Get comfortable, because this is going to take a while. The Sounders have conceded 9 goals in the last two games. To give some perspective, it took them 10 games to concede their first 9 goals this season, and that wasn't even a particularly good stretch of games. From July 20 to September 29 it took 12 games — more than a third of the entire season — to concede 9 goals, and that includes the 3-1 loss to Houston. This pair of games has been deeply, deeply anomalous. So in case getting your (gender-neutral) groin punched 9 times in the last two games wasn't enough, I'm going to carefully examine the groin punches in excruciating detail with diagrams and everything. In this edition I'll cover the Vancouver game, since that's fresh in our minds. Then in another post I'll go back and look at the Colorado game.
My personal rule of thumb is that a professional goal requires two people to do something right and three people to screw up. Now, obviously there are exceptions. A penalty kick is just the one guy and the other guy. But in general goals are really hard to score and it takes a lot of movement and vision and skill to create an opportunity and some lack of movement and vision and skill on the other side to give you that opportunity. So with that in mind after I look at the lead-ups to the goal I'll try to point out what I think the major mistakes and the major bits of quality were.
So without further ado — because there's a lot to go through — the first goal against Vancouver
Goal the First: Heading Down is For Goal-Scorers, Not Defenders
It's the 12th minute of a critical home match, and after a punted clearance from the other side the ball is serenely falling from orbit into Seattle's end of the pitch, where Jhon Kennedy Hurtado has plenty of time to line it up.
I've highlighted the ball in yellow. It's hard to tell in 2D, but it's not actually over the sideline, it's way up in the air. The only person in an even remotely threatening position is Kekuta Manneh and he's no threat to Hurtado in the air, so neither Djimi Traore nor DeAndre Yedlin are desperate to go back and cover, and I think that's reasonable. Note that Daigo Kobayashi has slipped goal-side of Alonso, but that's not really a problem as everyone agrees that Hurtado is about to head this 20 yards forward or over to Yedlin or something.
But much to everyone's surprise what he's actually done is headed the ball into the ground directly in front of him, and in doing so his follow-through has carried him 8 yards from Manneh. Now the fact that Kobayashi is goal-side of Alonso is a problem, and Alonso has recognized this and is freaking out a little bit as he sprints forward. Meanwhile the fact that the ball is no longer in the air means that Hurtado's aerial advantage over Manneh is irrelevant as Manneh's substantial speed advantage over Hurtado becomes more relevant. Kobayashi alertly heads a through ball in front of Manneh, who sprints onto it and now we have this situation:
Which is a bad situation. Manneh has Hurtado easily beaten for pace here and the defender's not even close enough to disrupt him. At this point you're hoping he takes a bad touch that sends the ball wide or too far forward. Yedlin is at a full sprint trying to recover but he's way out of the play. You can't tell in this still, but Traore is not moving at maximum pace here. I'd describe it as a brisk jog.
Manneh actually takes a touch that looks a little long, which induces Michael Gspurning to run out to try to beat him to the ball. But because Manneh is so fast, it actually wasn't a long touch at all, he caught up to it in plenty of time to get a shot past a Gspurning who hadn't yet made it far enough to cut the angle or lay out to cover more area. Gspurning is a very good goalkeeper. . we've seen that. But he has a tendency to aggressiveness. He will come off the line to punch much more than is usual, at least in this league. And he will come off the line to challenge breakaways. In the Houston game you'll remember him chasing down a player 10 yards from goal near the endline, leaving his defenders for dead when the player (Bruin?) easily passed it back in front of goal.
In this case, if he stays near his line and forces Manneh to make the far-post shot, I don't know that he's in any worse shape here. His major problem is that Traore is nowhere near a good position to cover the far post. If the defender was dead-sprinting from the moment the ball turned over, would he have had time to cover the goal? I don't know.. it would have been tough. But he didn't try so we'll never know.
