The Sounders are downright peeved with how some of their most skilled players have been targeted in recent weeks by opponents bent on slowing them down. “They’re targeting our players again,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
A new Major League Soccer video review system being launched this weekend won’t help the Sounders much with one of their biggest gripes about officiating thus far.
The Sounders are downright peeved with how some of their most skilled players have been targeted in recent weeks by opponents bent on slowing them down. There’s little a new Video Assisted Referee being installed at every Major League Soccer match starting Saturday, when the Sounders play at Minnesota against the expansion United side, can do to help.
Video review can only be used on plays resulting in goals, penalties, direct red cards and cases of mistaken identity. That won’t help Sounders like midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, who has spent the past month getting kicked, elbowed, shoved and hard-tackled both with the ball and away from it.
“They’re targeting our players again,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said after last Saturday’s draw at Los Angeles. “It was simple. We’ve called to the league, we’ve tried to make it clear and we’ll keep doing it.”
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The Sounders say the targeting began when they faced the Colorado Rapids on the road back on July 4. In that game, the Rapids committed 18 fouls and drew five yellow cards – injuring two Sounders players and physically shoving several more to the ground when they weren’t playing the ball.
One game later, D.C. United literally chased Lodeiro all over the field, kicking away at his ankles and shins. Schmetzer complained postgame about “targeting” for the first time and implored his players to stand up for their teammates more.
Then, in an ensuing win over San Jose, the losing Earthquakes committed 15 fouls and drew three yellow cards to none by the Sounders. That was followed by last Saturday’s affair, where Jermaine Jones of the Galaxy nearly sparked an on-field brawl with a vicious slide tackle from behind on Lodeiro late in the first half.
As he has following each of the four contests in question, Sounders vice president of soccer Chris Henderson added comments about the perceived targeting on the referee’s report he files. Henderson said he’s also been in touch with Peter Walton, head of the Professional Referees Organization – which oversees league officiating – and sent video examples of various incidents.
Henderson said he’s been assured referees are being apprised of the situation ahead of time.
“We’ll keep sending them stuff until it improves,’’ Henderson said.
The implications for the Sounders are obvious.
A team relying heavily on technical skill and possession can’t afford to have that game disrupted by physical play that goes largely unpunished. Beyond Lodeiro, Clint Dempsey and Cristian Roldan have also gotten banged up, while even Will Bruin was decked twice in the Colorado game with no ejection.
And Lodeiro’s production appears to be suffering because of it. He has three goals and seven assists in 1,889 minutes of playing time compared to four goals and eight assists in just 1,170 minutes last year.
The Sounders worry that if their best players are getting targeted now, it could be open season on them come playoff time, when officials tend to be more lenient.
Minnesota sits second to last in the Western Conference at 6-12-4 with a goal differential of minus-16. It will be interesting to see whether the recent trend of defensively-challenged teams trying to physically intimidate the Sounders continues.
The Sounders, meanwhile, are unbeaten in six and haven’t allowed a goal their two prior contests.
“I think we’ve got a good group right now,’’ Bruin said. “I think everybody’s feeling well. We’ve got that confidence when we’re at full strength and healthy, we’re one of the best teams in the league. So, we don’t really care who we’re lining up against because if we control the tempo of the game and how we want to attack, how we want to defend, then I would take us against anybody.’’
But staying healthy may require somebody – be it the league or the Sounders themselves — clamping down on the cheap shots that seem an increasing feature of opposing game plans.