Category Archives: Western Conference

Western Conference

“Having a Professional Soccer Team is a Privilege Not a Right.”

Official Houston Dynamo Reporter

By Darbi Lockridge // @sonchyenne

Well, friends, it’s been a whole MONTH since I’ve been able to sit down and put any words on a screen for MLSFemale, and I apologize for my absence. Between the start of the school year and youth soccer season, and some waves in the unscripted reality show of real life, I simply haven’t had the headspace to devote to covering the Houston Dynamo’s functional slip from playoff contention over their last four matches.

With the same count left in the season, one match of which will play out before this article goes online, the Dynamo have only their pride and the city to play for, the latter having become an increasingly tough crowd to stand for. The players will have to dig deep – both in the depths of their own hearts and through mountains of negative social media posts – to find the inspiration to compete.

I’ve mentioned repeatedly since signing on to cover the team that I am Forever Orange – a fan through wins, losses, trades, and turnover. I love the sport of soccer, and nothing is more of a privilege to me than to have a home team within driving distance to support. As my friend Sean Ringrose has often said, having a professional soccer team is a privilege and not a right. I make it a habit not to take the organization for granted and to express heartfelt gratitude to all of the staff that keep the wheels greased and turning every chance that I get. 

Despite my love for the game, the team, and the staff that support my soccer habit, I remain aware of my own shortcomings. I have never coached a team – not even kids rec team. I’ve definitely never managed a professional sports organization or any portion of its staff. And, most tragically, I have never accumulated any kind of wealth that would earn me even the tiniest level of ownership of a professional team.

With those things in mind, when I take to the keyboard to review or critique the team’s performance in an article or online, I am doing so from a layman’s perspective. I am absolutely opinionated and appreciate every platform that I am provided to express my thoughts. However, I have never once expected that my opinions bear any weight or hold any purchase in the upper echelons of the actual Dynamo training space or front office. 

That is not to say that the organization isn’t listening. When John Walker came into the Dynamo/Dash organization as President of Business Operations almost a year ago, he worked to make sure that fans started having more access to communicate with and provide feedback to the front office. I’ve been in several rooms with him myself and have happened upon him out in the world on more than one occasion. But given an inch, a number of fans have taken this newfound access to another level. 

In addition to improving communication, John Walker has started making changes to the operations of the club and the stadium, which is absolutely what he was brought to Houston to do. Some fans were unhappy about changes and have taken to social media to lodge complaints. This became less of an opportunity for people to be heard and more of a showcase where fans with differing opinions began going after one another.

I have been right in the middle of it and own my place in the mudslinging. Fans that love the team are pitted against fans that love their seats. Fans that dislike ownership are frustrated at fans that continue to show up and spend money. The Dynamo have stopped being a uniting force for their Houston fans and have become a team that has fans split into factions, each with their own ideas and demands for the office and ownership.  

And besides all of the real life stuff, that is where my head has been for the last month. I looked around at my social media, my team, and its fan base and decided it was time to step away for a minute and take stock.

My simple reality is that I am here to support. Period. I’ll be standing, singing, and supporting my team for the rest of this season and into the next. I’ll have my 2020 season tickets in the supporters section – regardless of where the front office decides it will land next year. I refuse to be one more opinionated amateur screaming on social media, demanding to be heard, and I’m done engaging with them to increase the visibility and reach of their complaints.    

And to quote Bubba Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

And with that, it’s time to get ready and head to Houston – the Dynamo take on Orlando City tonight at BBVA Stadium.

Featured image: @HoustonDynamo

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @sonchyenne

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

Player Spotlight: Steve Clark turns Providence Park into House of Horrors

Official Sporting KC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Sitting above the playoffs line in seventh place with 43 points, the Portland Timbers continue the battle of the west. Despite falling to D.C. United this past weekend; Steve Clark is turning Providence Park into the House of Horrors.

Timbers’ veteran goalkeeper Jeff Attinella was sidelined due to a season-ending injury this July. And Clark has stepped up in a big by posting 1710 minutes, five shutouts, 66 saves, and currently holds a 79.5% save percentage, thus far.

Prior to assuming starting goalkeeper duties, Clark was included in the starting lineup for five of fifteen league matches and appeared in the 2019 campaign of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

The Mason, Michigan native is no stranger to the shuffle. On August 17, 2018, the five-year MLS veteran was waived by D.C. United while in the midst of his second season with the club. Following the Timbers’ announcement that they had picked up the veteran keeper on waivers – he went on to start eight games for the 2018 campaign.

