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Monday, 19 March 2012

Upon First Glance – Seattle Sounders v Toronto FC

    The opening league match of the season, two teams coming off emotional midweek adventures in CONCACAF. After listening on a choppy stream on the bus I finally got around to watching the match last night.

    Here are a few thoughts:

On the 1st Seattle goal – It was an almighty scramble that led to the breakthrough. Harden having his ankle broken by Fernandez’s footwork and in falling trips up the following Eckersley. Harden attempts to get back involved in the play while Eckersley just stands there incredulous. I would have liked to have seen them both hustle in behind the play to cover the goal-line; it was not a hard shot and could have been cleared by a defender in that position.

    The first goal was always going to be critical in a match such as this – Seattle gained confidence that would have been crushed had Toronto scored first.

On the Frings injury – Captain Frings while diving in for the superb tackle on Estrada seemed to catch the heel of his right boot in the turf, wrenching his upper leg as he stretched out to get a touch. It could be a simple strain, but judging by his reaction – and the international hand gesture of yanking two fists apart – he seemed to think at the time it was a tear.

    The bane of MLS that is artificial turf strikes again, particularly for players that are not used to playing on it. Recall David Ferreira’s injury last season, getting his boot caught in the Vancouver turf as he was caught with a tackle. The tackle Frings made would have been fine on grass, he would have created a divot, but be no worse for wear. Hopefully it is a strain and not more serious, but giving him some time off until the CCL kicks off again may not be the worst thing.

On Frings as midfielder or defender - I found it of interest that when Frings was forced off Aaron Maund – the Maundster – came on, settling once and for all whether the role the German Uber-footballer is playing. He is definitely being fielded as a centre back; otherwise, perhaps de Guzman would have been brought on to fill that role – not a like-for-like replacement, but could do for a half.

    It was also good to get a chance to see how Aceval does in marshalling that defense, as I would doubt Frings would be available for every single match this year. They looked shaken at first, but functioned better towards the end of the half. Only when Koevermans came on for Harden at half-time did Toronto switch to a back-four.

On a first half response – As mentioned the first goal was always going to be key, but not necessarily decisive. It was an open game and had Johnson’s header been an inch lower and the sides gone in level going into half time Seattle’s heads may have dropped a bit and Toronto would have sensed they could get something out of the game.

On the 2nd Seattle goal – Giving up a second goal so early after the restart is always a dispiriting concession. Playing such a high-line was suicidal once they had switched to a straight back four, considering the lack of pace.

    Eckersley can’t get caught so far up the pitch out of position there, switching to four means he has to revert to being a full-back and not continue as a wing-back. He forgot himself for a moment there and for the second time in the game that lack of focus was costly.

    Dunfield has to cut out that pass, or at least continue working to pressure and put off Evans who plays that ball in behind the defense; Terry kind of let up at the last minute.

    Estrada may have been offside by a nose – well, his nose - frame-by-frame analysis on my PVR – not the pinnacle of video technology I know – shows this possibility, but the camera angle is not straight enough to be definite.

    Regardless, Maund needs to see the pass coming and know that the man is breaking on his shoulder. Aceval was playing the trap, but the rookie got caught. A shout would have been great; who knows how the communication back there is when Frings is not menacingly pointing them into place.

    Kocic tried to do the exact same thing he did to Keane by out-waiting the attack, it didn’t work this time because Estrada had time to choose his angle of attack and then slow down to give himself time. Keane picked up the ball deeper on goal and couldn’t manufacture an angle wide enough to enlarge the net, for Estrada that net must have looked huge.

On Ryan Johnson’s goal – Wow. If only that had been a leveler and Seattle hadn’t restored that two-goal lead moments later.

On Seattle’s 3rd – Eckersley again got himself trapped up-field leaving Dunfield to cover for him. Then after strolling back got turned around chasing a triangle of passes, leaving his runner, and was made to look quite the fool turning to voice his frustration on any who would listen.

    With Dunfield sucked wide, Silva needed to recognize the danger of the situation, abandon the runner he was following into the box – where Toronto had three other defenders - and pressure the ball. Same too for Maund, who was slow again to spot the passing lane being formed to his right. Much like the second goal the rookie was caught ball-watching and not reading the movements of the players around him.

    All that said it was a well-worked goal for Seattle.

On the Maund-Rosales clash in the box - Could well have been a penalty, but was more a function of size difference than an actual challenge. It did not matter in the end.

On Logan Emory’s debut – Solid and serviceable; not flashy, not overly quick, but read the game well, could provide some cover – recovered and spotted Fernandez’s slicing run and despite the play being ended by a raised offside flag - made one hell of a tackle to take the ball off the foot of the Uruguayan. Too early to be definitive, will need to see more to form a proper opinion.

On the homer-isms of the broadcasting team – I can’t help but wonder that had they been informed that they would be going out to both fan-bases and then they may not have used the collective “we” so often. It came off as a bit much, but fitting for the Cult of the Northwest that is going on over there, eh Sir Dave?

    And don’t forget the new Seattle announcer, Ross Fletcher is his name I believe - would not have called a Sounders game before and may have been trying to ingratiate himself to his new audience by being inclusive.

    Keller is still getting over not being on the field, so this season he gets a pass. Expect him to leave the old alliances behind as he matures into his new profession.

On playoff ramifications - As far as the playoff picture is concerned this was a throw-away game. Points given up to the West do not directly affect position in the East. While getting them is a bonus, seeing how even other Eastern team visiting the West, bar Houston at Chivas and San Jose in Week’s One and Two respectively, have dropped at least the same number of points to the opposite conference it’s safe to wipe the hands of this result and take its lessons to the training pitch in preparation for the next few weeks.

Random Thought - I do wonder if there is any way that April 2nd match hosting Columbus can be rearranged to give the Reds the weekend off in preparation for the trip to Mexico.

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