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Monday Afternoon Tea, Can't Get No Sleep

It doesn't happen often that I get a chance to sip some tea and wax poetic about the Sounders (read: watch funny youtube videos), so I'm loving it as I've spent all morning and afternoon sleeping in and doing nothing productive (thanks to all who keep us safe, overseas and at home). But it was only because late last night, I swear I had trouble half-sleeping as I was trying to wrap my head around the current state of Sounders season. I stayed up watching highlights of all the league matches from Saturday, and that's when I started thinking.

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You could easily look at just this weekend's results alone to accurately judge how the MLS season is doing right now. Teams like LA Galaxy, Toronto FC, and Real Salt Lake (NYRB should be on the list, if it weren't for some ref's calls) all got wins. San Jose and NYRB have both experienced complete 180's this season. You could look at each of these clubs to find out how or why, but you wouldn't have to search for long. In the end, all of it boils down to the play on the field. But that's just the beginning of it.

The first thing I realized is that the level of play in MLS is still not where we want it to be, and that's what's allowed Toronto, San Jose, and New York to be performing much better than they did last year. Most notably, I'm talking new signings. Julian de Guzman and Bobby Convey are not blockbusters or red carpet bombers, not like this guy. But watching the highlights of the matches, both these players had a foot involved in the goals and in the win (Toronto's win over SJ). Simply by bringing what they have from Deportivo la Coruna and Reading, respectively not high-tier clubs by any standard, they've boosted the level of play in their home stadiums. Compare that to the season before, where Toronto's biggest signing was FC Dallas defender Adrian Serioux. San Jose, meanwhile, was arguably one of the busiest clubs in the offseason, grabbing impact players like Bobby Convey, Eduardo, Javier Robles, and Ike Opara (to name just a few). Of all of the new signings, Convey probably has the biggest name. But Eduardo was a reject from Swiss giants Basel, Robles a good product from Argentina, and Opara a standout draftee who has had an immediate impact. Along with San Jose's many signings, New York Red Bull is another team that fits in here, with a revamping of their system from the top down. You can also talk about LA Galaxy, who smartly grabbed three players on loan from Sao Paulo and basically got a new and improved Landon Donovan back from his stint at Everton.

So all of the clubs I just listed were busy making moves off the field. And currently, all of those clubs are in the middle of a very fine run of (consistent!) form. So what do their front office's activities have to do with Seattle?

Well, when Seattle was first announced as an expansion, it was like being handed a blank slate. The possibilities in front of our FO were limitless. Anyone who's played a new game of Football Manager as Chelsea or Real Madrid knows the giddy feeling of being a kid in a candy shop. That was me, back in 2007, knowing that we could build a team of dynamos and wonderkids to dominate the league. And, with our then incredible Front Office, we did. To everyone's surprise, we nabbed a European superstar, an American legend, and some shining youth from around the world. Our first season was making CEO's and administrators at veteran clubs around the league salivate. It was everything any soccer fan in Seattle could dream of, and fans everywhere rejoiced at the example set by Seattle and the promise for the future of MLS.

The thing is, a few smart clubs have learned from the example set by Seattle. And as much as we all prophesied the great potential of MLS' ability to rise, well, it has. Not by much. It's still very much the same physical, tactically deficient game it was last year. But Seattle is no longer top dog, with the greatest owners and fanciest sweater. Oddly enough, in one year, the level of MLS has risen past the level that Seattle's FO had spent two years preparing for, from 2007 to 2009. We all thought we were the genius kids in the class, raising our hands and volunteering, destroying simple arithmetic on the chalkboard that we thought the other kids were too blind to see. We didn't know about the sly kids in the back of the class, copying our notes.

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Either that, or we were too caught up being arrogant, thinking we were the smartest and coolest around. Because that's definitely the attitude the FO and coaching staff took when they thought we could waltz back into our sophomore year with last year's outdated fashion, old beat up shoes, and (oh gosh) the same 32 set of crayon nubs we had last year and not the new 64 set with glittery purple.

I'll quit it with the metaphors if you can understand what I'm saying. The thing is, it wasn't just the FO, or Sigi, or even Freddie Ljungberg for believing he was better than it all the whole time. We ALL thought like this. We ALL thought that with our second season, we would romp to a Supporter's Shield off the back of our Lamar Hunt trophy. Fredy would catch fire faster and burn brighter. Freddie would score some goals. Kasey would... stop getting older? No. Urm, scratch that.