His quick reflexes have kept the Timbers out of dangerous situations. And Clark is having a little fun with it – occasionally wearing a Michael Myers mask from the classic slasher franchise Halloween; during the Timbers’ traditional slab celebration ceremony to celebrate shutout.

“Providence Park is going to be a house of horrors this summer,” Clark said during the July 28 postgame conference. “It’s going to be a tough place to come. That’s kind of what I’m saying. This is a bunch of monsters out here.”

Fellow teammate Sebastian Blanco is joining in the fun donning a Chucky mask from cult classic Child’s Play. The Argentinian midfielder began the tradition in May of 2018 to celebrate his game-winning goal against the Seattle Sounders.

Outside of the MLS, Clark has played for Hønefoss BK and AC Horsens, respectively – crediting these experiences for his development as a player, even encouraging players to “move abroad and challenge themselves.”

With playoffs starting in a few weeks, its hard to ignore that Clark was once a three-year starter for Columbus Crew SC from 2014-16, where the 33-year-old keeper ironically played against his current club during the 2015 MLS Cup; losing 2-1. Fast forward to now, Steve said of his time in Columbus:

“My time in Columbus was a long time ago now. But it was a good time for me as player. Now being with the Timbers – life has really come full circle and I’m really enjoying myself now. Portland is a beautiful place to live and a great club to play for.”

The Timbers will continue their search for the final playoff push in a midweek fixture when they host the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday, September 18.

Featured Image:  Portland Timbers

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

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Loons Shock LAFC, Earn Shutout On the Road

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

Minnesota United FC is no stranger to playing spoiler in the waning weeks of the MLS season. However, the Loons have never gained much for themselves by doing so. On Sunday, that all changed with the upset of the season, giving the Loons – and the entire western conference – a leg up in the race for second place.

Los Angeles Football Club was undefeated at home going into Sunday evening’s meeting and had only lost one league match there since joining the league in 2018. Minnesota fans were not expecting much from the matchup, hoping for a draw at best or, barring that, as few goals conceded as possible.

When yet another roster and formation shakeup was revealed, everyone would have settled for anything above humiliation. So when Mason Toye, left to roam the final third alone in a strangely fluid 3-5-2, knocked in not one, but two (!) goals before the 30 minute mark, all hell broke loose on Twitter.

In theory, Heath’s formation seemed an odd way to handle the threat of an attacking team, but in practice it proved to be an effective weapon.

While Ike Opara, Michael Boxall, and Brent Kallman (returning to the XI after a long bench spell) set up as a center-back trio, two additional defenders tracked back each time LA approached the area, parking the bus from the first minute and effectively neutralizing a Vela-free offense.

The Black-and-Gold played a similar game, sending most of the 4-3-3 role players forward in an effort to thwart Minnesota’s traditionally leaky defense by crowding the box. More men pressing means more gaps can be exploited, but the Black-and-Blue bus did its job and, in their rare missteps, Vito Mannone came up clutch to deny many LA opportunities.

With so many players thrown forward, Mason Toye and Darwin Quintero were free to instantly turn every counterattack into a one-on-one or one-on-two. While Quintero opened up a lot of space and drew attention away from Toye, extra touches and a few weak passes resulted in more turnovers than shots. Thankfully, they didn’t need many:

With just five shots and possession of the ball for only 23 percent of the match, Minnesota managed to seal the deal. LAFC can tout Vela’s absence as an issue, but without the star striker they still managed 23 shots, 8 on target. Adama Diomande tallied 4 shots, 1 on target, and Adrien Perez tallied 2, both through traffic and on target. Toye’s 2 shots for 2 goals made the difference, thanks to this man:

Whether the win is a result of the performance of Toye and/or Mannone, Heath’s roster/formation change, the absence of Vela, a healthy dose of luck, or any combination of such factors, when it comes down to season stats and the conference table, just two things matter: the W and the scoreline. But surprises are nice:

“I thought our discipline was absolutely magnificent and we knew they were going man for man at the back when they were attacking and Mason’s quick, people don’t realize how quick he is, and we realized we would get opportunities on the break and, I have to say, I didn’t expect the two goals and certainly not the second one. I thought the first one was a magnificent finish but I think the second took everybody by surprise, even the keeper.”

– Head coach Adrian Heath

Actually, not everybody was surprised.

“It didn’t surprise me at all,” said Toye. “I work really hard every day in training and I’ve been doing it for as long as I’ve been here. So, I think that I’ve put in the work and I think that it’s just showing the fruits of my labor here. […] I’ve been working really hard to get myself into these opportunites.”

