Wednesday, March 23, 2011

SOUNDERS FC: Back to the basics

This past weekend, the Sounders match overlapped with some of the NCAA March Madness games. I had a group of friends over, some soccer fans, and some not. When it came time to decide what we would watch (Sounders or NCAA), I of course turned the channel to the Sounders. After all, it was my house. This set one of my friends off on a rant about how soccer was “soooo boring.” He began stating the things you hear all the time from people who don’t like soccer. “You can watch 90 minutes and never see one goal.” My friend has clearly never played soccer in his life and doesn’t appreciate the game, and that is fine.

The point of this article isn’t to talk about how annoying my friend can be, but rather to point out something he said during the game that actually made sense to me.

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Near the end of the match, the Sounders were trailing and were attempting one last rally to score. Montero sent a shot off the keeper’s hands, which bounced right to Lamar Neagle. He was about five yards out with an open net in front of him when he shanked the ball over the cross bar. Immediately, my friend burst out with laughter, yelling, “That is so basic!” While it took everything in me to not turn to my friend and hit him, he did have a point.

The Sounders need to get back to the basics. Not as in footwork or scheme, but mindset.

At a young age, the style of soccer isn’t attractive. Most of it consists of kicking the ball directly forward in hopes of your fastest player outrunning the defense. Now I am not suggesting the Sounders abandon their style of play for the long ball, however they should take a minute and remember basic things from youth soccer.

The better players are the ones who scrap, fight, and outmuscle their opponents. There aren’t many shots ripped directly into the upper 90, or a string of perfectly placed passes leading to goals. Most goals are scrappy and are achieved from hard work and determination. The best youth players have the frame of mind that no matter what, somehow they are going to score.

To me, the Sounders are missing this kind of presence up front. Sure, O’brian White and Fredy Montero may be working hard, but I am talking about the ability to pester your opponent. Putting so much pressure on them that they are forced into making a bad pass. This pass could result in a cheap goal, a goal that would have at least given a point to the Sounders in the last two matches.

When I describe these characteristics, a certain name comes to mind, Nate Jaqua. Yes, it has been a while since we have seen him at full strength, but the style of play he brings could be the missing ingredient in the Sounders attack.

In 2009, Jaqua had a career high 8 goals and 5 assists. While these statistics are impressive, it was how Jaqua’s goals were scored that stands out to me. Much like a youth players, his goals were not pretty, and in fact, some were down right ugly. But the key is, he finished them. Jaqua seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Some may say he is lucky, but I attribute this to his constant work rate and desire to find the back of the net.

This desire is what seems to be lacking for the Sounders. Yes, it has only been two matches, but the Sounders struggled to score goals all throughout the preseason as well. The good news is Jaqua is nearly fully recovered and could possibly see minutes in Fridays match with the Houston Dynamo.

The unfortunate reality is the Sounders have played even with their opponents in both of the first two games, however it was the opposition that managed to score. Two games, no goals, zero points. This isn’t the way the season was supposed to start.

As Fridays match with Houston approaches, I am hoping to eat my words. I would love to think that the Sounders are just in an early season funk and will snap out of it soon, but in reality I don’t feel that is the case. While it is far too early to throw in the towel on the season, the Sounders must come away with a favorable result on Friday.

I would urge the Sounders to think back to the basics of youth soccer. Remember the mindset it took to score. Be aggressive, take chances and find a way to put the ball in the back of the net. After all, it doesn’t matter how the ball is scored, just that it is.

Reach Ryan Kinney at