PORTLAND, Ore. — The first half could not have possibly gone much worse for the Seattle Sounders than it did. Shoddy set-piece defense? Check. Inability to hold the ball in midfield? Check. Lack of danger going forward? Check.
The Portland Timbers didn’t just play their game to perfection over the first 45 minutes, they somehow exceeded that. What was crazy that even at 4-0, there were chances they left wanting. Stefan Frei made at least one other-worldly save. But Caleb Porter probably didn’t know what to tell his team at halftime, other than "do that again."
Brian Schmetzer responded by making a pair of second-half subs, something you almost never see at the professional level. At the very least, the Sounders were playing for pride, or as Schmetzer apparently told his players at halftime "we’re going to play for the badge and if you don’t do that, I’m going to take you off."
If there was a single positive to take from the Sounders’ performance, it was that they clearly feel as though they are still playing for something. Maybe it’s not pride, but a future with the team or even somewhere else. The second half showed they at least care, and they deserve some level of plaudits for turning what was heading toward the biggest blowout in this rivalry’s history into a plausibly competitive 4-2 result.
What’s it all mean?!?!?: A win would have done wonders for the Sounders’ chances at making the playoffs, and actually would have put them in postseason position with at least game in hand on most of their relevant competition. SportsClubStats would have bumped them up to 67.3 percent chance of making it with a win. A tie would have been really cool, too, putting their odds at a virtual coin toss.
But a loss isn’t the end of the world, either. If you are inclined to believe the numbers, the Sounders still have a 31 percent chance of making it to an eighth straight postseason. A win over the San Jose Earthquakes on Sept. 10 would probably put them right back at toss-up territory, maybe even better.
The main thing going forward will be for the Sounders to win their home games, and figure out how to get ties on the road at least half the time. That would put them at 45 points, one more than the sixth-best pace in the West.
The Sounders undeniably lost some momentum with this loss — and to a lesser degree Wednesday’s tie — but their ability to pull themselves together may have kept them from completely losing their grasp.
Ch-ch-ch-ch-anges: Let’s talk about those halftime subs. Sure, there’s a chance they were just Schmetzer throwing stuff against the wall and seeing if anything stuck. But there’s a much better than zero chance it was the harbinger of more permanent change.
Tyrone Mears has been up and down, even while enjoying a bit of a renaissance under Schmetzer. No one covered themselves in glory in that first half, but that sub suggests Schmetzer had seen enough of Mears. Add in Evans calling right back "Ideally, it’s my most comfortable position" and it sure feels like we’re going to see a change there.
Moving Evans to right back also allows the Sounders to insert Roman Torres back into the starting lineup. Torres still had some moments of rust, but held his own against Fanendo Adi.
That can’t be the only changes ... right?: Somehow we’ve managed to make it all the way down here without even mentioning that Clint Dempsey missed a third straight trip to Portland, all losses, none by fewer than two goals. It’s not hard to imagine this one going even just a little differently if Dempsey had been here, but he wasn’t and it’s entirely unclear when he will return.
In the meantime, the Sounders are going to have to figure out how to play without him. Nicolas Lodeiro’s addition means Dempsey’s absence might not be quite as debilitating as it would have been, but the Uruguayan playmaker also doesn’t look quite as comfortable deployed as a classic No. 10 as he did when he was a bit more free to roam and had two obvious targets ahead of him.
In two games without Dempsey and with Lodeiro, the Sounders have tried Alvaro Fernandez out wide. He’s not looked good, and was even the other guy pulled at halftime of this one. Schmetzer might elect to keep trying that, hoping Fernandez just needs time, but time is not something the Sounders really have right now.
The other options would seem to be inserting Herculez Gomez — who injected some energy at halftime, but little else — or possibly moving Cristian Roldan up and filling his spot with Erik Friberg. None of these are perfect solutions, but this could be the thing that ultimately determines the Sounders’ fate.