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A question for the MLS Disciplinary Committee

Posted on 14 November 2012 by Steve Long

Major League Soccer has just come out and admitted that referee Ricardo Salazar erred in not calling a foul on Houston’s Andre Hainault when he took down DC United’s Raphael Augusto late in the first half of the Eastern Conference Final first leg in Houston.

The failure to call the foul and eject Hainault for Denial of an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO) was entirely understandable from the position from which Salazar viewed the players and their exchange of arm contact. He couldn’t see that Hainault had trapped Augusto’s arm and pulled him down.

His own explanation confirms that he didn’t see it as a foul, but Professional Referee Organization General Manager Peter Walton, admitted on MLSSoccer.com that in his judgment it was indeed a foul and DOGSO.

Then MLS went on to state that the event was not reviewable by its disciplinary committee. That’s interesting, because it must be on the basis that the referee’s decision to let play continue on removes their ability to punish the action.

Let’s contrast that seemingly defensible position with their actions in regard to the second yellow card on Andy Najar in the semi-final opener against New York Red Bulls for which they suspended him for two additional games.

That punishment was given despite the fact that the referee, Jair Maruffo, specifically chose to call Najar’s offense only a cautionable dissent.

It seems to me that if the MLS Disciplinary Committee holds itself to a standard that the referee’s report is the defining document in such matters then they should feel similarly prevented from intervening in Najar’s case. After all, Marrufo was the aggrieved party when Najar threw the ball and determined at that time that it was not an abuse or assault on him.

While two similar preceding events involving Brek Shea (3 added games for kicking a ball at a referee) and Mike Magee (1 game for a mild throw in the direction of a referee) would seem to neatly bracket Najar’s punishment and provide adequate justification, we are still stuck with Maruffos’ reporting only dissent.

My quarrel is not with the Najar decision but with the failure to act on the Hainault situation. As it is, it seems that a non-decision by a referee because he did not see something (Hainault’s foul) may not be overruled while a specific description of an act that the referee did see (Najar’s throw) may be overruled.

Yet, disciplinary committees worldwide routinely punish “unseen” simulation although not reported or seen as such by a referee. How does this ex-post-facto calling of simulation differ from calling Hainault’s “simulating” fair play? So I ask MLS, did I miss something technical?

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DC players are United in optimism

Posted on 07 November 2012 by Steve Long

The New York (New Jersey) Red Bulls have one of the highest paid rosters in MLS and have an empty trophy case to show for it. They will be motivated tonight at home. Still, they have to realize that their salaries and good fortune on Saturday in DC are no deterrent to Ben Olsen’s United team.

The coach was sanguine about his team’s situation after tying 1-1 at home, “We obviously wanted to win today. I thought we had a good balance of going forward and making sure we didn’t get exposed in the back.

“Again, I thought there was some really good stuff offensively. We created chances. In the first half, we were a little bit rushed at times. We probably should have nicked a goal.”

He was not alone. Commenting on the classic playoff style adopted by both teams, Lewis Neal felt that the deeper restraint line was not really a hindrance to attacking, “We had a lot of decent efforts…We played particularly well in the first half.”

When Andy Najar was ejected leaving United with only ten players, Neal noted that, “We weren’t just hanging on there, (We had) one or two breakaways, one or two half looks…..It just shows the togetherness and the team spirit that we have.”

Perry Kitchen, who has carried the large burden of protecting the defenders while helping transition to attack, believes that DC’s cohesion has matured quite well, – “If we are playing the best, with good pressure, good possession, we can hang with any team. That’s just what we need to do.”

Captain Chris Pontius agreed, “I always felt good about how we matched up against them and tonight just proved it right. Like I said, we have to match their intensity up there and we’ve got to play offensively up there like we did down here.”

This year’s group has grown along with their young coach and appears not only to have bought into his approach, but to understand it well. Their unanimous confidence in each other stands out in every interview.

Possible rookie of the year, Nick DeLeon saw it clearly, “They weren’t doing much with that (the deeper restraint line used by both teams) and we picked our moments very well…We stuck together as a team and it all worked out….It really limited their chances and it’s unfortunate we couldn’t put more in the net.” After going down to ten men, it was, “Sit in tight and go on the counter if we had the opportunity.”

The wisest player on the team, Branko Boskovic put it simply, “Game like this, you must be smart…..Be patient until the last minute.” It is interesting that Olsen has frequently chosen Neal and Boskovic for simple roles that support the middle of the field. They both bring a calmness and understanding that supports and teaches the youngsters around them.

