It’s been coming for perhaps a couple weeks, but the day arrived when the Sounders unbeaten run officially became a winless streak. The Seattle Sounders’ loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday was their first in three months, but it also meant they have not won in over a month as well. That’s five games without a win, longer than any winless run they had last year and as long as any they’ve had since closing out the 2013 campaign with seven straight winless games.
This surely overstates the degree to which the Sounders have struggled, but the reality is that they’ve all but squandered their chances at earning a first-round bye (SPI puts their odds at 21 percent).
Offense, where art thou?
Aside from a couple nice run of games, the Sounders’ offense has not looked much like a juggernaut, at least in terms of actual goals scored. The various metrics, though, were pretty bullish as the Sounders compiled one of the top xG in the entire league.
This was the Sounders’ second straight match where their xG was under a goal (just how far under is a subject of some debate), however, and it’s worth wondering if something has actually changed. In this case, it’s not hard to see that the team looks quite a bit different without Jordan Morris.
Will Bruin is a fine player. He does what he’s asked, finishes a fair amount of chances and provides the Sounders with a player who’s happy to create havoc in front of goal. What he isn’t, though, is a player who worries defenses about getting in behind. Whether deployed on the wing or up top, that’s what Morris was able to do.
Without Morris, teams have more ability to shrink the space afforded to the likes of Clint Dempsey, Victor Rodriguez and Nicolas Lodeiro and force them into even tighter passing windows. We saw this on display repeatedly against RSL, as the Sounders struggled to find open looks and were maybe a little overzealous with the ones they did find.
Good ball movement, but Dempsey's pass was a bit strong. pic.twitter.com/Dxirh0pUmN— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) September 24, 2017
It’s increasingly starting to look as though those players need someone who can stretch the field and open up space in order to be at their best. I’ve previously suggested that one solution might be to separate them a bit more by putting Dempsey up top, but another solution could be inserting Lamar Neagle and letting him try to stretch the defense a bit more.
Support the left
The other glaring absence from the field has been Joevin Jones, who has yet to reclaim his starting left back spot since his unapproved absence head of the last international window. Nouhou got the start there again and for all his promise, simply doesn’t support the offense in any substantive way that approaches Jones’ contributions.
Probably with instructions to pick his spots carefully, Nouhou took that to the extreme against RSL and barely entered the offensive third where he had just a single touch. Rodriguez was reasonably dangerous with the chances he had, but he had no one to interact with on the left wing and is probably why he drifted even more than we’re used to seeing.
I’m not a huge fan of average position maps, but this one shows a pretty glaring hole on the left side of the attack that illustrates what I’m talking about. I get why Jones was punished — assuming that’s what is happening -- but let’s hope the message has been sent and we can get back to an attack that utilizes the whole field.
Lions fed to Cristian
I know I’ve gushed about Cristian Roldan’s growth over the years, and while I won’t put this up there among his “best” performances, we did see a different side of him against RSL. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the altitude, maybe he was just trying to inject some life into his teammates, but whatever it was Roldan was on fire. His physical side was very much on display, and that was before he got elbowed in the face and then kneed in the groin a few minutes later.
His play was pretty good, too. He completed 93 percent of his 57 passes, had a match-best eight tackles and even won a wrestling match.
Even in defeat, it’s great to see a player like Roldan fighting so hard and giving so much to this team.
Stat of the day
2 — That’s how many times the Sounders had failed to register fewer than .99 xG prior to the last two games.
Quote of the day
"Nick is incredible, I don't know what the right word is. Nick is ageless, does that make sense? If anyone would walk in not knowing anything about Nick Rimando or Real Salt Lake and say he is 38 years old, he just comes up big when it is needed. Just the one that sticks out is that last save where he just, the two saves at the end the one time when he got his hand up against Dempsey the other one was the shot low to his left that he saved off the post. You need key players in every position but someone like a goalie is an isolated position who is the last man out there just one incredible save a game can win you the game for you and can spark something in the team and he had 2,3,4 tonight as usual. Nick could play until he is 45 perhaps if he keeps going like this. Age is just a number, he is incredible.” - RSL coach Mike Petke on Nick Rimando