Sounders Begin CCL Campaign With Draw Against Whitecaps
Tonight the Sounders kicked off their CONCACAF Champions League (CCL) campaign against the Vancouver Whitecaps. The game, and the beginning of the CCL campaign comes at a nadir in the Sounders season, and will pose several schedule conflicts at a time in which Sigi Schmid’s men attempt to turn around their season. Coming into tonight’s game the Sounders are on a 4-game losing streak, and have scored a total of 2 goals in their last 9 games (8 of which they lost). The Sounders drew their Cascadia rivals, the Vancouver Whitecaps, and Honduran champions, CD Olimpia, in the group stage, in which they will play both teams home and away between the months of August and September. The group stage will provide an extra game for the Sounders before and after several key MLS fixtures; including Sunday’s game against the LA Galaxy, a home game against the Portland Timbers (4 days after the Sounders travel to Honduras), as well as the prospect of playing the Whitecaps twice in the span of 4 days in September. Sigi Schmid will clearly focus his attention on improving the Sounders’ standing in the Western Conference where they are currently 6th, one point behind their rivals, the Timbers.
However, the CCL campaign does not have to be a nuisance and can actually be a key tool in ensuring the team improves their MLS standing and gain their confidence back for the end of the season. As alluded to earlier, one of the Sounders’ main problems is that scoring a goal in the past 2 months has become rarer than Bigfoot in the Pacific Northwest. What’s more alarming is the Sounders’ complete dependence on Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins to score goals, both of whom have missed a significant number of games for various reasons. While Dempsey returned last Sunday, and Martins is expected to play some time against the Galaxy this Sunday, the Sounders should prepare for a short post-season if these two are the only providers of goals. The Sounders have been attempting to rectify this problem by signing Andreas Ivanschitz from Spanish club Levante earlier this week. The experienced Austrian midfielder provided 1 goal and 3 assists to the Spanish side in 20 appearances in La Liga last season and cannot be expected to be the Panacea to the Sounders woes. Additionally, Ivanschitz or any other signings that Seattle makes before the transfer window closes, will need time to acclimate not only to new teammates, but any European based player will have played minimal games over the summer and need time to find form and fitness before making an impact with the team. The CCL could provide some of the Sounders’ underperforming attacking players a platform to find form as the Sounders come to the end of the season.
Both Seattle and Vancouver played largely second-choice sides for Wednesday night’s game, preferring to rest most of their starting XI for MLS games this weekend. Schmid played an under-strength squad featuring Lamar Neagle, Chad Barrett, Cristian Roldan, Aaron Kovar and Andy Rose. The Sounders were the much brighter team in a fairly uneventful first half. The Sounders ended the half with 6 shots, 3 of which were on target. While the Sounders played some very entertaining soccer, combining well between the midfield and forward two, the inability of anyone in rave green and black to score a goal was apparent. The second half continued in much the same way as Seattle played much better than their rivals while failing to turn any dominance into goals. As has been the case during several Sounder performances this season, the Whitecaps took the lead against the run of play with Tim Parker scoring off a near post run from a corner in the 61st minute. The Sounders replied 10 minutes later when an unmarked Lamar Neagle converted an Andy Rose cross, ending the Sounders goalless run at 433 minutes. Immediately after the goal Schmid introduced Thomas in place of Kovar(whose over hit free kick led to Rose’s cross) and later replaced Barrett with Friberg, and Neagle with Darwin Jones.
After the Sounders goal the game returned to the training ground pace that it was largely played at without ever threatening to become a competitive match. While Schmid will be happy with the result and ending the goal drought, the Sounders never threatened to lift the listlessness that surrounds the team at the moment. Schmid and the Sounders could continue to treat the CCL campaign as a nuisance or they could also treat the tournament as a platform to bringing an end to a dreadful summer for the team. The Sounders will next play Olimpia in Seattle on August 19th.