The expected horrible weather conditions tonight will favor the team that holds together best and avoids mistakes. Olsen has emphasized that cohesion as the season has progressed and the loss of Dwayne De Rosario has helped cement a team that adjusted to the loss of offense by be becoming even stingier on defense.

The original DC United followed the Bruce Arena style of pressuring all over the field. Olsen’s squad lends itself more to a withdrawn restraint line, but is otherwise the same in emphasizing maintenance of possession once obtained and a quick attack, but only when it “is on”.

Here’s how Chris Korb saw it, “In the second half after the red card you can’t do much.” That is obvious enough, but he went on to point out, “We still probably had more chances than they did. We’re fine, we’ll be ready for Wednesday.”

His confidence is well placed as he realized that United was already prepared to contain the Red Bulls as they had all game, but the team reserved the right to attack when it was on. The loss of Najar’s services will take away some of DC’s sting in either a slow buildup or a counter, but his talent is best suited to better conditions where skill predominates.

With weather the great leveler, United’s blue collar style should serve them well.

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It’s time for DC United to control possession

Posted on 31 August 2012 by Steve Long

When you take the hands out of a game, you remove man’s special tool for refined play and frustration becomes the order of the day. The low scoring rate in soccer reflects that reality.

There are two ways to address the problem, run up your opponent’s frustration by forcing him to make more passes to get to the goal or minimize your own frustration by accepting the delay and beating it with cunning and skill.

The MLS style, adopted by DC United Coach Ben Olsen, is based on athleticism and obstruction and a focus on forcing a way through the opponent rather than around him. Witness the bench time for DC United’s more subtle players like Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi.

The direct approach is not without merit as can be seen with the success of Chris Pontius and Andy Najar. Still, an obstructive defense will most often stifle their efforts. Against Red Bulls New York, Olsen chose to clog the middle with a two man defensive midfield and frequent inside play by the wide midfielders.

Thus, Nick DeLeon’s comment, “I was just trying to tuck inside. The coaches wanted the outside mids to come inside and help because Henri and some of the forwards would drop back into that space and would crowd the midfield.” The tactic succeeded in closing down the Re Bulls’ primary attacker.

Henri showed his frustration with frequent gestures, but neither he nor his teammates took the appropriate action to exploit the newly freed up space on their left wing in which Joel Lindpere took up residence. As Najar responsibly rotated into central defense to maintain team shape, DeLeon often left Lindpere unmarked.

His rationale was that, “Andy’s a quick defender, he’s not an easy kid to beat. You touch it past him and he’ll catch up to you real quick, so I’m not too worried about that. He can handle himself.”

Asked about Najar’s having to take on both Henri and Lindpere, DeLeon simply replied, “He’s a beast.” While the young Honduran has been very active and effective since his return from duty at the Olympics, he is not inexhaustible and the thin air in Utah may slow his work rate.

Real Salt Lake’s Coach, Jason Kreis, will surely note Olsen’s approach. With a strong Kyle Beckerman in central midfield to encourage the same crowding, he will exploit the wings more effectively than New York, hoping to either outflank or wear down Najar.

Olsen has made it too easy for opposing coaches by persisting in the athletic MLS style despite having solid alternatives on the bench. He and the coaching staff believe that the more patient style of Boskovic and Salihi can only be effective against tired and slower legs in the second half.

I disagree. Saturday’s game will be at altitude and dominance of early possession will be essential. Instead of repelling RSL’s attacks with a bunkering empty bucket, DC needs to take control. That means positional discipline with the wide defenders rarely overlapping and less team rotation.

In such a scheme, triangles will be a bit more predictable since they will be based on less position switching, but the scheme will require much less running and will have the added benefit of having wing attacks made by primary attackers, Pontius and Deleon, rather than an overlapping Chris Korb or a tired Najar.

This more measured approach will require good possession skills and accurate passing. That points to Boskovic’s starting in an attempt to impose United’s style on RSL. Variety on attack should come from educated runs by Salihi and the unpredictable Dwayne De Rosario.

To further emphasize controlled play, Olsen should play Emiliano Dudar in place of Brandon McDonald whose long balls out of the back are too often the first step in opponents’ buildups.

As the early season progressed, DC United grew more sophisticated in its play and Pontius in particular showed greater understanding of the usefulness of width and delayed movement into space. Then, the style suddenly went away. Olsen went with the “work harder” mentality and forgot the “work smarter” approach.

It’s time for a return to simple, intelligent play.

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DC United still looking to break through the wall

Posted on 05 August 2012 by Steve Long

The “rookie wall” is a well worn cliché precisely because it is so often encountered. If the rookie in question is lucky enough to break through, he has a good chance to hang around the top level. Last night, rookie Nick DeLeon showed signs of returning to his early season form.

