red Bulls

I just don’t think the big boys out West, Seattle, LA, and RSL, are in top form heading into the playoffs and the Red Bulls are flying.

Mike Prindiville: New York Red Bulls

The time has come. Mike Petke’s passion and dedication is what this squad has been in dire need of for a long time. Most importantly, this is a team that’s peaking at the right time. The stars have aligned in New York.

(MORE: Are there too many playoff teams?)

(MORE: MLS playoff schedule and TV times)

(MORE: Top story lines for the MLS playoffs)

(MORE: MLS Week in Review for Round 35)

(MORE: MLS Eastern Conference playoffs are set)

(MORE: MLS Western Conference playoffs are set)

MLS Video: Osvaldo Alonso – From Cuban defector to MLS star

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For a kid in Cuba with a gift for soccer, everything changed when he took a trip with his team to the United States, and never went back.

Now, with a family, American citizenship, and a job playing his lifelong passion, Osvaldo Alonso is living his dream with the Seattle Sounders.

Will he get a shot to play for the USMNT? That’s for the Cuban federation to decide.  But for now, the defensive midfielder continues to ply his trade in the middle of the CenturyLink Field pitch, dispossessing opposing players with great precision.

So now comes the hard part: Where and how does Seattle play Clint Dempsey?

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Days before Clint Dempsey was introduced at CenturyLink Field, Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid was on local KJR radio. Seattle had just opened a Designated Player spot by renegotiating Shalrie Joseph’s contract and with his team sitting outside of the playoffs, Schmid was asked what the team would be looking for in a new Designated Player.

Hoping to “add something significant,” the Sounders would be looking to strengthen their spine. “[D]efinitely somebody in the middle of the field,” Schmid told KJR, though he also told host Dave Mahler about the Dempsey rumors, “there’s really nothing to it. There’s nothing to say.” I’m not sure how much we can trust this guy.

Given what we learned today, the Dempsey deal seemed to come together relatively quickly. At today’s press conference, Adrian Hanauer told a story that stretched back two years, but from real start to end of this move, it was only a couple of weeks. Dempsey’s people made some calls in mid-July. Seattle quickly decided they wanted to do it. The league worked out how to pay for it, and after Dempsey gulped a few times and jumped, and the thing was basically over.

Now comes the hard part: the part where Schmid has to win games. That means finding a quick fit for Dempsey in Seattle’s system (or “a” Seattle system), as any prolonged adjustment period would leave the seventh place Sounders gone come November. With Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson already occupying spots up top, this is not a plug-and-play scenario.

If we’re willing to re-trust the guy a little, Schmid said wants help through the middle, which hints Dempsey’s likely to occupy an attacking midfield spot behind Seattle’s two strikers. With Osvaldo Alonso an obligatory starter at the base of midfield, that only leaves two more spots beyond Seattle’s defense and goalkeeper.

Among the candidates, there are two obvious choices:

  • The respect Schmid has for Brad Evans shouldn’t be underestimated. No matter the talent that Seattle’s acquired since joining Major League Soccer in 2009, a healthy Brad Evans has always been given a chance to contribute. If there are two spots available in midfield, Evan’s versatility and intelligence is sure to claim one.
  • The other selection is just as obvious, at least at the start. There’s a reason Mauro Rosales now wears the armband for the Sounders. Schmid has tremendous respect for what he brings to the team beyond his playmaking, skill on the ball, crossing and set piece delivery. Rosales slots into the other spot.

Getting those pieces to fit will be tricky. Do you go with a diamond in midfield? A line for three behind the strikers, with Evans (left) and Rosales flanking Dempsey, relying on Alonzo to be his typical, equalizing self? Or do you do something more tailored to your players? Perhaps playing Evans slightly left of middle, allow Rosales to play a right wing, and rely on Brad and Clint’s versatility to use and defend that left flank?

Or maybe Schmid takes a page out of Jurgen Klinsmann’s playbook are starts Eddie Johnson wide? With Rosales on the opposite side, the opportunity to cross onto an oncoming Johnson challenging a right back is tantalizing.

There are various ways to make this work, and the challenges go beyond merely putting the pieces together. When playing attacking midfield for the national team, Dempsey is often too easily forced into negative balls, at times leaving the U.S. with huge possession edges and little to show for it. The Kyle Beckermans and Hendry Thomases of the world are sure to take note, and if they’re able to force those wide and backward passes, the team might find itself unduly relying on Alonso’s and Evans’ distribution.

If, however, Schmid can get around that, perhaps utilizing Rosales’s skill set and allowing Dempsey the freedom to perform at his opportunistic best, there’s no reason this move can’t be as big as the rest of MLS fears. We’ll begin to find out Saturday in Toronto whether this is the turning point in Seattle’s season or the 2013 Sounders become the latest example of a talented team that just couldn’t make it work.