I have had a difficult time watching the Seattle Sounders play this season. It's not because the on-field product is atrocious or abjectly tragic, it's merely that my schedule has seldom allowed for me to set aside the time it would take for me to participate in such masochism. Knowing that, I will admit to not having watched Saturday's game where Seattle lost to Chicago Fire 4-1.
Lucky me, right?
I spent Saturday celebrating Mother's Day by attempting to capture Jack the Ripper and in doing so, prevent a string of murders from adding more victims to the list. As Chief Commissioner Sir Charles Warren, it was my duty to ensure that my detectives and inspectors were Johnny-on-the-spot to capture this famed killer. Thanks to a healthy dose of revisionist history, we did it! And it only took two dead hookers to do it!
Throughout this time-transcendent experience of mine, the Sounders were active participants of another type of murder, a murder which found referee
Daniel Radford Jair Marrufo Mark Geiger Nima Saghafi a more than eager accomplice. Throughout my game, I checked my phone a little bit, saw the beautiful curler that Clint Dempsey scored and thought that maybe this is the day the Sounders don't go down early against the run of play.
I'm sure this game may have value if you're a fan of the Chicago Fire or if you're a sports psychologist. Someone somewhere could take a look at this game and write their entire dissertation on the psychological affect every goal, blown call, or crossbar shot.
When Seattle's 3rd minute shot goes off the crossbar, Sounders fans, players, and coaches are collectively internally screaming, "Not this again."
When Chicago is awarded a dubious penalty in the 23rd minute, for the second game in a row, hair is being pulled out all across the Pacific Northwest. Then the save. Then the encroachment. Listen up, MLS: calling back saved penalties is a bit of a sore spot for us Sounders fans, especially if the encroachment occurs by two Fire players before a single Seattle player. Tell me plainly, how did Seattle gain an advantage there? Congrats on gifting Chicago a goal.
The refereeing in this match was abysmal, there's no way around that. Missed penalties, missed DOGSO's, more missed penalties, soft red cards, it all adds up and it all takes its toll. Getting all of these "bad calls" in one game is an effective way to fill your season's quota for bad calls, ensuring the rest of the season has refereeing calls that are fair or, dare I say, tilted in Seattle's favor, but this endemic of poor refereeing is plaguing the Sounders and its getting in their heads.
I reviewed this game compared to the rest of the 10 games Seattle has played so far and I'm finding an alarming trend: in games where Seattle has a series of bad calls against them, the Sounders play poorly. This might fall into the "No, duh" category, but Saturday's game wasn't just a poorly played game. Seattle dominated the first 45 minutes. If the refereeing was "fair" and the woodwork was kind and Dempsey gets that 4th minute header on frame, we're talking about a first-half blowout. Like 4-0 blowout. But instead the Sounders went into half tied 1-1 feeling jobbed and pissed off and angry at their current situation because a referee is seemingly deciding the game against Seattle. Again.
Seriously. Gamestate matters.
When Seattle gave up the 2nd goal, there was a bit malaise occurring on the parts of our defenders. However, when an obvious DOGSO occurs a minute later with the referee swallowing his whistle, the spirit of the Sounders players broke, and the deluge began.
They didn't care if they gave up goals. Joevin Jones was awarded two yellow cards in two minutes, the second of which was softer than most of the non-calls for the evening. Imagine his surprise when the referee blew the whistle.
Okay, I'm ranting now. Breathe. Focus.
I looked at Realio's ratings for the Sounders matches this season, specifically the referee's scores. Here they are in order (remember that 6 is average for a referee in MLS (which is saying something): 7, 5, 8, 3, 3, 8, 9, 5, 2, ?. Our wins: 8 & 9. Our draws: 5, 3, 3, 5. Our losses: 7, 8, 2, ?.
Four games above average. Four games well below average (I'm anticipating Chicago's ratings to be suboptimal). Two games slightly below average.
