Sounders FC prepared for a potentially historic Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final date at Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday by brushing aside Los Angeles, 4-0, at CenturyLink Field.
Add Seattle to the growing list of teams burnishing their postseason credentials with a signature performance.
It only seems fair in light of Sounders FC's resounding 4-0 victory over Los Angeles on Sunday night. Sigi Schmid's side has dealt with plenty of concerns and quandaries – a Designated Player shuffle, a protracted debate about the chemistry between the front two and the occasional defensive lapses – this season, but this impressive showing went a long way to outlining plausible answers to most of them.
“It’s just basically for ourselves – a statement for ourselves,” Schmid told reporters after the game. “It’s us knowing, ‘Hey, here’s what we can do, here’s the commitment that we have, this is the potential that we can achieve, and this is what we do as we continue to move forward.’ It’s about ourselves. It’s about ourselves getting confidence in our ability to be able to take on big challenges, big games – we have another one on Wednesday – and respond well to those challenges.”
Most of progress on this occasion stems from finally having all of the necessary pieces in place at once. Michael Gspurning has returned from a hip injury to provide some strength between the sticks. The back four now boasts the recovered Adam Johansson at right back, the capable Patrick Ianni and Jeff Parke in the middle and the seasoned, if often vulnerable, Leo Gonzalez on the left. The starting group in midfield included the impressive Alex Caskey on the left (though his time in the starting XI may soon pass after Christian Tiffert made his debut from the substitutes' bench) and the scheming Mauro Rosales anywhere and everywhere required.
Rosales' movement (and the tidy work by Osvaldo Alonso to plug the gaps left by his probing runs) brings everything together in attack. The Argentine schemer hasn't always displayed his best form this season, but his service for Eddie Johnson's first goal – a clever run and a quick, precise cross into the right area at the near post – showed the type of quality he has mustered more frequently over the past few weeks.
If Rosales can influence matches from his tucked in position on the right (once Tiffert is fit enough to start) and his midfield mates do their best to keep the tempo nice and brisk from back to front, Seattle becomes one of the most dangerous sides in the league with Johnson and Fredy Montero plundering in the penalty area. The always streaky Johnson has scored seven times in his past nine matches to prompt talk of a U.S. recall, while Montero has continued to make intelligent runs into dangerous areas. Most importantly, the duo seems to have increasingly found some common ground to operate upon after struggling in the early stages of the season to develop collective operating principles.
All of the players in the front six are intelligent enough in the final third to create the magic displayed against a defensively suspect Galaxy side against other opponents. They operate in the spaces allotted to them, pick out areas to exploit and stretch the opposition with neat movement off the ball, tidy combination play and timely vertical runs.
As scary as the prospect sounds for opposing sides, Seattle could improve in the attacking third in the coming weeks once Tiffert settles into the side as a central conduit. The 30-year-old midfielder created more chances than any other player in the Bundesliga over the past two seasons, according to statistics compiled by ESPN. He may not even have to hit those heights with Rosales in the fold, but his ability to consistently retain possession and his penchant to pick out the right pass – particularly since it is often a bit more central and a bit more direct than Rosales' preferred supply routes – could make this Seattle side even more potent on the counter.
In order to pull everything together for a lengthy postseason run, Seattle must continue to establish a solid defensive base. Sunday's shutout actually provides a welcome respite in a recent stretch of defensive uncertainty (including four goals conceded in the previous three games). Johansson's return makes the side more stable in that critical right wing area (particularly if Rosales continues to operate as a right-sided player), though the gaps that tend to occur there can prove troublesome. Schmid has rotated through his options at center back and left back this season, but he must hope that all three of his current choices show as well as they did against the Galaxy to allow for some consistency in this department as the season progresses.
For one night at least, all of the pieces came together to dispel most of the concerns about Seattle's title credentials. At this stage, the goal is that this victory – and, perhaps, a fourth consecutive Open Cup triumph at Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday night – can serve as a jumping off point for Sounders FC to iron out the inconsistencies of the campaign to date and set this talented group along a path toward claiming MLS Cup in early December.
