On Sunday, the Seattle Sounders traveled to Texas to play the FC Dallas of Frisco, and in doing so they lost in agonizing fashion. It was a loss where the Sounders were once winning. It was a loss where questionable refereeing dominated the post-game headlines. It was a loss that sucked.
Now, as it stands, the Sounders could miss the Audi 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs sponsored by Adidas, Chipotle, and Sprint Nextel. Sure, they'd have to lose a home game to a struggling Real Salt Lake who haven't won since August and haven't scored but one goal since early September, and in conjunction, the Portland Timbers would have to win on the road (they can't) and Sporting Kansas City would have to beat San Jose Earthquakes at home (they can (though they do only have 2 wins in their past 9 matches)). Could all this happen? Sure. Will all this happen? Doubtful.
But what if that exact scenario plays out? Then the Sounders don't deserve to make the playoffs, plain and simple. Sure, we've been hounded by the injury bug lately, with Clint Dempsey, Eric Friberg, Brad Evans, Andreas Ivanschitz, Alvaro Fernandez, Chad Marshall, Dylan Remick, Aaron Kovar, and Nelson Valdez all missing crucial playing time in this stretch run to make the playoffs. That's $7.67 Million cap space worth of players in a league where the salary cap is $3.66 Million. Now, I'm no mathematician, but that's a lot of dead money we're not playing with at the moment.
That being said, injuries isn't an excuse. The team the Sounders put on the field on Sunday was good enough to beat FC Frisco, good enough to beat anybody in the league, home or away. Some questionable refereeing combined with some unfortunate substitutions damned the Sounders to a loss. I won't say it's an undeserved loss, however.
Mark Geiger incorrectly called a foul that negated a goal for the Sounders. I will not dispute that. He also, in a game where he let aggressive contact go uncalled, awarded an extraordinarily soft foul that resulted in the goal for Dallas that tied the match. Whether there was contact there or not, that foul being called flies in the face of the rest of the match up to that point. But Geiger did not award a series of phantom penalties like he did in Seattle's early season matchup against Vancouver, his inconsistencies resulted in an opportunity for Dallas, but did not gift them a goal. The Sounders did that all on their own. They also kept the world onside in the 89th minute goal that secured their loss. It sucks.
The perspective I had heading into this game, however, was not rosy. I did not expect a win. I did not expect a result. Instead, I allowed myself to naively believe that the Sounders actually might be able to pull something off in the 90 degree Texas heat, which is something they never do. A loss was expected. A loss occurred. And still we are in the same situation we were before heading into the Houston match: Win a game and secure the playoffs. Two swings and misses and we're one strike away from being out.
Let's go back though; let's talk about Mark Geiger. I'm not going to disparage him or his character, simply because I don't know Mark Geiger and he seems like he'd be a nice guy. He's asked to do a thankless job, one where, no matter what, he'll be vilified. But oh my goodness, after his fantastic introduction to the international audience during the 2014 World Cup, he has seemingly lost it. Admittedly, I haven't watched all of his matches this season, I mean, who watches a match for the referee alone? But in the two games for Seattle in which he's manned the center spot, he's been atrocious. I can't imagine a more perfect career for Geiger. If he was an Air Traffic Controller he'd cause aviation disasters left and right. If he was your dentist it'd be unnecessary root canals for everybody. If he was your investment banker you'd find all your money invested in mattresses.
I can't say I'd do a better job than he would. I can throw stones from my glass tower, but if I were out there, I'd jog for a few minutes and then call a water break for myself. I'd call fouls based on a ranking of who annoyed me the most at the moment. My rationality for everything would be "Because I said so," and I'd still be better than half the PRO referees who work the MLS circuit.
We can wring our hands at the injustice of it all, bemoaning the lack of luck that has plagued this bizarre season of ours, but that serves as nothing more than a conciliatory gesture to alleviate our frustrations. We rationalize the misfortunes in any way we can, the most obvious target in this instance being the refereeing. Leaving the outcome of game in the hands of the referees is a fool's errand. Were the Sounders to take matters in their own hands and scored more or allowed fewer, enough to mitigate a couple of bad calls, then those very same bad calls would just be footnotes.
It's all easier said than done, I know; score more while allowing less. But of all the teams posed to make the playoffs in the West, everybody is limping in. Of the 7 teams still mathematically in the hunt for the playoffs (Dallas, Colorado, LA, RSL, Seattle, SKC, and Portland) only two teams have a positive Goal Differential in the past 10 games: Dallas +6 and Seattle +4, and Dallas just lost their best player, Mauro Diaz, for the entirety of the playoffs.
Should the Sounders make the playoffs, which in my esteem is likely, then the regular season is wiped clean and a fresh start begins, one where the Sounders are the hottest team in the West, where the Sounders haven't lost at home since Brian Schmetzer took over the coaching reins, one where the Sounders do not give up on the road and fight to the very end. Should the Sounders make the playoffs, we're the one team nobody wants to play. We're the matchup everybody fears. Should the Sounders make the playoffs, get hype.
I don't wanna GIF a thing
Alright, win and we're in. We can do this!
Whoa! A Hercules Gomez goal? I'm pumped.
Wait, did Geiger... did he really call a foul on Torres there?
Such is life.
I really hope the Sounders can recover from having a legit goal disallowed.
Goodness, Lodeiro is so incredible.
Players are getting away with murder out there. My goodness.
Oh, oh look everybody! Geiger called another dive as a foul and it resulted in a goal against the Sounders!
Maybe we can still escape with a point.
Marshall is hurt? I'm out.
It feels like there's some nefarious force controlling this game.
Please tell me Carlos Ruiz did not just score a goal.
Yup. That's a loss. Dallas fans celebrating the only way they know how.
At least the Sounders are still treading above the red line.