In Retrospect, Pulling Starters En Masse Was A Regrettable Mistake

SEATTLE, WA - JULY 20: Goalkeeper Kasey Keller #18 of the Seattle Sounders FC speaks with head coach Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United as they walk off the field after the game at CenturyLink Field on July 20, 2011 in Seattle, Washington. Manchester United won the game 7-0. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)

The day after matches, we usually reserve for rational discussion. But because of the somewhat crazy nature of Wednesday's 7-0 thrashing at the hands of Manchester United, I think I may have over-compensated the day of. With so many people absolutely freaking out -- or at least a few people doing so very loudly -- I didn't want to feed into that. My reaction was to give more of a shoulder shrug when people started throwing out words like "embarrassed" or "shamed" or whatever other adjectives they felt compelled to use to describe how they felt after the game.

With a night to think about it, and time to go over some of the post-game quotes, I think I can at least find some common ground with people upset about Wednesday's game.

Sigi's decision to sub en masse at the start of the second half was, in retrospect, a rather significant mistake. While this game was an exhibition, the reality is that there was no obvious downside to subbing out starters in a somewhat more measured way. The Sounders did not have a practice scheduled for Thursday and don't have another game until Wednesday. 

The only starters to come out for the second half were a trio of defenders, but they were left woefully over-exposed by a midfield that just did not have the speed to compete with the likes of United. I'm not saying Sigi should have left all the starters out there for the second half, but a more measured substitution patter could have at least helped kept the second half from turning into the debacle that it did.

The substitution patter may have been consistent with past decisions in previous big-name friendlies (five halftime subs against Chelsea and 10 against Barcelona), but those were followed by league games three days later. Leaving in a few more starters to play another 10-15 minutes would have likely had limited downside, and with more than 67,000 people in attendance -- many of whom paid hundreds of dollars for tickets -- it shouldn't have been too much to ask to attempt to put on a little bit more of a show.

Reading the post-game quotes, I'm frankly a little shocked at Sigi's reaction. He obviously knows how good United are and must have had a suspicion that some of their top players were going to appear in the second half. That he was apparently caught off guard by the beating his team was given in the second half seems a bit strange.

There's a big but, coming after the jump

All of that said, I still think some of the bigger-picture reactions are a bit much. That the Sounders reserves are no match for United's is not a revelation. Almost anyone on the field for United in the second half would be a star in MLS. For the most part, the second-half Sounders are fighting for spots on the gameday 18 in MLS. Yeah, there's a big gap. No one should be surprised.

If people came away from that match taking it as proof that MLS is not worth their time, I really don't believe they were ever going to be convinced otherwise. Those people aren't looking for reasons to watch MLS, they are looking for excuses not to watch. Maybe Wednesday's match gave them more ammunition, but a 4-1 loss wasn't going to win them over anyway.

As to the possible long-term ramifications, I guess we'll see. Surely, the loss was a wake-up call for some of our backups. No one on the field in the second half is anywhere near earning a European contract. I don't see why it would have any deleterious effects on our starters, though. They weren't run off the field by United, after all. They stood toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the world and held their own for a half. That should not be forgotten.

Maybe the oddest thing I saw in post-game reactions was the idea that this game is proof that playing big-name European teams is a bad idea, and that somehow playing the West Bromowich Albions or the Celtics of the world is preferable. Friendlies are not about measuring yourself, they are about putting on a show. This being an unscripted drama, sometimes the show doesn't go as planned. If we are going to keep playing friendlies -- and I don't see the practice ending anytime soon -- the most we can ask is that our starters are given more of a chance to perform.

Post-game quotes

Sigi Schmid - Sounders FC Head coach

(General Comments...) "It was 1-0 at halftime. Were they 6-0 better than us in the second half? Yeah, they were because they finished their chances and we didn't finish ours. I felt we had an equal amount of good chances but that's the difference in the quality in the level of play - the ability to finish. I need to apologize to our fans because I thought we embarrassed ourselves in the second half, not to take anything away from Man United because they're a great team. They scored some great goals and their movement was superb. We wanted to reward all the guys on the team, wanted to play everybody. I think in retrospect that was a mistake. I should have played guys and brought some guys off the bench and not tried to get everybody in the game. We've had a hard season. We've worked very hard and played very well and I wanted to reward all the guys with the opportunity to get on the field against Man United. Unfortunately they didn't reward themselves."

