An Elegant Defense of Brian Schmetzer

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.

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...

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.