One pleasure of soccer — it is so intricate and involuted that you can have an obscure opinion and even be correct. Here are the Sounders, having played three games into their long march regular season, and it is already clear that their coach, Sigi Schmidt, may need to sit a game or two.
No one, of course, sits the coach. But when a player misses the mark, either the point or the view or the effect, the coach may have him sit out a game. Get his head straight, get his focus, fuel up his regret, start some steam — it is a steady ploy and even if there is no proving research, that is the straight penalty.
And no one, at least no one of grit, likes to sit. It is cold, you sit with others who somehow failed to do the right thing, your wife grumbles or says nothing, you are outside the party and it is not romantic.
Sigi Schmidt has, as we all have, a blind spot. His is a particular — he desperately wants things to be normal, then to tinker. Maybe it is a German thing. But his Sounders team, for many reasons, is simply not very good at normal. Last year, in the playoffs, they were pistol hot heading in, a little mean, a little chaotic but tough. They had lost Mauro Rosales to a knee injury and Rosales is their third dimension. Without him,, they are in truth only very good going straight ahead.
They went into the two-game series with Real Salt Lake and Sigi made his mistake — he asked them to be cool, keep it close. Salt Lake is very tough — the town, the team, even the food — and they pounded the Sounders. They returned to Sounders Field needing to win by an impossible four goals. Sigi had little choice but to tell them to go beast and sure enough, in a Lear-like rainstorm, they terrified Salt Lake and even should have won the game. And the series.
This season started early and odd, with a holdover two-game series in the CONCACAF league against Laguna Santos. This is not MLS fare, Santos is two more Michelin stars than that. Remarkably, in the first game, played here, the Sounders swirled in every direction and won the thing 2-1. Quietly, everyone imagined, maybe the 2012 Sounders were simply that improved. And they are.
Down to Mexico they went for the deciding second game and Sigi makes his mistake again. Instead of hollering for them to go mad — this is Santos, at home, not a sane place to be sane — he has the Sounders play compact. For the first half, it was okay. but then Santos threw all of the caution off the truck and, like and worse than Salt Lake, pounded Seattle 6-1.
The Sounders regrouped back home and when they won their season opener against Toronto 3-1, they seemed to have recovered from their Mexico massacre. Next, they beat a good Houston team, 2-0, but it was a graceless, hollow gain. The first goal came on a 45-degree deflection and the second on a penalty. Rosales was out, again. But so too were the wonderful new Swedish defender Adam Johansson and the veteran Brad Evans and last year's defender of the year, Jeff Parke.
You do not start the year against a Santos team that had been playing their season for four months. It cost the Sounders — to even stay close to Santos, they had to pretend they too had been at it for months. And Parke was not out with injuries. He was out with Sigi. out from having gotten into it with the coach.
There are plenty of rules for sporting chain of command, and they default like printers to military order, but you want to be a little careful with soldiers like Parke. This team counts on Parke — without him at the back, they are more parts than unit.
And that is how they looked on Saturday night in a loss to the San Jose Earthquakes: all parts and little union. The Quakes are good. With no Rosales nor Evans nor Johansson, the Sounders are more a brute force than a subtlety and San Jose simply headed most of the incoming back out to the midfield. For an attack, they loosed the now famous Steve Lenhart (he does this every time, said Sigi, then he apologizes after). Lenhart, an burly athletic cousin to Art Garfunkle, crashes on attack, like Colorado Rapids forward Conor Casey. By game's end you are sorry you did not kill him.
Lenhart lured the Seattle defense into early retaliation, in the box no less, and the penalty kick was the game's only score. For the second half, Parke came on, replacing John Kennedy Hurtado, who might also be a casualty of Santos play. And for the first time in the night, the Sounders played their form. They did not score but they should have. And Parke took all prospect out of the San Jose offense. And Sigi should thank him. They play in part for Sigi but they play with Parke.
They are good, the Sounders, and when their injured players return, they will be very good. But they are young, and Sigi must not try to train their furies into an older form. LA Galaxy, they are old enough, corrupt enough, cruel enough to play in reserve. Same for Salt Lake. But the Sounders must go on fuel.
On a side note, Sebastien LeToux, now with Vancouver, travelled to play his ex Philadelphia team on Saturday. Much was made of his chance for revenge against the Union coach Peter Nowak (I would retire rather than ever play soccer for him, said Seba). Nowak, whose team now has lost three games, snidely suggested Philadelphia, who loved LeToux and now seems to hate Nowak, might give Seba a parade.
Instead, they gave LeToux a very earnest standing ovation to start the game. It was remarkable for sport. And, of course, it ruined LeToux, even if he was unaware. He had two very fine chances for revenge and missed both. How can a Frenchman score on a crowd that had loved him?