Five Points – Week 20
1. Columbus, MLS mourn sudden passing of Kirk Urso: The 22-year-old midfielder died early Sunday morning after being rushed from a Columbus bar to a local hospital for unknown reasons, according to the Columbus Dispatch. The local coroner will conduct an autopsy on Monday morning as part of its investigation into the matter, according to the Dispatch.
The Crew issued a statement and postponed its scheduled reserve league match at D.C. United on Sunday morning in the wake of the news:
“The Columbus Crew has learned that midfielder Kirk Urso has passed away on Saturday night. While the circumstances of Urso’s passing are still being determined, no further comments will be made at this time. The thoughts and prayers of the entire Columbus Crew and Hunt Sports Group are with the Urso family in this time of need.”
Several Crew players and many MLS colleagues offered tributes to former North Carolina captain Urso on Twitter, while MLS commissioner Don Garber also Tweeted out his condolences in a pair of Tweets this morning.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Columbus Crew player Kirk Urso,” Garber Tweeted. “MLS mourns his death and sends our condolences to his family. … Major League Soccer will hold a moment of silence for Kirk Urso at today's two league matches.”
The MLS Players Union also released a statement by email through its executive director, Bob Foose:“We are very saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Columbus Crew midfielder Kirk Urso. Kirk was just beginning his career as an MLS professional and his loss is felt across the entire MLS community. On behalf of all MLS Players, we mourn his loss and extend our thoughts and prayers to his family in their time of need.”
Urso played in six matches during his rookie season, starting five of them. He hadn't featured in the first team since a substitute appearance against Vancouver on April 28 after encountering persistent problems with his right adductor.
2. Houston makes a statement of intent by dispatching New York: Most teams would have settled for a 2-0 victory over New York in the first match of a pair of home-and-home meetings over the course of eight days. Not the Dynamo. Houston assumed control inside the first two minutes (Jermaine Taylor polished off a set piece opportunity after some terrible Red Bulls defending) and refused to give the visitors a path back into the game. By exposing New York's weakness in central midfield (Teemu Tainio made his first start with Dax McCarty suspended and trudged off after a futile 45 minutes) and maintaining a high tempo against a side with few answers on the night, the Dynamo grabbed a second goal inside the first half hour and secured the points before halftime.
Most of the scrutiny from the affair will focus on New York's poor performance. Those points are valid, but they obscure the fact that Houston executed its game plan and reaped the benefits. Only poor finishing at the sharp end kept the score line respectable. The final margin, however, isn't particularly important for a Dynamo side trying to cement its status among the top sides in the Eastern Conference. Based on this performance and the current eight-match unbeaten run, Houston merits its current perch atop the table.
3. Jesse Marsch won't have to worry about his center back problem for a few games: Marsch squeezed Matteo Ferrari, Alessandro Nesta and Nelson Rivas into his back four for Saturday's nervy 2-1 victory over Philadelphia. It isn't the best of tactical options, but Marsch will likely return to a more familiar look in the next couple of games after Rivas headbutted Antoine Hoppenot and procured a straightforward red card after 69 minutes. Rivas will likely hear from the MLS Disciplinary Committee this week and miss one or two more matches after serving his automatic ban for the visit to New England next weekend.
4. Go ahead and try to find a more comprehensive and cutting summation of a goal: New England coach Jay Heaps couldn't have described the calamitous goal that led to the Revs' 1-0 home defeat to Sporting Kansas City in starker terms.
“It was a poor throw-in to a poor touch to a poor pass to a poor defensive player to nothing Matt Reis could do,” Heaps said after Teal Bunbury scored the only goal of the game after a series of Revolution errors. “It was just one of those plays where it was a bad decision to where the throw-in was made [and] to where it went. Unfortunately, we’ve been punished all year for our mistakes and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”
5. The goal: stopping the rot one result at a time: Colorado concluded its six-game losing streak with a cathartic 1-0 home victory over Real Salt Lake, while Portland managed to snap a five-match losing run when Jack Jewsbury volleyed home a late equalizer to snatch a 1-1 home draw with FC Dallas.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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