BY Art Thiel 10:39PM 10/27/2013

Thiel: Sounders tie, draw Rapids in do-or-die

A 1-1 draw with the L.A. Galaxy Sunday forced the Sounders into a knockout game at 7:30 Wednesday at the Clink against the Colorado Rapids, who beat them 5-1 Oct. 5.

After his score in the 30th minute, Clint Dempsey suggests it’s about time — after 590 scoreless minutes as a Sounder. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

The Sounders will win a match again, someday. If it isn’t Wednesday, then it will have to be 2014.  If not then . . . well, let’s not go doomsday.

By managing a tie Sunday night against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Sounders get to host a a game against Colorado at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the knock-out round of the MLS playoffs — against a team that bashed them 5-1 Oct. 5. The brave post-game faces and rhetoric could not hide the fact fact that the Sounders  are still winless in the past seven games.

“The flow of the game, and the way we played, was a big improvement from the way we had been playing,” said coach Sigi Schmid. He sounded sincere, but the letdown was palpable at CenturyLink Field after deploying the franchise’s biggest asset — 66,216 fans, fourth-largest crowd in MLS history — to little avail.

Yes, the Galaxy is the two-time defending champion. Yes, the Sounders are in the playoffs for a fifth consecutive year. Yes, superstar Clint Dempsey finally scored after 590 shutout MLS minutes. But . . .

If not for an egregious blunder by the officials, the Sounders would have lost their fifth in  row.

In the 42nd minute, the Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez popped a short-range shot past goalie Michael Gspurning, on a 45-degree angle to the goal, that plainly cleared the line. But Osvaldo Alonso, demonstrating again why he is the team’s MVP, slipped in behind Gspurning and, falling backward into the net, put a leg in the way of the ball, which ricocheted clear of the goal.

Despite the ball reaching two to three feet inside the posts, referee’s assistant Greg Barkey inexplicably did not signal a goal. Galaxy star Landon Donovan, at the top of the area, threw his hands in the air and raged, as did his teammates, to no avail.

“I saw it as clearly as the linesman, so for me, it was a no-brainer,” said Donovan. “I was looking right across, waiting for him to put his flag up and signal goal. But for whatever reason, he didn’t. I would suggest that goal-line technology would help, but that one didn’t even need goal-line technology. It was real obvious.”

True, but the Sounders worked up no pity. Suddenly, all the bad breaks and crossbar saves that pickled the Sounders’ slide vanished in one bolt of serendipity. It came 12 minutes after Dempsey finally scored — a nifty 10-footer off the side of his right shoe, from a cross by Lamar Neagle — and the developments surely signaled that the wretched run finally turned.

Not quite.

Despite a 59-41 advantage in time of possession and a better attacking scheme with Brad Evans and Adam Moffat in the midfield and Eddie Johnson and Lamar Neagle up front, the Sounders could do no more damage with the other 12 attempts on goal.

In the 78th minute, nemesis Robbie Keane had a ball passed out to him atop the area, upon which the Galaxy premier scorer put massive top-spin.  The ball was driven into the ground a few feet in front of him, but took a brilliant arc over the head of goalie Michael Gspurning — back in the starting lineup after a two-game benching — for the equalizer.

“I knew I had to just hit it into the ground,” said Keane, “because there were bodies, and with this turf, I knew it was going to take off. Lucky enough, it did.”

Gspurning was helpless to thwart the shot.

“There wasn’t much he could do about it,” said Schmid.  “I’m sure that’s not the shot (Keane)  wanted to hit — to pound it into the turf — but he did, and it goes into the goal.”

Schmid was left to explain how things were still OK.

“I think today was important to stop the bleeding a little bit,” he said, “so to get a tie out of it . . . we had a win that was almost there.”

The time, however, for “almosts,” is done. The season for the fourth and fifth seeds is down to do-or-die Wednesday, although Schmid was quick to point out that seedings are far secondary to making the playoffs, citing the Galaxy’s title last year coming from the five-spot.

“We said the most important thing is you have to be invited to the dance,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re first, second, third, fourth, or fifth. So we have the play-in game at home. Houston had it away last year (and moved on). The Galaxy had it at home, beat Vancouver and forward from there (to the title).

“We are capable of doing the very same thing. There’s enough ability and enough talent there that we can go ahead and do that.”

The ability and talent for this expensive, albeit thrown-together, outfit, is unquestioned. The mystery is why the team no longer can win. Injuries and the nuisance of national-team call-ups are valid reasons — up to a point. Then, after two days of rest, it’s all . . . or nothing but a winter of recriminations and lamentations.

