Thursday, May 26, 2011

Notes on Sounders FC from a Novice Fan

First, let me say I love Sounders FC. I am a fan and will loyally be one win, lose or draw. Indeed, I enjoy having a local team that's in the top league for soccer in the U.S., and overall am quite pleased with their first 2+ seasons in MLS. This is all doubly true since the NBA Sonics were stolen out of Seattle and moved to Oklahoma City.

In particular I love how the Sounders have won a number of critical games in dramatic fashion, consistently reside in the upper third of the standings, have made the MLS playoffs twice in their two seasons and won the U.S. Open Cup twice in a row. I also really like the game atmostphere at home games. Not bad for an expansion team. Not bad at all.

Perhaps it's because I just witnessed them losing a home game to Dallas last night, but I'm now increasingly frustrated with this team - mainly for it's inability to score goals (that's pretty important as it turns out), but also for sloppy play (I know...easy to say when you're a fan) and - given these two problems - also what seem to be 1-2 fatal breakdowns in defense every game.

Lets take a look at these together because I think they're linked. And it all starts with...

Sloppy Play
Look, I get it...this is not English Premier League talent out there. I'm fine with that. And, I know two key players are out with injuries. However, even before those inures happened, I am consistently amazed this season by what appear to be very frequent lazy or way-off passes that either go out of bounds or directly to an onrushing opponent. This is particularly bad in the midfield, and it seems that this season the great majority of the "full 90" is spent in the middle third of the field for the Sounders as they muddle around trying to get possession of the ball.

Naturally, this sloppy passing turns into more opportunities for the other team to possess the ball, move it forward and attempt to score. And they do. I know at least one game - the opener vs. L.A. - was decided specifically on the fact that a Sounder defender kicked the ball DIRECTLY to a Galaxy player deep in the defensive end of the field and the Galaxy player booted a goal past the Sounders keeper. Just one example, but a good (or actually bad) one. Seems like each game the opponent gets a couple quality goal chances because of this type of thing.

Meanwhile, the Sounders don't seem to. In fact they appear to have a chronic case of the...

Inability to Score
This manifests itself in two ways. First, limited opportunities. Because they are fiddling around trying to get possession in the midfield and playing defense, the Sounders do not seem to put together aggressive pushes forward or artful runs that can result in chances on goal. Other MLS teams seem to be able to do this regularly. I've seen it - both against the Sounders and in other matches unrelated to Seattle. Add to that the sloppy passing element, and you've got what to my eye and experience amounts to fewer and poorer goal opportunities overall. You can't score if you're not near the goal with the ball - simple as that.

The second way the Sounders inability to score goals is manifested is in just simply flubbing around with the ball at critical moments in front of the goal. This seems to happen over and over and over again in each game. I know the players are not trying to screw up, and I know scoring a goal in soccer is not easy, but how many times this season has one of them been directly on goal or with an open chance and instead of directly shooting it they try and settle or dribble around...ultimately either firing off a lame shot, having it blocked or being dispossessed? Many times. Far, far too many times. Put the ball into the net in the most direct and quick fashion possible please.

The combination of sloppy play and the inability to score exposes the team to...

Fatal Breakdowns on Defense
These happen. Even on good teams. It's just the way it is. But, when your offense cannot score goals and this happens...opponents score, and you just lost the game 1-0 or maybe 2-0. Just one breakdown and you're done. That's all it takes.

This past game really put each of these points in sharp relief. The Sounders possessed the ball pretty well actually, but still were sloppy in the midfield, misfired on some key pass opportunities and managed to screw up a LOT of quality goal scoring chances as usual. Meanwhile Dallas opportunistically scored their one goal on a "fatal breakdown" on defense. And that was the game. At the time of the goal I said to my buddy, "well, this is going to be 1-0 or 1-1...that's it." He agreed. We both knew the Sounders were not going to score or if they did it would be eeking one out in desperation at the end. We were correct. They lost 1-0.

So that's my novice assessment of their season so far - predominately sloppy play, ample wasted goal scoring chances and other teams capitalizing on fatal breakdowns on defense. Right now, that's earned them a record of 4-5-5. That's decent, but not good. I think at least one of these three issues will need to change for them to improve their position in the standings. If not, they'll probably squeak into the playoffs, but how far can you go with that style of play? Not too far. Here's hoping for improvement!

By the way, if there are some more insightful and intelligent soccer fans out there who can enlighten me or think I'm off base, I welcome the input. I'd love to know what I'm missing or if I'm just plain wrong on some of this (seriously).

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