Winning cures a lot of ailments. So in that sense, it's hardly a surprise that the Seattle Sounders were standing by their decision to allow Osvaldo Alonso to take the potentially equalizing penalty in Saturday's game for something other than soccer reasons. That the Sounders were able to come back to win anyway allows for a bit of results-based analysis, but in talking to players and Sigi Schmid, I'm inclined to believe there was a positive to come out the entire episode.
The first point -- and it's important -- is to first acknowledge that having Alonso take a penalty is not exactly a crazy idea. At various times, he's been the guy the Sounders went to. Alonso was the guy the Sounders looked to for the game-winner back in 2011 in that epic 3-2 win at Portland and he converted two more penalties in the run-up to the 2012 U.S. Open Cup final. Yes, Alonso missed his penalty in the shootout of the final that year and then missed another one last season, but he's hardly a slouch from the spot. Or as Djimi Traore put it...
"The thing is Ozzie is not like a young player or rookie coming to step in to take the PK," Traore said. "It's someone very important for the team.
"It was a great opportunity for him to score, unfortunately he missed, but you can see the response of the team. At halftime we said we'd do it for him, which shows the character of the team."
Now, it's obviously a little convenient to suggest the Sounders rallied around Alonso's miss. The Sounders were trying to win regardless of what happened there and if Alonso converts, maybe they win 4-1 and don't need the late heroics. But there's also something to be said for the potential team-building exercise involved in coming to the decision to allow Alonso to take it in the first place.
Last season, as the season was melting down, Schmid often talked about players needing to take control both on and off the field. Yes, the coaches have a responsibility in this, but at some point the players need to be trusted to make decisions and sort out their own issues. Schmid may have put Clint Dempsey and Brad Evans at the top of the penalty-taker list, but the in-the-moment decision had to made on the field.
"We've talked about our ability to fight back and our character as a team," Schmid said. "That comes from within the locker room. There's a tremendous character and a lot of respect for each other. As a result of that, they made a decision that they came to as a unit, as a group. They backed each other up on that. They fought for each other. I think our team fought especially in the hard because of that. And again, it speaks for our character.
"They love Ozzie, Ozzie loves our team, he wouldn't do anything to hurt our team and they won't do anything to allow Ozzie to get hurt. It's just another expression of the unity this group has shown."
While Schmid may not have loved the idea that his players effectively over-ruled him on this, he's aware that asking them to take ownership is a give and take. In that sense, this was simply part of the process.
"From a standpoint of whenever a team has the character and the responsibility and willingness to take decisions I think you have a stronger team on the day," Schmid said.
Speaking to ExtraTime Radio, Evans even suggested that given the same circumstances that he'd be OK with making the same decision. Fans might find this unsettling. Coaches may even find it unsettling. But there's also an impossible-to-quantify aspect to this. Locker room chemistry is not an actual science. Sometimes, we just need to let go and allow the players sort it out. So far, it's working fine.