Notes

The winner of the Seattle-Colorado match will host Portland at 7 p.m. Saturday in the first of two in the home-and-home, aggregate-goal, conference semifinal series . . . The Sounders finished 15-12-7, including an 11-2-5 home record that ties for the best in the club’s five years . . . They are 8-0-3 playing in front of crowds of 40,000-plus . . . The big crowd kicked up the season average to 44,038, a continuing MLS record by Seattle . . . Eddie Johnson, who was banished from practice Wednesday by Schmid apparently over some petulance, said all was well between the two, and took responsibility. “Obviously, I’ve been frustrated,” he told the Tacoma News Tribune. “I’ve been injured — got injured with the (U.S.) national team — and I know how important it is for our team right now. The last four games, even before I went to the national team, our run of play hasn’t been good. We haven’t been getting the results that we’ve wanted. Me being a guy that’s an important part of this team, being injured, I’ve been really frustrated . . . It’s more me frustrated with myself.” . . . Adam Moffat started ahead of Mauro Rosales, who apparently has knee soreness. He subbed in for Johnson in the 78th minute.


YourThoughts

  • Matt712

    The Sounders’ slide began, conspicuously, not long after Eddie Johnson’s on-field “show me the money” antics …which began, conspicuously, not long after the team acquired Clint Dempsey. The irony here is that, by all accounts, Johnson was among the biggest proponents of Dempsey’s acquisition. So, one would think he was he was OK, at least for the time being, with the designated salary discrepancy – particularly in light of the fact that, all season long, there didn’t seem to be any issue with Martins and his $1.75M designated salary.

    But as the season has worn on and the stats bear out, there’s no question Johnsons’ game is at an elite level with comparable (arguably better) play than Martins and Dempsey, and multiple National Team call-ups (where he has also played well). Indeed, Eddie has proven that his caliber of play is worthy of a big payday. But what he has yet to prove – both now and throughout his career – is whether his caliber of character is worthy of handling his own success.

    Not saying the little GM in Edddie Johnson’s mind is the root of the Sounders’ swoon, but the timing sure is… conspicuous.

    • RadioGuy

      None of what you say is surprising. Dempsey signed for more annual pay than the entire team was receiving after four straight years of playoff appearances and record attendance. You don’t bring in the revenue the Sounders have and then commit $41 million to acquire and sign one player (who didn’t bother the scorer over his first eight matches) without the others taking notice of that while looking at their own paystubs. EJ won’t be the last Sounder looking for a better deal.

      This is going to be a VERY interesting offseason, which may begin a lot sooner than hoped for because I doubt that a lot of these guys are happy to earn a fraction Dempsey is getting…something’s going to have to give.

      • art thiel

        The salary cap is very restrictive for non-DPs. They could make Eddie a DP next year instead of Joseph, who already took a big pay cut to stay after Dempsey, whose signing was as much about league cred as it was Seattle’s hopes.

        • RadioGuy

          And about selling more scarves and replica jerseys. Don’t forget the merchandising aspect. The Sounders owners have created a money machine in what Matt712 calls an “immature/inferior league” (I really can’t argue with that), but you have to find willing consumers first. Musicologists don’t likely regard Taylor Swift as one of the most gifted singers ever but, buy, does she ever move a lot of units. To paraphrase Tolkien, “The sale is in the selling.”

      • Matt712

        Superstar deals are not new to any big time sport. I suspect that the vast majority of MLS players understand their careere positions with respect to this decidedly inferior/immature league. It’s those guys like EJ who are on the cusp of superstardom – so close they can taste it, that we hope don’t melt down. All I doing doing is calling him out for his lack of patience in asking his due, and noting how his public antics I doing so have coincided with his teams sudden drop off. And you’re right: something’s going to have to give.

    • art thiel

      EJ probably wanted Dempsey aboard to help float his salary boat. But he took his $150K salary knowing he had a lot of proving to do. He’ll get paid — if he doesn’t piss off everyone.

      There may be some clashing of egos, but it’s more with Martins.

      And EJ had nothing to do with the defense allowing nine goals in two games.

      • Matt

        Yes, EJ was betting on the Dempsey deal helping his own value, and I think he was right – it probably will, as will his own great play in a designation for him next season. Nothing wrong with either of those things. It’s the public (and possibly locker room) demonstrations that poison the well.

        As for the nine goals: without going into some astonishingly poor goalkeeping… Soccer is an amazingly fluid game (only one planned break in the action). The Seattle attack falling off the face of the Earth left a pressing defense vulnerable to counter attack. And although call-ups have probably been the biggest culprit in throwing Seattle’s offense off kilter, I think you know better than to say a star player with an attitude problem has nothing to do with how other parts of his team perform. Lapses in judgement are extremely contagious.

        Again, I’m not saying EJ is the root cause. But, along with some other misfortunes, the timing is bad.

  • jafabian

    Awesome goal by Clint. He was double, or even triple covered but snuck the ball into the goal anyways. Wish the club could have got the win but you have to give the Galaxy their due and the Sounders shouldn’t be in the position they’re in anyways. Hopefully some ’95 M’s magic will touch them against Colorado.

    • art thiel

      Somehow the Sounders are failing to take advantage of the defensive attention Dempsey draws.

      • jafabian

        Exactly. Sure, all the call ups had made for an inconsistent line up all season but the Sounders aren’t the only ones who go through that.