Each game has multiple instances where a call one way or the other can determine the outcome. Take our Realio Referee Rated #8 Loss against Vancouver: Fredy Montero studs up kicked Cristian Roldan in the 53rd, saw yellow instead of red, and scored a brace to beat Seattle 2-1. That referee earned an 8.
My goal looking into this was to attempt to find a correlation between awful refereeing and the Sounders ability to mount comebacks. Seattle has four losses this season. In each of those four losses the opponent has scored first. These are the minutes those goals were scored: 20th (Houston Dynamo), 65th (Vancouver Whitecaps), 23rd (Toronto FC), 25th (Chicago). The Sounders have also been scored on first in two other games, which both resulted in draws: Montreal Impact (17th minute) and New England Revolution (15th minute). Both of those draws had Realio Referee Ratings of 5, the biggest marks in those games were that against Montreal, Laurent Ciman should've seen a red card in the first half or a second yellow at any stage, instead he was allowed to continue playing and to continue fouling.
In the other four games, Seattle either scored first and won (New York Red Bulls & LA Galaxy), scored first and drew (San Jose Earthquakes), or neither team scored (Atlanta United). Oddly enough, those latter two were the lowest Realio Referee Ratings for draws, both earning a 3.
Looking at all of these games then, I'm focusing on those 6 matches where we 1) went down first and either fought for a result or 2) didn't fight at all and lost anyway.
The only one I can clearly say is a #2 is Chicago, without a doubt. Houston and Toronto are a bit inbetween. I'm leaning #1 for Houston but a #2 for Toronto. The other three earn #1's from me.
Oddly, San Jose and Atlanta are both games where I think the Sounders gave up. Some atrocious refereeing just broke the will of the Seattle players. If it wasn't for a fluke goal by Nicolas Lodeiro against San Jose, that game might've been a loss or another 0-0 match akin to being suffocated by a pillow.
Those four games: Chicago, Toronto, San Jose, and Atlanta; those were the games where the refereeing was inexplicably bad. The Sounders have a history of imploding when those types of matches happen, most notably the Red Card wedding, and until Saturday we hadn't seen that level of self-destruction since then (last season's MIB erasure 3-0 game against SKC had a ref-rating of 9, so technically doesn't count for this argument).
1,200 words later, what does this all mean? On the surface, it would seem that when facing adversity, this season's Sounders don't fare well. But then images pop into my head of Seattle of crawling back from a 0-3 deficit to earn a draw against New England, or coming down from 0-2 on the road against Montreal to also earn a point and that somewhat throws a wrench in the idea of Seattle's fragility.
If you were to force me to come up with a five second elevator pitch to encapsulate the issues surrounding the Seattle Sounders' season to date, it would be the following: All the while struggling to find their identity and form in the attack, if the Sounders feel themselves to be victims of one-sided refereeing, they lose their competitive fire and dejectedly accept defeat.
That's not a good thing, not at all, because as we are all painfully aware, we cannot rely on the competency of referees in order to stay competent. The Sounders have to look themselves in the mirror and get some of that us-against-the-world mentality that brought them back from the brink of irrelevance to the top of the league. And they need to do it now, before it's too late.
Get to the Gifs Already
I'm proud of Chicago and their full stadium. Now to send them home unhappy.
Another crossbar. Terrific!
That's a PK? OK.
Stefan Frei saved that penalty with authority!
Hmm, no save on the re-kick though.
Pinpoint accuracy by Dempsey!
Hmm. Same foul, but this time no PK for Seattle. OK.
I feel like there's something shady going on.
PRO refereeing has consistently been able to blow my mind.
Another non-penalty for Seattle. The gifts keep on coming!
I... I don't even know what to say.
It's just bewildering.
It's okay though, Jones to the rescue!
This is bad.
The Sounders need to find a way out of this mess.
If we keep falling in the standings, it might be hard to recover.
And our reward is to play Sporting Kansas City.