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A Modest Rebuttal

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A short deliberation on the nature of, and efficacy within, a practical approach towards the implementation of formative soccer which embraces all tangible aspects of primarily elemental attributes of soccer.

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

It has come to the attention of this author, the editorial board of The Blue Testament soccer semi-daily journalistic publication and media outlet (aka "blog") that on, March 8th of the year 2016, a differing soccer semi-daily journalistic publication and media outlet (aka "blog"), whose content primarily is focused on, and caters to, fans of the soccer club established and known as Seattle Sounders Football Club, often shortened as Seattle Sounders FC, SSFC, or simply the Seattle Sounders (presumably to avoid any confusion as to a differing Seattle sports team, known as the "Seahawks", whom also play football, and, in fact, share [for full disclosure, not only share, but in fact own outright] a sporting venue with, which necessitates the use of an artificial field surface, one which is better suited towards American football rather than the sport more commonly known as soccer in the United States, as evidenced by regular player complaints of the difficulties in playing on "turf", as it is known, as well as the outright refusal of some top-tier athletes to even participate in competitions on such surfaces, as well as the general overall shitiness of playing on recycled tire swings that six year olds probably spent decades barfing on), published a piece entitled "Sounders v. SKC - Aftermatch Aftermath: A Scandalous Affair" which, bluntly, was a scathing evisceration of the strategy, tactics, and overall stylistic and philosophic approach utilized by Sporting Kansas City in their recent victory over the aforementioned Seattle Sounders Football Club (hereafter simply referred to as "Seattle", "SSFC", or "Clint-Dempsey-and-ten-other-guys").

Steel yourself a moment, and then venture on, for the link below contains claims bolstered by vigorous arguments, razor sharp logic, and even a couple of those neat little moving images called JEFFS that are super popular amongst those who enjoy things ironically (colloquially called "hipsters" in the modern parlance[seriously can't we use .webm's or even Vines these days?]). Even the title of the column throws caution to the wind, avoiding the proper use of a hyphen and opting instead for the use of "Aftermatch" rather than "After-match". "Convention be damned, my anger will be heard!" this seems to call out.

Sounders v. SKC - Aftermatch Aftermath: A Scandalous Affair

Needless to say our initial reaction was a shocked but reverent silence. Shocked primarily due to the force and vigor of which the entirety of the argument was founded on. Reverence that it was written at a stunning Seventh Grade level of reading comprehension (calculated utilizing the methods laid out via the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level evaluation). The dissertation, quite simply, left us humbled, awed, and weep softly into our pillows, clinging to our precious three road points that were so callously, so maliciously, so unscrupulously stolen from the noble and brave Clint-Dempsey-and-ten-other-guys.

We conferred. Truly, even our combined years of experience in sports analysis, aesthetic evaluation, dissertation, composition, and rhetoric, would be no match to offer a compelling argument against the claims therein. And yet, to not offer a competing voice would be to do our loyal (and also super cool and nice and popular and probably really smart, charming, and good looking readers) a great disservice, for we must not allow our voices to be drowned out by the wind, no matter how hard it may roar.

So let us begin, as is prudent in most things, at the beginning. The opening statement, indeed, sets the tone for the reader, offering a deep window into the insights which follow.

Like a candle burning at both ends, the Seattle Sounders were both brilliant and short-lived when they faced Sporting Kansas City on Sunday. Their majesty was cut short by half, leading to an uninspiring loss which left a bitter taste in the mouths of many. As far as season openers go, there may not exist as big a gut-punch as this recent loss.

A concession of brilliance, fleeting. Majesty, cut short! Presumably the cuts occurred primarily in the beginning and near the end, leaving us with only jest; that is to say, a joke, like the joke of a game Seattle played. But if what played out on the six-year-old-child-puke-field on a rainy Sunday evening at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington, the United States of America (Planet Earth) was a joke, then what was the punch line? This question, I believe, is answered in the very next sentence.

"There is just something about losing to a team that plays negative football, that relies on fouls and having a referee bail them out"

Just. Something. Justice, perhaps? While unlikely to be the authors intent, this may well be an unsaid but poignant statement, for in the end, the team who wins, who has scored more goals than their opposition, is awarded the victory, and in that, the victor earns his reward and the loser is forced to sadly strut off the field and sob openly into their Gatorade, proclaiming "Why, oh soccer gods, have we been so wronged, despite our best efforts in scoring even a single goal in our home opener in front of the best fans in MLS and we deserve to win every game and we play so pretty because we have Clint Dempsey and also ten other guys, why?"

The answer to this, as argued in brilliant depth, may lie in the phrase "negative football". And here is where we will pause.

