SEATTLE — The last time the Seattle Sounders lost an MLS match was back on June 17. That was about 10 weeks ago, the Sounders have gone 6-0-5 and are now the slight favorites to finish atop the Western Conference.
By only looking at the comments here over the last few days, you’d be excused for not realizing any of that. Why? The results of the last two games were well short of what the Sounders seemingly deserved.
The 1-1 tie with the Portland Timbers on Sunday wasn’t nearly as dominant as the tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday, but it also felt more like two points dropped than one point gained.
After weathering an impressive first 15 minutes from the Timbers, the Sounders settled in nicely, grabbed the lead and had by far the better scoring opportunities for the rest of the way. If not for a somewhat questionable penalty — as well as failing to get one of their own — the Sounders would have probably won this game even without putting away their numerous chances.
Like most of you, I went home frustrated by the result. But giving it some time to sink in, I think I’m more encouraged by the Sounders’ last two ties than I was by their wins in the previous two.
Unlike the 1-0 wins over Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United, the Sounders generated a ton of good chances. They moved the ball crisply, looked like they had a plan, and did just about everything right other than finish. They play like that the rest of the way and the results will come.
But those missed chances...
The Sounders posted a xG of 4.0 in the Portland game, according to American Soccer Analysis. That’s high. Very high. It’s the highest xG the Sounders have posted in a game all year and the second highest of any team in MLS this year. (The Sounders also had a xG of 3.1 on Wednesday, their third highest total of the year and the only time a road team has eclipsed 3.0 in MLS this season.)
A big part of that healthy xG was the sequence around Cristian Roldan’s goal, which ended up accounting for 2.5 xG all by itself (and five shots!). Even if you correct for that, though, the Sounders had a very strong offensive performance.
The two other big chances came off the foot of Jordan Morris, who twice got in behind the defense only to have his shot saved by Jeff Attinella.
The first of those showcased so much of what Morris does well. He reads the play well and makes a strong diagonal run that’s perfectly timed, controls the pass well, and his first touch takes him into a dangerous part of the field. But his left-footed effort isn’t struck quite well enough and Attinella makes a relatively easy save.
Good pass, good control, just doesn't bend the shot enough. pic.twitter.com/lbvtiXyohv— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) August 28, 2017
The second chance was even better, with Morris able to hit it first time on his stronger right foot. But that too was well covered by Attinella.
Man, he's going to want this one back. pic.twitter.com/CteOm7hjoy— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) August 28, 2017
Simply put, the Sounders need Morris to start finishing more of these types of chances. But to reduce his contributions down to whether or he not he’s finishing them does a disservice to what else he does.
Simply having the threat of Morris getting behind defenses like this opens up space for the likes of Nicolas Lodeiro, Clint Dempsey, and Victor Rodriguez. Teams simply can’t afford to stay compact in the midfield when Morris is sitting on the back shoulder ready to outrun virtually any defender in the league
Morris is also a bit underrated when it comes to his ability to help retain possession. No, he’s not winning a ton of headers at midfield, but he’s able to chase down balls over the top unlike any other attacking player. That, too, helps open space.
No one is going to call Morris a defensive dynamo, but he was active in this one by logging four recoveries and two successful tackles. Will Bruin, by contrast, had just two defensive actions and both came on corner kicks in the 2nd minute.
Right now, head coach Brian Schmetzer has basically been able to kick the can on deciding between Morris and Bruin. But after the international break, that’s going to be tougher. While Bruin’s scoring numbers are clearly better, there’s a good argument to be made that Morris gives the Sounders a better chance to win.
V8R is forcing that choice
It wasn’t hard to see how good Victor Rodriguez was in his debut, when he played 90 minutes and nearly took over the Whitecaps match. His substitute performance against the Timbers was a bit more subtle, but it was efficient.
Rodriguez completed all 13 of his passes, chipped in with a couple key passes and forced the Timbers into some tough choices during his 29 minutes.
More than any one stat or play, though, there’s just an undeniable sense that the Sounders are playing better when he’s on the field. He makes smart decisions, crisp passes, and never seems to lose the ball. When the Sounders are at full strength, he needs to be on the field.
So, let’s talk about Geiger
There’s nothing I enjoy talking about less than referees, but I have to this week. It’s not that any of his big calls were outright bad, in a vacuum they can all be defended and I’m not at all surprised none of these were overturned by VAR.
What’s frustrating, though, is the inconsistency. The seemingly blatant forearm put to Kelvin Leerdam’s head was a yellow...
Was actually Blanco, but pretty obvious on replay. pic.twitter.com/xNWLszEMVN— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) August 28, 2017
But the seemingly incidental forearm when Nouhou was coasting past Diego Chara was a straight red.
This is the play. Apparently he was ruled to have elbowed Chara. Not seeing it. pic.twitter.com/FEzRA0Cjkq— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) August 28, 2017
Leerdam jostling for position with Darren Mattocks is deemed a penalty...
Here's another view. Frei looks like he whiffed. pic.twitter.com/zEmHeen2k2— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) August 28, 2017
while Zarek Valentin’s incidental handling is perfectly fine.
Here's that no-call Valentin. Definitely hits arm. pic.twitter.com/LXqJ4W0C5W— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) August 28, 2017
None of these are “clear and obvious” mistakes, though, and it’s unrealistic to expect VAR to change them. That doesn’t make the lack of consistency any less frustrating.
2.35 — Since Schmetzer took over as head coach last July, the Sounders have gone 16-1-6 at home. That’s good for 2.35 points per game.
Quote of the day
“We felt like we were the better team today. We created chances, we were unable to finish them and similar storyline to Vancouver. ... We feel like the team that lost points today.” — Cristian Roldan