BY Art Thiel 11:56PM 11/30/2014

Thiel: ‘Very unlucky’ Sounders ousted again by LA

Another postseason meeting with Galaxy, another postseason exit for Sounders. “They have our number,” said Brad Evans.

Brad Evans scored the Sounders’ first goal when he took a feed from Clint Dempsey after GK Jaime Penedo was drawn off his line. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

At the end of the previous season, the Sounders were miles away from reaching the MLS Cup final. Sunday at the frozen Clink, they were an inch away. Makes no difference. They’re done, and done in by the usual suspects, the Los Angeles Galaxy, official nemesis of the most successful operation in U.S. soccer.

The carefully laid plan to do in 2014 the only thing the franchise had yet to accomplish, an MLS championship, went crashing after a what-the-hell shot from distance by Juninho barely grabbed enough of the near post to slither past GK Stefan Frei. It was a road goal, the debatable tiebreaker inserted by MLS for the first time this year, and enough to render moot the 2-1 match win by Seattle and a 2-2 draw in the aggregate two-game series.

Frei described the pivotal sequence.

“We cleared the ball initially out to the top of the box,” he said. “We were well aware they like to float around out there, especially (Robbie) Keane. In that instance, we got a little too deep and forgot about that spot.

“I don’t even know who shot, but he shoots, and there were a lot of people in front of me. I ended up seeing it a little late. One inch closer to me, and I probably have it, one inch farther and it ricochets out of the goal.

“Frustrating. Very unlucky.”

The score in the 54th minute devastated a playoff record crowd of 46,758, who knew the Sounders had to win by two goals to advance to the MLS Cup against the Eastern Conference champion New England Revolution. Instead, the Galaxy will play on, pursuing their “Drive for Five,” the slogan for a league-record fifth crown.

Cold as it was at kickoff — the 31 degrees was a record low for a Sounders game by eight degrees — conditions were frostier at the end because it was another elimination by the star-filled Galaxy, who were awarded the Western Conference trophy on Seattle’s turf, accompanied by made-for-TV fireworks. The celebration drew boos, but even the departing fans couldn’t sustain long their contempt.

The Sounders have made the playoffs for all six of their MLS seasons. In 2010, they were eliminated by the Galaxy. In 2012, they were eliminated by the Galaxy. In 2o14 . . . the hat trick. The margin has grown wafer-thin, but that means little.

Brad Evans, who scored the first goal in the 26th minute from point-blank range into an open net after a feed from Clint Dempsey, was asked about a common theme.

“The common theme is a very good team, well coached, all veteran players with one young guy out there — almost identical to our team,” he said. “It’s always a good battle. The reality is they’ve got our number. We’ve got to do our best to change that, buck that trend. We go into the offseason saying, “What do we have to do to beat these guys?’”

For yet another offseason, that is the chore. Sounders bosses thought they solved for it with the hires of Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, then the hire of Chad Marshall, the 2014 MLS defender of the year. But no.

It sounded as if coach Sigi Schmid was having a hard time accepting that.

“I think these two teams are equal; I think the aggregate score reflects that,” he said. “I thought we were a little bit unlucky today, and my heart goes out to our fans and our team because I think they’ve battled and done really well this season, and deserve to go to the MLS Cup Final. But that’s not the way it turned out.”

Despite the winning goal being so unlikely, the Sounders actually lost the series the previous game in Carson, CA., when they couldn’t score a coveted road goal — the same tiebreaker that got them past Dallas FC in the playoffs’ first round. So Sounders fans, please check your grousing about Sunday’s tiebreaker loss.

The series was also lost in the first half Sunday, when the two first-half goals — the second in the 32nd minute by Dempsey — were also followed by two near-scores, either of which would have provided a 3-0 lead. That failure left the Sounders vulnerable to a single fluke. Once the Galaxy scored, they could fall back to squatting in the box.

“The first goal gives us a good boost, then we get a second,” said Evans, “then they come out and get a ball that gets through everybody and hits the wrong side of the post for us. At that point, we’re chasing.”

