Pre-Match Analysis by Charles Therrell (DISK DOKTOR)
Greetings to my brothers and sisters in Green. With spring roughly a month away from springing, we can only draw one reasonable conclusion from our calendars: It’s time for competitive football and the return of our beloved Sounders FC.
We may have lost the MLS Cup Final in 2017. A given and grim fact. However, winning the 2016 MLS Cup has given us a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League. And this leads us to…El Salvador. That’s right, El Salvador, the once vital producer of such commodities as coffee and indigo, is the setting for this match which enjoys a high profile with…well, at least anyone reading or writing this article. The Sounders will play in the Estadio Las Delicias which seats 3,000 spectators. I doubt the welcome will be very warm.
That’s right, The CONCACAF Champions League, the crown jewel of football in the Americas, seems to set the benchmark for which Mexican club has most efficiently and extravagantly spent more money on top footballers than any other clubs in the zone. A tournament that shall likely be won by either Mexico’s Club America or CD Saprissa of Costa Rica, in my opinion, be it ever so humble. Please feel free to send all opposition (in layman’s terms: “trolling”) to my predictions to the new president of US Soccer, and Gene Garber, the commissioner of MLS.
It is my great hope, however, that a Rave Green tide of justice will strike a blow for domestic football in America. A bold statement, seeing us win the CCL in a gobsmacking upset whilst simultaneously striking a blow for union-busting that will have MLS and US Soccer executives patting themselves on the back for their fiscal gree- I mean, acumen and ingenuity. Yay.
At the end of the day though, it’s us versus them innit? For those of you not making the trip to Central America for the kick-off, raise your glass or bottle at home, or amongst friends at your local pub, and join me in the auld toast: TO THE SEATTLE SOUNDERS FOOTBALL CLUB…AND VICTORY!!!
The Good News
Let’s bright-side this a bit, shall we? Salvadoran clubs are hardly the power-brokers in CONCACAF football. No Salvadoran team has won since their last champion, CD FAS in 1979. So I think it’s fair to say, all things being equal, that we’re in with a shout.
The Sounders haven’t lost very many players in the offseason, which is a pleasant surprise, with Evans and Jones moving on, Fisher sold for General Allocation funds to DC United, Mallace dispersed in the MLS Re-entry Draft to LAFC, Miller dispersed in the MLS Expansion Draft to LAFC. Aaron Kovar is currently on loan with the newly-minted Los Angeles FC joining former teammates Callum Mallace, and goalkeeper, Tyler Miller. All said and done; we’ve held on to pretty much everyone else. Stability is a good thing, and hopefully, the standard for seasons to come.
In essence, we have the entire team that was the MLS Cup runner-up, with possible positive additions from the offseason. That’s not a bad start.
If we play our best team, all things being equal, we have a better than average chance to win.
The Bad News
Sadly, Brad Evans and Joevin Jones were out of contract at the end of last season and moved on to Kansas City, and Darmstadt 98, respectively. Evans was a paragon servant of the club, a fan favourite, a leader on the pitch, in the dressing room, and in the community. Evans played 200 matches for the Sounders, and will never be forgotten. Jones was the architect of many inspiring attacks down the left flank utilising his pace and passing skills. Also, he was a quality left-back in defence. Jones opted for the fiscally greener pastures of German football, which is understandable given the salary structure within MLS. They will both be missed.
Things are rarely equal when American football clubs play matches outside the friendly confines of our sovereign territory. The Yanks and our clubs have never been popular in Central and South America, but I’d say anger with America’s ham-fisted foreign policy and current isolationist posturing with regards to immigration policy has probably ramped up a fever pitch of anti-American sentiment. Could these things adjust the way referees make decisions in matches? Maybe they could. I know, I know, you want to keep politics and sport separate, I hear you, but it’s just not possible to separate these things or to deny that there is the inevitable intersection. If we play our best team, I can’t guarantee that one or more of our players won’t leave the pitch on a stretcher.
It’s been a tough couple of years for America, but you have to admit that when taking a look at the last century of history, El Salvador, and it’s people have taken repeated savage beatings. Political corruption, civil war, you name it, they’ve been through it. When things turn pear-shaped all around you, sometimes this lends a heightened relevance to sporting events and also ramps up the level of nationalism. Looks like Santa Tecla and the Sounders are caught in the crossfire.
As much as Salvadoran clubs aren’t setting the zone ablaze in international competition, American clubs have also only won CONCACAF twice. DC United in 1998, and LA Galaxy in 2000 back when it was the CONCACAF Champions Cup. So the takeaway from all this is just repeating that it’s difficult for American teams to win on the road in Central America.
Santa Tecla is in second place in the Salvadoran league table. They only earned promotion to the top division in 2012, so it seems they’re still hungry for results. There’s nothing like that newly-minted smell of going up a division. US Soccer and MLS take heed. Santa Tecla has won the Salvadoran league three times, and their domestic cup, once.
Recent form is probably not a factor for this match, but just to tick the box, Santa Tecla has won only two of the last five and one out of the last four matches in the Torneo Clausura. The Sounders will not begin their league schedule until March 4th but have played in seven pre-season friendlies winning three of the last four. The difference being Santa Tecla’s opponents were in the league, whilst we were playing training matches against lower division clubs such as California United’s reserves, Reno 1868 (who defeated us), and Sacramento Republic. As such, I have to give the edge in match fitness to the Salvadorans.
Speculation & Musings
Santa Tecla’s manager is former Uruguayan striker Ruben Da Silva. So quality acknowledged there.
I’d imagine the only question with the Seattle lineup for the match would be “Are we playing our first team or a mostly reserve team?” I would say that if you wanted the best chance to win, obviously you play your first team guys. Could we win playing a mostly reserve side…maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it, especially in an away match in El Salvador.
