There was a time not long ago when we were singing and dancing in celebration. Nobody is celebrating any more, not after the Seattle Sounders sputtered to a 2-1 loss against the Vancouver Whitecaps, ending the least-notable 4-game unbeaten streak.
Beloved former Sounder Fredy Montero (sometimes also referred to as "that lazy hack") plunged a dagger into the hearts of Seattle fans. Then for good measure he twisted it, and we died. We died and were reborn as answer-seekers, thirsting for knowledge about how to fix that which is broken.
Dissatisfied with what our minds tell us, we rely on the unreliable. "Will Bruin scored a goal, he must be the answer," we convince ourselves with the assured knowledge that this is a lie.
Oddly enough, the statistics don't echo this sense of futility. This was only the Sounders second loss of the season in what was their fourth road game. This loss was unusual in the sense that the Sounders dominated possession at 61.5%. They had more shots (15 to 11), shots on goal (7 to 3), had a better passing percentage (82% to 73% ), and completed 501 passes to Vancouver's 307.
But we lost. We lost because a player who wanted to come play for Seattle somehow ended up in Vancouver and scored two goals against us by way of his head. We lost because our offense, for all the possession and connection in the world, could not find any creativity in the final third. All the build-up doesn't amount for much if all you're trying to do is release someone down the outside to loft in an ineffectual cross.
This season has been a weird one for me. I've not been emotionally invested, though I rarely am in the early part of the year. In fact, this was only the third game I've even managed to watch. Maybe a lot of the disconnect for me is due to the wild finish of last season, the crawling back from the basement to win the whole thing after months of being average to bad.
So when the Sounders roll out onto the field and they're average again, I'm not super panicky, though maybe I should be. This is a squad that should not be average. This is a squad who should strike fear in the opposition, but instead teams are just clogging up the middle, relinquishing the flanks, and knowing that the Sounders will dump cross after cross into the box hoping one of them finds a friendly player.
Teams do this because it works. It works entirely too well against Seattle, who's more than content to pass the ball back and forth looking, hoping for something magical to occur. It's grown frustrating to watch.
On Friday, as I watched this game, I thought to myself two separate things. One was a thought I've had before: are the Sounders broken? The other thought was a new one to me: if so, is this something Brian Schmetzer can fix?
Let me throw some numbers at you. These are the possession rates the Sounders have had in their first six games. Obviously I've already spoiled the Vancouver game, but still, let's explore together:
- 64.5% (Loss - Houston)
- 61.5% (Loss - Vancouver)
- 55.8% (Draw - Montreal)
- 51.1% (Draw - San Jose)
- 50.2% (Draw - Atlanta)
- 48.6% (Win - NYRB)
These numbers make sense from a logical standpoint, since the outliers are the two losses, in which the Sounders went down early and were chasing the game until the final whistle. But looking deeper, the Sounders were dominating possession of both games throughout the entirety of the match, from beginning to end.
For the draws, Montreal had overwhelming possession for the first 15 minutes, but after that it was all Seattle. For San Jose and Atlanta it was just a lot of back and forth with neither team possessing the ball for large swaths of time.
The game against New York Red Bulls is the one that stands apart. The Sounders scored against the run of play in the first half and then ceded possession to NYRB until they tied it up early in the 2nd half. We'll get back to this game.
Now let's look at Cross Attempts:
- 30 (Loss - Vancouver)
- 29 (Draw - Atlanta)
- 27 (Loss - Houston)
- 18 (Draw - Montreal)
- 18 (Draw - San Jose)
- 5 (Win - NYRB)
From these numbers the obvious extrapolation is that the Sounders become cross happy when attempting to chase a result, whether tied or from behind. In only two games this season have the Sounders held a lead: San Jose and NYRB. For San Jose, a 0-0 game until the final 10 minutes, the Sounders attempted 18 crosses through the first 75 minutes. After that, they would not attempt a single cross. Is this notable? I'm not sure. The Sounders scored off a botched set-piece, and after that bunkered like their lives depended on it (frankly I'm glad their lives didn't depend on it because they'd all be dead). For the final 20 minutes of the game, the Sounders stopped crossing and they nearly won on the road as a result.
Now, looking back at NYRB, after the Sounders conceded the game tying goal in the 57th minute, their tactics changed. From that moment on, instead of the other games where Seattle lobs cross after cross in the box once they're chasing a result, in this game the Sounders attempted only one cross shortly after the reset and then attempted zero crosses for the final of the 30 minutes of game, scoring two goals in the process. I'm only noting this because it's anomalous. Does it mean anything? I don't know. To note: Lodeiro's assist to Morris in this game did not count as a cross, most likely due to the fact that this pass originated within 12 yards to the goal.
What's funny to me, or maybe it's more disconcerting, is that the Sounders have been doing this against not-good teams. When playing teams who made the playoffs last season, the Sounders have 1 win and 1 draw, good for 2.00 PPG. When playing teams who didn't make the playoffs last season (or didn't exist in the case of Atlanta), the Sounders have 2 draws and 2 losses, good for 0.50 PPG. It's not a good look.
Looking back since Schmetzer took over the team, the Sounders went 12-3-5 (W-L-T) down the stretch of the regular season and MLS Cup Playoffs. This season's 1-2-3 start is putting a little bit of a black-eye on this team of ours, punctuated by the gut-punch of this past game. Good or bad, the Sounders will have to figure out how to start being more varied and dangerous in their attacks, because it seems like the rest of the league has caught on how to slow them down.
Time for Gifs? It’s a hard “G”.
These Cascadia Cup clashes are always a spectacle.
It'll be weird having Super Fredy Montero transform out of the Rave Green.
Who knows what we're gonna see out on that field.
Interesting first half. I'm intrigued, though still concerned.
Wait, did referee Kevin Stott really call half-time on a corner kick?
While happy to see their old teammate again, the feeling didn't last.
The Sounders are up to their old crossing tricks again and not everybody is amused.
Keep crossing it! I'm sure it'll work this time.
I mean honestly, what's the worst that could happen if Seattle took a chance and tried something different?
Hey look, the Sounders scored!
Now things are really heating up.
Oh, nope. Nevermind.
Just one of those standard game-tying goal cleared off the line and then a Whitecaps player grabs the ball with his hands and referee Kevin Stott calls the game instead of a foul type of finishes. No big deal.
It's clear that time away from Seattle has made Montero a cold-blooded player without remorse.
Onto next week. I guess.