Of all the ways the Seattle Sounders hoped to begin their title defense, I think it can safely be said that the first half of Saturday’s game was not one of them. The Sounders were roundly outplayed, looked sluggish, and, frankly, like a team that wasn’t quite ready to play meaningful matches.
The Sounders trailed 2-0 after 45 minutes, yet that understates the gap between the two teams. This was probably their worst half of the Brian Schmetzer era. Yes, even worse than the 4-0 drubbing they suffered against the Portland Timbers. With a little better finishing — or without a couple massive saves by Stefan Frei — the Houston Dynamo could have easily scored a few more goals.
The second half was better — much better — but not so much better to fully come back. In the end a 2-1 loss was probably fair.
But there was still some positives and being as we’re all of one game into a 34-game season, no reason to think anything is beyond fixing.
Joevin Jones was very good
Let’s start with the guy who deserves the Sounders’ Man of the Match. Jones was probably caught out of position a few times, and was as guilty as anyone of a few cheap giveaways in the first half, but his second half was amazing.
The Sounders had three very good scoring chances in the game, and all of them involved Jones. The first was after he got a quick pass from Nicolas Lodeiro right around midfield. Jones then dribbled around AJ DeLaGarza and made an aggressive move toward goal, before firing a outside-of-his-boot shot that nearly beat Tyler Deric. It was Jones who again beat the first man and whipped in an early cross that ultimately set up Clint Dempsey’s goal. Through Jones, the Sounders also came close to grabbing an equalizer. Lodeiro put Jones into space and Jones put a pass back through the box. Lodeiro got their just a step late, but still nearly beat Deric to the top corner.
All of the second half, Jones was bombing down the sideline with near reckless abandon. It was exactly what the Sounders needed. His aggressiveness was somewhat balanced by Gustav Svensson’s relative conservativeness.
Svensson had his moments going forward — a few of those crosses were absolutely gorgeous — but he simply does not have the recovery speed to get back after ranging forward. My suspicion is that the Sounders will likely use Svensson and Jones more like they did in the second half. It will cost them some width on the right, but if Jones can do what he did on a regular basis, the trade off is more than worth it.
OK, so maybe I buried the lede a bit, but how great was it to see Dempsey not just start, but score and then play 90 minutes? No, this was not anything like the best version of what we’ve seen from him. Yes, it was maddening to see him dropping back into the defensive midfield. And of course, I could have done without a few of those giveaways. But still!
Especially, the second half Dempsey looked pretty darn good. The goal he scored is a good place to start. He controlled the rebound off a blocked shot remarkably easily. Took his time and finished like it was no big deal. This came more than six months after his last real game.
If you’re inclined to pay attention to such things, Dempsey now has six goals in his past four appearances. His fitness is only going to improve. His sharpness will only get better. If this was on the low end of his performances, the Sounders are going to be just fine.
While obviously preferable to not have been in the position in the first place, Brian Schmetzer again showed an ability to make very good second-half adjustments. The Sounders have now played 21 matches since Schmetzer was hired as head coach and they have a 22-8 goal-scoring advantage in just the second halves of those games. Since the start of last year’s playoffs, the Sounders have outscored opponents 8-0 after halftime.
As usual, Schmetzer didn’t shed a ton of light on what changed.
“Just better possession of the ball in their half of the field,” he said. “That team played with three guys who stayed high, so we were able to pin them back in the second half and create multiple chances. That was basically it, it was one correction. A little more patience.”
Maybe that’s true. Maybe it was something simple like simply doing a better job of not giving the ball away so easily. The encouraging part of that is the Sounders should be able to carry that over to next week’s game against the Montreal Impact. The frustrating part is it suggests the first-half was very much a self-inflicted failure. It’s relevant to note that the Sounders’ starters didn’t have anything like a cohesive preseason, so a slow start is probably to be expected. It sure would be nice if the Sounders could get their stuff together a bit earlier than mid-summer, though.