So here is what I should have said when Nate asked me what I would do if I was to become the soccer czar of the USA…
Laying blame for a loss is not a productive thing to do. But as I reflect on the Sounders in the wake of another disappointing result, I can't help it. What better way to be unproductive than put my thoughts on the interwebs for all to see? Even better, let me focus all of the blame on one man. Here we go!
A coach's job is to put players in the right spot for them to succeed. Coaches can't kick the ball, they can't defend, and they can't score goals. They can motivate, inspire, and put a strategy together that enables their players to do all those things, though. Many coaches are great at doing all of those things, but I am firm believer that players win games, coaches lose games, and refs just screw them up. Last night, the players weren't great (and neither was the ref), but Brian Schmetzer lost that game.
It took me a good night's sleep and some lively banter, but here is my thought process: Svennson is being called out for playing poorly last night. Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. Either way, I'm not sure it's fair to call out a player that has specifically stated he's much more comfortable playing as a defensive CM. Furthermore, I am not hearing anyone call out Lodeiro for being unproductive as a winger. If we’re going to call Svennson out for being a bad CB, why aren’t we calling Lodeiro out for not producing from the wing? Both have been played out of their preferred positions and both produce at a higher level at their preferred positions. Granted, it’s easier to spot Svennson’s shortcomings because they usually happen when the other team scores, but we seem to give Lodeiro a pass because creating goals is harder than defending goals.
Dempsey is another player I have seen negative comments about lately (full disclosure, I am one of those people calling him out). Some people seem to think he was the guy that could have actually salvaged a draw for the Sounders last night via two great scoring chances. Whether you reside on Dempsey Island or have recently departed, I don't think anyone believes he is a full-game-every-game attacking CM (or supporting forward, or #10, or whatever you want to call his position). And yet, there he was again last night, in that role, being asked to play a part no one really thinks he is capable of anymore.
Asking one or two players to adjust for the team can work. Doing it with three or four (Nouhou shouldn't have been a starter in that big of a game. He's not ready for that role), is too much.
Schmetzer is having some bad luck with injuries, but we’ve been saying for weeks he will need to manage the rotation of players for the Sounders to be successful. Last night was a perfect example of how not to do it. And yet, calling Schmetzer out for it has not made me feel any better.
- Deuce is the team's leading goalscorer. Which is...great? For now. I think. I mean Clint Dempsey playing at a high level could certainly help the Sounders win a championship, but I can't help but think how great it would be if Morris was at least challenging him. For now, it's fine.
- But hey, Morris scored! As a forward! My first thought was Schmetzer put him up front for a different look and to get him more chances to score. Which it did. However, could it also be a sign of things to come? Moving Morris forward is one way to clear room in the midfield for Roldan when Ozzie comes back and when Vic Rod is ready to play. Time will tell but if Morris keeps scoring from the forward position, it' s a safe bet he'll get more time there.
- Lodeiro got the assist to Morris!! On a day where it looked like neither he nor Morris could buy a goal, they combined to put the game away for the Sounders. Both players need to create more goals to continue justifying their playing time, so I'm sure Lodeiro feels relieved to get back on the scoresheet.
- Torres was...questionable today. Subbing him off at the end was a mercy killing on a day in which he was chastized more than once by his goalkeeper and center back partner for questionable marking and missed assignments. Torres looked at times lost, others uninterested. By all accounts you'd expect him to be a professional even though it's rumored he's unhappy with his contract situation. Let's hope today was an aberration and he gets back on track for the stretch run.
- The Sounders will move up in the standings. By the end of the day they could be third, at worst fourth. But the best part is they will be looking down on Portland and Vancouver. Which is always nice.
Good news: Ozzie Alonso should be back soon!
Bad news: With the signing of Victor Rodriguez, there is about to be a logjam in the midfield and some players are going to miss out on minutes.
The Sounders are soon to be healthy, and with the Gold Cup successfully concluded, they will have virtually all of their players back and able to contribute. Which means Brian Schmetzer is going to have do some serious managing to keep everyone happy and in the spots they are most effective. Unfortunately, we know that is much easier said than done if not nearly impossible. With that in mind, I have a solution (DISCLAIMER – there are actually quite a few different possible solutions to this midfield issue, but the following is the one I like the most). My solution is really bad news for two players in particular. It surprised me when I started looking at the stats, but Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris need to start producing. Otherwise, they could see their minutes significantly reduced.
