While not as detailed as The Soccer Convert's report from Arizona, here's my take on the first two games of the Sounders' trip to Charleston. With a nod to TSC, the Sounders wore many colorful boots. I also now know why Dave Clark holds Aaron Kovar in Fucito-like esteem. However, before I share what I saw, if you have not had a chance to visit Charleston, SC, go! As I tell as many southerners who will listen to visit the PNW and Seattle, I will tell those of you in the PNW who haven't come to the South, plan a trip to Charleston (or Savannah since I'm a GA guy). It's a magnificent city with all the southern charm you'd expect, with a tad bit of history thrown in for good measure. I digress.
My kids got to experience their first Sounders games this past weekend, and they had a blast. Of course, they will be blown away once they get to experience the C-Link for the first time on match day, which my wife and I were able to do at the end of 2011. The environment was very laid back, almost what I imagine baseball spring training was link 15+ years ago. The whole coaching staff was sitting in the stands throughout the DC-Houston match, and they were walking around the concourse area. The players had to walk through the concourse as well to get to and from the field, so we were able to interact with everyone. Jeff Parke appreciated "being missed in Seattle," and Eddie Johnson was generous in signing and taking photos (Brad Davis as well).
Quick thoughts on the United/Dynamo game - DC were lucky when Houston's backup keeper allowed a ball to go through his hands for an own-goal, the second goal was scored late by the reserves, Brad Davis' left foot is the reason for Sean Franklin's nightmares Saturday night, Jeff Parke is a beast in the back, and Eddie Johnson had limited service in his 75 minutes (not going to miss his multiple times being offside, though). Houston will be just fine this season, and DC will be much-improved. They should be interesting tests for the Sounders later in the week.
I won't go too much into detail on the game versus Charleston, as it was exactly what Sigi described in his post game interview. The Sounders basically played the match 6/7 vs 10/11. Despite clearly being amped for the game, the Battery bunkered in their breastworks and mostly kept their powder dry. Seattle looked like a team with heavy legs from fitness, who was playing 90 minutes for the first time, and who was familiarizing itself with one another. It wasn't the most aesthetically pleasing of games, as it almost completely played in the middle third. My quick thoughts - the game flowed better in the second half once Marco Pappa switched to the left side, Chad Marshall is a beast of a beast in the back, Ozzie scores wonder strikes, Dylan Remick was solid and steady throughout, Jalil Anibaba and Brad Evans need to play more together to work out the kinks, Marcus Hahnemann was up to the task on a couple of late break away counters, the foul on Sean Okoli was legit, and Brad Evans is money from the spot. This line up was mostly a known quantity. Okoli was fairly quiet in his 18 minutes except for drawing the late foul, but he didn't make any noticeable mistakes. Cam Weaver just had a cameo. Michael Azira played the whole match against the Sounders and basically just helped the Battery clog up the middle. He didn't have any big moments, good or bad.
My lasting take away was how the team fought for one another. The Charleston goal scorer, who was opportunistic after a free kick was knocked down by the Sounders and then not cleanly cleared which is something that can be easily fixed, was a thorn in the side of the Sounder more so for his chippy play. He was cautioned for a rash tackle on Obafemi Martins, from which Oba quickly jumped up and got in the much taller and larger guy's face. The Honey Badger just don't care, and moments later showed the goal scorer what it's like to be on the receiving end. Sometimes cautions are just necessary. The best indication of team unity, though, was Pappa screaming at the guy from the bench after being subbed out. I think we are going to see a team who will fight for one another this year. I can't wait to see this trait develop.
Now on to Sunday's game. This match was a show of force, with the Sounders completely dominating the proceeding by dictating the entire match. This game was played in the Sounders end and primarily along the left wing, especially in the second half. In fairness, the College of Charleston didn't have many or any subs, and they are clearly in their off season. Their coach, on the other hand, was in full season mode, loudly and repeatedly badgering the referee throughout the match, at least until Sean Okoli drilled him in the face on a clearance. Funny, I don't remember the coach saying too much after that. In order to lay some S@H comments to rest, the foul made by Zach Scott was mostly a bone thrown to the C of C's coach by the non-PRO referee. There was contact, but it is a likely non-call by a MLS-caliber referee. No one needs to worry about Zach Scott Man Marker's defending in this one, and he rose high to score a goal from a corner late in the first half.
