Losses don’t come much more predictable than Wednesday’s. Despite the good feelings generated from the win over the weekend, the chances of the Seattle Sounders winning on the road against the New York Red Bulls on short rest were slim even if this team were in much better form than they are. That it ended with a respectable 2-1 loss was better than the Sounders deserved, but probably not worth getting too worked up over.
The Sounders head into the abbreviated World Cup break with a chance to lick some wounds as they try to turn this season around. Their next four games are against teams they should be competitive with, and it wouldn’t be out of the question for them to nab nine or 10 points from them.
Rather than using my normal format, I’m going to go over a few things I think we’ve learned and what we can expect moving into the next phase of the season.
Only as good as their health
A lot of garments have been rended over the degree to which Garth Lagerwey failed to build out the squad over the offseason. What this last week should have reminded us, though, is that the Sounders have a very competent team from 1-16 or so. Even without Jordan Morris, Handwalla Bwana, Gustav Svensson and Roman Torres, the Sounders looked like a team that should be able to be competitive. If the group they have today can stay reasonably healthy, there’s at least reason to hope they can be in a position to make a run once their post-World Cup reinforcements arrive.
If the injury bug strikes again and the likes of Victor Rodriguez, Osvaldo Alonso or Nicolas Lodeiro are lost? All bets are off.
Stop dry-docking Shipp (and release the Wolff)
In the last week alone, Harry Shipp has scored two goals while logging about 180 minutes over three games in two competitions. Mistakes have been rare, he’s consistently made dangerous runs, and he’s done well with the opportunities he’s been presented. You could probably make an argument he’s been the Sounders’ best and most consistent player over that period.
He’s a limited player; I’ll not try to argue he should be starting or even playing a ton when the squad is at full strength. He has shown, however, that he’s much more capable than some of the players who have seemingly been ahead of him on the depth chart.
While he hasn’t done it quite as consistently, much of the same can be said for Magnus Wolff Eikrem. Wolff has not put up great numbers, but he at least offers some creativity that has been absent for long stretches this year, and, now that the Sounders are getting healthy, he actually has some other talented players to link up with.
Simply put, the Sounders don’t have the luxury of benching players like this as long as they are playing short-handed and struggling on offense.
Need to be more than “hard to beat”
More broadly, I feel like Brian Schmetzer has become a bit too worried about putting out a team that’s “hard to beat” rather than one who’s “capable of actually winning games.” That’s the best explanation I can come up with for why guys like Shipp and Wolff have mostly come off the bench while someone like Alex Roldan was piling up starts.
Against the Red Bulls, we saw a bit of the same. Maybe it was due to health concerns, but I just didn’t understand the decision to go with a five-man backline while Shipp, Wolff and Dempsey were all on the bench. At the very least, I would have preferred to see Jordy Delem at center back in place of Tony Alfaro, who has not done anything to deserve starts.
To some degree, I think this will take care of itself. What Schmetzer can’t afford to do, though, is wait. It’s beyond time to start taking some bold risks with the starting lineup.
The Sounders’ next two games after the break are home contests against the Chicago Fire (June 23) and the Portland Timbers (June 30). They are virtual must-wins if the Sounders have any realistic hope of getting back to the postseason. They then travel to the Colorado Rapids (July 4), who are 0-8-1 in their last nine, a stretch that includes five home games. That’s another game the Sounders almost have to win if they are serious about making a run.
The next two games — possibly the final two before reinforcement(s?) arrive — are going to be tougher. First, they visit the New England Revolution (July 7) on three days’ rest. The Revs have just one win in their past six, but they’ve quietly put together a solid season and are 5-2-2 at home. They get a week off before going back to the East Coast with a match against Atlanta United, but that might be the toughest game on their schedule. A point there would be a virtual miracle.
If the Sounders can get at least nine points from that bunch of games, though, they’ll be on 20 points through 18 games. At the current playoff pace, the Sounders are going to need about 50 points to qualify, which means they’d need 30 points over their final 16 games. To put that in perspective, they got 29 and 28 points over their final 16 the last two years, respectively. That’s nothing to be super optimistic about, but it least gives them some hope.