There are many definitions of negative football, anti-football, or pragmatic-football. While it is this authors personal belief that the three terms represent somewhat different mentalities, we will focus and hone in on the first; on the phrase "negative football" and attempt to ascribe certain aspects to it. With this in mind, the aforementioned pedant from Sounder's at Heart has offered two clear and concise statements regarding such. The first is that negative football relies on fouls. Let us first examine that claim.

It is undeniably true that Sporting Kansas City were punished for infringement more often than the Clint-Dempsey-and-ten-other-guys, tallying a total of nineteen fouls called against them, compared to a paltry nine fouls committed by the Seattle Sounders. At first glance, this may seem as daunting, even damning evidence that Sporting Kansas City do, indeed, play "negative soccer", at least as defined in the column referenced above. I may, however, offer three thoughts on the matter.

The first is the simple correlation between the number of fouls suffered and the amount of time spent with the ball under a team's control, often referred to as "possession". In this category, Kansas City was dominant, controlling the ball 58.3% of the time, compared to a relative time of possession for the Seattle Sounders of only 41.7%. What this largely means, if you are following, is that, Kansas City bossed Seattle. Big time. Got the ball in Seattle's side of the field and kept it there. Totally owned em. What I believe the missing piece of this speculative exercise is is thus: Under the Sporting Kansas City style of play, losing the ball while attacking is unacceptable. A midfielder, forward, or even outright striker, who loses the ball while on the attack is simply not allowed to sit down and pout, but rather, pursue and challenge for possession. This can be demonstrated numerically by noting that Sporting Kansas City both attempted and completed more tackles than did Seattle.

I venture that this tactic is not "negative" football (if we accept negative football as cynical, pointless fouling as a defensive measure), but rather is a product of an aggressive and attack minded offense. Indeed, this tactic is one employed by sides such as Barcelona and other Spanish teams and top Germany teams as well. In general, adherence to this style of play is known as the "Six Second" rule. To paraphrase a Google search (a most scholarly endeavour):

"When one of the Barcelona players lost the ball (in the opposite half), Guardiola expected that this particular player plus the nearby teammates to win back the ball by instant pressing – the playing principle in this moments of play were known as the 6 seconds rule."

The end result of this system is a shorter attacking path to goal and the greater probability of scoring a point, one of, if not the, central tenants of the sport.

By assuming the fouls are suffered roughly linear (that is to say fouls comitted are correlated to time of possession) one could simply take the ratio of possession to determine whether Sporting Kansas City's tendency towards aggressive pursuit of a lost ball, (a tactic unlikely to be seen as "negative") we can examine the ratio of possession to fouls, assuming most possessions do not end in goals (this much is obvious, but the vigorous proof is left to the reader as an exercise).

This ratio is simply 0.584/0.417, which results in a product of 1.4. That is to say, we would expect that Sporting's advantage in possession would naturally allow for a 40% increase in fouls conceded due to pursuit of lost possession. Regressing to the mean, let us then assume that the true number of fouls committed against either side, were possession to be split evenly, would be given by the average of the two, resulting in an assumed true total number of fouls committed of (19 + 9)/2, or 13.5 fouls. With these two values we can make a simple calculation of expected fouls committed by each team, by multiply or dividing the normalized expected foul value by the modifying value established due to possession, and possession lost.

For Seattle, this results in 13.5 * 1.4 = 18.9, or almost 19 fouls suffered, the exact number Sporting Kansas City committed! Conversely, this results in a total of merely 9.6 fouls committed by the CDP10OGs, again, almost entirely in line with the actual match outcome! Perhaps Sporting Kansas City's increased foul rate is due less to a preference of intentional, defensive fouling, and rather, is more in line with Sporting Kansas City's stylistic approach towards particular matches and line ups, and in this and most other cases, aggressive pursuit of lost possession in the face of a hostile environment, and in order to preserve an established lead.

One may then argue, however, that Sporting's very mentality allows themselves the opportunity to commit more fouls! Hooligans! Ruffians! Very mean guys who don't play nice at all! To that, I would offer the following: On the night in question, Sporting Kansas City attempt 559 passes, with a passing accuracy of 86%. This is in contrast to Seattle's own statistic of 396 pass attempts, with an accuracy of only 80%. Further, Sporting Kansas City claimed more touches of the ball (710 vs. 541), attempted more shots (14, compared to 8) and shots on goal (4 for Kansas City, as compared to 2 for Seattle). This may suggest that Sporting's use of possession and pursuit is an attempt at emphasizing high quality possession and a shorter route to scoring, rather than simply holding the ball towards no real goal (this statement is intended as a joke, as it can be taken literally, or taken as noting that Seattle was held goalless throughout the match, due in large part to the heroics of one goalkeeper Tim Melia, whose efforts shall be discussed later), nor is it simple cynical, or even lazy defending. The high press, high tempo offense requires significant fitness. Sporting Fitness®, if you will.