So it's no surprise, no surprise at all I realized late last night, that all of Seattle, from the average fans to the blogopress, are calling for heads, wanting players out in hopes of reducing our chances of finishing second to last (where we are currently sitting), and desperate for something to latch onto before we hit rock bottom. Because that's what it feels like, when we are expecting it all to be handed to us on a plate and getting sloppy seconds instead. But it's not that easy, because we did such a good job setting an example, it came back to bite us in the butt. Other teams have out-scouted us, out-financed us, out-coached us, and out-performed us. The only area where we beat every other team is in fan support.

I always have the utmost respect for the Front Office, no matter how stupid they look or act sometimes. Because they have to be the ones with the initiative. They have to use their experience and judgment to make these kinds of decisions. And, bless them, they knew this and saw this coming before all of us. However, it was a little too late. It was only until the season started, when they saw other club's scouts sneaking around the playground, talking secretively to all the cute girls, and other club's owners silently studying in the library, doing their homework. It was when we were too busy riding our high horse, hanging out with our fake-posse of journalists who distracted us from the details, that we didn't realize we had work to do too. OK, sorry, sorry, I'll stop.

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The point is, Blaise Nkufo can't come soon enough. He was supposed to be our off-season move. He was supposed to be here to help us keep our competitive edge. Had the FO been on their game, they would have signed him earlier, or another impact player all the same. Instead, they thought they could build solely off our first season and still achieve success. It was an honest mistake, and they've tried to cover up for it by signing Blaise after the World Cup ends. But, as the internet explodes with anger and frustration, many of us feel it might be too late. Freddie wants out. If he doesn't want out, WE want him out. Fredy can't score. Sigi looks lost and helpless, almost listless during games. Our youth is wasting on the sidelines without a chance to shine. No matter if Blaise can come in July and score all of the 20 some goals we should have scored already, he can't fix these things. Or can he?

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I've always thought Blaise looked a litte like Tyrese from the Fast and Furious movie series. Yeah, I know they're cheesey and gimicky, but I had a testosterone teen history where I thought it was cool to like cars. But anyways, in the movie Tyrese was the bad boy. More so, Tyrese screwed the system and did things his way. Now, from the interviews I've seen, Blaise looks as harmless as a kitten. But he brings with him a winning way, in a different aspect that Freddie Ljungberg ever had. In his career, Blaise went through years of agony at Twente, scoring bags of goals but never winning silver. Freddie, on the other hand, was a part of an invincible team, the likes of which we'll probably never see again. Yet, Freddie was merely one unit in an oily team of stars, where other individual performances carried his. No doubt, Freddie played his part in Arsenal's success. But so did Henry, Pires, Bergkamp, Reyes, Campbell, on and on and on. Blaise on the other hand, he captained his team to their first ever title. EVER.

So though Freddie knows how to win, Blaise knows what to do to get there. And honestly, that's what I'm hoping he brings, more than just goals. I want Blaise to bring a true players leader attitude, something that every other MLS team has that we don't have. Donovan, Convey, Angel, and De Rosario, they all have this. You could argue Keller was our inspirational leader for a while, but I don't see this. If our keeper was our leader, I'd want to see Kasey flipping out like Howard in one of his many bouts. Keller's lackadaisical performances thus far have been anything but inspiring. All it would take for Blaise to step in and fill the void as team leader would be to score one goal. And that's it.

What else can he do? What else can we do? Other than hope for another impact transfer to hopefully fill in for Alonso and Hurtado being out injured, the only other option we have is to keep doing what we're doing. Keep working hard to play hard, and if the soccer gods are kind enough, results will fall into place. There's no other way we can change that, unless a Russian oil magnate suddenly finds interest in Seattle. Until then, we can't force it.

I've spent the past three years of my life waiting for June 11th, as you may know if you've been following the USA World Cup Offside blog, where I've joined part-time. The World Cup is the single most exciting thing in my life, next to maybe drugs, sex, and rock and roll, all of which I partake in frequently. Yeah, it's true. So now you know what I mean when I say, I want Blaise here, and can someone tell me, when does the World Cup end?

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