The season is lurching to a very slow start. Last week, a red card and injuries made escaping with a draw feel like a favorable result, only to have a late goal and a goalkeeper gaffe ruin the evening. This week it's eerily more of the same, although even with eleven men the Seattle Sounders couldn't hold onto the point in Rio Tinto Stadium.
The Sounders came into the match looking strong, earning corners and free kicks from aggressive attacking play. Andreas Ivanschitz swung ball after ball into the box, but couldn't connect to his targets. In the run of play, the Sounders fullbacks were given plenty of time and space to run onto balls and pick their crosses as well, to no great success. Real Salt Lake were on the back foot at home, but before Seattle could capitalize, another questionable tackle changed another match.
Erik Friberg slid in late on Jordan Allen in the 13th minute, earned a yellow, but more importantly injured his knee. When he left the game, with him went much of the cohesion in the Sounders midfield. Cristian Roldan's tenacity in winning balls and dribbling out of trouble was good, but not what the Sounders needed to unlock a stingy RSL defense. It didn't help that Tony Beltran was doing his best 'Clint Dempsey's shadow' impression.
Still, Beltran's distraction allowed Joevin Jones to shine offensively, which he certainly did, continuing to make Garth Lagerwey look smart for nabbing him. His 26th-minute curving ball behind the RSL back line was just a fraction late and led to what could have been an incredible backheel goal for Ivanschitz, but Nelson Valdez was called offside. No matter, since Jones' next cross found the back of the net after a few redirections by Valdez, Nick Rimando and Osvaldo Alonso.
In the Sounders end, Jones was struggling at the end of the half. He was forced to take down Burrito Martinez at the top of the box, and then was left in the dust by Allen, which led to a fateful corner. RSL's impressive new midfielder, Sunny, easily broke away from Dempsey and placed his header perfectly to tie things up before halftime. This felt like a temporary annoyance, since the Sounders were racking up chances, but it would prove to be a different kind of turning point in the match.
To start the second half, the Sounders seemed tuned out. Tyler Miller sliced a ball out of bounds, the midfielders were giving the ball away under little pressure, and Valdez tried once or twice to do everything himself. Rather than coming out looking like they had a plan to take the match back into their hands, Seattle was looking like they might need to fight for the draw. Dempsey stayed much higher to start the half, but was soon dropping deep as usual to try to will the ball into dangerous spots.
RSL, meanwhile, were content to stop counters by any means necessary, including Chris Wingert's full-body block of Jordan Morris that sent the rookie out of the match holding his temple.
If a punchless second half had ended in a draw at altitude, it would have felt like at least a start to the Sounders' season. Instead, Miller showed his inexperience in being beat to a ball he should have easily caught or punched, and Jamison Olave did the rest.
- While hard to swallow, this is no disaster. The Sounders are working the kinks out of a new system and are already dealing with missing key pieces due to injury. That said, they need to get healthy and figure out how to rack up points -- fast.
- The injury bug is biting early and fast this year. Roldan and Zach Scott are not the ideal fits to plug the holes left by Friberg and Brad Evans, and if those two can't stay healthy as the season goes on, replacements may be needed soon. We can only hope that Morris' head injury is minor.
- Offensively, while the goals aren't piling up yet, there are extended bouts of good play. One problem is that Clint Dempsey can't be playmaking and making runs for himself at the same time, and the mind-meld he had with Obafemi Martins hasn't been replicated with Valdez or Morris. Also, the four offsides calls on the Sounders would each have been great goalscoring chances (one would clearly have been a goal). If the attackers can dial that in, the goals should come.
- Tyler Miller may not be ready for prime time.