Winning trophies in any soccer league is hard; winning trophies in a league like MLS is even harder, because the salary cap and roster rules keep you from just buying the most talent. For an MLS team to win any of the major trophies--the Open Cup, the Supporters' Shield, or MLS Cup--requires preparation and planning and hard work and a dash of luck. I don't know what luck the future may hold for my team, but on this lovely autumn evening I saw evidence of preparation, planning, and hard work that will give this team a chance to get lucky in the future. Vermes thrilled me and shocked many by rotating Sporting's lineup to face the Seattle Sounders today. With Besler and Benny both already ruled out due to accumulated yellow cards, Vermes elected to also leave Nemeth, Zusi, Myers, Sinovic, and Melia off of the roster sheet altogether. Dwyer and Mustivar started the match on the bench. The only regular starters who actually started against the Sounders were Nagamura and Ellis. Naga gave way for Mustivar at halftime, and Dwyer played the last 20 minutes, which was enough time for him to net the equalizing goal.
Whether out of desperation or pragmatism or confidence, Vermes sent a squad of youngsters and backups to face the fearsome Seattle Sounders, the team resurgent in the Western Conference since Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey have returned to play. Yet those rookies and youngsters and backups earned a well-deserved draw and the resulting point in the standings.
That is how you win trophies in MLS. Not a trophy today, obviously, but trophies tomorrow.
The obvious trophy Sporting is trying to win 'tomorrow' will be handed out on Wednesday: the U.S. Open Cup. Assuming everyone is healthy, Sporting's first choice lineup should be rested and available Wednesday in Philadelphia. That's no guarantee of victory, but it's a step in the right direction. Getting a point on Sunday and a trophy on Wednesday would be one hell of a week, and we can worry about Saturday in Portland later.
Beyond the Open Cup, there's two more trophies up for grabs this season. The Supporter's Shield is probably out of reach for Sporting, but any long-shot chance this team has at the Shield at least survived tonight's match. MLS Cup is always a bit of a crap shoot, but the only way to have a chance at winning in craps is to be in the game. Sporting didn't have to get the result tonight to make the playoffs, but getting a point and keeping Seattle from getting three helps Sporting's playoff positioning.
More important than just playoff positioning, Sporting's new found depth will be dang handy for the stretch run of the season, particularly with a midweek make-up match against Colorado on Wednesday, October 21st before the season finale against the Galaxy on Sunday the 25th. Once in the playoffs, the grinding schedule of quick turn-arounds will be helped with roster depth. Sporting developed some of that needed depth tonight.
The trophies I am most excited about are the ones that could be won in a more distant tomorrow. Yes, predictions are hard, especially when they are about the future, but Sporting's youth looked pretty good tonight--good enough to make me dream of what the future may hold.
Erik Palmer-Brown may be just 18-years-old, but at times he was the best player on the field tonight. He was more than a match for Dempsey and Martins, the most feared forward duo in MLS. At other times, 22-year-old Amadou Dia was the best player on the field, and his assist on the leveling goal was brilliant. To be fair, there were times when EPB and Dia were the worst players on the field, but they're young enough to get better. That will be fun to watch (and here's hoping that EPB doesn't make a move to Europe anytime soon, even though it's obvious why there are teams across the pond eager to pay for him).
You know who else is young enough to get better? Jordi Quintilla (21), Mikey Lopez (22), Jon Kempin (22), Connor Hallisey (22), and even Kevin Ellis (24) and Saad Abdul-Salaam (24). All of those players turned in performances varying from solid to very good tonight, and not against a bad opponent. It's not as if the core of the Sporting lineup is over the hill, but having another group of younger players developing is never a bad thing--in fact, it's a very good thing. That's the way a team has a chance to win championships year-in and year-out.
If Sporting wins trophies next year, I get to link to this blog post and claim that this is where it all began. I hope I get to do that. It looks like the pieces are there for future success. Now it just takes a little luck.