Okay, here are my takes on the match:
DeAndre Yedlin - worked on fitness before and during the match with no noticeable sign of a limp. I think the Sounders are just being very cautious this early in the season.
Stefan Frei - went through a full warm up and was working on punts during halftime. Again, there were no noticeable signs of any injury issues.
Josh Ford - was only pressured three times. C of C put the ball away from a shot made by a clearly offside player, so no worries. ZSMM was nastily fouled late in the first half right outside the penalty area and the resulting play of the ball fell to a Charleston player who was fouled inside the penalty area as Ford came rushing out, but the referee whistled the foul against ZSMM. Then, the only time C of C got the ball over the halfway line in the second half resulted in the PK. Ford simply said, "I've got this." C of C didn't even pursue the rebound easily collected by Ford.
ZSMM - was the vocal field general and ball winner. Period. Next.
Leo Gonzalez - had a smooth, steady 45 minutes. He got forward a couple of times as well.
Damion Lowe/Jimmy Ockford - were solid as a right side pairing. ZSMM spent a lot of time directing these two, and they responded. Calm performances by both. Ockford got forward quite a bit and combined well with Barrett, but most of the play was on the left wing.
Tristan Bowen - scored the third goal, but playing on the right, saw little action, especially in the second half.
Alex Caskey - played the box to box role, and was decent in working the ball around, especially to the left. Georgia boy! He did well, but when compared to...
Gonzalo Pineda - was pure class. One, two, three, and four defenders did not seem to faze him. He maintained possession, period. He impressed.
Sean Okoli - scored the beautiful second goal. Caskey dummied a Kovar cross that Okoli finished nicely. He played the right side in the second half.
Chad Barrett - had several chances in the first half. He seems more used to route one soccer, but he had several possession combinations in the final third as well. He saw most of the balls played forward in the first half.
Kevin Parsemain - had a quiet first half, as Barrett had the majority of the forward touches. Nice assist on Bowen's goal.
I will save the best for last, as the Man of the Match came on in the second half to play "on the left." I am unsure as to Troy Peterson, Ike Crook, or any other Sounders related player being involved yesterday on the College of Charleston side.
On to the second half subs:
David Estrada - scored goal number four with a calm finish. He had a hand in Bowen's goal with some hard-nosed play deep in the corner to keep the ball alive.
Fabio Pereira - scored the final goal from Kovar's initial cross. He kept the ball in traffic and worked it around, especially to the left side.
John Arroyo - despite being one of the smallest players on the field, did well in hold up play, believe it or not, on the left wing, as he combined well with Kovar and Pereira.
Eriq Zavaleta/Cam Weaver - were on the receiving end of cross after cross and could have easily made it 6, 7, or 8-nil but were centimeters off on a couple of headers.
Aaron Kovar - was Dave Clark's dream. Man of the Match. He played left, as in left back, left mid, left forward, left crosser, left overlapper, left server... I lost count on how many full-field runs he made. ZMSS basically played left back in a three man back line so that Kovar could shred C of C. He had T-H-R-E-E assists from crosses. Picture Dylan Remick's assist in Tuscan. Times three! He barely missed a goal from a free kick, too. My concerns about his size and youth were laid to rest, at least against college aged players, as he literally held off pressure as he took guys on the dribble and as he combined with Arroyo and Parsemain. It was quite the performance. I feel good about our left back situation with Leo, Remick, and Kovar (at least offensively).
Well, that pretty much wraps up 36 hours worth of Sounders action in Chucktown. Again, if you ever get the chance to visit Charleston, go! I am so looking forward to this season with the remade Sounders. I am optimistic that it will be the best season yet. Scarves are definitely up in GA - SSTID!