When I asked him in April about the main lesson that he had taken from his father, a former professional player, he noted that it was, “My attitude of going at defenders without fear. Sometimes you lose it, sometimes you get by them; but you just gotta keep going.”

His observation applied then, applied to last night’s wonderful run, and may apply to DC United as well.

He made the most significant game-changing effort I have seen that garnered no assist. That pesky statistic requires a more direct link than he generated; but the goal was almost all his doing with a neat backheel by Long Tan and a simple tap-in by Chris Pontius to finish it off.

Having gone through his own rookie and sophomore phases, Pontius had the correct insight, “It’s tough. You go from having a three-month season to all of a sudden – with preseason – ten plus months. Consistency is the hardest thing as a rookie, but I think he’s found his groove back.

“I just told him the thing that makes him successful is his going at guys, and you saw that tonight, putting defenders on their heels.” The rookie’s early season fearlessness and ability to shed defenders is indeed reminiscent of his mentor’s early years.

Deleon benefited from immediate advice as, “[Chris] Korb played a ball down the line and I just heard the sideline saying ‘go at them, go at them.’ He gave me a little space toward the line and I went at him. Fortunately enough I got through and we got the goal.”

In fast moving situations in a crowded goal area anything can happen, but a quick reflex increases the odds of scoring. As he closed on goal, DeLeon pirouetted around a defender to free up enough space to put in a short cross to Tan.

The play showed his adaptability and cool under pressure, “That was just a bad touch. The defender was coming, so I just improvised. It worked out for the best. We got the goal and we got the win, so I’m happy about that.”

Now let’s consider a DC United team that has been wading through its own midseason morass. It won on the night only because it got a few more breaks than a mediocre opponent. Both teams created few good chances and both nearly scored from in the box bounces. This one could have gone either way.

The team played a bit more narrowly than normal because of the style that the Columbus Crew chose to use. Josh Wolff noted that the Crew wanted United to attack wide so that crossed balls would be more easily rejected by their tall defenders, principally Chad Marshall.

United chose instead to play a quick passing game inside, as both Korb and Daniel Woolard overlapped into the wide channels, while the team maintained overall good shape. The discipline held up well enough to preserve the clean score sheet despite a few scary moments.

As United approaches the most trying several weeks of their season, they will need to show more confidence in attack while retaining good discipline and shape. Saturday’s upcoming game at Sporting Kansas City will provide them a stern test by a quality side.

With the team still looking like a preseason side, Olsen will have to hold very focused practices this week to ingrain proper habits. It takes a superior coach to instill a confident improvising mentality while assuring that shape is well maintained.

Both have to come naturally, with no delays to think it over. The players must all be as adaptable as DeLeon was when he turned his bad touch into a clever move. Olsen has been slowly working out how to do that. His opposite numbers keep redefining the issues he faces.

Just as several of his players are still learning how to get out of a funk, so Is their young coach.

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Big Day For Sounders

Posted on 27 August 2011 by Britt Ruby

What a day for being a Sounders fan. I’m honestly not sure what the bigger story of the day is.

The team won a match against the best team in the eastern conference 6-2. They are now 6-0-1 in the month of August. They are now just 3 points behind LA Galaxy in the race for the Supporters Shield.

Truly, no one could have asked for a better run of form for a month that starts a pretty crazy run of fixture congestion. A run that includes qualifying for group play on the CCL, a win in Dallas, and a win in Monterrey. And up next, a game at Starfire to move to the third straight USOC final.

Its a great time to be a Sounders fan. Let’s all sit back and enjoy.

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In Defense of Hanauer

Posted on 14 August 2011 by Britt Ruby

Today, Josh Mayers at the Seattle Times tweeted that the Sounders would not take advantage of the summer international transfer window. We all know that it’s not for lack of trying. Adrian Hanauer has stated publicly that he was “working frantically” trying to bring in a top-talent target forward but that he wouldn’t bring in a player that was too expensive or a poor fit for the team.

Sounders supporters have formed two camps around this issue: one saying that this is further evidence of Hanauer’s limited ability as an MLS-level GM, and a second saying that Hanauer used sound reasoning and handled the situation as well as anyone could have.

In reality, both these viewpoints have a measure of validity but are far too strong.

Hanauer is the leader of the FO and is responsible for roster construction. The reality is that he put together a roster that has been competitive at the MLS level from day one. He put together the roster that won the USOC and made the playoffs in the Sounders’ inaugural season, then again last year. He has them poised to make another run at the USOC, the MLS playoffs, and the CCL.

