Over a stretch of 52 minutes in Saturday's game (28'-80'), the Seattle Sounders conceded 2 goals to the San Jose Earthquakes to fall behind 1-3. Seattle enjoyed a man advantage for half of that stretch, but nevertheless allowed the third goal from Innocent Emeghara. Seattle managed 4 shots between the 48th and 60th minutes - showing some offensive vigor in response to Chris Wondolowski's go-ahead goal just after the half - but that energy never crossed over into the defensive game.
The plot above depicts the accumulation of defensive tackles, clearances, interceptions and blocks by the Sounders defense and midfield in comparison to the 3-0 victory last week over New England. From the 28th to the 80th minute, the midfield managed only 3 actions of this type - 1 each for Gonzalo Pineda, Marco Pappa, and Lamar Neagle (his only action of the game). Michael Azira's last defensive action (excluding recoveries) came at 4:41. I've argued before - in response to 2014's 5-goal loss to the New England Revolution - that the midfield cannot succeed without 2 strong defenders (setting aside, for the moment, the poor performance of the backline on Saturday). Against San Jose, the team had none - and this is one reason for Seattle's team-wide difficulties on both sides of the ball through the middle of the game.
"When we go a goal up, we are all experienced enough to know how to win games, but being second to the ball and losing our battles all over the pitch, I don't think you can put it down to any individual players. The team performance wasn't good enough. We take that as a positive now because it is a wake-up call. We have to do better.
-plain honesty from Tyrone Mears
Seattle should consider the best competitive backline it can put on the field - the team should never stop considering the best available XI, where they should play, and whether changes to the roster will improve its chances. Such changes can correct individual mistakes - or those costly moments can become less frequent with training and experience.
Figuring out a way to avoid midfield defensive collapse - even after the return of Osvaldo Alonso - may be a more important lesson to take from this game.