When the Seattle Sounders returned home high on their big 3-0 win away to the LA Galaxy, they had planned (and hoped) to continue that good form for their two-match home stand. It didn’t quite work out that way. The Sounders now head to Chicago later this week having only taken a single point from those two matches. It’s not as if they were completely horrible, but they simply weren’t able to do enough to win. Head coach Brian Schmetzer fully admitted as much, but suggests his team is only going through a "mini-slump" and that soon their hard work on and off the pitch will pay dividends.
Against Toronto FC last weekend, Schmetzer said his team was very lackluster from kickoff, lamenting that it was probably one of the worst first 45 minutes of a match all season. There were also the many "if" situations, in which little things killed promising attacking moves. Schmetzer said that if, as has been the case most of the season, those "half-chances" had found the net, the games would be completely different. But as he said after the match on Saturday, "that storyline is getting a little tired."
As tired as that storyline is, it’s the thread running through the Sounders’ season so far. Schmetzer wasn’t ready to call it a full-blown slump, though, because not only has his team won and drawn some impressive results, they still played particularly well in matches in which they lost. He specifically called out the matches against Vancouver, LA, New England, and Toronto as being subtly different, while having some pretty big stuff in common from a Sounders perspective. "We’re murdering teams in possession and in the final third in possession, but we’re shooting ourselves in the foot in every game in a different fashion."
Fixing these issues is obviously no easy task, especially for a head coach who is in his first full season at the helm of an MLS squad. The first step to finally turning possession into goals and wins, according to Schmetzer, is for the coaching staff to get the team training harder and better — though he has often said that he is pleased with what he sees in their sessions. The coaching staff needs to help forwards and other attacking players "believe that they can score. We gotta give them the tools, the training. That’s on us to make them feel good about how they’re playing."
The Sounders have notably had issues against the kind of teams that sit back and bunker, often resorting to aimless crosses to one teammate that’s in a sea of defenders. Schmetzer identified Toronto’s 5-4-1 formation as being particularly hard to break down, and that he’d like his team to move the ball quicker. "I think we just need to play a little faster, because once teams bunker in it’s hard for any team." He also thinks their decision-making in dangerous areas could use some improvement: "sometimes I don’t know if we’re able to see that pass or risk that pass that kind of stretches them vertically before they can bunker."
As the team prepares for a lengthy road trip at Chicago this weekend and Sporting KC the following Wednesday, Schmetzer is mostly concerned with his players doing right by themselves. "I think the players work too hard to not reward themselves and I think that’s the frustrating part," Schmetzer said. "They know they’ve put the effort in, they know they’re playing good soccer." He believes that with more hard work and repetition, his players will finally get the payoff they deserve with some big wins.