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Assessing the loss

Kasey, we know it wasn't your fault.
Kasey, we know it wasn't your fault.

Sounders 3.0 have a short history, so putting things in a historical perspective can seem kind of fruitless.

Still, the 3-1 loss to the Union on Sunday did get me thinking about how bad it really was. I know it felt like as bad a Sounders loss as I'd ever seen, definitely the worst of the season in any case, even if the score didn't make it seem that way.

What I found was that, at least according to the surface statistics, we were outplayed as badly as we ever have. I should point out that I also found a shred of good news. The other "worst-loss in franchise history" candidate (in my mind, anyway) was eventually followed by a 5-3-3 finish to the season that sent the Sounders to the playoffs in their inaugural season.

As for Sunday's game, the three goals the Sounders allowed were obviously not the worst of the season, not even the worst total over the last two matches, but it was the shots and shots on goal that really stood out.

The last-place Union fired off an astounding 16 shots, 13 of which were on frame. Both those totals are tied for the most allowed in Sounders MLS history. The only game in which the Sounders defense was similarly permeable was that 4-0 shellacking at San Jose last season, oddly enough also against a last-place team.

Also of note was the relatively outstanding play of Kasey Keller in both games. Against the Union, Keller did his best to keep the Sounders close by making nine saves, several of them spectacular sprawling efforts, and had the Sounders leading at halftime. In the San Jose game, Keller had 10 saves and the only pre-halftime goal was an own goal.

(The 4-0 loss against Los Angeles was far easier to swallow, and actually not as bad in several key ways. Just the fact that the Galaxy were in the middle of a dominating start to the MLS season made that game less frustrating. But that game was also less lopsided than it looked as the Galaxy only had seven shots on goal and three of their four goals were the result of clear mistakes by the Sounders.)

Further adding to the "worst-loss in franchise history" evidence is that the Sounders also suffered the ignominy of missing a penalty -- making them 0-for-3 since last year.

As for the silver lining that ultimately covered the "Losing Their Way in San Jose" game, it took a little while to develop. The Sounders followed that loss with another disappointing result -- a 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake. After a win on the road against Los Angeles, the Sounders then dropped another 1-0 result at home against New England. Ties in the next two matches ultimately started a run in which the Sounders claimed 15 of 24 possible points to close out the regular season and earned a spot in the playoffs. Not included in the season-ending run -- but coming after the consecutive ties -- was a victory over DC United in the U.S. Open Cup championship game.

Should Sounders fans expect a similar turnaround following "The Debacle by the Delaware"? Unlike the San Jose loss -- which kinda came out of nowhere as the Sounders were riding a six-MLS match unbeaten streak -- this loss is more a continuation of what has been a lengthy stretch of frustrating results. Aside from the 3-0 win over New England, the Sounders haven't looked right for some time, and have now won just two of their past 10 matches. The eight points the Sounders have claimed during that time is the worst 10-game stretch the MLS team has experienced. The closest the Sounders have come to such a run of futility is the 10 games that surrounded the San Jose loss in which Seattle claimed 10 points in 10 MLS matches. 

It would seem that the return to health of both Nate Jaqua and Peter Vagenas should help improve those numbers, but both looked rusty on Sunday. Jaqua whiffed on a ball through the box that ultimately led to the go-ahead goal and Vagenas was nearly invisible until he was removed at 66'. Obviously, more is expected of them as they regain their form.

Unfortunately, it's starting to look increasingly unlikely that the Sounders will ever have their projected starting XI on the pitch at the same time. Just as Jaqua and Vagenas return and import Blaise Nkufo prepares to join the team, it has now been revealed that Brad Evans underwent athroscopic surgery and it is not immediately known when he will be back. Osvaldo Alonso continues to be hampered by a quardriceps injury and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado may miss the rest of the season. That doesn't even include Michael Fucito, who wasn't a projected starter but has been on the shelf ever since he was poised to claim a more prominent role.

If it seems as though this season has been more harsh in that sense than last year, it's because it is. The Sounders have already used 26 different players during MLS matches. They only used 22 during all of last season. Injuries and ineffectiveness have conspired to keep Sigi Schmid from using the same starters and formation in any two matches and only Keller has started every match. Only four players have even appeared in every match.

All of which helps explain why this season has unraveled the way it has. Unfortunately, that is of little consolation. The reality is that time is running out if this team is going to rebound. With just over half the season left to play, there is still time to make a playoff push. Hopefully, there will be evidence of that possibility sooner than later.

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