Adrian Hanauer has earned our trust.

Having said that, this failure to bring in an international top-caliber target forward IS a statement on his job performance.  The Sounders clearly have a need and have the DP slot and cap room available. Several players around Europe and elsewhere are available. For whatever reason, Hanauer was unable to complete a deal.

But this one failure, in this one situation, for this one need, does not negate all the excellent work Hanauer has done.

Hanauer should not bring in a player for the sake of doing it. He should not overpay for anyone. He was almost certainly willing to slightly overpay on a short-term deal because of the benefit of progression through USOC, CCL, and playoffs.

I have developed a great deal of trust in our GM and you should too. He has earned our trust over the last 2 ½ years. Obviously, we want a big-time TF to pair with Montero. But more than that, we should all want the Sounders to maintain depth in the roster with long-term young talent supplemented with short-term vets. Above all, we should want the Sounders to maintain a strong viable business that will last for generations.

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Manchester United Thump Sounders 7-0

Posted on 22 July 2011 by Kyle Alm

Seattle Sounders have lifted the hearts of their supporters to new heights, winnning convincingly against LA Galaxy (including Landon Donovan) in the US Open Cup, winning in Portland, and most recently defeating the Colorado Rapids in Seattle. Sounders were slightly unlucky in Los Angeles on July 4th when Montero had his penalty kick saved by MLS noob Brian Perk. Seattle has been red hot.

Seattle has set out to be a model franchise in MLS. Celebrity owners, star players, championship coaches, amazing fan support, the only thing that has really been missing has been winning anything in MLS. Sounders do love winning the US Open Cup and the birth into CONCACAF Champions League that it provides.

Manchester United has what Sounders want. History prestige, romance.

It’s forgivable if there were some fans who thought Sounders could make a game of it with Manchester United. Although the first team did play level to a Manchester United side without Wayne Rooney they missed big opportunities to score, managed to leave Michael Owen unmarked, not once but twice. Second time he may have been offside, but was saved by Keller.

It was impressive that Sounders had opportunities to score and were still in the match.

The second half, Wayne Rooney & Ji-Sun Park came on, several key Sounders were subbed off and things fell apart quick. Wayne Rooney being Wayne Rooney. Hat trick in under 30 minutes.

Sigi Schmid termed this his most embarassing loss as a coach. If the stakes are so low is it really that embarassing? Is it worse than LA Galaxy 2010? Also known as, “refund day.” There is nothing at stake against Manchester United. That said, it is still 7-0.

If anyone thinks that exhibitions are for anything other than building Manchester United’s International brand, introducing MLS to a European audience, trying out players (Ngassa is fast), showcasing players, selling souveneirs & concessions you can go right ahead and leave your comment below.

I forgot FUN! That was the other reason Sounders played Manchester United. Did you forget that reason too?

It’s probably a good thing that Sounders did lose 7-0, losing is a more powerful motivator. This could be the perfect loss to keep Sounders focused and on track in MLS and other competitions that matter.

 

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Annual Goal Drought Comes Early For Sounders FC

Posted on 25 March 2011 by Kyle Alm

Seattle Sounders FC has enjoyed an early run of success from their first First Kick to consistent sellout crowds and becoming a model franchise in MLS for marketing, fan experience, corporate sponsorship, and ownership. Sounders have had their share of turbulence also. Typically with Designated Players (DP) colliding with the immovable Sigi Schmid.

Sounders have never lost an opener, but the Galaxy are an excellent team with great players and they bring it even when they come to Qwest. Great players like Beckham and Donovan, and in this match Juninho, rise to challenges, create challenges to motivate themselves and apparently deafening Qwest is one of those challenges. The Galaxy aren’t the only team to win at Qwest and the fans are usually quite vocal despite the score. Jury is out on that one, sorry Lando.

Losing on the road to New York Red Bulls isn’t a great surprise either, but maybe more disappointing because of Keller stopping a PK from Thierry Henry.

It appears that the largest difference between LA, NYRB & Sounders are the DPs. Beckham, Donovan, Henry didn’t come here for the “lifestyle” that Blaise Nkufo or Freddie Ljungberg were seeking. The clash was inevitable. If you put young players trying to establish themselves with players who should be retiring or staying in Europe. Blaise Nkufo was an unusual case. Not just the way he went out, but also how long he took to join the team from his announced signing. Not that the World Cup wasn’t important, pretty good excuse. And the way Nkufo looked against Spain was very encouraging, and worth the wait.

