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Loss to FC Dallas still stings a day later

But Sounders still have No. 4 playoff spot well within reach.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

A day later, the loss still stings a bit. Despite going into the FC Dallas road match knowing that a loss was the most predictable outcome, and the knowledge that the Seattle Sounders very much control their own fate regardless, blowing a late lead never feels good.

And it should be said that getting a point from Dallas was not inconsequential as far as the Sounders’ playoff hopes go. A tie would have left the Sounders even on points with Real Salt Lake and holding the first tiebreaker. That would have turned the season finale from a virtual must-win into one where a tie would have guaranteed a playoff spot.

Instead, the Sounders either need to win or hope that one of Sporting Kansas City or the Portland Timbers don’t. Given the relative positions of RSL, KC and the Timbers, I’d still prefer to be the Sounders — as a win doesn’t only guarantee a playoff spot, but also a home game in the first round — but breathing room is nice and there’s less of it.

The reason why is part of why this bad taste lingers.

For nearly 80 minutes, the Sounders had executed their game plan almost flawlessly. It wasn’t very pretty — they had completed only about 65 percent of their passes — but it was effective. The midfielders had done an admirable job of limiting FC Dallas’ speed on the flanks and given Mauro Diaz precious little space to find openings. Dallas’ shots were coming mostly from outside the penalty area and Stefan Frei was saving what few good looks were managed.

Offensively, the Sounders weren’t exactly battering Dallas, but they weren’t leaving themselves exposed either. The 1-0 lead was well deserved and by all rights should have been 2-0 if not for a highly questionable foul call that eliminated an earlier goal.

Those final 10 minutes weren’t exactly a disaster, but both goals were highly avoidable.

The first was set up by an admittedly soft foul against Herculez Gomez just outside the penalty area. Soft or not, though, Gomez stuck his forearm into an offensive player who had position. It goes uncalled a lot, but there wasn’t much risk in Gomez allowing Ryan Hollingshead to keep his feet. There are few teams as deadly on free kicks from close range than Dallas and sure enough, they converted despite Cristian Roldan’s goal-line clearance and Frei doing his best to keep it out.

The second goal may have been even more frustrating. Credit to Carlos Ruiz, it was a very good finish, but shame on Zach Scott and Tyrone Mears for not pushing the offside line. Even more frustrating is that Scott appeared to have eyes on Ruiz the whole time, but he is still late to react to the run.

Just to turn the knife a bit more, the Sounders nearly pulled off a miracle point when Frei — yes, the goalkeeper — got on the end of a free kick and perfectly struck a snap header that forced Chris Seitz to make his one and only save.

For those of you looking for positives, it should be said nothing that happened on Sunday should dissuade you from the belief the Sounders can stand toe to toe with anyone in MLS. Here they were, missing five starters, on the road against the likely Supporters’ Shield winner and leading in the 78th minute. It was a perfectly respectable performance.

The Sounders should have taken care of business at home against the Houston Dynamo. There’s no good reason they should go from a winning position to a losing position within 10 minutes. But this team has shown a ton of resilience over the last few months, and this next challenge should be doable.

RSL are struggling: The good news is that as frustrating as a result as that may have been for the Sounders, the reality is that they are still hosting a team that’s winless in their past six with a playoff spot on the line. No team in the league — let alone in the playoff hunt — has fewer than RSL’s three points over their past six. They’ve scored just one goal in their past five.

A month ago, anyone involved in the organization would have taken this position without any question about how they got here. If the Sounders can’t win this game, it’s hard to believe winning MLS Cup was really anything like a possibility.

Mark Geiger had another rough outing: I don’t like to talk about referees in this space very often. In fact, the last time might have been the Vancouver Whitecaps game at the start of the year when — yep, you guessed it — Mark Geiger called two outrageous penalties and otherwise allowed a ton of physicality go unpunished.

There was a time when Geiger was considered the best American referee, and he even acquitted himself well in the 2014 World Cup. That seems so long ago.

Geiger’s performance was dominated by allowing a ton of physicality to go unpunished, and yet calling a pair of soft fouls that resulted in a net -2 to the Sounders. I’m not trying to give the impression Geiger was biased against the Sounders — I have no doubt there were calls missed both ways — but more to illustrate that the game’s officiating was a mess. Geiger is just not doing an adequate job and should not be in the middle of important matches.