So if Schmetz selects what you would imagine would be the preferred team for the MLS league, we’d have Frei, Nouhou, Marshall, Torres, Leerdam, Morris, Alonso, Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan, Dempsey, Bruin?
If we select a team of reserves, I reckon it might look like: Meredith (or Brown), Francis, Svensson, Alfaro, Delem, Rodriguez, Shipp, Eikrem, Mathers, Bwana, Neagle.
Or you could mix and match from the two. I guess it all depends on how invested the club is in attempting to win this tournament. In the past, I have noted a distinct pecking order with MLS league fixtures being the priority; US Open Cup ties a distant second, should I expect the CCL an even more distant third? The starting eleven will speak volumes about what the Sounders ambitions are, and also how seriously they rate Santa Tecla as an opponent.
Then there’s the cheating. O the cheating. But then again, the Salvadorans are just responding to the way our country purportedly interfered in their dealings. Repeatedly.
Again, politics and football – we’d like them separate, but the world just isn’t tidy that way. I’d expect a pretty hostile reception from the 3,000 at Estadio Las Delicias.
Know Thine Enemy
Joel Almeida, 27, is the clear favourite to start. The Mexican national has started 92 matches over the last three league seasons for STFC. Ramirez, 26, the back-up has only started five matches this season. Mancia, 19, is the young apprentice of the three and has yet to play in the league this season.
Barahona, 23 has played in 28 matches for STFC, scoring five goals. It is his third season with Santa Tecla during which he has amassed 118 matches of experience. He has 14 caps and one goal for El Salvador.
Ayala, 24, has played 21 matches scoring two goals this season. He has played 128 times for STFC over the last four seasons.
Dominguez, 20, has played in 23 matches this season. He has played 97 matches in three seasons for STFC since he arrived in 2015 from Juventud. He has 13 caps for El Salvador.
Mendoza, 27, has played 26 matches this season. It is his first season with Santa Tecla after arriving from FAS. He has played 192 career matches of Salvadoran league football. He has 31 caps for El Salvador.
Tamacas, 23, has played 28 matches this season scoring three goals. It is his fourth season with Santa Tecla, and the sixth of his career. He has played 150 matches of Salvadoran league football, scoring six goals. He has 11 caps for El Salvador.
Reyes, 18, has played 30 matches this season. It is the third season of his career. His career totals are 59 matches and five goals, all for STFC. He has no senior caps for El Salvador but played six times for SLV U-20s.
Baires, 27, has played 24 matches scoring seven goals this season. It is his third season with Santa Tecla. His career spans the better part of nine years and has seen him play 214 matches and score 33 goals in Salvadoran league play. He has 10 caps for El Salvador.
Rivera, 27, has played 21 matches this season. It is his sixth season with STFC. His career totals are 99 matches and two goals, all with STFC.
Ricardinho, 31, a Brazilian national, has played 31 matches this season and leading the club with 10 goals. In his six seasons with Santa Tecla, he has played 144 matches and scored 55 goals. Couldn’t seem to find a regular place in Brazilian league football, but found a measure of success in El Salvador.
Canales, 23, has played 21 matches scoring one goal this season. It is his second season with Santa Tecla and his fourth season of Salvadoran football. His career totals are 78 matches and five goals. He earned two caps with El Salvador U-20s but has no senior caps.
Over the winter, we added Costa Rican international Waylon Francis from Columbus for $50,000 in allocation funds. Handwalla Bwana, a former Sounders Academy footballer, played at UDub last season and signed a Homegrown Player contract. Bwana scored two goals in the Sounders’ seven pre-season friendlies. We added Norweigan international Magnus Eikrem from Swedish club Malmo FF on a free transfer. Eikrem was developed by the youth academies of Molde FK and Manchester United. He played nearly 70 times for both Molde FK and Malmo FF, with brief stopovers at Heerenveen and Cardiff City. At the age of 27, I’d say he’s going to be a nice veteran pickup with a bit of spring left in his step, and with 17 caps for Norway, it looks like a lot of managers rate him. In his 66 matches for Malmo, he scored 12 goals. We also added Cristian Roldan’s little brother, Alex whom we drafted in the first round of the 2018 MLS SuperDraft. We added Jordan McCrary who last played for Toronto FC II, and goalkeeper, Calle Brown, who was last with Houston Dynamo.
We also drafted Chris Bared and Markus Fjortoft who played for Villanova and Duke of the NCAA. At press time, neither had signed a first-team contract.
Santa Tecla from: Almeida, Ramirez, Mancia, Arevalo, Ayala, Barahona, Dominguez, Flores Jaco, Mendoza, Yosimar Quinones, Tamacas, Walter Torres, Valladares, Acosta, Baires, Callejas, Cornejo, Mayen, Quintanilla, Reyes, Rivera, Wilma Torres, Alas, Argueta, Canales, Ricardinho, Majano, Moreno, Liber Quinones.
Sounders FC from: Frei, Meredith, Brown, Nouhou Tolo, Marshall, Alfaro, Leerdam, Roman Torres, McCrary, Francis, Svensson, Alonso, Cristian Roldan, Rodriguez, Lodeiro, Alex Roldan, Shipp, Delem, Eikrem, Wingo, Mathers, Bwana, Dempsey, Adekoya, Morris, Bruin, Neagle.
At press time, there was no verifiable injury data available. Or any injury listings for either club. Typical.
As this is the first match in the Tournament for both clubs, their disciplinary slates are clean.
When I tried to do some research on our esteemed opponent at the Santa Tecla FC website, I was unable to access it here in Washington State. Fun. Fact.