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Loss to Fire not as awful on rewatch, still unacceptable

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There was some genuinely good play before the wheels came off, but the predicament is still a bad one.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Chicago Fire
This wasn’t called a foul, btw.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

This is, admittedly, a solid day later than I would have liked to print it. But I always try to rewatch the game at least once before writing these and just couldn’t bring myself to sit through the game again until today.

Upon rewatching the first 70-odd minutes, I’m less down on what transpired. There’s simply no way around the frustration that comes with being on the wrong end of a 4-1 scoreline, but before the final two goals I have to say that I was almost impressed by what the Sounders were doing. In fact, just seconds before the 59th minute goal from David Accam, color announcer Taylor Twellman was finishing up a thought about how well he thought the Sounders were playing and how they had totally cut off what the Chicago Fire were trying to do.

So let’s dig into that a bit...

That referee was a disaster

I really don’t like that I’m using this space to write about some controversial referee decisions for a second straight week. I feel like I’ve mostly been able to avoid that kind of stuff. But, once again, it’s a topic you simply can’t avoid.

I’ll start by repeating what I said before, that the inexperienced Nima Saghafi didn’t cost the Sounders the game. What transpired over the final 15 minutes was entirely self-inflicted and unnecessary. Regardless of what happened before then, the Sounders need to have a long look at themselves over the seeming lack of effort and general sloppiness that led to the Fire’s final two goals.

BUT! We need to talk about some of the absolutely massive decisions that Saghafi made that had huge implications on where this match stood before the Fire’s last two goals.

We can go all the way back to 5th minute. That’s when Joao Meira takes a heavy touch and goes in on a hard, late tackle, taking out Harry Shipp. It’s arguably a red card offense that doesn’t even get a whistle. Then in the 12th minute there’s another, late, hard tackle from behind on Osvaldo Alonso that doesn’t draw as much as a whistle.

After letting those two go — presumably because the tackling player “won” the ball — Saghafi is more than happy to award a penalty to David Accam when Tony Alfaro’s challenge was safer, cleaner and made less contact with the opposing player. Saghafi follows that up by inexplicably allowing the Fire to retake their first attempt at the penalty even though their players were the ones potentially gaining an advantage by encroaching and Frei held the rebound anyway.

Just a couple minutes after the Sounders equalized, Saghafi had a perfect opportunity to “even things out” when Morris was taken down inside the box on a play eerily similar to the Accam penalty. If anything, this challenge was more dangerous as the defender took out Morris from behind. Nope, he decides on a corner kick.

Saghafi had one more chance to put the penalty situation right around the 60th minute when Cristian Roldan put in a lovely cross to Dempsey, who couldn’t get to it after being tugged from behind and tripped up. You know what happened.

There were also two instances where the Sounders put the ball in the net only to have the plays nullified for offside calls. One of them happened in the 31st minute when Nicolas Lodeiro apparently found Jordan Morris open on a quick free kick — we can only assume this is what happened since the ESPN cameras didn’t show the action. The second happened in the 56th minute when Lodeiro put Morris behind the defense and Dempsey was set up for an easy finish.

I should also state that the one tough call that Saghafi definitely got correct was the foul on Lodeiro at the top of the box in the 48th minute. I know it’s tempting to see the goalkeeper come out hard like that and assume it’s a DOGSO situation, but there were two other defenders in the area and a red card on Matt Lampson would have been pretty harsh.

To repeat, the Sounders have themselves to blame for this result, but to roundly ignore the role that nine! key referee decisions made in the game state before the wheels came off is doing any analysis some injustice.

Speaking of game state...

Even with those questionable calls, the Sounders bear some blame for not being in a better position when the game got into the final 20 minutes. Lodeiro hit the crossbar in the 2nd minute a chance he probably should have done better with; Dempsey had two looks at wide open headers that he didn’t put on frame; Morris was in on goal and chose to pass, again!; and the Sounders had several free kicks from dangerous spots that they couldn’t turn into shots on goal.

Through 58 minutes, at least, the Sounders were playing well, moving the ball and getting into dangerous spots. They were even doing it in ways that suggested they had learned from previous games, spending less time on the ball and attempting more diagonal passes. These are things that just jump out at you upon the re-watch. And, sure, Saghafi played a role, but the Sounders had opportunities to render the official less important and they failed to do that.

When the wheels came off

Almost without warning, the game totally exploded on a pair of plays that should not have happened the way they did. On the first, the Fire are just moving the ball around without much danger. The defense is set up, nothing weird appears to be on. Then a cross comes in and suddenly two Fire forwards are basically free. Nemanja Nikolic gets between Chad Marshall and Tony Alfaro to get a foot to it first and it falls perfectly to Luis Solignac who has been allowed to trot in completely unmarked by Jones. A couple minutes later, a equally innocuous series of passes results in Johan Kappelhof dribbling from behind midfield past Dempsey, past Svensson and no one steps to him until Alfaro’s ill-fated tackle attempt that leaves the Sounders somehow defending 1-on-3. Jones again lags behind the play and Roldan’s attempt to catch up is far too late.

Neither of those goals should ever happen. That they both happened in such a small time frame is almost inexplicable, giving the impression the defense just turned off.

The good news is that the truly embarrassing play was mostly limited to those moments. Assuming it’s not indicative of a team that has actually given up, I don’t think there’s a massive reason for worry and this game was not indicative of a roster that’s simply broken (as some have suggested).

The bad news, of course, is that we’re now on 10 points and just two wins through 10 matches. That’s really bad. As bad as last year was, the Sounders never dipped below 1.0 points per game after the fourth match of the season. A loss to Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday would leave them at .91 PPG. Of course, a win could also potentially vault them into a playoff spot, so the season is laughably far from over.

Stat of the week

2 — For the second straight week, the Sounders put just two shots on frame. For all the talk of good possession and taking shots from dangerous areas, the Sounders simply have to do a better job of forcing goalkeepers to make plays.

Quote of the week

Brian Schmetzer on the message to his team: “No one quits. No one quits. No one quits. They have to play like a team. Attackers have to play defense sometimes, defenders have to push up and help the attackers. We aren't playing as a team.”