Told ya so.
Yup. One thing I've learned watching and following soccer, is to recognize certain set-ups.
Before yesterday, everything about the Sounders was pointing towards inevitable doom. The extensive injuries, the inconsistent form, the apparent disconnect between players and the coaching staff. It was clear that the Sounders were going to have a hard time coming away from Salt Lake with anything positive. So of course, in the face of everything going against the team, the Sounders used the lack of expectations to bring RSL's domestic home streak to a halting end.
I'm going to go ahead and credit this win to the guys who gritted their teeth and finished the job. It was an ugly affair, with the rain and wind preventing any sort of momentum building. In addition, the internal team drama took up most of the attention before and during the game, so it was nice to see certain players not fall for distractions and continue fighting for their chances.
Specifically, the hunger displayed by two players rejuvenated my belief in the team as a whole: Michael Fucito and Lamar Neagle.
Mike played a great game after receiving another shock start, and his absence from the score sheet fails to show the impact he had on breaking down the RSL defense. Fucito consistently hounded the RSL backfield, making all the small hustle plays that Nate Jaqua didn't. Fucito's persistence in pestering their positional weaknesses eventually bore fruit in a key moment in the 57th minute, when he turned Jamison Olave inside out and broke free towards the goal. This forced Olave to make a professional (and ugly) foul as the last man back, for which he was sent off and gave Seattle an important man advantage.
Without the man advantage that early on, it's debatable as to whether Seattle could have got the first goal off of a Wahl corner kick. The ball bounced around off of Jaqua's head and Montero's shin before Ianni tapped it in. However, one goal that left no doubt was Lamar Neagle's stunner late in the game.
Neagle's first-ever MLS goal was a great reward for the all faith put in him by Sigi and the club. Surprisingly, Neagle only got his chance when Sigi was forced to make a substation early on in the game. According to reports during the game, Alvaro Fernandez had tweaked his hamstring, and was forced to come off after only 15 minutes. Then, the TV went to Sigi and he explained it.
(What happened to Alvaro Fernandez?) "He tweaked his hamstring a little bit in warm-ups. We came in and checked with him, said 'How do you feel?' He says, 'No, I think I can go.' I said, 'Look, you're a veteran player. I'm going to trust you.' He goes, 'No, no, no. I can go. I can go.' Then 15 minutes in, he couldn't go. So next time we'll not trust him. I don't know. It was tough. In his heart and soul he wanted to go, but then he felt it and for the betterment of the team he came out."
For one, I can understand where Alvaro is coming from. As a veteran and DP, he has the responsibility and expectation to carry the team in times like these, so his personal decision to try and play at 90-95% was not a selfish one but one to try and help the team (well, as he saw it). But it surprised me to hear Sigi kind of take it personally, like he feels like Alvaro should know better even though he wants to help the team win.
The last thing the team needs right now is a little bit of coach-veteran drama getting in the way of building some solid momentum and turning the season towards a positive direction. In the past, this would have been Fredy fighting the coaches' decisions and putting his interests before the team. However, after two years in this league and team, Fredy has grown and learned how to handle Sigi's decision making. Perhaps Alvaro doesn't have that yet.
Maybe it's the language barrier, or that he feels like he's being punished unfairly. After coming off early in the game, Alvaro immediately bundled up in a jacket and wore a pouty-face on the bench for the remainder of the game. So hopefully, this is just an exercise of Sigi teaching Alvaro how to handle these situations, that when Sigi asks him if he's ready that the team is trusting Alvaro to his word.
In any case, a little bit of team drama isn't bad. In fact, it can be good. Too much drama getting in the way of team performance would be bad, but in this case we came away with a surprise win and the extra motivation of ending RSL's home streak. I'll be looking very closely at how Alvaro develops in the next couple of games, assuming his injury isn't too bad, especially now that Sigi is signalling to the rest of the team (Wahl, Fucito, Neagle) that he's willing to listen and pay attention to anyone hungry enough to earn their spot.
SEA -- Patrick Ianni (Fredy Montero, Nate Jaqua) 72
SEA -- Lamar Neagle (Nate Jaqua) 84
RSL -- Nelson Gonzalez (Luis Gil) 8
Real Salt Lake - Nick Rimando, Tony Beltran, Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Robbie Russell (Nelson Gonzalez 76), Ned Grabavoy, Kyle Beckerman, Jean Alexandre (Chris Wingert 62), Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Andy Williams (Luis Gil 88).
Substitutes Not Used: Arturo Aghasyan, Kyle Reynish, Collen Warner, Chris Schuler.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Nat Borchers 4, Will Johnson 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Will Johsnon 2, Jean Alexandre 2); FOULS: 7 (3 tied with 2); OFFSIDES: 2 (Will Johnson 1, Fabian Espindola 1); CORNER KICKS: 10 (Andy Williams 4); SAVES: 3 (Nick Rimando)
Seattle Sounders -- Kasey Keller, James Riley, Patrick Ianni, Jeff Parke, Tyson Wahl, Brad Evans, Erik Friberg (Roger Levesque 81), Osvaldo Alonso, Alvaro Fernandez (Lamar Neagle 18), Mike Fucito (Fredy Montero 69), Nate Jaqua.
Substitutes Not Used: Terry Boss, Mauro Rosales, Zach Scott, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.
TOTAL SHOTS: 16 (Osvaldo Alonso 4, Lamar Neagle 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 6 (Lamar Neagle 2); FOULS: 12 (Tyson Wahl 4); OFFSIDES: 2 (Nate Jaqua 2); CORNER KICKS: 3 (Tyson Wahl 3); SAVES: 5 (Kasey Keller 5)
RSL -- Will Johnson (caution; Reckless Foul) 28
RSL -- Jamison Olave (caution; Ejection) 58
RSL -- Chris Wingert (caution; Reckless Foul) 65
SEA -- James Riley (caution; Timewasting) 81
SEA -- Tyson Wahl (caution; Reckless Foul) 90
Referee: Mark Kadlecik
Referee's Assistants: Rob Fereday; Colin Ablaster
4th Official: Yader Reyes
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Cloudy and 57 degrees