The Galaxy is too experienced to be chased down. Instead, the Sounders were chased out of the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season despite having the most talent and resources.

After earlier winning the U.S. Open Cup and the Supporters’ Shield, the failure to become the first team to take all three in a single season generated anguish in Schmid that was plain.

“There’s nothing I want to do more than bring an MLS Cup to the city of Seattle because the fans deserve it; their support has been phenomenal,” he said, eyes watering. “You heard them even after the game.

“There’s always going to be people who say, ‘You need a new coach,’ ‘get rid of this guy,’ ‘someone else is a better fit.’ That’s just part of business. You hear that all the time. For me, I want to win a championship here, I want to win an MLS Cup. We’re a team that won five trophies in six years. There aren’t a lot of clubs who have won five trophies in six years in this league.”

Yet after a valiant and largely successful season, Schmid is left as a kindred spirit to Capt. Ahab.

Notes

The Galaxy is 6-5-5 all time against the Sounders, and in Seattle, including the post-season, is 4-5-2. The teams were was 2-2-1 this season . . . Osvaldo Alonso (hamstring) and Lamar Neagle (personal matter), both of whom missed the first game in LA, were back in the starting lineup, and both were subbed out in the second half . . . Evans’ goal was Seattle’s first in 241 playoff minutes . . . Galaxy and U.S. star Landon Donovan is assured of playing his final game before retirement in a championship setting . . . Seattle is 12-2-3 against MLS opponents with crowds of more than 40,000.

 

 


YourThoughts

  • Eric K

    Playing a two game series with aggregate scores is already lame, it just seems cheap, they can’t afford a 3 game series? Then the road goal thing is a dumb tie breaker. Seems like they should play an extra period first then use it as a last resort.

    • RadioGuy

      Two-game series based on total goals has been the way in soccer for decades…I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Besides, the MLS season is too long already; the Sounders started playing their league schedule when the Mariners were early into their Cactus League games in Arizona.

      • Kirkland

        Two-game playoffs is fine for World Cup qualifying or the Champions League, but not a postseason; I feel it should be a single-game knockout or modified “page” knockout (Wikipedia it).

        RG, many soccer people think the MLS season is too SHORT (!) The top European leagues only have a six-week off-season; July training camp and August-to-mid-May season. That’s why US coach Jurgen Klinsmann keeps pushing top MLS players to play loan spells in Europe during January and February, because our three-month break (longer if you make the playoffs) causes our players to be less in shape and match-fit than everywhere else, in his and many others’ opinions.

        • RadioGuy

          Maybe you’re right about the season being too short. I know I can’t get enough of watching the Sounders have a good regular season before running out of gas in the playoffs every year.

          Besides, more games means more gate receipts for Roth and Carey, so you know they’d be all in for a longer schedule.

  • Tim

    Away goal rule seems like it takes away the advantage of the higher seed. Everything MLS does seems to negate the benefits of being the higher seed. Putting even more teams in the playoffs next year should fix that…/sarcasm

    • art thiel

      They were attempting to solve for the higher seed sitting in the goal mouth for a 0-0 draw so they could win at home in the second game.

      And the Sounders advanced out of the first round on a road goal.

      Still flawed, but it was the same for both.

  • ClashCityRocker

    The away-goal rule is the gold standard for determining ties across the soccer globe. Get over it. As Mr. Thiel rightfully observed, the series was lost in L.A. when we failed to score. At halftime of last night’s game, even my 14 year old said we needed at least one second half goal. Very disappointing end to a great season. And by the way, when will the Sounders get a clue that the Open Cup tournament is little more than a men’s league affair? Win something worth celebrating, Sigi.

  • 3 Lions

    The play off set up is what it is. The away goal rule encourages teams to ‘park the bus’ if they get an away goal which defeats its purpose. The MLS has a two game semi final w aggregate score but a one game final? As mentioned, the season is way too long-they should finish it all by 10/7. The Sounders are a few players away. They were fortunate to not lose by more in L.A. although Dempsey missed two gifts. Last night, they took there foot off the gas in the second half & paid for it.

