In Brian Schmetzer’s first season and a half, it was the runs his team went on for the second half of the season that was the defining piece. Specifically it was Schmetzer’s ability to get his team to come out for the second half of matches with some minor tweaks, energy, and a drive to get a result. That post-orange-slice-and-water 45 minutes have not been nearly as effective for the Sounders this year, with the Rave Green consistently losing results in the second half.
Seattle’s match against Real Salt Lake marked the fifth time this season Seattle has dropped points from their second half performance. In Seattle’s 12 matches they have a 3-7-2 record and of their seven losses, five were a draw at halftime. In every loss this season and the Columbus draw, the Sounders have failed to score in the second half.
The Sounders comeback win against DC United marked a change from the rest of this season; they came back after adversity. Seattle had yet to come back after going behind in the 2nd half, and only once had Seattle improved their result in any way in a second half. Nico Lodeiro and Magnus Wolff Eikrem’s goals hopefully are the start of a new trend for Schmetzer’s 2018 second halves.
The relative lack of success in second halves is a stark comparison to the last two seasons under Schmetzer:
Prior to Schmetzer taking over, Seattle was not struggling tremendously in second halves and were able to grind out an extra four points in second halves over Sigi’s final 20 matches. This was largely boosted by grabbing late goals against Columbus, DC United and Montreal after entering halftime at 0-0. Seattle was rather volatile, losing three matches that had been tied in at half. The bigger issue under Sigi was an inability to come back from losing at half. Seattle was losing at halftime 10 times in those 20 games, and only were able to get a result in one of them (a 94th minute Chad Marshall goal in Houston). The inability to claw back led to Seattle carrying a -1 GD in second halves under Schmid.
After taking over for Schmid, Schmetzer had 14 matches as manager to close the season and went 8-4-2. In those matches, the Sounders improved their result in six matches from halftime and came back from conceding a second half goal in another. Three of Seattle’s four draws were impacted by second half goals. In Schmetzer’s first match, they were 0-0 at half and drew the Galaxy 1-1 (after scoring in the 49th, they conceded in the 78th). In the other two draws, Seattle was losing at one point (Houston in the 75th and San Jose in the 20th) and a late goal brought Seattle back.
Of Seattle’s eight wins to close 2016, four of them were draws at halftime. The first two were home matches against Portland and Vancouver, with the next two coming on the road against LA Galaxy and the Whitecaps again. In those matches Seattle was +6 GD in the second half. Only once did Seattle crash in a second half, as they fell 2-1 in Frisco after taking a winning scoreline into the half against FC Dallas. Overall, Seattle was +7 GD in the second half and they gained six points versus what they would have earned with their halftime score. They made the playoffs with a four point cushion, meaning that the halftime inspiration/changes took Seattle into the playoffs in 2016.
In Schmetzer’s first full season in charge, it wasn’t as big a difference. Seattle only gained an extra two points from what their halftime results were, though they had a +9 GD in final 45 minutes. The Sounders earned additional points in eight matches, but dropped points in seven. Knowing that Seattle is streaky, splitting into the first half of the season and the second half of the season shows where Seattle really succeeded.
For the first 17 matches of the season, Seattle dropped points in four matches, having two draws turned into losses, a win turned to a draw, and a win turned into a loss. Seattle did turn two matches from a loss to a draw and one from a draw to a win during that first half of a season. Seattle dropped four total points in second halves, and had a -5 GD in the first 17 second halves to start the season. Similar to 2018, the beginning of the season was full of injuries that caused selection issues, like being forced to start Jordy Delem at RB. The summer saw TAM reinforcements Kelvin Leerdam and Victor Rodriguez assist in a transformation.
The second half of the season Seattle turned it on with a +14 GD in the second half to gain six additional points. Seattle was losing three times at half and turned it into a result, two draws and a win. They turned two additional draws into wins. The Sounders did lose one match they were tied in and drew one other match they were leading at halftime. The second half of the season matched up with Schmetzer’s 2016 run.
Seattle has had one positive result this season in the second half prior to the DC United game, their win over Toronto FC. In five other matches, Seattle has taken a draw to halftime five times only to lose it in the second half. This might be a tad misleading, as the Rave Green have dropped a total of one point from second half results and a -6 GD, owing to their generally already being behind by half. Of the second half -6 GD, two of those goals are from the FC Dallas match where Seattle was already down 1-0 at halftime before ultimately losing 3-0.
Discipline might be an easy thing to point to, but in Seattle’s three red card matches only one of the results changed post-red card.
Why Seattle is having trouble taking over second halves as was done consistently in the past is unclear, and a lot of reasons could be at fault. With Seattle playing a lot of young players, composure and a lack of professional experience could impact their ability to see out games. The injuries have added up to having players who are not 100% playing, which only multiples the impact of fatigue and potential lapses in focus. The injuries also have led to players playing out of position or with players they aren’t normally paired with (midfield-defense pairings like Francis/Nouhou and Leerdam/McCrary), and that could lead to tactical changes not being implemented as intended.
Something may have happened against DC United to get the team back on track. Thirteen minutes in Seattle looked to be dealing with the same problem again, going down a goal early in the second half. An offense that couldn’t find the back of the net, no matter how many chances it got. Was it something with halftime talks or tactical changes being different than Schmetzer has tried in the past?
Shoulders didn’t drop, players didn’t get frantic, they just stayed calm and quickly found a goal through their captain. They kept up the pressure and dealt with the adversity of a Kelvin Leerdam injury, forcing Cristian Roldan into RB duty. Roldan to Wolff would lead to another goal, and the team locked it down. Substitutes making large impacts and players remaining focused have been large issues once falling behind in the second half in 2018, but against DC it wasn’t different. The players had belief, effort, and attention. The DPs (and TAM players) took control of the game.
Summer windows typically see the Sounders add at least two impact pieces, with all three summers under Garth adding TAM and DP talent for a late summer run. The season dividing into two halves, a slow start and a fast finish, has become a norm (though not one the majority owner is stoked with). This summer is setting up to be no different and if the team’s DPs and TAM players are healthy and take over matches like they did against DC United - as opposed to the rest of the season - then Seattle can make another run to the playoffs.