The glaring mistake here was obviously Hurtado's attempted clearance, which was all the more perverse for being under absolutely no pressure. Nothing else stands out significantly, but Alonso letting Kobayashi get separation from him was a little lax. And Gspurning probably should have recognized he wasn't going to beat Manneh to the ball. The final shot ended up being slow enough that he would have saved it if he had stayed back, though who knows if Manneh would have done something else. For the right things, Kobayashi's quick thinking and perfect weight on the header to spring Manneh was impressive, and the 18-year-old's first touch was also perfectly weighted to give himself space for a good shot.
Goal the Second: He Hasn't Gotten Any Slower
In the 42nd minute, after a few decent chances to equalize, the Sounders had mostly regained their confidence. But after Obafemi Martins had lost the ball in one of many poor attempts to play an EJ-like hold up role, YP Lee had possession and was being allowed to dribble up into the midfield.
Lamar Neagle is trailing Lee and rather than close him down David Estrada is hovering 10 yards away trying to cut off a pass to the central attacking area. The most important thing to note here is how far up into midfield Traore has been sucked trying to track with Manneh. This is an interesting choice, because Manneh is not particularly dangerous with the ball as long as he's in front of the defense and so I'm not sure why it was a priority to tightly mark him into midfield, which has torn a big hole in the defensive line behind Traore with Marc Burch also stepping up to mark Nigel Reo-Coker. Camilo has seen that hole and is running into it with Hurtado trailing him. Yedlin is loosely marking Kobayashi.
Now there's a problem. Under no pressure, Lee is allowed to weight a pass into the area behind Traore that Camilo is running into. Traore turns and chases the ball into the area while Hurtado moves to Camilo's goal-side and continues tracking him. Manneh pulls away into the area Hurtado is leaving. Yedlin sees the danger but isn't eager to leave Kobayashi totally unmarked so he's not sprinting.
When Camilo gets to the ball he doesn't waste time. He makes a clever one-touch pass across his body into the open space behind Hurtado that Manneh is running into. Traore is toast at this point. Yedlin now recognizes the danger is way beyond leaving Kobayashi unmarked and he starts sprinting to goal, but he's out of the play. The only question is whether Hurtado can somehow catch up or if Gspurning can win the one-on-one.
And the answer to both is no. Manneh easily outpaces Hurtado. That Yedlin even made it this close to the play is kind of impressive given how far out he started, but he's irrelevant. Manneh beat Gspurning one-on-one again with a pretty simple low shot outside his foot. This is where occasionally you see a nice kick save, but Gspurning's weight is on that leg so he just watches the ball go by into the net.
The mistakes here were many. Tactically, the Sounders have chosen to play a pretty high line, which helps out with the attack. But it's the same tactic that let Eddie Johnson torch FC Dallas twice at CenturyLink and this time the Sounders were the torchees, as it gave the fast Manneh miles of space to run onto balls. Second, Estrada lets Lee pick his head up and weight a pass. It's not necessarily clear from the stills, but he really went out of his way to not close him down. I'm guessing he thought the pass was going to go to Reo-Coker, who was being closed down by Burch. But this was just after a turnover. Note how out of position Rose is (near the referee). After a turnover you have to be ferocious about pressuring the ball until your team can get its shape back. Thirdly, the Sounders defensive line was destroyed by the combination of Traore tracking up with Manneh and Burch tracking up to mark Reo-Coker. If just Traore had gone, Burch could pull in to cover, but with both up the field was wide open for Camilo. And Traore clearly doesn't have the pace to get back with Manneh, so getting sucked up the field with him is a recipe for getting burned on the way back. Fourthly, after the turnover Yedlin should have pulled closer to the defensive line. He's marking Kobayashi but he's inside out, closer to the sideline than the Caps player. If he starts the play closer to the goal, maybe he has a chance to reach Manneh.
On the good side, Camilo's recognition of the space and his tricky pass to free Manneh were both top notch.
Goal the Third: It's Called A Defensive Line For A Reason
It's the 54th minute and Clint Dempsey's on the field, giving Seattle hopes of a dramatic comeback for the draw and the Cup. Mauro Rosales has just missed a dangerous free kick and the teams have reset for the Whitecaps goal kick.
This goal doesn't start off looking very dangerous. Lee has the ball on the sideline but the Sounders are back in numbers and look well organized.