  • Green Caribou

    A few points:
    1: I am torn about Dempsey. Clearly he is capable of being a great player and we probably would not have made it this far without him. But at the same time the highest paid player in MLS did not finish 2 absolutely golden clear chances in LA: the double save and the little chip shot. At the times for which we brough him in and paid him to be clinical, he wasn’t.
    2: I am disappointed that Sigi never experimented with Yedlin at the midfield position that he seems to thrive in with the USMNT. I’m no expert, so there are probably good reasons for it (lack of defensive depth?), but it is a difficult to see as a fan.
    3: The goal LA scored last night was a lot like a lot of goals you see in hockey: a lot of bodies moving in front of the goalie and the puck makes it through in the one spot the goalie can’t get it. Sometimes you just throw the puck at the goal and see what happens (deflections, rebounds, etc.). There were times this season that Oba and Dempsey seemed intent on scoring on skill alone, and other players seemed reluctant to try and make their own luck by just shooting like Juninho did last night.
    4: For all the talk of how well they are set up for next year, the Sounders will have to replace Yedlin. I believe they will need to replace him with 2 players: one defender and one mid, because finding another player with his speed and ability to play forward and track back and be competent at both is a tall order.

    • Green Caribou

      Meant to add with point number 3: especially with a questionable goalie like Pinedo.

  • Hereigo Marrymadonna

    It’s now December and the league is still playing. On frozen fields. So when does the new season start, a week after the championship is decided?

    • art thiel

      That’s my biggest complaint. I get that it’s a World Cup year and schedule concessions are made. But these guys are back in some training next month. Jeezus.

  • jafabian

    How frustrating. This tastes a lot like the M’s 2001 season. On paper it’s good but the final result bittersweet. The club did not have the same intensity, same aggressiveness that they displayed in the first half and LA played solid, solid defense. They’d get back immediately and bottle up the goal, nothing got thru. Have no issue with player personnel or coaching decisions. LA just knew what it would take to win the match. If anything, the Sounders off season plans should be to replace Yedlin and add to their depth. National team commitments hurt the club at times and against teams like LA you want to run, run, run and you need depth to do that successfully.

    Overall a fine season, but I was looking forward to another victory parade.

    • art thiel

      There’s nothing satisfying about the playoff setup, but as long as MLS wants to give a home game to each team, tiebreakers will always be needed.

      • jafabian

        The only issue I have is the outcome. No problem with the playoff format itself. Ultimately the Sounders just didn’t get it done.

  • poulsbogary

    It defies reason that upon winning your playoff game you are promptly eliminated. This aggregate stuff is just garbage. I can see this costing the franchise some season tickets and fan enthusiasm.

    • art thiel

      I doubt a season ticket holder would quit. Nearly all have to know and accept the rules. Would you quit on a baseball season because you didn’t like a rules change?

      • poulsbogary

        if little jimmy standing next to me at that game with a big grin on his face said ” daddy we won! we won!” at the final whistle, and I had to turn to him and say, “no we didn’t son”, then I would have to at least pause about the logic of it.

        • art thiel

          If little Jimmy has a daddy who isn’t smart enough to explain a simple tie-breaker, little Jimmy is in more trouble than he knows.

  • ClashCityRocker

    Another thing that defies belief is when Sigi replaces one holding midfielder (Alonso) with another (Azira) when the season is on the line. Does it really matter if you lose by one goal or ten? Why not instead put in an attacking player, like Barrett or Cooper, when we had to score?

    • art thiel

      Not using Barrett mystified me, and waiting until 80 to insert Pappa was a little weird.

  • SUDS

    Just because “the rest of the world” does it one way doesn’t make it correct – “gold standard” or not. MLS has made it clear they’re not interested in developing the sport for American sports fans’ tastes. I’ve tried with great persistence to enjoy the sport, but the absurd playoff rules have driven me away for a final time. “The rest of the world” accepts losing as a way to advance towards a championship. How quaint. I’m sure a lot of the hardcore fan base will say “good; we don’t need you anyway”, but the fact is, you do. I’m the kind of sports fan that powers other leagues.