Nkufo still finished 3rd in the goal tally for the season, scored a hat trick in Columbus, but there seemed to be something a miss, perhaps out of sync with his play. At least we don’t have to wonder who Sigi was talking about when he implied that the roster could be shaken up if the team failed to get over the hump and win in the playoffs. Score in the playoffs.

And score this season.

And that is precisely the reason why the losses to LA & NYRB are cause for concern, because the opportunity to win the game was there and they could not put it away. The idea that Sounders have gone through goal scoring droughts before and made the playoffs denies the fact that those seasons weren’t up to expectations. Sounders really aren’t competing for a League Championship or the MLS Cup. Not if they can’t score goals consistently and definitely not go two games without a goal.

Two words that should never be brought up again: atmosphere & lifestyle. Sure the fans are great and stars on the roster puts fans in the stands, but in the end winning is what matters and you can’t win 0-0.

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Freddie Ljungberg

Posted on 25 May 2010 by Kyle Alm

Although this is not the first time Freddie Ljungberg has been questioned about his on pitch demeanor by fans or commentators, this is the first time that any of the Sounders has been criticized so harshly by Coach Sigi Schmid. Ljungberg has higher expectation than any player at the club with possible exceptions being Kasey Keller and Fredy Montero. The expectations on Keller may be lower given his age and past performances for the US Men’s National Team. Montero has high expectations that are based on “potential.” Ljungberg’s expectations are rooted in his status as a Designated Player and his large, by MLS standards, salary on the happy side of $1 million.

Ljungberg’s multiple outbursts directed at referee Alex Prus on Saturday while a good game was going on indicated that the Swede is far from happy on the pitch in Seattle. Ljungberg shouts at his teammates, argues with the officials, and recently he was on the sidelines arguing with Schmid. Ljungberg’s demonstrations on the pitch on Saturday had to be seen to believed. He totally lost his cool as he shook his fist at an opposing player after complaining to Prus about not getting foul called. But there is a reason why Freddie Ljungberg doesn’t get every call.

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There is a school of thought, that basketball fans will surely recognize, that dictates that if you foul enough you will get away with enough fouls to have effectively changed the pace and tempo of a game to your favor. Ljungberg is the most second most fouled player in MLS currently after leading the league in 2009. He gets that call more than anyone in the league and he’s complaining that he doesn’t get enough calls?

In defense of Ljungberg, he’s the second most fouled player in the league currently after leading the league in 2009. The sheer volume of which are enough to believe they are part of a deliberate and cynical defensive strategic against Ljungberg and Montero. Ljungberg has missed games due to injury a few different times after getting roughed up by opposing players. It’s a frustrating game where you take 18 shots and can’t score. When you don’t connect passes with teammates well or when you have only scored on goal in your Sounders career, and have yet to score a goal at Qwest it must be very frustrating. Especially when you are the team’s captain, highest paid player and should be the best player on the team. I doubt very seriously that Arsene Wenger would tolerate that kind of behavior for Arsenal, but it’s OK for the Sigi and for the Sounders. That d of attitude doesn’t carry much water in my opinion. The fans deserve better than what they have been getting from Ljungberg he’s a professional athlete, not a petulant child, and it’s time showed some maturity.

Arsène Wenger

“I played on the biggest teams in the world and you need to get upset if the ref is not doing the right thing,” Ljungberg said. “If you lose your passion, you won’t play. I don’t agree on that.”

You know who else quipped about their pedigree like that? David Beckham. It’s indefensible Euro-snobbery. Freddie, you play for Sounders FC currently. Played is the right word, because it is played out. Played, as in used to play? Players who talk about the past aren’t passionate, they are complacent. How many times has a referee ever reversed a call on the pitch? Exactly zero. None. Plus I don’t think that was what your coach was saying to you.

“You need to have your passion to play and I think that’s what the fans want to see as well. People that care, reaction if there is something that happens.”

Wrong again. Passion to “play” is not what fans want to see. Fans want see a passion to compete and to win. Not to “play.” Kids “play.” Professionals compete to win. What Ljungberg did on the pitch did nothing to help his team win. Did nothing to help him get a call. Do you know how many times I have seen a referee reverse a call? Exactly zero.

Pretty good advice from the other Sounders captain. Sounds like he gave it yesterday instead of pre-2009, maybe it will finally sink in.

PS How about a goal Freddie? Score a goal. At home in front of your fans.. Correct me if I am wrong, but I don’t believe that you have done that. Perhaps that should be your focus.

Qwest Field with Seattle in the background
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Does New York really need another MLS team?

Posted on 13 May 2010 by ASN Staff

The short answer: No. But short answers won’t suffice in light of a recent Goal.com column that claims 10 reasons why New York needs another team. So a long answer it is.

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