The Loons still have a lot of work to do to keep themselves above the red line, not least of which is their turn to host LAFC at Allianz Field at the end of the month. That match, however, is not on Minnesota’s radar yet. “We’re looking at each game and not going too [far] ahead,” Toye explained. “Houston is next. It’s one game at a time and we’ll get to LAFC and adjust.”

With international call-ups spelling absences for the 9/11 meeting with Dynamo in Houston, and possibly for the following weekend’s meeting with Real Salt Lake, the squad will be using a weekend friendly against CF Pachuca (the Liga MX side where Romario Ibarra is on loan) as a tune-up.

Toye and rookie midfielder Hassani Dotson will be with the USMNT U-23s for a September 9 friendly. Jan Gregus (Slovakia), Kevin Molino (Trinidad and Tobago), Robin Lod and Rasmus Schuller (Finland) have all been called up as well, as FIFA gears up for World Cup qualifiers.

Never a boring day in the West. Or in the North, for that matter.

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

Oh, Darwin Quintero – Will He Ever Throw It Back to You?

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

The US Open Cup Final was a winnable game (as winnable as any big game played by a Minnesota team can be – take that however you wish). Adrian Heath’s favored lineup was well rested, new acquisitions eligible for selection, and the opponent a known quantity. The Loons needed only to keep their shape and begin the match on the front foot. They did neither of those things.

The players can hardly be faulted. They were on the back foot from the moment the Starting XI and formation had been decided. The two most puzzling factors for fans? The omission of Darwin Quintero and the switch to a 4-3-3.

Darwin Quintero

Minnesota could not have made it to the final without Darwin Quintero. He earned the 2019 USOC Golden Boot, scoring at least once in every round played en route to the final. He stood alone atop the table with 6. Four players were tied runners-up with 4 goals, including Quintero’s fellow DP Angelo Rodriguez and Atlanta’s Brandon Vazquez. So why leave him on the bench in the final?

If there were any doubts as to whether he was worth the DP money when he joined the club in March of 2018, Darwin Quintero quickly quieted them, notching 11 goals and 12 assists through 27 appearances. His sophomore season has been less impressive, with 6 goals and 5 assists being overshadowed by countless missed opportunities in his 18 appearances.

Ironically, the same supporters who had yelled for Quintero to be taken off the field in league matches (Overheard in the Wonderwall: “He doesn’t know how to strike the ball,” “His first touch is s–t!,” “What the f— is he doing out there?!”) were the first to decry his omission from the Starting XI in Atlanta. *You could swap Angelo Rodriguez for Quintero as the subject of this paragraph and those points would still ring true, but his omission from the 18 was more understandable given recent injuries.*

Coming to the fore of Minnesota Soccer Twitter once again is #HeathOut. Heath had carefully managed Quintero’s minutes in a tight league schedule leading up to the final. Why bother to do that with a player you plan to sit? Longtime fan-favorite Miguel Ibarra got the same treatment, a painful move given his history with the club and the implications of the match.

Quintero and Ibarra, observing the first half in Atlanta. Image: ESPN+ broadcast

Ibarra has been struggling in 2019 as well, with a single goal in 17 appearances. But his biggest impact has always been off of the score sheet, his work rate up and down the pitch never going unnoticed. Have Quintero and Ibarra played themselves right out of Heath’s favor, ‘dropped themselves’ as Heath is wont to say, by not being the flashy difference makers they once were?

Mason Toye and the 4-3-3

Minnesota’s first- and second-year rookies have been holding their own this season next to the veterans. After a short, but fruitful, loan spell with USL-affiliate Forward Madison SC, Mason Toye is showing promise with the first team. Despite a red card-earning show of poor sportsmanship in early August, the sophomore striker has made an impact, credited with 4 goals and 3 assists in just 10 appearances. Toye also scored the winning goal in the USOC semifinal against Portland Timbers. Was this enough to earn the start in the final? Possibly.

Heath left his favored back four (lined left to right: Gasper, Boxall, Opara and Metanire) intact, but sent Gregus, Alonso and Dotson out as a midfield trio and put Lod and Molino on either side of Toye. Heath had adopted this formation previously in desperate moments (in cases of injury or other absences), but never with these eleven players, who were only just beginning to build chemistry in the favored system.

The midfield shape limited the squad’s wing play, an essential piece of the club’s midfield transitions, and the Loons appeared lost through the first half, struggling to maintain any semblance of order when moving in either direction. Up front, Lod and Molino struggled to create chances on the rare occasions when the midfield successfully won them the ball. Toye was left wandering alone into the final third, flirting with an offside call, but failing to get behind the Atlanta defense.

