And just like that, it seems, the good feelings and positivity over the past couple weeks are gone. No, it wasn't anything as extreme as being played off the pitch. Rather, it was the simple act of the Seattle Sounders losing for the second time in their past seven. Confidence is a funny thing like that. One week, the ship seems to have been righted. The next, it's all gone to pot.
So what happened?
The Sounders have to stop giving up penalties
Sure, the penalty called on Chad Marshall in the 2nd minute by Ricardo Salazar was a little soft. You'll see plenty of referees let that go no matter when it happens, but a ton will look the other way that early in the game. And it's true the Sounders are due a few breaks after now being whistled for five penalties in just 10 games -- all of which have been on the soft side. But no matter what you think of the call itself -- or any of the previous four, save for the phantom call on Joevin Jones -- the Sounders are guilty of repeatedly putting themselves in awkward defensive positions.
This time it was the normally reliable Chad Marshall grabbing a handful of Walker Zimmeran's shirt and dragging him down. The frustrating part is -- similar to the penalty Herculez Gomez had called on him in Colorado -- it wasn't an especially dangerous situation as there were two Sounders defenders there to clear the ball if Marshall had simply let Zimmerman make the turn.
The Sounders have now given up 12 goals -- a perfectly respectable total and fourth fewest in the league. Three of those are penalties and two more are exceptionally soft. The Sounders defense is not the problem, per se, but they continue to bracket sound play around dumb mistakes. This does not look like a team that is going to score at a clip that allows them to routinely overcome so many soft goals.
Speaking of that offense...
There are signs of improvement. Jordan Morris has proven perfectly capable of scoring at this level. Clint Dempsey is starting to look more like the MVP candidate of the past two years. Erik Friberg has provided a creative spark that had been missing. But this is still no where near an elite offense and it certainly can't afford to squander gilt-edged scoring chances the way they did on Saturday.
First, there was Herculez Gomez who was one-on-one with the goalkeeper from a great ball by Friberg, only to send his shot wide. Then Clint Dempsey puts Joevin Jones through for another glorious 1-v-1 chance but he fails to beat goalkeeper Chris Seitz, who gets just enough of the ball to put it out. A couple minutes later, Friberg puts a perfect cross only to have Morris put his clean header straight into Seitz. Those were three glorious chances -- all inside the first 20 minutes -- that were just wasted. If they score even one, the match likely changes -- Dallas doesn't sit back and defend the whole second half, the Sounders can try to play for the counter, who knows?
It's nice for the stat sheet that the Sounders racked up 579 passes and completed 86 percent of them -- including 140 successful passes in the final third -- but the Sounders need to be creating more chances like they did early in this match, and more importantly, finishing them.
In praise of Stefan Frei
Frei has allowed 10 goals in nine starts and stopped nearly 77 percent of the shots he's faced. Look at virtually any statistic and he's a Top 5 goalkeeper in this league. Against Dallas, he again stopped everything he had a decent chance at stopping. Right before Marshall was penalized, for instance, Frei made an amazing full-stretch stop of a point-blank header from Ryan Hollingshead. In the 58th minute, Frei perfectly played a throughball to Barrios and was able to stop what would have been a glorious chance at an insurance goal.
Frei's distribution still is far from perfect, but he's firmly established himself as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS. It's scary to think where the Sounders might be without him.