Passion and intensity have their place in sports. A team without a beating heart is a corpse. Players like Osvaldo Alonso, Eddie Johnson, Lamar Neagle and Zach Scott animate the Sounders. But in the heat of playoff battles, the team also needs a head.
When the ball caroms around the penalty box like a possessed pachinko machine, having Brad Evans calmly chest trap the ball and place a shot into the far corner of the net settles the game. Djimi Traore marshals his celebrating team mates to focus after scoring. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado bear hugs EJ and reminds him that if he takes his shirt off while already on a Yellow card, he could get thrown from the game and not be available Saturday. Adam Moffat links up with Brad Evans in the Diamond 4 and frees up both Clint Dempsey and Ozzie to do what they do best, create havoc. Marcus Hahnemann steps onto the pitch after Michael Gspurning vapor locks and quickly organizes the defense helping the team weather the storm of being a man down and one goal up. The quiet intelligence of Seattle's veterans cut through the mist and rain.
From the start of the 2013 season, the Sounder's Front Office hasn't minced words about their goals. This season the team was built with the expressed purpose of winning the MLS Cup. A critical component of this roster construction was the acquisition of players who have playoff pedigrees. Obafemi Martins and Deuce were this season's shiny things. They've also played on the world's biggest stages. Hahnemann brings experience and is grounded in the Cascadian soil. The additions of Shalrie Joseph, Moffat and Traore stiffened the playoff spine of the team. This roster relies on its veterans far more than any other Sounders roster in the MLS era. Seattle's 18 man bench Wednesday night reflected this focus.
The veteran presence served the Sounders well. It calmed the lingering jitters from the team's record malaise. It helped them battle the Colorado Rapids' youthful exuberance and exposed the tactical faults of Colorado's reliance on youth this season. This was particularly apparent along the Colorado backline. Drew Moor is a consummate MLS professional. He's a player I've often wished could be Sounder. But even his leadership couldn't help Colorado knit together the defense they fielded Wednesday.
The play of Evans and Moffat stood out in stark contrast. Their experienced calm solidified the entire Seattle team. They served as key linkage players in transition. They helped shut down Colorado's wide players on defense. They provided key outlets and freed both Dempsey and Alonso to maraud. It was easily Adam Moffat's best game as a Sounder and highlighted exactly why Seattle was willing to let Servando Carrasco go to Houston. Brad Evans had the kind of night that highlights just how important a player he is for the team. He wore the Captain's band, filled in at RB when Yedlin was injured and scored the winning goal.
No one will ever accuse Brad of having flashy skills. Even his goal celebrations define understatement. A simple kiss of his wedding band, a kiss to the team's badge and then he got back down to business. He isn't the player who tends to garner headlines. But he is precisely the type of player that helps a team navigate the perils of playoff soccer. Outsiders often wonder why Jurgen Klinsmann selected him for the USMNT when he isn't even the starting RB on his club team. The answer lies in how he makes everyone around him better. As a coach, you find a way to get those players on the field regardless of where they play. His biggest asset on the pitch is his brain. If he still needs a Halloween costume, I would suggest the Scarecrow.
The 2013 MLS Cup playoff season is still in its infancy. Seattle hasn't won anything but the right to face Portland in the Conference Semifinal. They have a long way to go before they garner a trophy for their efforts. Yet, it was exactly the type of game the team needed. The team's veterans helped them through the nervy moments and EJ iced the game with a stoppage time insurance goal. It is the kind of win that lays a losing streak to bed and can launch a playoff run. It is the perfect performance to build upon. And this veteran team looks again like a contender.