This is my first fan post... please be gentle...
Last year's results certainly show that big things can happen in the second half of the season and, frustrations aside, there are good things to say about the Sounders: 3rd in a tough conference, as many points as the eastern conference leaders, fewer goals allowed than games played... all while suffering unending lineup changes as a result of injuries that could have easily undone the team.
There are, however, some patterns that need to be addressed if this team is going to fulfill preseason expectations.Personnel - Let's be honest, bad teams don't win at RSL. The Sounders have shown the ability to win games (ugly wins still count as wins) against good sides with the crew they have. I would imagine there are plenty of teams that wish they could have the personnel "problems" the Sounders have. But it's clear some adjustments must be made:
- A true target forward - I love seeing Fucito causing problems. But the man isn't a tower is he? Jaqua has the size, but he is consistently out-muscled in the final third. Neither is a player that is going to force a defense to make the kinds of adjustments that create space for players like Montero or the wingers in a truly meaningful way.
Solutions: O'Brian White's (seemingly imminent) return will help. At the least, that helps spell Jaqua. It's easy to forget, but White was a player that, from the Houston game through the Philly game, was quite productive. A DP signing on the level of a Cisse would be interesting, as well... he's scored 60 goals the past two years and would certainly demand a lot of attention from an opponent.
- No miscues - The Sounders have been vulnerable to the counterattack all year long (Agudelo, Shea), but what is truly maddening is how defensive miscues and bad fouls have ripped points away from the Sounders on many occasions. This was on grand display at RFK stadium. Against Portland, the foul in the wrong spot put Jewsbury up to what Jewsbury does best. A silly foul in the box gets Columbus a goal. Both of these problems last night, both involving Hassli. The Sounders were fortunate to win at home vs. Chicago when a complete defensive lapse tied the game. It troubles me that the Sounders have twice scored two goals in draws this year. It shouldn't take three goals to breathe easy.
Solutions: A lazy answer would be that a healthy Zakuani and his speed would mean the defense wouldn't have to pinch up as much. But these problems were on display with Zak. A better answer would be to look at speed in the back. I think having players like Riley and Wahl pressing play forward is great... but that means Hurtado (or someone) needs to be able to get ahed of the play coming the other way. Maybe sign a fast defender in July?
Discipline is the true answer, I think. The Sounders need defenders not taking themselves out of a play by overplaying a ball carrier (something Hurtado and Riley do often). And the Sounders must not give up fouls in dangerous areas. In traffic in the box, I would rather take my chances with players getting shots away and trusting Kasey to clean up instead of risking a penalty.
Solutions: This is another spot where a big man in the box can change things, but from my seats in 143, it seems like things are simply out of sync. Lineup changes will do that. I'd like to see Sigi put a focus on this since now it, it seems, we can field something of a more consistent lineup. Get these guys moving with each other the right way.
The comeback - For about 45 seconds last night, it looked like the Sounders had a comeback win for the first time this year. Halfway through this year, when the other team scores first, it has felt (and played out in reality) that the best result was a tie. This is not the mark of a great team.
Solutions: This is all on Sigi. Substitutions need to do more than offer fresh legs... they need to be the folks that calm down frustrated players and get the team making good decisions again. Additionally, too often, the Sounders have made bad decisions while down... playing longball to try for a a big break, forcing shots and... the big problem: hesitation. Waiting for that perfect shot instead of going with a first-touch approach. It's unrealistic to think the Sounders won't give up the first goal of a game now and again, but there is no reason that should be a game over situation. But players hesitating on the first touch and other tactics that kill momentum are not going to fuel a comeback.
The Sounders showing they can come back and win would change things. Teams wouldn't be able to sit back on their lead. That would allow the Sounders to do more to dictate the pace and possession even while down. Sigi needs to do whatever possible to change this.
Overall, few reasons to panic. And few reasons to make drastic changes on or off the field. But this is exactly the position many teams have been in and made the adjustments to become great. The Sounders are getting healthier, have a clear set of problems on the field and a transfer window approaching. Can they make the jump?