Twenty-nine seconds is the officially tagged time for the New York Red Bulls' opening goal in the Seattle Sounders' embarrassing 4-1 defeat on Saturday. I think most Sounders fans were aware it was going to be a goal by about the 15-second mark which speaks to just how abysmally bad that opening sequence of play was from the Sounders.
So, let's relive it together because I can't watch it on my own. I don't have enough alcohol.
The breakdown starts with kickoff. That is the worst feeling sentence I've ever written.
The Sounders make 3 complete passes before Jalil Anibaba passes it directly to Eric Alexander for the turnover. Mistake #1. Just as a general rule of thumb, it's pretty bad to pass the ball directly to the opposition midfielders. In the meantime, the Sounders attack is moving forward. Marco Pappa drifts inside to take up his creative role under Kenny Cooper and Chad Barrett while the midfield line is transitioning in possession.
That whole sequence takes 10 seconds. In only 19 more, the Sounders are already losing. Now, that is the worst feeling sentence I've ever written.
Let's fast forward 6 seconds. The announcers are still telling us which teams are wearing which colors. Lloyd Sam has carried the ball nearly 30 yards bypassing the entire Sounders midfield including Osvaldo Alonso, Andy Rose and Marco Pappa who are doing their best impression of playing following the leader. In this case, the leader is Lloyd Sam. The Sounders backline is flat as they approach the box, but with Sam attacking the left back, and no midfield support, right back Chris Duvall is free to overlap completely unmolested.
As the play develops, Rose tracks the run of Bradley Wright-Phillips into the box. The intent being to help cover the expected cross. It's a smart move from Rose given his aerial prowess. With Alonso occupied helping Remick and Rose tracking Wright-Phillips, Thierry Henry checks his run at the top of the box with zero Sounders near him.
Sam hits Duvall on the overlap as he approaches the box. Dylan Remick, finally with support from Alonso, tracks the Red Bulls' fullback. Here's where Remick's inexperience shows as he allows Duvall to cut back inside rather then forcing him to the endline and the cross. What Remick does is not wrong but in the current situation, with a numerical disadvantage on a quick attack, it's not the preferred option because of the potential for unmarked midfield runners. With a backline composed of Djimi Traore and Chad Marshall, most crosses are going to snuffed out before they reach their intended targets. The fact that Duvall is so easily able to move inside (without any real challenge from Remick) is also a function of the time and space he has in overlapping into the box.
As Duvall turns, the Sounders defense steps up. Well, most of it does.
Rose and Marshall recognize the turn, step up, and put Wright-Phillips and Bitolo offside. Unfortunately, Traore is slow to respond while Jalil Anibaba makes like a statue. Mistake #2. This is a failure of one of the most basic of defensive theories. When the ball is headed away from goal, either on the dribble or via pass, it is the primary responsibility of the defense to step up and force opposition attackers offside. Anibaba completely fails while Traore is showing that he hasn't played in months.
Recognizing the danger an open Henry at the top of the box presents, Chad Marshall continues his step to put the Frenchman under pressure. Traore has recovered, pushing up and placing Wright-Phillips into what he thinks is offside.
The only issue is Jalil Anibaba is still doing his best garden statue impression. This opens a massive hole in front of goal where the Red Bulls now have a man advantage against a player who's already committed two significant mistakes in just 23 seconds. Lloyd Sam picks out the easy pass to the wide open Wright-Phillips.
Anibaba leaves Bitolo and makes a lunging leaping tackle at Wright Phillips while Chad Marshall has read the play and is already moving to block the shot. Mistake #3. Anibaba is now completely committed without any chance at recovering which leaves Bitolo unmarked. Wright-Philipps chooses the easy pass and suddenly Bitolo has a free shot on Stefan Frei's goal. Remarkably, Bitolo hits his shot directly at the well positioned Frei. The shot is so bad that it actually handcuffs Frei who can only parry the ball away. That it falls into the path of Wright-Phillips was bad luck (or fate if you're a Red Bulls fan). The rest is as they say, history.
It was an atrocious sequence of play from the Sounders. However in most respects the fundamental concerns are the same as they've been all year. There isn't any new deficiency or symptom that we need to be worried about. The inability to maintain control during periods following turnovers and quick transition has been a concern all season, as the shellackings at the hands of the New England Revolution and LA Galaxy have shown. The Sounders, as currently set up, are going to struggle with quick transition play.
With that said, this is MLS. Every team is going to have a weakness. The Sounders know what their's is and the presence of Andy Rose and Osvaldo Alonso pulling deep defensive duty on this play is testament to the Sounders and their attempts to address that concern. This time it was just exacerbated by a series of bad individual mistakes from Jalil Anibaba and a moment of rust from Djimi Traore.