With a history of odd tactical decisions made to prove a point to his players, it is quite possible that Heath’s late announcement of the Starting XI (Players were not told until Tuesday morning whether they would play that evening.) and the implementation of the 4-3-3 was meant to send a message.

By selecting a 4-3-3, Quintero and Ibarra’s positions were effectively eliminated. Had the Loons managed to win, Heath’s message to Quintero (in a contract year) and Ibarra (his market value likely at its peak) would have been loud and clear: We’ve won with you, but we can win without you. The man from Manchester may be taking Minnesota’s passive-aggressiveness to another level.

Playoff implications

The two main goals of Minnesota’s Three Year Plan were to win the Lamar Hunt trophy and make the playoffs. With that first opportunity squandered, all eyes turn to the playoffs. As of Saturday morning, United sits at 5th in the West, just 5 points ahead of Portland who sit just below the playoff line in 8th with a match in hand. With such a tight race, United needs every point it can get from a tough September schedule, beginning on the road at LAFC.

Quintero helps Ibarra celebrate his goal against LAFC on July 22, 2018, which MNUFC won, 5-1.. Image: MNUFC Twitter

The Open Cup Final was a bad time to experiment with formation and lineup, but doing so in the final weeks of the season? That could be catastrophic. With his defense set (lacking in depth, but serviceable) Heath needs to utilize every attacking tool in his arsenal. Quintero and Toye, despite their flaws, have been clutch in key moments. Ibarra, Molino, Finlay, Rodriguez; they’ve all been difference makers, on the scoresheet or off.

Minnesota United has everything it needs to make a run in the playoffs. Heath just needs to acknowledge that and let it happen. The biggest phase of the Three Year Plan begins now and the league is watching. And the only thing guaranteed for the Loons in September is that there will be more surprises from the gaffer.

COYL

Featured image: @MNUFC

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @BCMcDowell

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

LAFC concludes Rivalry Week with 3-3 Draw at home against the Galaxy

Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

The rivalry continues.

The Los Angeles Football Club and LA Galaxy battled to a thrilling 3-3 draw at the Banc of California Stadium on Sunday night. Despite, coming back from a two-goal deficit, LAFC remains winless against its rival.

The Galaxy struck first just two minutes after the whistle when Cristian Pavon found Zlatan on a run across the box. Ibrahimovic calmly slotted a left-footed finish inside the near post beating Tyler Miller for the opening goal.

In the 12th minute, Steven Beitashour lobbed a cross towards the far post. Diego Rossi headed it back across the goal and out of reach of the keeper for Latif Blessing to send the header home for the equalizer.

However, the Galaxy cut celebrations short by quickly responding with back-to-back goals. Ibrahimovic doubled the score on a breakaway set up by Efrain Alvarez in the 15th minute; before Pavon struck for the Galaxy’s third just one minute after that to cap off the wild start to the match.

Blessing got the last laugh during stoppage time when he collected a deflection off a Galaxy defender, rounded Bingham and lightly taps the ball into the back of the net for his second goal of the evening – cutting the deficit to one goal going in the half 3-2.

But the madness did not stop there.

Shortly after the restart whistle, Mark-Anthony Kaye set up a shot for himself outside the box but then passed the ball to Carlos Vela on the wing. Vela led Bingham off his line to slot home his 27th career goal inside the far post to level the match 3-3.

Shortly after his heroic goal, the captain was substituted out in the 61st minute due to a possible right hamstring injury. Visibly upset by the decision – Vela threw down his captain’s armband. However, he was seen going back and forth from the bench to the sidelines to help coach the team – a move we saw him do in Houston this past July.

The new designated player Brian Rodriguez replaced the captain to make his club debut. Defender Jordan Harvey wore the captain’s armband. And Josh Perez, who scored his first goal against San Jose entered for Rossi in the 86th minute. Bradley never used his third final substitution.

Rodriguez quickly went straight after Galaxy’s right back Rolf Feltscher and put the backline under pressure from inside 25 yards, fired the shot straight at the net. But Bingham was there to catch it.

Despite needing to get more familiar with Bradley’s system, in just 30 minutes, the young Uruguayan displayed how comfortable he is with his teammates and looks to be promising for future matches.

LAFC dominated with 65% possession and shot advantage for the final moments of the match, but were unable to find the winning goal.

Walking away with a hard-fought point, the LAFC will continue the race for the Supporters’ Shield on Sunday, September 1 as they host 5th place, Minnesota United.

