SEATTLE — It’s kinda crazy to think about it this way, but nine games into the season the Seattle Sounders are actually in a worse position than they were a year ago. Granted, the wheels started to come off the 2016 season in Game 10, but they were sitting on 13 points after nine games.
I don’t think anyone sees too many similarities — nothing about the team appears to be broken and that star above the crest has eased some of the negative emotions — but it’s a bit of a reality check about the hole the Sounders are digging themselves. As great as the finish was last year, we can’t fool ourselves into thinking that it was anything like normal or even repeatable. The Sounders have some issues that need addressing and earlier would be a lot better than later.
Could the Sounders do with less possession?
The one thing the Sounders have done in virtually every game this year is to out-possess their opponents. In fact, they’ve held the edge in that category in 8 of 9 games. The lone exception? The 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls.
The Sounders again had a rather dramatic possession advantage, 63.4 percent, but it seemed to hurt more than it helped. With Toronto FC putting 11 men behind the ball, the Sounders were reduced to a lot of crossing, again, and this time didn’t find any of the success they had against the New York Red Bulls. That was also the game where the offense looked its most crisp and they had their fewest number of crosses.
What’s this all mean? Obviously the goal shouldn’t be to simply connect fewer passes and give the ball away. They could, however, do with a bit more aggressive passing. Too often, it seems, the Sounders are content to pull the ball back and wait for numbers. We’ve seen Jordan Morris, in particular, do this a few times.
So without the incisive balls and forcing the action a bit, the defense has time to settle in and the Sounders are forced into crossing. The Sounders were just 1-for-19 on open-play crosses, which is just far too inefficient.
Seven of those crosses were provided by Sounders fullbacks, which mostly just serves to underscore how reliant they are upon defenders to supply the width. That’s partly by design — Brian Schmetzer wants his fullbacks getting into the attack — but it’s also a symptom of an offense that’s maybe a bit too content to work it around the the edges rather than forcing the action. Joevin Jones did a good job of getting himself into dangerous spots, he just can’t be the only effective wide player on the team.`
Fixing this is obviously easier said than done. But one way or another the Sounders have to figure out a way to build through the middle more effectively than they have this year. And, yeah, a high-impact winger would probably be a useful addition.
What to do about the No. 9
Coming off the Vancouver Whitecaps loss in which Jordan Morris was a non-entity, Will Bruin’s performances in the past two games were a bit of a revelation. Here was a forward willing to play like a true 9, staying high, holding the ball up and crashing the goal.
His limitations were on full display against TFC, though. Bruin did a decent enough job staying high, but that was pretty much the extent of his contributions as he somehow managed just 17 touches in 90 minutes. Tony Alfaro had 20 in just 15 minutes.
More than the number of touches was how little danger any of them produced. His only potentially dangerous moment came in the first half when he was on a 2-on-1 break with Morris, but his cross was easily dealt with and the danger was gone.
Bruin’s a great player to have on the roster. In some ways, he’s possibly an upgrade over Nelson Valdez — as his three goals suggest. I remain unconvinced, however, that he’s a better option than a fully-fit Morris.
That said, goals change games
I’ll start off by saying the Sounders only have themselves to blame for their predicament, but it’s not hard to imagine an alternate universe where Morris’ 5th minute header is allowed to stand and the game takes a dramatically different course.
What’s so frustrating about the goal being disallowed is that while it was the right call — Svensson was unquestionably in an offside position and made a play for the ball — I’m convinced the more I watch it that the ball was going in regardless.
Instead, there’s no goal, Jozy Altidore draws a soft-ish penalty and TFC never needs to come out of their shell. Similarly, Dempsey had a shot around the 60th minute that struck Benoit Cheyrou in his outstretched arm. It’s at least every bit the penalty that Altidore was rewarded. Who knows what happens if it’s awarded and the Sounders convert, as they’d suddenly have TFC on their heels with 30-ish minutes to find a winner.
The Sounders need to be good enough to overcome these kinds of setbacks — and there’s been far too many of these types of plays this year — but it’s worth remembering how close this game was to possibly going in a very different direction.
Stat of the game
13 — The Sounders had gone 9-0-4 in their first 13 home games under Schmetzer, and took a 14-game home unbeaten streak into Saturday’s game. Those streaks are now obviously dead. It’s a shame they went down with such a whimper.
Quote of the game
“The refs didn’t lose the game. At this club, we will never blame the referees for why we lose games. They have a hard job to do and they do their job to the best of their abilities. The fact of the matter is that we have to make plays.” - Brian Schmetzer