But what then do we make of the second claim? That negative football relies on the prejudices of the match referee. Woe is us, for we will never be able to truly enter the mind of another (Until we, as a species make significant strides into bio-mechanical and neurological developments which will allow us to steal the secrets which lie dormant in men's minds, but that, alas, is a discussion for a wholly different time). However, this statement seems to be at odds with the first, that is to say, how can one claim that Sporting unfairly benefitted from a referees poor decisions, when, as noted above, Sporting was called for fouls at over twice the rate of Clint-Dempsey-and-ten-other-guys, as well as being issued two quick cautions by the referee. This statement may be clarified by a the statement that follows, namely:

"So while it is unfortunate that the Sounders and Oniel Fisher were so harshly penalized for a moment lacking any semblance of maliciousness, it is a good sign that portends to better times."

Here, the author appears to be stating that the ejection issued to Oniel Fisher for a two footed, cleats up tackle, did not warrant such severe punishment. In consultation with many analysts, referees, and flipping casually through something I think was called a "rule book" or some shit, it seems like the author may be in error. Once a player enters into a challenge by leaving the ground, with both feet extended, and with the soles of his feet no longer on the surface of the ground, the player has entered into an incredibly reckless, careless, and, quite frankly, idiotic challenge, that severely endangers the well-being of all players on the field. Were such tackles not taken seriously and immediately punished, regardless of whether or not true malicious intent or grievous bodily harm is actualized, one can imagine matches where these type of potentially leg breaking, career destroying tackles are routinely attempted, resulting in games where 22 players crawl feebly across the field, legs broken, arms shattered, voices calling to the sky for their agony to be ended, but, alas, the fourth official has added twenty two minutes of extra time and their suffering continues.

But I digress. The defense of Mr. Fisher's tackle has largely been seen only within the, admittedly large and admirably vocal Seattle Sounders community, which is far and wide well respected for its extremely nuanced and often very well thought out commentary and analysis. This author has offered his thoughts and attempted to summarize the opinions only of those more professional than he, as well as the referenced "ACTUAL LAWS OF THE ACTUAL GAME BEING PLAYED", but we leave it to the astute reader to come to their own conclusions.

A second line of evidence favoring the notion that an ejection was, indeed, warranted, was the lack of objection from the Seattle Sounders players. Did you see Clint Dempsey tear up another red card? I think not.

Continuing on, we find, what this author considers to be, at the very least, a peculiar statement:

"Maybe it's just that SKC was missing Benny Feilhaber and Justin Mapp, two excellent offensive players, that as a team they resorted to being little shits, but that's just SKC doing SKC things. They get no benefit of the doubt from me."

This seems surficially odd for two reasons. The first is that, if it was the authors attempt to admit that Sporting Kansas City were without their two, in his words, "excellent offensive players", and yet were able to achieve more offensive success than Seattle, it stands to wonder what the end result may have been were it not for their absence? Does this lend credence to the notion that perhaps there is some merit to the above discussed "Six Second Rule"?

It also seems to avoid another pressing issue, my second point, which I happen to feel is of some serious import. Namely, the Herculean efforts of one goalkeeper Tim Melia, who stood in stark contrast to his counter point in goal on the opposite side of the field, Stefan Frei, by making two immaculate saves, rather than just falling down like a drunk baby when a slow rolling 30 yarder skidded under his belly. Indeed, all of Kansas City's defensive unit played a key role in denying Seattle any in roads towards offensive success, as evidenced by Sporting's advantage in tackles (18 to 16 in favor of Sporting), dispossessions (7 to 6, again in favor of SKC) and clearances (24 - 17, once more in favor of the away side).

As for being "little shits", I offer no commentary, as my limited experience interacting with Sporting Kansas City players as both a fan and contributor to The Blue Testament soccer semi-daily journalistic publication and media outlet has not lead me to inquire, directly or indirectly, about their bowel movements, and results thereof. If the author of the Seattle piece has inside information on this, we are willing to take it under consideration.

The lack of benefit of the doubt is acknowledged and noted. We don't really know what it means, but the advanced notice is appreciated.

Diverging for just a moment, did anyone else think Seattle's tifo sort of looked like a big blue penis being waved at a TV filled with static? Like, scrambled cable porn or something?

Was that just me? No. No it wasn't. To quote the ever quotable Nutmeg News:

'It's a set of balls and a penis in blue watching television. What's not to love? Any time a supporters group purposefully puts a set of balls and penis in 50 foot high characters in the front of their section, you know they are feeling the blues, which is why this T.I.F.O display is in the colors of Sporting Kansas City, or at least that is one theory. No one really knows why the Emerald City Supporters would do this display, but maybe they just like to have their balls and penis out while watching television"

Pressing onwards, this respondent would like to further call out the following statement:

"The red card changed things, but even still, even though SKC had buttloads of possession in the second half, Seattle still looked like the most goal-threatening team, despite the fact that SKC, ya'know, scored a goal, however cheaply they did it."

