In most of the soccer world, July is a month reserved for international competition. That was especially true this year when there was that little tournament being played in Brazil. Sure, there were only 16 of the 32 teams still playing by that time, but they were big, big games being played. Probably the biggest games in the soccer world this year, if you want to get all hyperbolic about it.
Well, the Sounders -- and the rest of MLS -- had some games of their own to play. The results were decidedly mixed.
The Sounders opened the month with an absolute dud against the Vancouver Whitecaps. They closed it with that craptastic 3-0 loss at home to the LA Galaxy. But in between ... oh, man, there were some good times. It wasn't just eliminating the Portland Timbers from the U.S. Open Cup -- in glorious fashion, but we'll get to that later -- or that they followed it up a few days later with another win over their most hated rivals, but this was also the month of Xander Bailey's heart-warming appearance.
July 5: Whitecaps 1, Sounders 0
Obafemi Martins was out, Osvaldo Alonso was out, DeAndre Yedlin was out, Gonzalo Pineda was out, Clint Dempsey was out. There were a lot of very good players out for the Sounders. Sebastien Fernandez scored in the 12th minute on an absolute rocket, Stefan Frei came up with a couple big saves and the Sounders didn't look particularly dangerous. If I'm being completely honest, even after watching these highlights, I barely remember this game. Let's just call it forgettable.
July 9: Sounders 3, Timbers (AET)
Nothing quite salve the wound of a loss to a rival than beating your other big rival in an elimination tournament. You may remember, though, that the Sounders didn't just win this game, they ripped the Timbers' hearts out, showed it to them, took a big wide bite, put it back in and ripped it out again. It was glorious.
To recap, Alonso opened the scoring with a flying-ninja kick goal. It was awesome. Let's watch it:
Then the lights went out. Seriously, the lights went out. But the two sides played on and the Sounders were, admittedly a bit on the ropes. Just before the final whistle, Darlington Nagbe grabbed the equalizer and sent the game into extra time. Momentum seemed to be on the side of the Timbers.
But then Diego Chara committed a stupid foul, got red-carded and the Sounders scored a couple goals to win rather handily. It was, in fact, better than winning in a blowout. What made it better was Caleb Porter's delusional reaction.
July 13: Sounders 2, Timbers 0
Even better? The Sounders only needed to wait four days before handing the Timbers another loss. It wasn't quite as "rip out their heart, show it, eat it, put it back and rip it again"-y, but it was still pretty satisfying. Clint Dempsey, back from World Cup duty, got the winner when Will Johnson fell asleep and kept him onside and Marco Pappa sealed it with his second goal of the week. Pappa's goal, provided this memorable moment:
July 19: Sounders 3, Tottenham 3
I wouldn't normally include a friendly in this recap, but this was too good to ignore. The entire Xander Bailey story was really heartwarming. The way he signed with the team earlier in the week, trained with them and even started the game were all great touches. But what really brought the entire thing together was Sounders fans who went out of their way to make Bailey feel special. From the tifo to the cheers, it was a day Bailey will surely never forget.
This game was not without actual highlights, though. Alonso's 35-yard blast really deserves to be seen again.
July 28: Sounders 0, Galaxy 3
Ugh. Not sure what else to say here. It was 3-0 at halftime and the Sounders were never really in this game. It was the first time that I think a lot of Sounders fans started to have serious concerns about what this team was capable of doing and it was when questions started to arise about another collapse. Considering what had all the positivity over the previous three weeks, it was a gut punch and the first real test the Sounders would face.
Other notes from the month
The United States only got to play one game in July, the 2-1 overtime loss to Belgium in the World Cup Round of 16. One of the few bright spots from that game, though, was supplied by Yedlin. After subbing on for an injured Fabian Johnson, Yedlin held his own against Eden Hazard and even got the best of the Belgian dynamo a few times. This video recaps it nicely:
DeAndre Yedlin vs. Belgium from Rob Usry on Vimeo.
Player of the Month
I don't know what the numbers said, but I feel like this was when Pappa started to come into his own. The two goals against the Timbers were both great and he was asserting himself more and more in the offense. As frustrating as it was to be without Dempsey and Martins for a time, their absence also allowed Pappa to shoulder more of the offense and he reacted well.