Last night was a pretty cool experience, above and beyond the result. Thanks to Dave (and Arlo, in a roundabout way) it was my first foray into GA. That is certainly a unique experience that I'd recommend to anyone (except maybe those bringing young children). On the one hand, it's a lot of work jumping around and singing for 90 minutes (or 120 minutes, if your team decides to let some Panamanian minnows into the game for some reason) and you lose some perspective on the match — both visually and emotionally — but you're putting yourself in the middle of the cauldron of fan energy that defines the fan experience in Seattle (and elsewhere in Cascadia). I couldn't do it every match, but it was a great evening, particularly with Dave along with Aaron and Jennifer on the other side, who were basically the party that rocks the party.
But even from the slightly chaotic perspective of GA a few things were clear from last night's match. One is that the refereeing was beyond awful. It was probably hard to control a game where one team was desperate to waste time from the first minute, but 'controlling' it by letting the team do that without any consequence, calling chippy fouls for the time-wasters, then letting hard fouls against the home team go, then distributing pretty random yellow cards (like to Rosales for a handball in the middle of the pitch or to Keller for who knows what) was a pretty bizarre strategy. It's easy to blame some kind of bias for a Costa Rican ref working a game between North Americans and Central Americans, but Solis called plenty of fouls and 50/50 balls for the Sounders that he didn't have to if he had some secret pro-San Francisco agenda. I don't think he was corrupt. He was just incompetent. Which is doubly weird when you realize that this is probably the second time you've seen Jeffrey Solis officiate a game with Americans this season. He was also in charge of the Gold Cup match between the US and Guadeloupe, and while that game also featured a home team that got a ton of chances but barely squeaked by inferior opposition, I don't remember it for being poorly officiated.
The other thing that stood out was Seattle's poor finishing. I generally take a statistical approach to these things and assume most of it balances out in the end, but I'm not blind. I doubt it's lack of skill. We all know these attackers can be devastating shooters on good days. I suspect at this point it's a sort of feedback loop, where players that feel they have to aim their shots perfectly just to get one in will tend to over-aim and the shots will be weak or straight at the keeper. And that just makes their confidence worse. Fredy Montero tries to chip the keeper about ten times as often as he should, probably because he's sick of his straight shots getting blocked or saved. Now it's up to Sigi to sort out the attacking confidence of the current players and Adrian to bring in someone who already has it.
Regardless of the particulars of the match, the Sounders won and are still alive in the CONCACAF Champions League, which is a pretty tremendous achievement. It's easy to get lost in the day to day twists and turns of the team, but if you step back and consider that the team lost its best (or second best, depending on the day) attacking player for the season, lost a DP striker on the opening day of the season, and lost his replacement for over half the season and is still in contention for every trophy that was on the calendar when the season opened, you can't help but be impressed at our depth and commitment.
If you count the MLS regular season trophy, the playoff trophy, the Confederation's CCL trophy, the Open Cup, and the vanity rivalry trophy (which most teams have) then there are 5 trophies up for grabs when the season starts. And only the Sounders and one other team — FC Dallas — are still in the running for all of them. The Galaxy are no longer in the US Open Cup. Nor Real Salt Lake, who also don't qualify for the CCL this season. Everyone else is realistically eliminated from the race for the Supporter's Shield. That's pretty select company, and it's something the team has achieved in only their third year of existence, which reflects this team and this community's commitment to winning — in every competition, every time they step on the field. Even against Manchester United, which is why that travesty of a result hit so many fans so hard.
To throw a little data into the conversation — because that's just how I roll — here's a list of those 5 trophies that are still up for grabs and the best odds I can come up with for the Sounders winning each of them. For competitions involving regular MLS play (which includes the Shield, MLS Cup, and the Cascadia Cup) I use the simulation we already run which takes into account schedule, scoring prowess, defense, and so on. For the others I just give each team a 50/50 chance to win each match, which is probably generous in the CCL in a group with Monterrey and pessimistic in the USOC where we have home field advantage in the semifinals and a good chance at it in the final.
|US Open Cup||25.0%|
Some odds are longer than others, but we still have at least a 5% shot at every cup on the table which is not something to take for granted.