About last night…

"Outnumbered" photo by: slippery joaquin
If you were in a coma for the past 20 years and suddenly awoke with ESPN2 on the tv you would have thought soccer has become huge in this country, and maybe it has. Last night’s opening playoff game was a great moment for the league.The game had a little bit of everything – a brawl, blood, and exciting back and forth action – all it was missing was a goal, and it deserved one. Here are some thoughts on last night:

Outstanding coverage. The coverage from ESPN had all the trappings of a big playoff game in any other sport and was very professional. (Footiebusiness has more on the coverage). Starting with the cool NFL films lead-in featuring a nice montage and a dude with a deep authoritative voice. I thought John Harkes, JP Dellacamera and Alan Hopkins did a very good job throughout the night. And the pre-game features, such as Hopkins walking with the band – could have been cheesy, but they came off well and captured the passion of Sounders fans well. The in studio stuff was also strong. They also did a good job of not preaching too much about how soccer is growing. They are right, but the coverage was highly focused on the actual game, which is important for the league.

In defense of the referee. I maybe the only one in the country who thinks this, but I think the ref did a good job last night. There seemed to be a broad consensus on twitter and in Seattle that they got hosed in this game – most vividly by the goal that was disallowed. On Jaqua’s “goal” – the referee should have allowed play to continue, but rarely do you ever see a ref allow play to continue when a hopeful long ball is played and then return the ball 60 years back to the spot of the foul if it came to nothing. But he did blow the whistle before the ball came down and Onstad had clearly stopped playing well before the Jaqua shot. Frankly I don’t think Jaqua scores there.

Also the ref was consistent in allowing physical play. He simply didn’t call fouls on shoulder to shoulder challenges and if a player was bumped and then flopped – which normally would get a call – he waved play on. He also called it both ways – Brad Davis for Houston was livid about 5 min before Ljungberg got irate. The game was perhaps too physical, but it is refreshing to see a ref lean toward allowing play to continue, as opposed to blowing the whistle every 5 seconds, which was the alternative. Part of the reason it was a good game was the ref didn’t break up the game’s flow every 5 seconds. Finally, he got the yellow cards right (except maybe the one on Montero). Ching could have received one in the first half – but it was late not malicious – and more refs should talk and warn players before flashing the cards. In general, he was reasonable, even handed, and allowed the game to flow.

Seattle’s support is truly impressive and increased the intensity of the game.
To put 36,000 fans in perspective standing the entire game, Liverpool’s Anfield has 42,000 and Spurs White Hart Lane 36,000 – and they don’t stand the whole time. It actually looked a lot like some of the Bundesliga games – big stadiums and great energetic crowds. The crowd also added to the intensity of the game

There is little between these two teams. Both teams defend very well and have some crafty players, especially in Holden, Ljungberg, and Montero. Geoff Cameron and Bobby Boswell are a very solid pairing for Houston and effectively blunted Ljungberg and Montero for most of the night, except for one fabulous turn by Montero in the second half. The Seattle backline, despite missing their CB Marshall, had no problems in handling Ching and Oduro.

Stuart Holden was my man of the match. He was the best player on the ball and his passing and awareness unlocked Seattle on a number of occasions. The problem for Houston is that he didn’t see enough of it.

Brian Ching, Ricardo Clark, and Zakuani pretty poor. Ching is a useful MLS player, but he has the same problems he has with the national team. Besides trying to post up he offers nothing. Rico Clark looked rusty and was often sloppy in possession, although his defensive range helped stymie Seattle in the midfield. Zakuani had a very poor evening when he did get the ball in space he often made the wrong decision and when he did make the right decision his execution was poor. Lost the ball countless times and looked a bit nervous.

Ljungberg and Montero didn’t do enough. More was needed from Seattle’s two stars and save for a few moments weren’t as influential as one would expect. However I don’t understand taking off Montero. You have a long time between the next game, and you know there is going to be more space and more opportunities in the late stages of the game. You can’t really second guess Sigi Schmid, but it was a very curious decision – I wonder if he was fully 90 minutes fit.

Turf fields are bad, wet turf fields are really bad.
Unpredictable bounces, skidding balls, result in an inability to play passes behind the defense which compact the game and shorten the space, since defenders can pinch up since they don’t fear balls being played behind them, leading to a lack of space. It would be great if the Sounders could convert Qwest to grass, I mean this obsession with field turf is so 1978 and there is absolutely no reason a temperate city like Seattle shouldn’t have grass.

Poor defending on set places should have cost someone.
There were an amazing number of free headers for both teams. Seattle had one cleared off the line and hit the bar, but Houston also squandered many. For teams that play well defensively that is pretty poor.

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2 Responses

  1. […] The emphasis on authenticity has given rise to some loyal fan bases, laying the groundwork for a burgeoning American soccer fan culture. The signing of David Beckham, despite ups and downs, has been a resounding commercial success and […]

  2. […] The emphasis on authenticity has given rise to some loyal fan bases, laying the groundwork for a burgeoning American soccer fan culture. The signing of David Beckham, despite ups and downs, has been a resounding commercial success and […]

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