I didn't expect to write anything from the Barcelona match. It was a friendly, which to me screams exhibition with a bigger price tag. But I think we actually learned a little bit about the Sounders and Sigi last night.
Sure the crowd set a record, sure we saw Lionel Messi work his magic, but to me, the lessons were a bit different.
Sigi's Style - The Full Backs - Depth
Sigi treated this like a training match with 67,000 fans watching. He didn't necessarily try to win, not that he tried to lose, but instead played Sounders soccer. It was not a bunkering down with 8 on defense, a midfielder and a forward just hoping for that one goal to tie or put it ahead, but instead the flowing offense that indicates that the Sounders are playing at their best.
The Rave Green used lots of quick short passes to bring the ball, attacking with both wingbacks running the ball low to the ground with great 1-2 passing. Sure they missed on the finishing, that's typical of this level of play. But the style was similar to what we have seen when they play best. Passing sequences started quickly and went through the midfield to the wide men and back in, sometimes to the overlapping runs of Riley or Gonzalez. It was the type of football that is enjoyable, and was clearly an effort by Sigi and staff to get ready for the upcoming match at Real Salt Lake. Notably also a 4-3-3 team (usually).
James Riley was amazing. Sure he could expend more energy due to the Red Card, but he did it well. Whether it was on offense starting runs down the right wing interplaying with the Freddyain, or defensively making us forget that it was Thierry Henry who looked the least effective player for Barca. This was a match where Riley clearly got it. He was training against the best, and clearly showed that he is a premium Right Back in MLS. Friendly or preseason, it doesn't matter, Thierry Henry was a non-factor. As a leftwing in a 4-3-3 it was James Riley who shut him down.
Leonardo Gonzalez drew his first appearance as a Sounder and showed that offense gets playing time in this system. While there maybe a better defensive left back available, no player tried in that role showed the offensive skills that Gonzalez did. He fit in with Zakuani so well on several runs, connected quickly with Alonso or Evans in the defensive half and basically turned the Sounders into an 8 man offense rather than the 7 that we have seen this season. Defensively he drew a top five player in the world and didn't suck. Sure he struggled, but at times he also succeeded. He showed that whether its Will Johnson or Clint Mathis, or Nyarko or whoever in MLS the threat along that left side is going to be neutralized.
I saw the second half as an opportunity to help evaluate the depth of the squad. While Barcelona was playing keep away, the Sounders players were really fighting for playing time. It was a group of rotationals ( Scott, Sturgis, Wahl, Ianni), substitutes (Vagenas, Nyassi, Levesque) and reserves (Neagle, Boss, Fucito, Graham). Some of them displayed why they should bump up that list and others showed why they are where they are. This isn't an indictment, just my own thoughts.
Zach Scott is clearly the best outside back not starting right now. He gets forward better than he used to, but more importantly is that his positioning defensively is solid, his communication strong and he is just tenacious. Scott shouldn't beat out Leo or Riley, but he should be the 3rd man there now.
Sanna Nyassi might have to play beyond the most skilled players on the team, but he was strong. He should be available for every match as a sub. Sure he offers speed, but in the withdrawn forward role he also pursued defensively like a small Seb Le Toux (who didn't play for the first time) and managed to chase those long balls down. He's not going to take Le Toux's role away as a rotational player, Nyassi deserves more time in league play.
Taylor Graham showed some great leadership, directing the offense as the big tall centerback. We haven't yet seen him as an MLS player in Seattle. But he definitely seemed healthy and I am not worried about the US Open Cup Final when it is Graham and Marshall. There won't be a 50/50 ball that the Sounders don't win. He also offers some help on set-pieces as another big head. If Graham can come off the DL he'll jump up to rotational status rather quickly. No other CB not starting is as good as Taylor.
Mike Fucito was a bulldog (sorry for the Yale reference). Clearly outmatched by the Barca defenders he was fierce in his pursuit, was calling for his mates to send the ball his way when he had even the slimmest of opportunities. Not as tall as Seb, he had that kind of work rate. Sure it was only 15ish minutes, but it showed that he's more than just reservist when healthy. He's a future in this league, if purely by determination and grit. We'll have to judge his on-ball skills more when we get to see them. He's a scorer though historically, a left footer. And would you rather see Vagenas or Fucito?
PS Barcelona lose the Florescent Salmon tops.