(On if missing starters hurting result...) "I don't know if you can tie the two together. Obviously it was going to be a difficult game from the beginning because they're a good team. If we play our starters for a longer period of time and with Tyson Wahl getting injured the day before that's one starter down and Brad Evans going down right away when he goes in doesn't help us. I think we would have kept the game in check. If we finish the chances we had in the first half we also get a little bit more of the game. For me, I know it's my most embarrassing loss, personally. It's not to take anything away because they're an unbelievably good team."

(On first half...) "In the first half we did well. We struggled defending against some of their corners. I thought they had some good opportunities off of their corners and we struggled a little bit on our left side defensively. I thought Nani in conjunction with Rafael got in behind and caused some problems. I also felt that we were able to hold the ball, we were able to get in on them. We had some chances. [Fredy] Montero had some good chances. The one he had, if he lifts his head and slips it to [Alvaro] Fernandez, Fernandez is naked. The other one that Ozzie [Osvaldo Alonso] hits and gets deflected, Roger [Levesque] was naked at the back post. A little more cleverness and a little more sharpness and we might have had a goal or two. Overall, I wasn't displeased with what we did in the first half. I thought the first half was good."

(On injured starters...) "Tyson [Wahl] should be alright. With Brad [Evans], we don't know yet."

(On Wayne Rooney's goal scoring ability...) "We'd like to have him. He'd be good for us. Obviously he's a good player. When you look at it they had very few wasted chances. [Kasey] Keller came up with a big save in the first half. I think they might have pulled one wide in the second half and [Terry] Boss came up with a save but outside of that every time they had a clean look on goal it was in the back of the net. That's the difference in quality between here and overseas."

(On what score would be acceptable...) "3-0 or 4-0. The early goal in the second half and the goal right after that. If I could turn the clock back 10 minutes I would have sent the same team out that finished the first half but it was too late."

(On second half...) "Obviously we saw their bench. When you come with [Michael] Carrick off the bench and you come with [Wayne] Rooney off the bench and come with [Ji-Sung] Park off the bench, you're going to create some problems. Our bench is not the same. I don't want to take this away from my team. That's not to say that in the second half we didn't create some chances. I think we created some chances. [Lamar] Neagle had a couple good looks. [Pat] Noonan had two good chances. We had chances to score but our defending was absolutely atrocious in the second. Our attacking play wasn't that bad but our defending was absolutely horrendous. They made good runs off the ball and we were slow on reacting."

(On playing all players...) "We had made a decision prior to the game that we were going to try to give everyone a game today. It was a reward for our team, plus we've logged a lot of minutes. In the last 21 days we've played five or six games. We wanted to get some guys off their feet."

Kasey Keller - Sounders FC Goalkeeper

(On the match...) "Have you ever heard the cliché, 'A game of two halves?' It was kind of that a little bit. Hopefully it's a learning experience. We put so many guys out on the field in the second half [...] because everybody thinks they can play in the Premier League in America. Everybody thinks, 'Oh, if I just got the break that I could be there.' And actually, no you can't and you need to learn to figure that out. I was talking to Sir Alex afterwards, walking off the field, and they're one of the best counter-attacking teams in the world and we gave them all the space in the world to do exactly what they're best at. You have to learn. You have to adapt. You have to figure out how things are going in the game and make it right. The second half was extremely disappointing. But he [Sir Alex] was very gracious, he said, 'The score line wasn't indicative of the result.' So that's a little comfort. We had great chances. We know their keepers made some good saves, but we needed to be that [...] I mean you saw how clinical Wayne Rooney is in the box. You give him that chance and he's going to bury it and they did exactly that."

(On if Michael Owen has scored on him before...) "I'm sure he's scored on me once or twice but I always had great results against Liverpool everywhere I was. He might have scored on me for Newcastle, funny enough. But Michael has been a great player. It was nice to be able to come up with that save against him and keep it tight there before the second half."

(On what he said to him after the save...) "I can't remember what he said to me. He said something to me, then I said something back to him when he cleared the ball off the line for us. So we had a good running commentary. Like I said, he's a good guy. He got his goal then it was nice to be able to make the save."

(On if he will be present at the MLS All-Star game...) "Yeah, I'll be there. I'll thank Mike Gastineau for getting me into the All-Star game. It was cool. It worked out in the end, let's put it that way."