Featured Image:  Daisy Jimenez

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @Aracelv1

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

Sounders Rule as Cascadia Cup Champions after 2-1 Win at Portland

Official Seattle Sounders Reporter

By Ashley Savage // @savage_hart

This is the season of 2-1 defeats for both the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. The two teams traded defeats at home this year with Portland taking a 2-1 victory in Seattle and the Sounders grabbing a 2-1 win at Providence Park on Friday. Seattle hoisted the Cascadia Cup trophy in back-to-back seasons after the victory and, most importantly, grabbed a much needed 3 points to remain in playoff contention.

The first half contained a few moments of offensive and defensive highlights from both teams, but nothing as impactful as the show both teams’ supporters groups displayed. For the first 33 minutes of the match, neither supporter group waved flags, sang songs, yelled chants or performed their respective duties as the Timbers Army or Emerald City Supporters and Gorilla FC.

The stadium, usually tightly packed with sound, was still for those 33 minutes. The television commentators had a tough time navigating the silence and, honestly, the players seemed put off as well. However, both teams came together at the start of the match to show support for the message the fans were intending to send to the league. The picture of both teams together is one that I never thought I’d see, but the photo sends a powerful message that two utter rivals can put their dislike aside for the message of anti-fascism and anti-racist.

Photo cred: Jill Peck
Photo cred: Jill Peck

MLS Commissioner, Dan Garber, was in attendance for the match, which may or may not have impacted the display shown by both groups. However, the response the league has shown towards the anti-fascist and anti-racist cry from supporters groups across MLS has been disappointing. A silent protest by two of the most prominent, most vocal supporters groups in what has consistently been voted and considered the biggest rivalry in MLS sends a strong message that hate will not be tolerated in this beautiful game, whether in the stands or on the field.

The match itself had the usual amount of ticky-tack fouls, offensive aggression, and defensive prowess this rivalry has become known for. The Sounders opened the scoring in the 22nd minute after Cristian Roldan thundered home a rebounded deflection from a Jordan Morris cross. Morris spent most of the game running circles around Portland’s Zarek Valentin down the left wing.

Photo cred: Jill Peck

The Timbers were quick to push back after the opening goal, testing centerback-pairing Xavier Arreaga and Kim Kee-hee with many offensive chances. Kee-hee and Arreaga stood strong, the latter committing so hard to the proper shirt tuck that fans are slowly starting to embrace the trend after his stellar showing against the powerful Portland offense.

Photo cred: Jill Peck

Although Jordan Morris appeared to pick up a knock late in the first half and seemed unlikely to continue, he and the rest of the Rave Green came out blazing in the second 45. In the 47th minute, Morris again drove past Valentin and sent a pin-point pass in to Raul Ruidiaz, who converted from 8 yards out.

Photo cred: Jill Peck

The Timbers pulled one back in the 54th minute when Diego Valeri’s free-kick took a deflection in to the back of Seattle’s net. The rest of the game showed chances for both teams, but after the full 90 minutes and SEVEN additional stoppage time minutes, the score held 2-1 in favor of Seattle. With the Western Conference standings tighter than they’ve been in years, every point counts and these were 3 huge points Seattle desperately needed to take home with them.

Photo cred: Jill Peck

The Sounders will face Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the LA Galaxy at home next Sunday at 3:30 PM for another important Western Conference battle. The Sounders are hoping to snap a home winless streak, the longest in franchise history, against the high-powered, Carson-based LA team. It has been reported that both Brad Smith and Victor Rodriguez should be available for selection, providing Seattle with a true first team selection since May.

Featured image: @SoundersFC 

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @savage_hart

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

Seattle Love

Official Seattle Sounders Reporter

By Ashley Savage // @savage_hart

I’ve been quiet in my game summaries since Seattle lost at home to Portland on July 21st. After that game, I wrote an article that generally said that losing to Portland wasn’t the end of the world, but the Sounders were not alright. After squeaking out a 1-0 victory on the road in Houston the following week, nothing has gone right for the Sounders in every match that’s followed.

Image Credit: Jill Peck

In the month of August, the Sounders are winless and have gathered only 2 points in 4 games. The Rave Green lost 3-2 at home to Sporting Kansas City, who at the time were second from the bottom in the Western Conference. While I have a great deal of respect for Kansas City as a club, that was a game the Sounders should have taken 3 points from. But they let in 3 goals at home, an occurrence fans are starting to see often, and couldn’t capitalize on their own offensive chances.

Photo Credit: Jill Peck

Then Bruce Arena and the New England Revolution came to town. While New England is on an upswing, this too should have been a sunny Sunday afternoon for Sounders fans. A can of Rueben’s brew, some boom-boom-clap, 3 points and back to business. But instead, the game tied 3-3. Six goals in the back of the Sounders’ net in 2 games. And then they took to the road.

