For the past few months, the Seattle Sounders have been doing just enough to keep their heads above water. It hasn’t been pretty, but it’s kept them within a decent run of a playoff position. Wednesday’s 1-1 tie with Orlando City wasn’t exactly disastrous, but it very well could prove to be a turning point.
It doesn’t have to be a negative turning point, mind you, but the Sounders have been playing with fire and finally got burned. How they react will define this season.
If they manage to steal three points in Portland, all is basically forgiven. They’d be sitting on 23 points and almost certainly in a playoff position with 16 games left to play. Nothing wrong with that, especially if you assume they’ve still got a couple pieces to add.
Based on recent road form, though, that’s probably expecting a lot. Realistically, a point would be considered a success and a loss is probably the most likely result, even given the Timbers’ poor form (2-5-2 in their last nine). The math still isn’t dire in that scenario, but the margin for error is getting perilously thin.
What’s frustrating is that they should already be in a good position. Giving up the equalizing goal on the final play after doing so much right in the preceding 94 minutes is just not something good teams do. A win would have left them on 22 points, tied for fifth and just two points out of second in the West at the midway point of the season. Yes, it’s only two points, but wouldn’t the standings look a ton better?
Where would we be without Bruin?
The acquisition of Will Bruin was not met with a ton of fanfare. He was, for the most part, a known commodity. A player who, given enough minutes, was capable of scoring in double-digits, but not really anyone’s idea of a game-changer.
Even he admitted he expected to be playing more of a backup role.
Yet, here we are at the midway point of the season and Bruin is leading the Sounders with five goals. Two of those goals came in games when the Sounders only scored once, and two others were last-minute equalizers. Those four goals have netted the Sounders five points, without which they’d actually be behind last year’s dire start and dead last in the entire league.
I’ve said I thought Bruin was a somewhat limited player in the past, but right now his limitations are at least known quantities. He’s also playing genuinely well, despite lugging around that brace. At the very least, he’s shown he belongs in this lineup.
No one else is finishing
Creating chances was, once again, not a problem. The Sounders squeezed off 13 shots and put six on frame, with all of those coming from inside the penalty area. My suspicion is that xG models will again suggest the Sounders were a bit unlucky. The frustrations were best illustrated by the 59th minute chance that ended with the ball pinging around in the box before Joe Bendik fell on top.
It started with some wonderful buildup. Osvaldo Alonso put Jordan Morris in on the wing. Morris controlled the pass perfectly and rounded his defender before putting in a cross to Bruin, who back-heeled it to an on-rushing Clint Dempsey. He hit it first time and reasonably well, but Bendik was able to close down the space and make the save. The rebound fell to Alonso, but Bendik was again quick to react and deflected the shot enough that it was easily cleared off the line.
There were, of course, others. Morris twice got in behind the defense only to have a bad touch let him down. The Sounders had several free kicks from dangerous spots that they weren’t able to do much with. Dempsey had a decent look at a header, and another on his left foot that he probably should have done better on that Bendik saved with relative ease.
It’s the same old story, though. This team simply has not finished well, and you need to go all the way back to April 29 to find the last time they’ve scored more than once. They’ve scored just six goals in the nine games since. The defense appears capable of limiting teams, especially at home, but, with so little room for error, it only takes one second of let down to ruin an otherwise strong performance.
The let down...
For most of the game, the Sounders defense did exactly what it had set out to do. Kaka had been given few chances to affect the game and the Sounders had limited Orlando City to one or two decent chances. Even as the game ticked down in the final moments, the Sounders seemed to have everything under control as they pushed their home shutout streak to 431 minutes (the second longest in team history).
Then disaster struck, and it started before Scott Sutter was left completely unmarked at the near post allowing him a open header for the equalizer.
First Cristian Roldan misses a tackle at midfield that allows Victor “PC” Pagliari to break into the offensive half and put the defense on its heels. PC pushes it ahead to Luis Gil, who then backheels it. At this point, PC doesn’t seem to be in a very dangerous position. But Roman Torres inexplicably seems more worried about PC going to the endline and allows space to cut back to where Henry Wingo is still trying to recover. PC easily splits Torres and Wingo, and Torres chooses to commit the tactical foul despite Osvaldo Alonso having the opening well covered and the Sounders outnumbering OC players 5-3 around the penalty area.
The free kick defending is just a disaster. Sutter is never picked up despite starting the sequence in a dangerous position and being a rather obvious potential target (he’s one of Orlando’s biggest bodies on the field). Torres is the player closest to him and probably in the best position to challenge, but he allows himself to be moved away by a much smaller player. The result is Sutter lining up a header with the only challenge coming from Roldan’s desperate attempt to get a foot up. Stefan Frei had no chance.
Stat of the game
3 — The Sounders have just three points at home in their last four games against Eastern Conference opponents. In the same period, they’ve got nine points against Western Conference opponents at home. Maybe it’s good that eight of their nine remaining home games are against the West.
Quote of the game
“You have to make sure it’s life-or-death in the penalty box, and certainly Kaka is a world-class player on the ball. But that’s no excuse to allow one or two guys open for a free header inside your penalty box.” - Brian Schmetzer