    • art thiel

      The rest of the world doesn’t have seasonal playoffs, Suds. Best regular season record is champ. It’s their custom, because TV doesn’t overrule custom. If MLB adopted it, Mariners would be champs in ’01. But no October baseball.

      Soccer resolutions are an acquired taste, and I’m OK if you don’t like it. I’d like the season to not be 9 freaking months.

      • RadioGuy

        You mean like the NBA, whose season runs from early October to late June? I agree with your point, but MLS isn’t the only domestic league with an overlong schedule.

        • art thiel

          No one overdoes it like MLS. Training camp next month.

    • Kirkland

      Many American soccer fans hate MLS because it doesn’t conform to “the rest of the world” (read: August-to-May season, no playoffs, promotion/relegation), and watch the English, Spanish, German, Brazilian leagues instead. MLS knows it won’t attract those fans, so it’s concentrating on developing its own supporters base. And they’re doing a good job of that, even though soccer fans ignore other sports and other sports’ fans ignore soccer.

      • art thiel

        MLS’s season apart from the world calendar is a guaranteed pisser-offer to traditional soccer fans. But to get a footing in the U.S., soccer had to be away from the football calendar as much as possible. And the league is growing steadily, although not enough to pay competitive salaries beyond DPs. It’s just going to take time. But they do have a big beachhead in the tech community. Keep an eye on how fast soccer advances once the geeks complete their takeover.

  • Sonics79

    What if, the NFL had a rule where an away touchdown in the playoffs suddenly was worth 11 points? And field goals were worth 4.75 points? Baseball, away runs in the playoffs are worth 1.25 runs? NBA 3-pointers on the road are worth 3.125? But not in the Championship Game, that game scoring is like it is in the regular season, but for that game only. That’s your MLS playoff system. Soooooo dumb.
    It removes the home field advantage. And I don’t care if this is what they do elsewhere. They’re playing here. Just have a normal tournament at the end of the season without all the scenarios and equations to determine who wins.
    Beating your rival 2-1 in the postseason at home and being eliminated is enough to drive fans away. I’ve seen every game this season, and I walked away from the TV after about the 80th minute because I was so irritated.

    • art thiel

      I understand the beef. But did you walk away when the road goal tiebreaker was what advanced the Sounders vs. Dallas? Don’t conflate the series outcome and the rules.

      • Sonics79

        Well, the timing of Sigi’s subs when we needed a goal was really more what drove me away, and I really just got up to get a drink ; )
        But that’s not the point…. As both Dallas games ended in ties, it didn’t feel so deflating, but even then I didn’t think it was awesome we advanced that way. It felt like we were more lucky than good.
        I would love see the MLS minimally look into a Page Playoff System. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Page_playoff_system.
        Or, with two teams coming into the league next season, expand the playoff teams in each conference to six, and just do what the NFL does with single elimination games.

        • Kirkland

          The page would work beautifully, and reward higher seeds with a real home-field advantage and a “do-over” if they stumble in the first round. The main issue I see is the learning curve for fans not used to automatic loser-outs.

          • Sonics79

            The page is less awkward than what they have now, but unique enough that it doesn’t copy the NFL. All but one of the games are loser out, just that first 1-2 matchup, which be a huge game to start the playoffs. Somebody last year suggested it after the Portland series, and it’s stuck with me since.

  • Joe Fan

    I think one playoff game between the teams would be enough. Winner moves on to the next week. If the championship game is one game, why would the playoff games leading up to it also not be just one game? I’m a season ticket holder and was there last night – very disappointing to lose, especially to the despised Galaxy. Can’t wait until next season. My wife and I had great fun in attending the matches.

    • art thiel

      As a young league, MLS wanted home-and-home to gain exposure for the postseason. Strictly a marketing maneuver. That’s what young leagues do. The NBA in the 90s was altering outcomes to get desired superstars into the NBA Finals.