A double game week on the road is never an easy task, especially for a squad absolutely gutted by injuries like the Sounders are. But taking another 3 goal beat down in Salt Lake and not even recording a shot on goal is embarrassing. It’s uncharacteristic. As Brian Schmetzer has said recently to the media, it is not the Sounders way of play. So again, the Rave Green marched on to visit another Western Conference foe: the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Down in Carson, the Sounders lineup was still missing 3 to 4 key starters and facing a Team Zlatan that was shining with fancy new TAM/GAM players (that would be DPs anywhere else in the league, mind you). But the Galaxy gave the Sounders a much needed break in the 6th minute when Daniel Steres was red carded for DOGSO (denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity). This should have been a golden opportunity for the Sounders. A man advantage, even against a team led by Zlatan, should basically guarantee 3 points.

But much to the dismay of commentator Taylor Twellman and Sounders fans alike, Seattle did not high-press the opportunity. Instead, they sat back and did not alter their game plan in the slightest. In the 42nd minute, Raul Ruidiaz finally put the ball in the back of the net, but the man known as Zlatan leveled the score only 3 minutes later. The Sounders midfield gave Sebastian Llletget plenty of time and space to send in a lofted ball to the most towering Ferrari in all of MLS and this happened:

Zlatan would go on to draw his own penalty and convert from the spot in the 65th minute. Then, in the 82nd, David Bingham decided to play as recklessly as the Sounders defense has for the past month and a half and do this:

Own Goal struck once again and became the only reason the Sounders, who were up a man from the 6th minute, took a point home from LA. Seattle now sit in 5th place and face Portland away next week and the Galaxy back home at CenturyLink the following week. No slouch of a schedule on the back of what is nearly the worst run in Sounders history. However, the worst run in Sounders history ended with the firing of Sigi Schmidt in 2016. Falling in the standings, letting in 11 goals in 4 games and unable to keep a healthy squad has left Sounders fans wondering what in the world can turn things around.

So… what is going on in Seattle?

Well, the first thing to note is Chad Marshall retired. While I realize that happened at the end of May, it’s impact has been felt in more than just the on-field play. Marshall was the leader on the field even without the captain’s armband. Before him, Ozzie Alonso kept things in check. With both of these impactful leaders departing this season, the squad is looking around (literally) for someone to lead and finding no one.

The second note is our signings have been a bust. Joevin Jones has returned a shell of the defender he led the league in assists in 2016. His play has been inconsistent at best. Xavier Arreaga, the DP center back Seattle vastly overpaid, has shown no chemistry alongside Kim Kee Hee and made several mistakes that have lead to scoring opportunities for opponents.

Before the summer transfer window closed, former MLS player Luis Silva and Argentine Emanual Cecchini were brought in. Cecchini has been hyped to fans as a CDM to fill the Ozzie void, while Luis Silva is simply a more seasoned Harry Shipp-style winger. Neither of these signings fit the most pressing needs of the Sounders and General Manager Garth Lagerway continued to state to the media that he “likes our squad the way it is.”

Injuries have been the third note of issue for the Sounders. Brad Smith and Kelvin Leerdam have missed a combined 11 games as of late. Victor Rodriguez has been out due to injury for 13 games so far this season, Raul Ruidiaz has only played 6 of the last 11 league games and Gustav Svensson has only logged 4 full 90 minute games since week 9 of the season. Oh, and Roman Torres went and got himself suspended for 10 games for taking some sort of illegal vitamin.

The final note of issue facing the Sounders has been the gradual decline and recent exit of co-owner Joe Roth. While the Sounders front office recently introduced 11 Seattle-based families (including Macklemore and his wife and Ciara and Russel Wilson) to take over Roth’s majority share, fans were quick to speculate that Roth’s lack of recent involvement and exit from the club were most likely a key factor in the lack of major signings lately.

Sounders fans tend to have two pools of thought: Rave Green ‘Til I Die or What Have You Done For Me Lately? The former will continue to support, cheer and love the Sounders. They are the first to point out that the last time Seattle went on a run like this, they won MLS Cup. The latter demand a DP signing when things get rough, sell their tickets after what was the worst 4 game home stretch in Sounders history and insist that Brian Schmetzer isn’t the man to lead this team.

Both groups come from a place of Seattle Love. They love a team that plays hard and with passion for the full 90. They know the history of a team that has tallied the second most points in all of MLS for the past decade. For both of these groups it isn’t necessarily MLS Cup or bust, but play hard. Win games you should win. Score goals and try to keep less than a dozen out of your net in a 2 week stretch of games. But for many of the reasons I listed previously, we’ve all been greatly disappointed.

