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Postgame Pontifications: Depression in the Heart of Texas

Let’s hope this is as bad as a week gets for the Sounders.

MLS: Seattle Sounders at FC Dallas Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

As two-game weeks go, they don’t get much more dispiriting and frustrating than the last one for the Seattle Sounders. It started with news that Nicolas Lodeiro picked up a foot injury in training and continued when Will Bruin and Chad Marshall were forced to leave the Chivas match early. Those factors all figured significantly into two 3-0 losses, the first to a Chivas team that was languishing near the bottom of the Liga MX standings and the other to an FC Dallas side that had won just 3 of their last 18 matches dating back to last year.

Just to add a little salt to the wound, Clint Dempsey went and got himself a red card against Dallas, meaning the earliest we’ll see the Sounders play at anything like full-strength will be April 15 (yes, the Sounders really only have one more game between today and then).

I’m not here to tell you to not freak out. The Sounders legitimately looked like crap in their past two games. Their defense just gave up as many goals in the span of four days as it had in the last 11 games of 2017, they’re looking particularly thin at forward, and their reliance on Lodeiro to make the offense work doesn’t appear to be any less the case than it was last year. Oh, and there’s not even a whiff of an incoming transfer that would ease any of our concerns in these areas.

All I can do is remind everyone that the Sounders started 0-2 in 2016 and had only one point through two games in 2017. Those two years ended up fine, obviously, but we had also hoped to avoid those types of frustrations this year.

This has also opened the Sounders up to some criticisms about how they set their priorities this year. There’s no denying that putting so much emphasis on CONCACAF Champions League has hurt them in MLS play.

But, like I maintained when this first came up, I think it was not only the right choice, but one they almost had to make. Garth Lagerwey has been talking about the importance of this tournament since he was first hired and doing anything less than they did this week would have caused us to second guess just about every public statement he’s made since then.

What we learned, though, is that for all the progress the Sounders may have made in terms of improving their depth, they still aren’t at the point where they can compete on two fronts while missing significant players. I suspect things could have been different if they’d at least had Lodeiro for these matches. Unfortunately, we’ll never know.

Here’s the other stuff that caught my eye:

Depression in the Heart of Texas

Full disclosure: I did not watch this weekend’s game live. Unlike virtually every game, I opted to watch this one on tape-delay. I knew the result before watching, had seen replays of Clint Dempsey’s red card, and came into the rewatch expecting the absolute worst.

Weirdly, I came away from the rewatch less discouraged than I thought I’d be.

The first 15-20 minutes were bad. Really bad. Most of the second half was not great either. But I thought the Sounders were actually finding the game after the first goal. Magnus Wolff Eikrem, in particular, had two very good looks at goal and Handwalla Bwana was one slightly better-timed run away from scoring off a Kelvin Leerdam cross. It’s entirely possible the Sounders score on one of those chances, Dempsey still gets his red and the game goes a very similar direction it ultimately did.

What’s more frustrating is the degree to which Dempsey’s red totally destroyed the Sounders’ momentum. Similar to the way the game unraveled after allowing the first goal against Chivas, the Sounders seem to generally be reacting poorly to adversity. They’re going to face a lot of adversity throughout the year and they’ll need to deal with it better than they have been.

But what about the card?!?

I went into my first watch of the game mostly annoyed at Dempsey for the card, especially given that the first replay I saw seemed to show him pretty aggressively slapping an opponent’s crotchel region.

Upon watching the game, though, the replays offered a bit more of a nuanced interpretation. On this angle, I think you can plausibly say he was just trying to get his wrist free and that any contact with the defender was incidental.

In the end, I’m still frustrated, but for slightly different reasons. I think a red card was a reasonable interpretation (just like the VAR red card he got in the regular-season finale last year), but I’m also not convinced it was clearly violent conduct or even particularly dirty. While I don’t think this is something the Sounders should even bother to contest, I don’t think there’s much reason to worry that he’ll get any additional punishment.

The wider issue is how Dempsey keeps finding himself in these situations. There should be little doubt that he has a reputation for this sort of off-the-ball stuff and that referees are looking for it. With VAR, he’s just not going to get the benefit of the doubt and he needs to adjust his game accordingly. Dempsey is far too important of a player to be allowing himself to get sent off for perfectly avoidable incidents like this. Whether or not this was 100 percent the right call, he needs to be smarter about not giving referees a chance to make it.

Shaking off the rust

On a day full of forgettable performances, I thought Nouhou and Roman Torres stood out as particularly bad. Nouhou repeatedly got beat on the left side, allowing Michael Barrios to round him on several occasions and repeatedly put the defense on its heels. Torres, meanwhile, still looks to be regaining fitness after an offseason that was possibly a bit too much fun. Torres was late to react several times, including on two of the goals.

If there was one bright spot, though, it was the return of Kelvin Leerdam. Not only was he one of the few players showing some fight, he also put in some dangerous crosses. My hope is that with a couple more weeks to get to fitness, the Sounders defense can return to the form that helped them reach two straight MLS Cups.

The Game in One Gif

Truth be told, any of the three FC Dallas goals could have been selected but let’s go with the first. So much is wrong here, starting with losing the ball at midfield. Nouhou then loses his man on the wing, seriously putting the defense in trouble. Torres cements the breakdown by inexplicably breaking for the cross (which is plausibly covered by both Chad Marshall and Stefan Frei), leaving his man completely unmarked at the back post. It really was the simplest of finishes at that point.

Quote of the day

“Well, it’s not good enough, number one. We need to play better. I don’t mind if teams beat us and they play better than us, but before the red card, we didn’t play up to our potential. That’s something I have to take responsibility for, making sure the team comes out right, plays better, and away from home it’s always difficult.” - Brian Schmetzer

One stat to tell the tale

4 — Chris Penso has been the center referee nine times in Sounders games. He’s now shown a red card in four of them, twice to Obafemi Martins and twice to Clint Dempsey. Both of Dempsey’s reds have been after VAR. I don’t think there’s a genuine pattern here (he’s also shown a red card to the Sounders’ opponent twice), but when Penso is in the middle Sounders games rarely end 11 v. 11.

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