The Seattle Sounders are back on top of the Supporters' Shield and Western Conference standings with a game in hand on both their top competitors. But somehow it doesn't feel so good.
Despite statistically dominating the San Jose Earthquakes and grabbing an early lead, the Sounders were forced to settle for a 1-1 tie on Wednesday at CenturyLink Field. It was a tie that will do little to quiet the doubters.
As they seem to do with alarming regularity, the Sounders started off slow and were probably a bit outplayed in the first 20 minutes. But they eventually found their footing and went into halftime the better side with several enticing options off the bench.
Those bench options didn't look like they'd be all the important, though, when Chad Barrett scored a beautiful goal off an even better Obafemi Martins feed almost right out of halftime. Martins controlled a ball near midfield turned and put Barrett behind the defense. All Barrett had to do was get to the ball first and beat an on-rushing Jon Busch from just inside the penalty area, which he did for his sixth goal of the season.
That got the Sounders rolling and the chances started to come with more frequency. But their inability to finish any of those came back to bite them in the 65th minute when Cordell Cato was able to work a ball through the penalty area to Chris Wondolowski, who had gotten open at the far post.
The Sounders continued to dominate the match, but most of their chances came from relatively non-dangerous areas. Clint Dempsey, who was a 70th minute substitute, got a decent look at a header in the final minute of stoppage time, but the Sounders mostly struggled to find a way around an Earthquakes defense that was very happy to pack the penalty are and look for counter opportunities.
The Sounders ended the match with a 24-10 shots advantage and claimed 59 percent of the possession, but the telling statistic was the Earthquakes' 12 blocks. For all the shots the Sounders were able to take, few of them really tested Busch and on the rare occasion he was called upon the veteran goalkeeper was up to the task.
Taken in a larger context, though, the Sounders aren't in a bad position. They have a road game against the Portland Timbers on Sunday -- for which they should be well rested after several starters were left out of the lineup -- and then two more more against the reeling Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA before a nine-day break.
Especially after dropping two points -- and make no mistake, they dropped points -- the Sounders will need to do their best to maximize those opportunities.
Oh, and the Earthquakes won the Heritage Cup.