Featured image: @SoundersFC on Twitter

Follow and chat with me on Twitter // @savage_hart

Check us out on Instagram @mlsfemale

MN United Celebrates Guts, Glory, But Few Goals

Official Minnesota United FC Reporter

By: Bridget McDowell // @BCMcDowell 

After a hot-tempered clash in Dallas, Minnesota returned home for a midweek matchup against the Colorado Rapids who have been running cool toward the bottom of the table. Coming away with three points was crucial for the Loons who, sitting in third ahead of kickoff, needed every gain possible on an MLS match night heavy with playoff contenders.

The gap between the 3rd and 11th ranked teams was not so obvious in the first half though. Adrian Heath’s 4-2-3-1 was a little different from Saturday’s, with 8 of the weekend’s starters beginning on the bench, including wingers Miguel Ibarra and Ethan Finlay. Mason Toye was out of the 18 altogether due to his red card infraction. Angelo Rodriguez reclaimed his role up top, but wasn’t nearly as visible in the first half as Darwin Quintero behind him.

Together with attacking wingers Robin Lod and Kevin Molino, Quintero made runs that signaled a refreshing departure from the cross-and-pray tactic that has dominated the Loons’ attack recently. The change paid off in terms of shots and possession, with the Loons tallying 16 (6 on target) to the Rapids’ 5 with 62% of the possession. Unfortunately, nearly every ball the Loons managed to deliver to a threatening area was given away cheaply allowing the Rapids to make a number of counterattacks, short-lived though they were.

“The bottom line is, as I said to the players, what are we trying to do here? We’re trying to score a goal,” reflected head coach Adrian Heath. “To score a goal you have to get up the pitch, you have to run towards the goal. It’s not enough just to keep the ball in the mid-third. People have to run without the ball, people have to run forward. If we do that, we’re pretty good. When we play in our own half, we’re not as good.”

United had one of those “pretty good” moments late in the first half, just minutes after a horrible one. When defender Chase Gasper – who spent more time in the Colorado’s 18 than his attacking teammates – was taken down just inside the penalty area in the 37’, Quintero stepped up for the penalty. It was soft and low, an easy attempt for Clint Irwin to read and block. But “El Scientifico” redeemed himself two minutes later, beating the ‘keeper and his centerback to a beautiful ball from Molino which he tapped to the far post, well out of reach for Irwin who had come far off his line to cut the angle.

Irwin would face five more shots before the half, blocking two from Molino and Rodriguez while three others narrowly missed the frame. The score was 1-0 at the break and would remain there through the final whistle. But it’s not as if no one was trying.

The Loons came out for the second half with a slightly more motivated attack. And so did the visitors. That’s when Minnesota started sending a few quick crosses into the goal area, hoping for a connection that would double their lead. But there was a glaring absence at the front of the attack. A striker. And this has nothing to do with Toye’s absence.

Rodriguez has seemingly been getting fitter as the season goes on, showing a few more bursts of speed and prowess between the bouts of lead feet and hobbled movement, the attributes that earned him DP status. All too often though, his presence is forgotten as the ball soars over or past him and the midfield fills space ahead of him. Rodriguez wasn’t signed to be the lurking striker; he’s used more for hold-up play, but that only works when his teammates can get him the ball.

When Abu Danladi – the Loons’ perennial rookie due to recurrent injuries since his SuperDraft selection in 2017 – replaced the DP in the 71st minute, United’s attack saw a few more sparks. A few balls found Danladi camped out in front of the net, jockeying with the last defenders and eyeing the keeper. He had a header in the 78th minute that careened off the crossbar and out. In the 90th minute, he nutmegged Abubakar but the spinning shot was parried away by a diving Irwin. Late in stoppage time, he attempted to flick the ball around two defenders but deflected his own shot out of danger.

This is all well and good. As Heath said, “the kid got in the right spot so if he continues to get in the right spots, eventually one will go for him and hopefully his confidence will come.” Heath has expressed similar sentiments since Danladi’s rookie year. If his confidence depends on a few goals, he needs minutes somewhere that he can get those goals. And this squad needs someone who is already there.

With reinforcements coming for the midfield (Thomás Chacón’s arrival is imminent and Wilfried Moimbé will work into the squad as fitness allows), questions remain about the center forward position. Minutes for rookies and veterans are welcome, but dependable scoring is vital, especially in the heat of a playoff race that will likely come down to goal differential.

Unlike the typical Minnesota team, the Loons have the guts to close out a tight game. But if United really wants to set itself apart – from the locals and from the other playoff contenders – they need to score.