(On what went wrong in the second half...) "Well, I think what was extremely disappointing was that as well as we played and the chances we created, we weren't able to give our fans that goal. We did the same thing against Chelsea. We had chances to get a goal against Chelsea to get the crowd up. We had chances against Barcelona to do the same thing and we just couldn't make it happen. It's frustrating. It's disappointing. And I know Sigi [Schmid] is embarrassed for everything that happened in the second half, but hey, I've been on a Premier League team and got beat 6-1 against their team. It's not something to be too disappointed against. We just know we could do better and we know that our players could have played better. I think that's the most frustrating thing."

Lamar Neagle - Sounders FC Midfielder

(On the match...) "We definitely wanted to play better and show a little bit more, but it is what it is. We're still in the middle of the season, so we just need to think about that and focus on our next game."

(On if there is anything in particular as to why the match got out of hand in the second half...) "It was a combination of things. It's tough coming on in the second half, they still have the same guys on, we have six of seven new guys coming on, we're trying to get our defense working together, and we've been kind of breaking on it. They're fast breaking a lot of the time and it's kind of hard to keep track. You can see their level. It was definitely unfortunate, it kind of got out of hand."

(On the feel of the match...) "It's still a great experience. It's still something to remember. I'm a young guy in the beginning of my career, so it's nice to get these games in and play against these guys. But definitely not the kind of experience...we don't want to remember the 7-0, but it's still nice to say we played against these guys."

Pat Noonan - Sounders FC Forward

(On the lopsided play tonight...) "It was just embarrassing. Unfortunately we embarrassed ourselves. We need to forget about it as soon as possible and understand that we need to get those opportunities. Against a team of that caliber you can't put together performances like that. We were meant to enjoy it and it just didn't turn out that way at all."

(On his missed opportunities...) "I've got to put those in. They're close range, keeper right in my face, but I've got to put them in the corner where he can't make those saves. Even though we're playing Manchester United, those are goals you should finish. I guess you could say it's 'One of those nights', but those were times where we could have maybe turned it around a little bit, and I wasn't able to do that. It was frustrating."

(On when the game became un-enjoyable...) "Very early in the second half, giving up an early goal - pretty much everything to do with the second half. Not tracking runners, not connecting passes, everything that you can do when you're playing any team, much less Manchester United. Unfortunately it wasn't a very enjoyable situation."

(On if Manchester United ran up the score more than they needed to...) "No, that's on us. Absolutely not. If I'm on that side of things I'm doing the same thing. You've still got to play. You're not going to stop playing in this game and just connect 10 or 15 passes, if you have a chance to go to goal you go to goal, and they did. They were clinical in front of the net and we weren't. But by no means were they running it up. We should be able to avoid a 7-0 defeat, we're a good enough team. It's disappointing."

Sir Alex Ferguson - Manchester United Manager

(On his overall impressions of the game...) "It was a strange game because I don't think that the score reflected the chances they had.  In the first half, the Sounders have had two or three good chances and because their goalkeeper had two great saves.  I know Kasey Keller's had a couple good saves himself.  But it was nothing ruined in the match, the first half.  I think that Rooney goal, the second one, on the counter-attack just opened the game for us. It was a strange score line.  It really wasn't a seven-nil score line.  The Sounders could have really scored a few goals.  But I'm pleased at the counter-attack in the second half by us.  I'm pleased that our fitness was good and the spread of goals was good.  To get goals from different players, which is always encouraging, because last year we depended on three players for all our goals.  So that was good, what we saw tonight."

(On Wayne Rooney and his three-goal performance tonight...) "It's nice he scored.  I'm pleased with all the goal scorers.  It's a nice start for the season for him, three goals.  He's worked hard, he's done really well in training."

(On the likeliest replacement for retired goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar...) "Obviously we're saying David De Gea as who I would imagine is the main choice.  But I have to say that the other two goalkeepers, Anders Lindegarrd and Ben Amos, have probably said to themselves, 'There's an opportunity here with [Edwin] Van der Sar retiring, so it's an open door for me.'  De Gea will play on Saturday against Chicago.  They'll all get their share of games."

(On the Sounders' play...) "I think that even for them, the counter-attack was good in the first half.  I think [Osvaldo] Alonso's a good player.  I like him.  I think he's a very clever player and knows how to play midfield.  He's obviously experienced.  [Mauro} Rosales we saw on Saturday also and we marked him down as probably the danger because he knows how to play his position.  [Alvaro} Fernandez did some good things in the first half also.  I think it was quite an open game.  The Sounders, in the first half, would definitely be pleased with their performance."