Again, two points are to be attempted here, despite the Seattle's author's authoritative and ironclad assertions. The first is that, acknowledgement that the red card "changed" things seems to be an understatement. Soccer matches, for those unfamiliar, are generally played with both team having 11 men on the field. By reducing Seattle's side to only being allowed to field ten players, due to Mr. Fisher's total boner (boner being a reference to a folly or mistake, not, you know, the other thing. Penis.) necessitated that both sides adjust their strategies and tactics. This allowed Sporting Kansas City more time on the ball, more space to move the ball with, and more opportunities on goal. Were Sporting not to take advantage of this, they would, in fact, be total dumb-dumbs. Playing like you have a man advantage when you have a man advantage is not generally thought of as "playing negative soccer", but rather more often referred to as "playing soccer".

The second point of contention is that the goal, scored by Sporting Kansas City's new 30 year old 6' 4" Portuguese defender Nuno André Coelho (who brings the number of Sporting Kansas City players sporting (yes, another pun) a man bun [aka "mun"] to about infinity), can hardly be called "cheap" by any measure. Indeed, the goal was a result of a long spell of quality possession, of which SKC completed a total of 30 passes against Clint-Dempsey-and-ten-other-guys, and which culminated in an admittedly somewhat hopeful low rolling ball that my five year old daughter would have stopped except that Stefan Frei had apparently bet against Seattle and just sort of flopped over it instead so the ball wound up in the back of the net. If there is any cheapness involved, that cheapness belongs to the Sounders team's inability to dispossess Kansas City's during their long spell of possession and string of passes, not to mention Stefan Frei's inability to do the one thing he is paid money to do.

The following "tweet" is offered into evidence.

Penultimately, let us exam the following statement:

"Oh, and if any Sporting Kansas City fans are reading this, Peter Vermes is a piece of shit and an awful coach and I'm glad that you had to endure the agony of failing in last season's playoffs. Victories do not validate his shitty style, and you should have no pride when you do win. You root for a bad team."

Firstly, we can assure all interested parties that, yes, Sporting Kansas City fans are, in fact open and engaged with the goings on of MLS Clubs outside of our local area. We, culturally, take a significant interest in the league as a whole and feel we would be remiss should important critiques such as those offered by the Sounder at Heart semi-daily journalistic publication and media outlet go unread and undwelled on by ourselves, for it is only by knowing one's enemy can one truly know a path to victory, and, indeed, know one's self.

Whether or not Peter Vermes is a piece of shit remains undetermined. It seems unlikely given that he appears to be a walking, talking, breathing, coaching, and winning human being, but, again if there is evidence to the contrary we are always willing to take it under consideration. Regarding the agony of failing in last season's playoffs, we appreciate that our suffering has brought some amount of joy to a fan base that has known no significant post season success, and would like to offer gladness of our own on Seattle's crashing out of the 2015 US Open Cup in hopes that it offers their fan base a semblance of the same positivity. Alas, we did go on to win the 2015 US Open Cup, and cannot offer you any gladness for our failure on that part.

Regarding whether or not we should or should not have pride when we do win, I would offer that, thematically, this could be debated specifically. "Pride" itself can be a nebulous term. My only (thankfully, at this point, short) commentary on this point would be that, I, personally, feel an emotion called "Pride" in this team whether or not they win. I can find pride in a loss. I can find pride in a draw. The actions, efforts, and endeavors of this team, both during matches, and from what they give back to the fan base, and, indeed, the community, continue to be a source of pride for myself and for others. Perhaps this sensation need be re-evaluated in light of the issues raised, but that, once more, is a discussion for a later date.

And on the matter of whether or not Kansas City fans root for a bad team, I will simply note that there are significantly more stars, which represent ultimate victory achievable in the field of soccer excellence, atop the crest of the Kansas City uniform, compared to, I believe at this point at least, to be zero atop the crest of the Clint-Dempsey-and-ten-other-guys jersey. That's 2/0, which is infinitely more. Actually, 2/0 is undefined, suggesting that it is simply impossible to define how much better Sporting Kansas City is than Clint Dempsey and ten other guys. "Bad" being loosely defined, I am not sure what more evidence I can offer.

Lastly, regarding the use of JEFF moving imagery, I applaud the author's boldness in using not one, not two, but TWELVE such images. If a picture is truly worth 1,000 words, then what has been presented by the Sounder at Heart semi-daily journalistic publication and media outlet is truly voluminous, clocking in at well over 12,000 words, a true tour de force argument of novella length. The author is to be commended for his cunning use of both prose and picture to solidify his arguments, and I can only hope that I have addressed the points in a manner that begins to approach his level of mastery of his craft.

That said, I can offer only the following in rebuttal.

dwi