Osvaldo Alonso gets it. Time to teach the rest of the 2012 Sounders what it means to be Hidalgo. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Part of Gordon R. Dickson's Childe Cycle is the story Lost Dorsai. It involves a young military musician from a warrior caste who has chosen not to kill. During the climax of the story he is part of a small force besieged by a much larger army. The larger force comes from a Hidalgo culture. Just prior to the battle he marches out of the besieged city and straight toward the attacking army playing a military taunt called Su Madre (Your Mother) on a set of Gallician bagpipes. He is cut down, but his act of gallant defiance strikes a chord within the attacking army and the siege breaks. The Hildalgo attitude embedded in his martial act is what the 2012 Sounders lack.
At their heart, professional sports serve our society as ritualized combat. The 2012 Sounders have forgotten this fact. My wife's comment from Wednesday night haunts me. She's right. The Sounders as a team need a subtle shift in their attitude. Their biggest problem right now isn't their injuries, lack of cohesion or specific personnel. Their problem is that as a team they are prissy and the rest of the league knows it. Bullying the Sounders works.
All great sports stars play with a bit of a chip on their shoulder. You don't have to take it to the level of Ty Cobb. But when you find yourself in a sword fight, you better remember to bury the pointy end in your opponent or cleave them in two with the edge. When the god of War comes calling, you tell him, "Not today." Or you end up a silly, dead, little boy and you leave your fans as widows and orphans. Because at their core, sports are training for combat. The 2012 Sounders don't miss Kasey Keller's leadership as much as they miss his fire. Many of their problems are symptomatic of the fact that there doesn't appear to be any blood lust in this team.
Blood lust isn't precise enough. There is term from Flamenco that is more accurate: Duende. Duende is an elusive quality that speaks to the soul a great performance. It involves an attitude that stakes ownership in the piece and commands the emotions the piece embodies. Great teams exhibit duende. The Sounders don't have it yet. There are glimpses of precision in their play. But the precision is sterile. It lacks a smoldering core that demonstrates the inferno being kept in check by force of will.
Athletic intensity is a tricky commodity. The Sounders should not resort to thuggery. There are other ways to stand up to the bullying. The Sounders need Eddie Johnson to be the bayonet at the end of their offense. They need him to drive the ball into the chest of the opposition until he feels it grind against the bones of their spine. Right now he's playing like a first year Charms student flicking his wand and trying to get the right intonation on Wingardium Leviosa. The Sounders need Mauro Rosales and Alvaro Fernandez to remember the knife fight embedded in the spirit of the Tango. They need the Hildalgo. Ozzie Alonso understands. He needs to teach the Sounders what it means to be Hildalgo. They need fire along with precision. They need to rub the velvet off their antlers and truly take on the opposition in the battle of wills.
The Sounders have chosen a tactical style of soccer more akin to the rapier than the claymore. Fine. Watch Tim Roth's character in Rob Roy wield a rapier. Watch the movie, Captain Alatriste. Then drive the point home. All the fancy footwork in the world fails if you forget to finish the duel.
I love watching the Sounders play. I am excited by the possibilities this team and their approach embody. But the simple truth is that their petulance grows stale. Yes, the Sounders are getting hacked down. But until they learn to consistently play through the hacks, wipe their bloody nose on their sleeve and ram the ball down the opposition's throat, it won't stop. The Sounders will continue to get bullied. Time to win the battle of wills. Time to stand up and say, "Su Madre."