It may not yet be July and more than half the season is still left to play, but Saturday’s match against New York City FC was about as must-win as they get at this point. In case you missed it, the Sounders didn’t win.
The 2-0 loss to a NYCFC team that has some very apparent issues — most notably in defense — was the most telling result of the Sounders’ so far bitterly disappointing season. It wasn’t just that they lost, it was how.
This was the first home game in over a month. There were more than 47,500 people in the stands. The Sounders were in desperate need of a win. And yet, they fizzled.
As it has gone during this awful run of results — five losses in six games — the Sounders started reasonably well. They were creating chances, getting behind the NYCFC high line, not giving up much on defense.
And then a fluky goal — yes, it came off his hand — takes away the momentum. The script is almost writing itself at this point.
Here’s some of the things we learned from this one:
"Confidence" is just the tip of the iceberg
There’s certainly some truth to the idea that the Sounders "just" lack confidence in front of goal. That if they can just get a couple to go in that things will start to change a bit. But that feels too simple. The reality is that while the Sounders are doing well enough to create chances, none of those chances are all that great. The Sounders are definitely getting themselves into dangerous spots, but that final action that turns danger into scoring is woefully lacking. That can’t all be on Jordan Morris and Aaron Kovar either. They are the two most guilty of not finishing chances, but they are also the ones doing the best job of forcing defenses to react. They need more support than they’re getting.
There are veteran players in the attack, in the midfield and in the defense. Some of them need to carry this burden as well. There are too many players underperforming their pedigree and contracts. Changes need to happen, either in play or personnel for anything to improve.
But there’s more than that
To hear Sigi Schmid postgame comments in a vacuum, you probably wouldn’t think this was a team in the middle of a potentially season-sinking run of form. He was frustrated, sure, but I’ve seen him far more upset following way more encouraging performances. Maybe that’s a public face. His words and feelings were vaguely echoed by the likes of Tyrone Mears and Cristian Roldan, too.
Brad Evans had a different take, though. The Sounders captain went on at length about there being players on the team who were accepting of losses. He spoke about trying to communicate with these players and essentially being rebuffed. There was real frustration, maybe even real anger. It’s fair to wonder if there’s a sort of split in the locker room and that’s clearly problematic.
Evans also spoke about the season teetering on edge, and that they either need to start moving toward the playoffs or a near-bottom-table finish could be in the offing. They were sobering words, to say the least.
The fanbase is clearly fed up
There have been plenty of times that have tried Sounders fans’ patience. The 2013 collapse was about as gut-wrenching as it gets. The "Dire Days" of last summer were pretty awful, too. I don’t remember fans streaming for the exits before the final whistle quite like I saw today, though. After NYCFC’s second goal — that came on an absolutely senseless giveaway — the aisles were full of fans getting a head start.
There are still nearly 40,000 fans showing up on any given match day. I suspect that will continue to be the case this year. At the same time, I can’t help but feel 47,532 was a bit disappointing given the conditions: big gap between home games, perfect weather, big-name opponents. Was it a sign that fans are already tuning out?
It’s entirely possible that a large swath of the fanbase is just tired of going through things like this run too often. We’ve now had three similar runs in four years. Maybe that makes us spoiled given the relative overall success the Sounders have still managed to enjoy, but it’s also understandable. Expectations have been set, and right now this team is falling far, far below them.