If the Sounders have an Achilles heel, it's penalty kicks. Simply put, a team with so much skill on the ball has been a disappointment from the spot, and not only this year. So far, missed PKs have contributed to us leaving points on the board and has been a frustrating self-imposed hurdle, but it hasn't been a brick wall.
However, in the coming weeks a missed PK could end our season prematurely. So the question becomes; who do we trust to step up?I think it’s clear at this point that Brad Evans is our top choice for in-game PKs. He’s hit all three this year, and when healthy is almost guaranteed to be on the pitch. What’s less clear is who would be our second or third choice If he’s unable to take one, say if he’s the one who drew the foul and took a knock for his effort.
More importantly, who will our five kickers be if a playoff game goes to PKs after 120 minutes? Seattle fans saw an MLS Cup come down to penalties in 2009 at The Field Formerly Known as Qwest, and it could easily happen again.
Let’s look at the likely candidates, keeping in mind that you can’t just have five lined up beforehand. Most likely at least one or two won’t be on the field when the time comes:
Evans – As stated, he’s hit all three he’s taken and has the endurance to play 120 minutes.
Alvaro Fernandez – Made one PK and hit another solid one that beat the keeper but hit the post. He’s one of our best ball-strikers. But will he have been subbed out?
Mauro Rosales – Made one PK and missed the frame on another, though in fairness he did completely fool the keeper on it. Despite that miss he still inspires confidence in everything he does, and not just between the lines...I’d let him take my nephew’s SATs if he offered.
He’s more likely to go for touch than power on a kick, which might be a valuable change of pace compared to our other kickers.
Osvaldo Alonso – He’s only taken one kick that I remember, but it was a doozy: the 82nd minute game-winner at Portland (happened 20 yards in front of me!). IIRC, that shot was fired with so much pace the keeper guessed right and still couldn’t get there. Barring a red card he's an absolute guarantee to be on the pitch at the end of the game. On the other hand, he has a habit of skying straight-on shots over the post during the run of play.
Fredy Montero – A seemingly logical choice who has struggled from the spot his entire time in Seattle. The only consistent aspect of his PKs is the inconsistency from one to the next. Considering his deft skill in the run of play and some sublime free kicks, it’s strange that he doesn’t seem comfortable taking penalties. But he doesn't.
Mike Fucito – Hasn’t taken a PK, even though I believe he’s drawn two this year. But his free kicks are high quality and he has a great strike.
Lamar Neagle – Has had some great goals this year and his corners have been steadily improving, though I for one would rather have him in the box looking to pounce instead of taking them. Assuming he’s coming off the bench and not starting, it’s pretty likely he’ll get in the game and be there at the end.
Other possibilities include Erik Friburg, who’s had some decent corners but hasn’t had much success on goal, and Sammy Ochoa, who seems to have a good shot despite limited playing time so far. Fullbacks Tyson Wahl and James Riley provide good crosses, and Wahl had one golazo of a free kick this year. Plus putting another lefty up there (Fucito being the other) might cross up a mentally fatigued goalkeeper a bit.
If I was Sigi, during the game my order would be: Evans, Flacco, and then either Rosales or Alonso (I switched those two in the order a few times). For end of game PKs, the order matters almost as much as the players.
If this was a rec league where everyone is eligible to take one, my first choice five - in the order they’d kick - would be:
Rosales - Almost definitely will be in the game, but if he's not Alonso goes first
Alonso - Never coming out of the game (duh)
Flacco - If he subbed out it was probably for Neagle, who'd also take his spot here
Fucito - Likely off the pitch by this time, tempted to go with lefty Wahl as replacement before Montero
Evans - If he's out, move either Rosales or Alonso to final spot
It's highly unlikely all five will be in the game to take the PKs, but if they were and it goes to sudden death kicks, I'd put Neagle as the next one, followed by Wahl and then Montero. Next would be Friburg and after that I guess Riley or maybe Chris Henderson. Logically Ochoa would be in the mix here, but I suspect Nate will end up being the big forward off the bench in the playoffs, and I might do Riley before Nate or even Roger.
Thoughts? Am I way off base here? And am I one of many hoping a playoff game can be won in 120 minutes and doesn’t come to a crapshoot like this, exciting as it may be?