Jordan Morris has two goals and ZERO assists in MLS league play. True, he had a fantastic Gold Cup, scored three goals, was a main attacking cog for the team, and played quite a bit. There could be a Gold Cup “bump” coming based on confidence gained (like what we’re seeing with Roldan), but he still has some work to do in terms of final product. Jordan brought pace and the ability to counterattack off the bench against the Galaxy, however his one “shot on goal” was a left footed cross that went straight to the keeper.
Nico has three goals and seven assists, but the reality is he had a nice April in which he scored two and assisted three. Since then: three assists in three months and a silly red card. Nico was huge for the Sounders in their run to MLS Cup glory last season, and he will need to regain that form if the Sounders want to successfully defend their title. Currently, I see him being wasteful in possession all too often, and not getting into dangerous positions in the final third.
Which leads me to this…Ozzie should be back soon, and as the best defensive center midfielder on the team deserves his starting spot. But whose minutes does he take: Svennson or Roldan? The answer is, actually, neither. Both are playing at a high level and have shown they can tactically cover for each other and backline defenders when they make runs forward*. So the answer is to play Ozzie next to Svennson and move Roldan forward.
Against San Jose Roldan showed he can run off Bruin very well, pop up in dangerous positions in the final third, finish with quality, and supply his teammates. Roldan has been great wherever he’s been asked to play, and this move makes for some serious lineup decisions, but it also creates competition in which certain players are going to have to step up.
So, who does Roldan displace? Asked another way, what is Schmetzer to do with all these attackers in the midfield?
Some simple solutions first. Evans can be moved to back-up right back. It’s a little bit cold, and sucks for Evans, but it is what it is. Evans off the bench will be vital late in games to supply solid play and versatility (I almost wrote calming influence, but those random red cards man…). Jones can go to starting left back. Nouhou has been great, but Jones is dangerous no matter where he plays and can still get assists from the back line. In fact, I think it makes him harder pick up running from the back line. Also, I don’t see his transfer being an issue. It isn’t until January. Jones had to know he’s been leaving for a while now, and he’s been good all season.
However, there is still Dempsey (you can argue he’s really a forward, but in a 4-2-3-1 I am going to treat him as an attacking midfielder since that’s where he lines up and spends most of his time on the field), Lodeiro, Morris, and (probably) Victor Rodriguez.
Dempsey could move to the bench, and he will at times, but other than to rest his aging body, why? He is still producing. He’s increased his SOG/Shots ratio lately and been accepting of a potentially diminished role. He’s not a 90 minute every game guy, but he can still score goals. He should probably start, then be subbed if he needs a rest.
Rodriguez? Let’s assume he is going to get minutes. Otherwise, why was he signed?
This leaves Lodeiro and Morris as the two that are producing the least (maybe Morris can go up front, but now you’re taking out your leading goal scorer and Bruin can’t really play elsewhere. Barring a reduction in goals and reduced quality of play from Bruin, I don’t see this happening yet). Lodeiro though, has less versatility. He needs to get his assist numbers up, and add in some goals. Otherwise I am not sure there is much evidence to support his inclusion in the starting eleven every game.
At the end of the day, this solution requires some serious assumptions. Mainly that everyone stays healthy** and is on board for the good of the team***. It creates some welcome problems, though. There is competition for spots at a time when you want players digging deep to bring their best, and the bench just got a lot more experienced and deep****. So Schmetzer has some choices to make, but if Lodeiro and Morris don’t start producing goals and assists, the choices won’t be too difficult*****.
*I am mostly looking at you Torres.
**Looking at you again Torres…And Marshall and Alonso.
***Looking at you Evans and Jones.
****BUT NOT AT CENTERBACK AND HOLY CRAP THIS STILL SCARES THE POOP OUT OF ME!!!!!!
*****The reality is that Morris and Lodeiro are probably not going to see their minutes significantly reduced. But it’s my solution and my time, so I chose to write about it! So there! Take that!! But I’d love to hear what you all think should be done instead. Or what will most likely happen. Make some comments and/or hit us up on twitter @FloundersBTeam. I take this somewhat seriously, but I am always open to better suggestions and the hottest of all hot takes
The Sounders are out of the US Open Cup. As soon as the game was over, I was pissed. Questions were racing through my mind: How could they do this? Why did that lineup play? Where was Evans? Why didn’t Schmetzer go for it? What do they have to lose? The Sounders should compete for everything every year!
