USMNT: Grown in Washington

So exactly when did DeAndre Yedlin become an old man? Answer: The moment this list of of the youngest capped homegrown Washingtonians was compiled.

Tuesday night in Dublin, Mercer Island native Jordan Morris became the ninth Evergreen State native to play for the US Men’s National Team while under the age of 21. In fact, at only 23 days past his 20th birthday, Morris is the second-youngest on the list, behind Everett native Chris Henderson. Now Sounders FC sporting director, Henderson (19 years, 119 days) is the only teen on the list.

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On Tuesday, Sounders FC Academy product Jordan Morris became the second-youngest Washington native to earn a full cap for the USMNT (Courtesy Sounders FC)

Morris is currently a Stanford sophomore and product of the Sounders FC Academy. In the U.S. loss to Ireland (4:1) he came on in the 76th minute for Timmy Chandler.

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Let’s Pick-up Pace of Playoffs

It’s nice to know that in this fast-paced, plugged-in, caffeinated world in which we live, there’s still a collective that believes in savoring every moment and taking its own sweet time.

That collective is known as Major League Soccer. In takes nearly eight months to complete a regular season. Now comes the 38 drawn-out days of the MLS Cup Playoffs.

MLS Cup is held aloft as the domestic game’s ultimate prize. Purists may say that’s debatable. However, if we want to grow the game, if we want to reel-in everyone even remotely interested in soccer (including the World Cup bandwagon types), we want them watching the MLS Cup Final. Only now, they need to arrange their own wake-up call.

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MLS Cup 1996 was played on October 20, some 7 weeks earlier than 2014

The pace of the MLS playoffs is glacial. Big Island lava moves faster. Not only is it like watching paint dry, it’s like watching it get scraped off and painted again.

Keep in mind this is a Sounders fan writing. Our Rave are very much alive and kicking and out to accomplish the unprecedented Treble. We want folks to join us on this magic bus. Only problem is the driver keeps stripping the gears and lurching forward without releasing the parking brake. It’s the never-ending season.

There must be a better way. There must be a means to infuse some energy into the postseason, to attract new viewers rather than losing even your loyalists. The MLS Cup Playoffs cry out for some momentum.

There are mitigating factors, of course, FIFA dates chief among them. But international interruptions are not the problem. Those breaks occur every year and either the playoffs can conclude beforehand or that pause can provide an interlude prior to the final.

Neither is the preliminary knockout round nor the two-leg format that follows. No, the root cause of this lethargic, late autumn shuffle is leadership’s aversion to playing midweek matches.

Wednesday night was once the staple of North American soccer summer. Once the NASL expanded beyond 20-22 matches, it was necessary to play multiple games each week in order to fit all the fixtures between April and August.

Originally, MLS did likewise. During their inaugural season, the Galaxy played 10 midweek matches. This past regular season, Sounders FC played four. L.A. began the playoffs on September 25 (it was a 32-match schedule), Seattle started the postseason five weeks later, on November 2.

Now, a word about midweek games: Owners, by and large, loathe them. People work until 5 or 6 o’clock, fight traffic to get home, then perhaps again approaching the stadium. Result: Smaller crowds, they say. But as MLS matures, as struggling markets make gains, and when New England finds an urban home as opposed to the hinterlands, maybe it’s time to take another look. Or not.

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Part of World Cup appeal is frenetic calendar with teams playing every 4-5 days

Perhaps the choice is not so much Wednesday versus Saturday, but Wednesday on warm summer evenings versus Saturdays in October when the kids are now playing and the weather has turned wet and windy. Saturdays in summer might be just as problematic as work nights: How many want to cut short their time at the beach to get back for the game?

Even if we agree to set aside the reluctance to play midweek games during the regular season, there is the issue of a postseason stuck in neutral.

In a perfect world, no futbol fan has time to write stuff like this. But in MLS we …have…lots…of…time…to…write…or worse…drift toward other interests. Like basketball, hockey, college football, NFL football, Thanksgiving football and conference championship football.

When positioned and played out in proper fashion, league playoffs should build to a crescendo. More and more fans pile on. Suddenly MLS starts gaining in stature as the season culminates.

That’s part of the World Cup attraction; there are matches every day at the outset. The entire tournament takes 31 days. Remember those two rest days prior to the quarterfinals and your withdrawal symptoms?

Promotion playoff legs in England are played three days apart.

The players can handle it. There’s no physical reason the playoffs can’t push on with similar pace.

The old NASL put the pedal to the metal, and so did MLS initially.

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In 1977 the NASL playoffs last 18 days with Seattle and other cities swept up in pace and passion.

In 1977 the original Sounders played six playoff games, including Soccer Bowl, in a span of 18 days. That was pre-online ticketing, obviously. Still teams were selling tickets at a rapid clip: 35,000 for Minnesota, 77,000 in New York. The Sounders sold 56,000 on six days notice. Even when Seattle struggled in attendance, in 1982, playoff fever took hold; 29,000 seats sold in two days for the semifinal deciding leg.

MLS played twice weekly playoff games in the first few seasons to mixed results. Over the past 10 years they are spacing matches a week apart. While crowds are generally up. Columbus, with a week to prepare for New England, sold 9,000 tickets. Rising to the occasion, Dallas, on four days notice, pulled over 16,000 for Seattle. It looked good on TV and, furthermore, it’s encouraging for both the club and the league’s long run.

