For the second year in a row, the Seattle Sounders have taken a foolish route in their effort to win an MLS Championship. They are, again, in a two-game, home-and-away series to determine who will move on — and, again, they are, by the rights of a better season, the home team, playing that deciding second match on their own field, with their own fans, in their own bed.
Last year, they flew into Salt Lake for the first game and were blown out by Real 3-0. This year they flew into Los Angeles and were blown out by the LA Galaxy 3-0. Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said maybe they did not learn anything from last year. But maybe it was Sigi who learned nothing.
This is the best Sounder team ever gathered. But Sigi is dreaming if he thinks they are a a monolith — they are a sum but it is hardly Teutonic.They have parts, some quite good parts, but they come from every direction and many instincts and it is nonsense to ask them to play a game on stern reserve alone. They cannot do it.
But twice now Sigi has sent them into the battle with that plan and twice it has ruined them. They have one true talent, for better or worse, and that is to play full out. One day, perhaps, they will have the discipline and players to hold a stern tack — but it is nuts to ask this team to do it, they are like a classroom that cannot keep a straight face.
In his defense, Sigi's team had some terrible handicaps. Their best player, Mauro Rosales, is injured — he is their song and dance man and they have little song or dance without him. He is their Landon Donovan, the LA Galaxy star— take Donovan out of the match last Sunday, add Rosales and the Sounders would have been favored. Rosales may well be back this weekend, the difference without him is plaintive.
Sigi also had lost his left defender, Marc Burch, who was rightly suspended for three games for calling a Salt Lake ballboy a faggot. It was a stupid and terrible error by Burch, caught on television cameras, making it all even stupider. Burch apologized and seemed genuinely mortified but the damage was done.
The Sounders had only Zach Scott to play left defender and Scott is a stout heart and true patriot but also a poor passer, especially from the left side. The LA game was hardly up and LA had pinched and squeezed the Sounder defense into self doubt, the doubt that they could safely get the ball upfield. Seattle stayed on their back foot all night. LA had done the same thing in their game against San Jose a week earlier, when a San Jose defender was injured and the Galaxy proceeded to torment his replacement.
This Sunday (Nov. 18), Leo Gonzalez, the injured Sounder left back, may be able to return and that will give them some freedom, for Gonzalez is a fine passer and ballhandler. The Sounders played crippled this past Sunday and LA is murder on cripples.
Last year, for the second game against Real Salt Lake, the Sounders threw everything but pitchforks at Salt Lake and came just short, inches short, by only scoring two goals, not the three needed to tie the overall score for two-game series. It was a madness and an exhausting thriller and it changed forever how Real Salt Lake, once the dominator, would view the Sounders.
This year, who knows, they were so beat up on Sunday in LA, maybe the season is a goner. But if you want a chance, here is how it could go. One, it would help if the weather was awful— last year was perfect awful weather, wind and a Lear-like rain made it all seem quite homey. This Sunday is forecast to rain and sit at 51 degrees. Let it rain.
Two, let the dogs out, all of them. Make the field a tilt and you defend the high end and for the whole game, you are running downhill. You can only do this with a fury and a madness and, most importantly, ill humor. LA will be a tough team to con, for they are used to doing the conning. But so was Real Salt Lake and last year, even though it took more than a half to score the first goal, once the Sounders did score then it was game on and the one hanging on was Real.
The Sounders only need one goal, to make this a match — but it must come early, it would be best if the maligned Fredy Montero scored it and you must shut LA out. Not impossible, in spite of appearances, for Donovan is half injured. For the Sounders, it must be a very physical game, played just this side of a foul. The LA central defender Omar Gonzalez already has a yellow card, he would be the perfect focus if you want to have a dream of advantage. Make no mistake, LA will pack in and try to make this the dullest game since unemployment.
In game one, Seattle's only thought of offense seemed the foolish notion of lobbing into the middle and much of the game pitted the 6'5" Gonzalez jumping against 5'10" Montero and laughing. For Seattle to win, LA must not only stop laughing, they must start wondering if they are getting old. Run, run and run, let the dogs out and let the youthful Sounders have their youth. It is the only chance and a slim one to boot.
But let Seattle get the first goal, let the winds blow and the fans scream and the rain pour and then see what happens, see if LA looks so quick running uphill. If LA should score first, you can probably go home. If the Sounders can get doubt into the game, then they stand a chance. You will know right away how it is all going — just look at the referee. If he looks like matters are getting out of hand, then, as a Sounders fan, you are in luck. For the Sounders to win, matters will have to get out of hand.
Latest forecast, 1:24 p.m. Saturday: Higher winds, worse rain. Home on the range.