Featured image: Bridget McDowell

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Making History: LAFC Defends The Banc in 4-2 Victory

Official LAFC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

The Los Angeles Football Club continues to shake up the league in a 4-2 win over the New York Red Bulls and remains the only team in the MLS undefeated at home.

Normally, defenders don’t make the highlight reel or some recaps but last night was a special occasion. Defenders Jordan Harvey and Eddie Segura scored their first LAFC goals off of set-pieces – coming off balls played towards the middle of the penalty area by non-other Carlos Vela.

Harvey’s header opened up the scoring sheet in the 23rd minute. And less than two minutes later, a sequence of passes by Eduard Atuesta and Steven Beitashour helped Latif Blessing notch one home to double the score.

However, celebrations would be cut short in the 42nd minute. Blessing made a tackle outside the top of the left side of the box, but the ball rolled to Red Bull’s Cristian Casseres Jr., who sent a low shot near post – pulling one back for the visitors cutting the lead in half.

Tyler Miller was quick to make a diving save in the 44th minute to deny Daniel Royer securing the lead a little longer – just before the Red Bulls made another run at LAFC’s defense to force an own goal by the keeper – leveling the match just before the half.

Mark-Anthony Kaye regained the lead in the 50th minute when he sent a through ball down the middle into the back of the net. But the referee Drew Fischer later disallowed it for a foul outside the box after consulting VAR.

Six minutes later, Blessing almost gave us serious deja vu with another goal by dribbling past two defenders, but an outstretched Luis Robles blocked his attempt.

LAFC proceeded to push on the counters – soon receiving another scoring opportunity when Rece Buckmaster, recently signed from Red Bulls II, got tangled up with Eduard Atuesta who went down inside the box – awarding LAFC the penalty. Vela successfully converted the shot putting the black-and-gold back in front, scoring his 23rd-career goal.

The Mexican captain continues to make history, now tied with the record for most combined goals and assists in a single MLS season.

And just when you thought Bob Bradley would go the full 90 with all starters – he made a double substitution late in the second half sending in Lee Nguyen and Josh Perez replacing Kaye and Diego Rossi.

Segura, who was recently acquired from Colombian side Atletico Huila on a permanent, multi-year deal, notched his first career goal and the game-winner off a free kick from the captain in the 72nd minute.

Perez and Adama Diomande kept knocking on the Red Bulls door for the duration of the match but had difficulty finding the fifth goal. Ultimately, LAFC ended the match by claiming all three points and solidifying their lead at the top of the table even further.

Now with 55 points, a +40 goal differential, and leading the Supporters’ Shield race by 10 points – LAFC will travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to face rivals Real Salt Lake on Saturday, August 17.

Featured Image:  Daisy Jimenez

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Sporting KC Falls to Real Salt Lake In 2-1 Loss

Official Sporting KC Reporter

By Araceli Villanueva // @Aracelv1

Coming off of a strong win in Seattle, Sporting Kansas City fell back into old ways dropping points to rival Real Salt Lake in a 2-1 loss at Children’s Mercy Park.

The match kicked off to a rocky start with winger Gerso Fernandes forced to leave the pitch early in the sixth minute due to an ankle injury. Daniel Salloi came off the bench to take his place in helping the team maintain possession of the ball.

Johnny Russell put SKC on the board in the 31st minute with a free kick. But seven minutes later, Corey Baird was quick to respond for the visitors and leveled the match. 

The home side had a chance to restore their lead after being awarded a penalty kick when RSL’s Donny Toia tripped Russell from behind inside the box. Felipe Gutierrez stepped up to convert but he watched as the ball rattled off the left post – sending them into the half tied up 1-1.

The visitors found their lead in the 70th minute when Jefferson Savarino picked out an unmarked Baird who tucked in a left footed shot into the bottom right corner for a brace.

The home team petitioned for a penalty in the 73rd minute after Gutierrez went down under Aaron Herrera’s lunging challenge and with the support of the crowd chanting for VAR – referee Fotis Bazakos reviewed the play but stood by the call of no penalty.

Things took a turn for the worst in the 84th minute when Sporting lost their second player of the match. Salloi was shown a straight red for a hard tackle on Damir Kreilach when he clipped the midfielder studs up, reducing the home side to 10 men for the duration of the match.

Sporting KC watched as their chances of playoff contention diminished further last night but is it too late? Maybe.

With ten games left in the regular season and still sitting in tenth place with 28 points and a -6 goal differential, every game from now on is crucial for SKC.

“I’m not giving up,” Peter Vermes told the press during the post match press conference.

Sporting KC will now look to bounce back in a mid-week fixture when the team visits Orlando City.

Featured image: Peaty Romano

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