It also sufficient encouragement for MLS to take another look at putting the playoffs back on the fast track.

Gain a few more midweek games during the summer and suddenly the playoffs are starting in early to mid-October. By making Wednesdays part of postseason, it generates excitement and that, in turn generates crowds and ratings. It can capture the attention not only of the qualifying teams’ fans, but those on the fringe.

No more slow-motion postseason. Playoff fever should be contagious. MLS Cup should be a frenzied sprint to the finish.

 

Supporting Your Local Collegians

It’s times like this, these raw, dark nights of late autumn, when Seattle comes out in numbers to support our local collegians.

November traditionally marks the start of the postseason at all levels and the conditions, either soaking or frigid, seldom frighten away the fans.

It’s likely to be more so the latter for the next few days, so bundle-up. Beginning Thursday, Seattle University hosts the WAC Championships at Championship Field. On Friday, the Washington women entertain Rider in an NCAA tournament opener. Interbay will light-up Saturday night for Seattle Pacific’s second round D2 playoff, and Sunday is Senior Day on Montlake for the Husky men versus Oregon State.

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Three of the largest local college attendances came from the NCAA championship games held here from 1984-86

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Winning Combo: Ahead & At Home

It’s a detectable difference. Bouncing out of bed on match day with belief is much better hitting the floor with faint hope.

That’s the big, big difference between Monday’s series-deciding clash at the CLink and those home playoffs that came before it.

For the first time in the MLS era of the Sounders, they are playing a second leg at home without the handicap of a deficit. In fact, Seattle is an away goal to the good following the first-leg draw to FC Dallas. So, if nothing moves the nets, that’s good enough.

In the postseason, it’s all about surviving and advancing to play another day. Ultimately, that’s the name of the game: Taking care of business. There are no style points.

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That Special Someone

Hours after Allen Chapman blew full time in Frisco, my mind took a walk.

With enough memories and data stowed away from years of watching the locals, it’s inevitable that my brain will begin processing things like, say, ‘Hey, Ozzie’s goal reminds me of back when…” and so on.

Truth is, the goal was very un-Ozzie. A header? Off a set play? After all, he’s usually parked near the D. Weak clearance comes out, and he bashes it.

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Was Ozzie Alonso’s improbable header in first leg just a sign of good things to come? (Courtesy Sounders FC)

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Pause for Revisionist History

At last, away goals are weighted in MLS.

Why it took so long, who knows. But once again, (North) America has joined the world, our fans apparently now savvy enough to figure it out.

Actually, most folks probably could’ve been entrusted with understanding away goals and, for that matter, aggregate series scoring long, long ago. And, if so, who’s to say there wouldn’t be more banners, more trophies, more history to celebrate?

Some say away goals rule only erodes the home-field advantage of the higher seed. Others, myself included, contend it makes the playoffs less of a crap shoot, and that’s a good thing, because local Sounders history is framed by the randomness of a shootout. I’ll explain.

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The Trip of a Lifetime

Giving was Alan Hudson’s specialty.

Smooth as satin, Hudson held court in the Sounders midfield, giving the ball to goal scorers on a record 51 occasions. Moreover, he imparted wisdom to teammates and especially young Americans, and essentially he gave us, the fans of the 80s, a glimpse of what football was to come.

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After returning to London, Alan Hudson says tears still come to his eyes when reliving his reception in Seattle Oct. 10 (Courtesy Sounders FC)

Upon his return to Seattle earlier this month, it was a chance to give back, to give Hudson the acknowledgement, the appreciation and the caring he deserved.

A lot can be learned about people by observing the grace with which they receive kindness and the unreserved nature by which they bestow it. The second week of October was an opportunity to see why Huddy and Sounders Nation are truly special in that regard.

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With Shield, Will Sounders Become Unstoppable?

As the countdown clock winds down toward first kick, I’ve gone through 40 years of Seattle pro soccer. History seems to repeat itself in some way, shape or form.

But in the case of this winner-take-all, season-ending match (OK, a draw will do it for the home side) for the Supporters’ Shield, there’s never been anything quite like it: the league’s top two teams vying with one another for a major prize as they cross the finish line. Never happened, not in 18 years of MLS, nor dating back to ’74 for the Sounders.

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S2 Investment is Groundbreaking for Starfire

There’s the unprecedented, and then there’s the not-so-sexy underpinning for building what dreams may come.

Certainly the sizzle for the Sounders 2 unveiling is the community ownership component in which 20 percent of the USL PRO franchise will belong to Rave fans from near and far. That’s groundbreaking, but it’s the literal groundbreaking behind the Starfire Stadium west goal that will truly unlock the potential of this already abundant soccer park, opening the door to new events and new fans.

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Starfire Stadium (lower right) will host Sounders 2 matches, with the new stadium support building constructed just to the west (Courtesy Starfire Sports)

Funds generated from the Sounders Community Trust Founders Club will be devoted to capital improvement projects at Starfire, namely the construction of a stadium support building (SSB) on the current site of the flag pavilion field.

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Promotion/Relegation: Been There, Done That

It’s been a hot topic of late, the notion of bringing promotion/relegation to America. But believe it or not, it’s already been here and people have done that.

One instance of promoting a top team into an upper division while relegating a bottom finisher was accompanied by little fanfare 25 years ago, when it was practiced in the Pacific Northwest, not by professional clubs, mind you, but by collegians.

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Seattle's Soccer Nation: Past, Present & Future