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Sounders vs. Toronto FC, recap: Controversial penalty, ineffective offense combine for frustrating result

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In a fairly even match that could have gone either way, referee Jair Marrufo became the deciding factor in Toronto’s 1-0 win.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — In a game set up perfectly for the Seattle Sounders to get their season back on track, they instead turned in one of their most frustrating performances of the Brian Schmetzer era. With Toronto FC missing four starters, the Sounders fell 1-0 despite once again dominating possession. The loss ended a 14-game home unbeaten run, all but one of which came under Schmetzer.

The performance featured an early Jordan Morris goal disallowed for offside on a player who didn’t actually touch the ball — although arguably affected the play — and a penalty given to Jozy Altidore that, at the very least, seemed awfully soft. The Sounders also had their a penalty shout of their own, when a Clint Dempsey shot struck the outstretched arm of a defender, but mostly had their selves to blame for a lack of good scoring opportunities.

The much-hyped MLS Cup final rematch between the Sounders and TFC started in a slightly-deflated state—the away side chose to leave multiple starting players at home, citing fixture congestion. Even without Sebastian Giovinco, Victor Vazquez, Eriq Zavaleta, and Steven Beitashour, Toronto’s lineup still contained dangerous players like Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. Seattle’s only change from last week against New England was to bring on Roman Torres in central defense, replacing Tony Alfaro. Brad Evans started on the bench, making the matchday squad for the first time this season. Despite their usual possession advantage, sharp passing, and slick technical ability, the Sounders just couldn’t find a way to break down a very stubborn Toronto defense. The lone, controversial goal for the away side ended up being the only one of the match.

The Sounders kicked off the match with far more energy than their opponents, who switched from their familiar fast attack-heavy 3-5-2 to a more conservative four-defender formation. Seattle nearly broke through after just a few minutes, when Morris glanced a Cristian Roldan free kick down towards goal. The ball bounced and flew into the back of the net, but Gustav Svensson was adjudged to have interfered with the play when he attempted to guide the ball in himself after being in an offside position after Morris’ header.

Both teams traded attacks for the next 15 or so minutes, but Toronto managed to get on the scoresheet in the 23rd minute through a Altidore penalty kick. Altidore seemed to stop rather than chase the ball, allowing Roman Torres to run into his back, but Jair Marrufo made the call and Altidore buried the spot kick.

The Sounders came agonizingly close a number of times after the goal, most notably from Morris after he got the ball after a free kick that pinballed around the box. The ball was at his feet, but he didn’t have time to make an effective shot and it was easily saved. Dempsey had another similar chance, but Toronto’s packed defense denied him the time and space to do anything with his chance. The away side probably had the best chance under 40 minutes, after some great combination play gave Altidore an excellent shot on goal that Frei had to leap high and left to parry it (where have we heard that before?) out of play.

The first half saw the Sounders secure 63.4% of possession, 85.3% passing accuracy, and seven total shots—with only one on goal. They fired in eight open play crosses and attempted a total of 327 passes.

Buoyed by their lead, Toronto came out after halftime with confidence and speed, bombarding Seattle’s final third constantly. A few fouls (and a yellow card for Osvaldo Alonso) slowed things down and allowed the Sounders to balance out the game. Seattle continued its strong possession game into the second half, but they also continued their sheer inability to turn that possession into legitimate chances on goal in the opening minutes. Dempsey had the first big chance after turning a defender inside out at the top of the box, but his subsequent curling shot was gathered by Clint Irwin.

Seattle continued knocking on the door of Toronto’s goal, and they were denied yet again by a controversial decision, though this time it was non-call regarding a handball in the box from a Dempsey shot. Replays appeared to show it hitting a flailing arm but were not conclusive. Toronto mostly stayed content with sitting behind the ball and wasting copious amounts of time. Brian Schmetzer brought on Harry Shipp earlier in the half for Jordy Delem and Flaco Fernandez for Morris after 70 minutes.

The final 20 minutes didn’t yield much, as both teams continued in the same vein that they had all half. Seattle constantly tried to attack, resorting to either crossing from wide areas or losing the ball near the top of the box. Toronto, on the other hand, was happy to park the bus, waste time, and occasionally counterattack when the Sounders were caught flat-footed. Nothing came of their numerous attacks, and they only managed a couple shots on goal the entire half.

The loss leaves the Sounders on 10 points through nine matches, shockingly three points fewer than they had at the same point last year.