(On the purpose of going on a U.S. tour...) "The purpose is two-fold.  We think that the United States is an emerging country in terms of soccer.  It's also potential for us to increase our support-base, which we're always conscious of.  In the Far East, we have a huge, huge support there.  We've seen tonight the impact we're making in the States.  We had a good support ourselves tonight.  The Sounders obviously had 40,000 supporters, but we probably, obviously, we probably got the rest.  That was a pleasing aspect for us when we try to spread our gospel about the way we play, the romance of the club, the history of the club.  And the United States is a growing market in terms of supporters."

(On whether Nani will compete for a starting role on the team...) "I think that there's competition there.  Obviously the point you made about [Antonio] Valencia.  Nani, the whole season, had done real well for us.  But then when Valencia came back, his form was so good, it was difficult to put him out of the team.  It was unfortunate not to get picked for the final.  He's still young.  He's maturing all the time.  He's a really, really good player, Nani is.  His personality is improving in terms of he's a quiet lad.  I think that he will be challenging and he'll play a lot of games."

(On his defenders...) "Well they're experienced.  Both sets of backs are very experienced, obviously...Patrice Evra did very well tonight, his first game back for a long time.  I always feel that when the back four is all together, the experience we've got with Evra, [Nemanja] Vidic and [Rio] Ferdinand and sometimes it's Raf [Rafael Da Silva] and sometimes it's Fabio [Da Silva].  It's a strong, strong unit there."

(On the atmosphere of the game...) "It was brilliant.  The pleasing thing for me was the number of fans all mixed together.  That was like the old days of England and Scotland, when fans could mix together and no trouble.  I don't know if we could ever get back to that, but it was a pleasure to watch that tonight.  The atmosphere was always good.  The Sounders' support is fantastic.  It's a plus-point that, it's a big plus-point, to see fans mingling together and enjoying it."

Rio Ferdinand - Manchester United Defender

(General thoughts on the team's time in Seattle...) "Very good. Great support. Good people. They looked after us and we had a great time. And they're genuine football fans.

(On if he was surprised with the atmosphere in the stadium...) "I was, yeah. I came here in 2003, a long time ago, and the interest, the knowledge and passion wasn't as great it was today. It's a great surprise."

(On differences between this trip and the 2003 trip...) "It's just a different feel, a different vibe. They're just genuine football fans that come here to support football and their team. The Sounders have great support."

(On seeing so many Manchester United fans in Seattle...) "It's not a great surprise because we have fans everywhere, but the amount of people that we saw here in the stadium, outside the hotel and the amount of people who have been here in the city wishing us well has been phenomenal."

Ryan Giggs - Manchester United Midfielder

(On general impressions of his time in Seattle...) "I've enjoyed it. Their fanatical fans really. I think we witnessed that tonight and we've witnessed it all week. You got told that the Seattle fans are the best in the MLS and I think we witnessed that tonight."

(On the differences between previous visit to Seattle and tonight...) "It's a different atmosphere. You see with the home fans that it's their home pitch and they want to do well. Overall we're really pleased with the result. First half, it could have been a lot different. Seattle played really well and we were probably lucky to keep it at zero."

(On the Sounders' play in the first half...) "It could quite have easily been 2-1, 2-all. The second half, the lads played well and every chance they got, they scored. That's what sometimes separates good players from great players."

(On the expectations that follow the club...) "It's something that, whether you've grown up in the club like myself, or if you're a player who's just come in, you realize that it's a huge club. Expectations are high and you're expected to win things."

Anders Lindegarrd - Manchester United Goalkeeper

(General comments...) "I believe it was 7-nil, and I believe that was too much. I think compared to the team we played in Boston, New England, I believe that Sounders have more quality of a team from my point of view [...] They like to play football, not like kick and rush which I would have expected when I came to the States. It was alright that we won the game but seven-nil is too much."

(On his two back-to-back saves in the first half...) "It's going very quickly so you're just reacting. It's in your backbone what to do. It's not like a process that you go through, you just react."

(On the crowd at Century Link Field...) "It was very noisy. It was difficult to communicate.   It seemed to be a great crowd. It must be fantastic for the team here to get that kind of support...that is very impressive."

(On dealing with the crowd...) "Playing for Manchester United. It's a normal part of your day to perform in front of so many people. If you can't perform in front of a big audience, you're not going to play for Manchester United."

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