And honestly, I am still not happy about it. But time gives way to reflection, and in hindsight, some truths were revealed.
Before we start though, a quick disclaimer…
I have a blind spot. My bias is for Schmetzer. I really like Brian Schmetzer, as a coach and as a person. As a young youth coach, he was always good to me (well we did have words one time, but he was quick to make up and we laughed about it later). Whenever I coached against him, his teams were hard working and organized. He didn’t just take the best players from other teams and assemble all-start teams, as is often the case with big name youth coaches. Don’t get me wrong, he had great players, but he always made them better. I liked that and respected it. I am not sure I ever beat one of his teams, but it made the loss something of a learning experience instead of just a reminder I needed to recruit better. So, yes, this is a slight defense of the largely inexperienced lineup he rolled out against San Jose.
(And, sorry, quick disclaimer – these thoughts are my own, but were also spurred/confirmed by a Sounderatheart article, by Scott Burbidge. It’s a great assessment of key players from the match. You should read it. It’s here).
Basically, my defense is this: with the transfer window approaching, Schmetzer and Lagerwey now know the cards they hold in their hand, and what they need from the dealer. I completely agree with Burbidge that doing this sort of thing in a US Open Cup match is less than ideal, and I will go even further and state it’s indefensible that a club with the Sounders resources rolled out a B-team lineup in a loser-out competition. However, they did. And, all things considered, it was the right thing to do.
So, what are the truths we now know? Let’s start at the back. Tolo Nouhou is a decent option at left back. Before the game I wasn’t fully convinced, and still am not sure if he is the long-term option that can move Jones farther up the field, but in the short term he can supply some much-needed depth at the back. Before the game, I was adamant the Sounders needed to sign a start-worthy center-back and/or right back. I am not that concerned with those spots anymore.
In the midfield, Ray Saari showed he is ready for the next step. I watched the US Open Cup game versus Portland live at Starfire, and was impressed with both he and Narbon. I, affectionately, called them the Twin Towers and wasn’t sure who was better. Well, now it’s clear who can handle the pressure, and who can’t. Saari can do a job for the Sounders, if necessary. In a catastrophic scenario, if Svennson and Roldan both had to be moved to the backline, Saari could fill in next to Alonso. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but the Sounders have depth in midfield which provides some cover and flexibility at the back.
Finally, let’s look up front. Everyone probably already knew this, but there can be absolutely no distraction anymore – the Sounders not only need to sign goal-scorers and creators, they need a #9. Kovar is coming back nicely, his free kick was great, his fitness has improved and the frivolous flicks and tricks seem to have disappeared. He still is not a starter, though. Which means we still need Jordan Morris out wide.
Also, Will Bruin is not the long-term answer. He has never scored goals at this rate in his entire career. I think he’s great, and I don’t want to even think about where the Sounders would be without him, but he’s like a dog on his hind legs – eventually he’ll come back down to Earth.
I hate to say it, but Jordan Morris is still needed out wide, Will Bruin will slow down, and Clint Dempsey is a 30-60 minute player now (yeah I said it, so what. I’m not wrong). I’m not sure if Derlis Gonzalez is moving from Dynamo Kiev, but if he can’t be the #9 for the Sounders, then he should probably stay in the Ukraine (which for now he is apparently doing).
I know there is a July 8th friendly against Frankfurt, and that might be thought of as an option to test the youngsters. However, that game is over a week away, which delays the process even longer, and it’s just not the same level of intensity. If you want to really see what a player has to offer, you need to put them under pressure. This game against the Quakes provided that opportunity. Again, a team like the Sounders should not waste US Open Cup matches to test their youth. A team with the money and open roster spots like the Sounders have, should have a top quality, double-digit goal scorer up front at this point in the season. So make no mistake, this is not a defense of the job Lagerwey is doing (that’s for another blog post), it’s merely a rationalization of what’s going on. Schmetzer is playing the cards he’s been dealt. And yeah, they weren’t a pair of aces, but they weren’t 2-7 off suit either.
--written by Kevin Zamira. Photocollage by Tim Hamilton.