If you can, try to remember back to late April. The Seattle Sounders were coming off a feel-good win over Minnesota United and preparing for a road game against LAFC. The primary transfer window was about to close, and I talked to Garth Lagerwey.
In hindsight, much of what he said looks pretty bad — and there was plenty to criticize even before that significant of a passage of time — but one line stands out to me now.
“I don’t mean to be condescending by saying we’re a decent team, but if you have some floor that you believe the team won’t fall below, it makes for more rational building strategy,” he told me at the time.
The Sounders have gone 1-4-1 since the day he said that, having been shut out in five of those games. They now find themselves 2-7-2 for the season, one game shy of equaling the most games they’ve ever fallen below .500 and doing so far earlier in the season than when their 6-12-3 start to 2016 cost Sigi Schmid his job. Perhaps even more telling than the record itself is that they’ve now been shut out more times (eight) than they’ve had goals scored (seven). That’s just one fewer shutout than they’d suffered in Brian Schmetzer’s first 48 matches as Sounders head coach.
To put a more statistical look on it, when Lagerwey talked to me about a “floor”, the Sounders had been averaging a perfectly respectable 1.6 xG in their five games (only six teams currently have a better xG for 2018). In the six games since, however, they’ve averaged 1.05 xG (only one team has a lower xG for the season).
My strong suspicion is that whatever floor Lagerwey believed this team to have, the Sounders have blasted through it.
It’s not just the losing
This week’s loss was more of the same. As usual, the defense was reasonably stout. Until Corey Baird put in a header off a rebound, the Sounders had looked perfectly capable of keeping a clean sheet. Daniel Acosta’s close range shot that set up Baird’s goal was only the second save Stefan Frei had been forced to make.
But again, the Sounders showed absolutely nothing going forward. Their five shots tied a season low, and they didn’t force Nick Rimando into making a single save while taking just two shots from inside 18 yards. Opta gave them an xG of .43, while American Soccer Analysis put it at .66, which would be their second worst performance of the season and the second time in three games they were below 1.0. By the naked eye, the only time they seemed remotely dangerous was when Victor Rodriguez found Harry Shipp with a pass into the box only for the resulting tight-angle shot go well wide.
It would be bad enough if the Sounders were losing games, but playing reasonably well. Through much of last season’s early struggles, it wasn’t that hard to see that if the Sounders continued to play the way they were that the goals would eventually come.
But these recent struggles have been different. They just don’t look dangerous. That’s just depressing.
There’s no question that injuries have forced Schmetzer’s hand quite a bit. Even accounting for Morris’ ongoing absence, the Sounders have not managed to field a best XI lineup. The only game they even started all three DPs was the road loss to LAFC and this week they were missing four of their above-max-salary players.
Still, starting a clearly-not-fully-fit Will Bruin was a choice Schmetzer may regret. By the 30th minute, Bruin was showing visible signs of fatigue and there were even hints that he may have re-aggravated his foot injury. The decision looked even more strange after the Sounders signed Felix Chenkam from S2 and then decided not to even suit him up for the match.
I understand that Schmetzer is going to trust veterans to a degree, but this seemed to be taking that ethos to an unhealthy extreme. Losing is bad, losing ugly is even worse, but losing without even learning about the young players you have? That just serves to make it all feel pointless.
Perhaps in a sign of how this season seems to be going for anyone associated with the Sounders, Nicolas Lodeiro was cut from Uruguay’s World Cup team. Even if we all knew it was a distinct possibility, it still has to come as a bit of a blow.
While there was originally some hope that he’d quickly return to Seattle to rejoin his teammates in an attempt to salvage the season, it now looks like he may need a bit of time to recover from the disappointment as Schmetzer said he wasn’t sure when Lodeiro would be available. From a human nature perspective, that makes some sense.
The Sounders don’t just need Lodeiro to be physically present, after all. They need Lodeiro to return to the squad fully engaged and ready to push his team. If that means he needs a few extra days to get his head straight, that’s a tradeoff the Sounders should be willing to make. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take much longer than that.
The game in one gif
A quality save followed up by an unlucky rebound. That kind of year.
Baird gives RSL a 1-0 lead over Seattle pic.twitter.com/AQ8HzxNh8Y— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) June 3, 2018
Quote of the day
“You can practice as hard as you want during the week and you don’t show up during the game, then what’s the point practicing hard? You have to put in that same effort. I’m not saying our team didn’t, but we lack that creativity, that spark, that bit of brilliance that set us apart from last year.” - Cristian Roldan
One stat to tell the tale
41 — Stefan Frei had 41 passes, not exactly an exceptionally high number for a goalkeeper. Why is it relevant? Cristian Roldan was the only outfield player with more passes (42). Kelvin Leerdam, who started at outside mid and played 63 minutes, had just 10, the lowest among starters.