SEATTLE — There are a few ways to look at the Seattle Sounders’ current form. The optimistic way is to see their franchise-record 12-game unbeaten streak as indicative of a team hitting their stride at the perfect time. The more pessimistic look sees them on a three-game winless run and at least four games removed from their last quality win.
Neither are wrong, necessarily, but we’d be silly not to at least acknowledge some frustrations over the past month or so. As head coach Brian Schmetzer said on Monday, “We’ve been grumpy [before] the last three games in a row and we’re still grumpy.”
To be sure, there have been positive signs in all three of their 1-1 draws, especially the road game against the Vancouver Whitecaps that saw them dominate large portions of the game only to be flummoxed by an outstanding performance from goalkeeper David Ousted. The Galaxy game, for instance, at least saw them come from behind to earn a point rather than drop two points after grabbing an early lead.
But the reality is that for all the dangerous spots the Sounders are putting themselves in, for all the shots they are taking, too few of them are finding the back of the net and their opponents are finding ways to score with far fewer chances.
Sitting just one point out of the top spot in the Western Conference with a game in hand certainly isn’t a bad spot to be in, but it’s hard to shake the feeling the Sounders should have been building a lead, not basically treading water over the past few games.
At least xG is a fan...
Say what you will about the accuracy of xG, it’s been pretty impressed by the Sounders over these past four games. My colleague Ethan Swenson did some digging and discovered that American Soccer Analysis’ xG model has the Sounders with an Expected Goal Difference of 7.72 over the past four games as opposed to an actual GD of just +1. This week, they posted 1.65 xG (which was third highest in all of MLS for the week) to the Galaxy’s .48. Each of the three previous weeks they have posted the league’s best xG (although last week’s 4.0 comes with a bit of an asterisk).
In other words, ASA thinks the Sounders should be winning rather handily while they are actually eking out results.
Even if we throw out ASA’s numbers, we’re still left with some pretty good evidence that the Sounders are underperforming right now. Against they Galaxy, they outshot their opponents 20-9 and in the three previous games they won the shots advantage 17-15, 25-8 and 21-8. Their inability to turn those shots into goals is even more stark when you consider that two of their five tallies have come from the penalty spot. In fact, Lamar Neagle’s goal was their first from the run of play since Jordan Morris set up Clint Dempsey on Aug. 12.
The consensus opinion seems to be that the Sounders are simply playing a bit too slow, and not moving the ball around fast enough to get clean looks. That theory seems to be at least somewhat supported by the fact that they’ve had 22 shots blocked over the past four games, including six against the Galaxy. Being that xG doesn’t take defensive positioning into account, this might help explain the gap.
The chance that wasn’t
The Sounders’ best chance of the night didn’t even go in the books. That was the absolutely gorgeous attacking sequence that saw Dempsey put Morris through on goal and Morris finish with the exact kind of chip so many were claiming wasn’t in his arsenal last week.
Of course, it’s all academic. The broadcast showed a conclusive shot that had Morris offside by about a shoulder length and it’s not like VAR could have overturned it anyway since the whistle blew before the shot.
It was still a nice sequence, though, and showed how Nicolas Lodeiro, Dempsey and Morris are capable of working together. Shame we won’t be seeing more of this for at least several more weeks.
Just how useful is VAR?
I don’t want to re-litigate the Roman Torres red card here. That’s been done. Either you think it was a foul or you don’t. Either you think it was DOGSO or you don’t. Either you think it should have all been called back because of Bradford Jamieson IV’s possible foul on Will Bruin or you don’t. By now, your mind is made up.
What remains frustrating is that we still have no sense of VAR’s role in this. Did someone in the booth tell referee Drew Fischer his calls were fine? Did Fischer refuse their advice to give it another look? We can only speculate.
Either way, I think most fans expected Fischer to at least give this another look. There were several points of contention on the play and some pretty compelling evidence that suggests the call on the field was incorrect. There was also a rather long delay while Fischer made sure Torres left the field and then set up the ensuing free kick. There would have been no significant additional delay if he’d chosen to use VAR. Maybe the net result is the same, but at least we have the satisfaction knowing the technology was at least used.
The other infuriating aspect of VAR is that it’s starting to look as though it’s being used to make sure the referee wasn’t wrong more than making sure they were right. That may read like word salad, but I believe there’s a significant distinction. One is simply looking to grant the referee plausible deniability of wrongdoing, while the other would be attempting to make the “correct” call. Referees don’t want “a closer look,” they just want affirmation that they didn’t totally mess up.
That may be in line with the directive PRO passed along, but it’s not going to satisfy fans who are growing increasingly frustrated with how this system is being used.
Welcome back, Fisher
At some point in the season, Oniel Fisher dropped almost completely off Schmetzer’s radar. Once a semi-regular starter and a regular late-game defensive substitute, he hadn’t featured in a match since June 17, a span of 11 matches.
The only reason he got the nod in this one was because Nouhou was on a red card suspension and Joevin Jones was apparently being punished for skipping out on a couple games without permission.
No one is going to come away feeling as though Fisher should be starting over either of those two, but he was solid and showed some of the promise that put him in contention for a starting spot early in the year. Aside from giving Romain Alessandrini a bit too much space on the cross that led to the Galaxy’s goal, Fisher contained the dangerous Frenchman. That was the only successful attacking pass Alessandrini had from the right side, he didn’t beat Fisher with a single dribble and his only shots were from more than 30 yards out. He also had six tackles, four clearances, and three recoveries.
On the other side, Fisher had a couple successful dribbles and was able to get into the box repeatedly. His most promising moment came in the 5th minute when he blazed past Bradley Diallo and picked out Dempsey at the far post, only for a bad touch to waste the chance. He also had this chance after pantsing Diallo and even having a decent shout at a penalty.
Stat of the game
2 — Torres may give fans heartburn whenever he starts creeping into the offensive half, but give the big man credit. His assist to Lamar Neagle was his second of the year, both of which allowed the Sounders to score late-game equalizers.
Quote of the day
“It was a little confusing at the beginning as to where you go. I’d never come into the stadium on a bus before so that was a little different. It was great. I had seven great years here, or whatever it worked out to be, and the fans have always been very, very supportive. Nobody was happier than me when they won the MLS Cup last year because that was something we were striving for. We built a really good foundation here and I was involved in the building of that foundation, and that’s something I’ll always be very proud of.” - Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid on his return to Seattle.