Kobayashi drops back 10 yards which pulls Traore with him. Then Manneh runs into that space and for some reason Hurtado lets him go without any other responsibilities of his own. Lee sees the wide-open Manneh and gives him a hard pass, which fortunately he mishandled directly to Rose. Unfortunately, Rose can't handle it himself and he delivers the ball right back to Kobayashi.
I've taken the liberty of drawing a line here, which is the defensive line that's trying to hold the Whitecaps players onside. You'll notice that Hurtado is a bit ahead of it and Traore is way behind it. The former is kind of bad. The latter is a cardinal sin. Manneh is now standing unmarked onside behind the nearest defender and Kobayashi is looking right at him, which leads to:
He actually took this shot earlier than he needed to, but it didn't matter. He five-holed Gspurning for his hat trick. You'll note that Hurtado hasn't even followed the play. He's just standing there yelling at Traore in frustration. The failure here is glaring. Traore is pointlessly standing 3 yards behind the rest of the defensive line. He's not even marking anyone, so he really has no excuse to be standing there. Of course it doesn't help that Rose gave the ball up in a terrible area to give Kobayashi the chance to make the pass, but this is really just a busted offside trap. Credit to Manneh for seeing the space and of course the finish was again pretty good.
Goal the Fourth: Just. . Whatever. .
It's the 82nd minute and Seattle has clawed one back by taking like 30 shots in the box, which apparently is the magic number. But still down two goals they've gone to three defenders and they'll be pushing hard and taking risks, which will often lead to counterattack goals, and so it did.
This goal starts my favorite way. . with a majestic, lofted Sounders cross into the box when the only player on our team who can head in crosses is 1500 miles away injuring his groin. The best part about majestic, lofted crosses is they push a couple of players (the crosser and usually an overlapper) to the flanks and a bunch of other players way up in the box so if the defensive clearance goes straight into the midfield it's a recipe for a jailbreak counterattack into an empty midfield. And guess what?!
Here we see the ball in mid-flight (I've highlighted it again) during the Rosales cross. It's apparently targeting Martins, who's 5'8" on a good day. Here we actually have three Sounders on the near flank, three lined up in the box, Dempsey at the top of the box, and Traore hanging out on the other flank. So that's eight Seattle players who'll be ahead of the ball if it's cleared out of the box. Alonso is hovering in central midfield and Patrick Ianni is the only other field player, off screen to the left as the last man.
Shockingly, Oba has not won this header and it has been trivially headed away by a defender into the central midfield behind 8 of the 10 Sounders field players. Camilo, who was the only Whitecaps player pushed forward, is running back onto it. As the last defender, Ianni will be tasked with slowing him up to stop a counterattack. Or he could try to win the ball himself 80 yards from his own goal, which would be tremendously risky as the last defender. But whatever, it's a time for risks I guess.
This one doesn't work out however, as Ianni goes down on a shoulder challenge from Camilo, and Reo-Coker and Camilo are freed for the 2-on-0. Fortunately Alonso has drifted back watching this happen and is in range to sprint back to make it a 2-on-1. And credit to Traore, who with an impressive burst of speed in the 82nd minute is able to cover Camilo to force Reo-Coker to take a tough tight-angle shot.
At that distance with a ball coming straight at him, Gspurning should make that save. The other shots he faced were save-able in that they were within his reach, but they were from close range, so you're mainly just relying on being lucky and having the ball hit you. Here he had the time. And he did get a hand on it, but wasn't able to stop the ball from going through his legs again for goal four.
Well, reliving that was pure joy. Hopefully it was educational. What it taught me was that our defense is a shambles. I suspect doing it again for Colorado won't change my mind. Manneh's speed got them twice when they were pushing too high and were uncoordinated. But in his third goal, his speed was irrelevant. It was just a total mental breakdown to leave him onside. By the fourth it didn't really matter, but I really hate lofted crosses to players who have no facility for heading the ball. And Ianni went a little bit crazy there.
Of course if you just read this you might think the loss was all on the defense. That's just because we're focusing on the goals against. I could do another one focused on the wasted offensive chances so you could get a full appreciation for how much the suckage permeated the entire team, but I can't bring myself to do it.