When a 10th place teams goes on the road against the Supporters’ Shield leader, chances are they will attempt to keep the score low, cede a lot of possession and play for a point. It’s a pretty common soccer tactic. Heck, the Seattle Sounders have had it happen to them plenty of times, even as recently as this season (the LAFC and Columbus Crew games are good examples).
So it wasn’t exactly shocking that this was the exact strategy deployed by the Sounders when they visited Atlanta United on Sunday. To their credit, the Sounders did a pretty good job of it, too, at least in the first half. Although the possession stats were pretty well skewed in Atlanta’s favor, the Sounders had more shots (6-5), shots on goal (2-1), had completed nearly as many passes in the offensive third (24-27) and took a 1-0 lead into halftime courtesy of a Nicolas Lodeiro penalty.
The idea that they were simply parking the bus and hoping for the best doesn’t pass the simple smell test.
Things obviously changed in the second half. The Sounders did not start particularly strong, found themselves on the back foot from the opening minute of the second half and gave up the equalizer in the 48th minute. Atlanta pretty well dominated from there and things only got worse after Jordan McCrary was sent off with his second yellow in the 63rd minute.
Sure, you could reasonably argue that the Brian Schmetzer’s big mistake was being too timid with his subs. He had Raúl Ruidíaz, Gustav Svensson, Kelvin Leerdam and Osvaldo Alonso all on the bench. None of them were apparently 90 minutes fit, but surely at least one of them could have gone 30 minutes. Who knows how the game would have gone if, say, Leerdam had been brought on for McCrary, who was sitting on a yellow card? Maybe Ruidíaz enters for Bruin and stretches Atlanta enough to give the Sounders the extra room to make more of a game of it?
But once McCrary went out — and certainly once Chad Marshall was forced off with a hamstring injury — buckling down for a point made sense. I understand that one point in the standings only feels moderately better than zero, I’m just not so sure the players feel the same way. Instead of embarking on a series of virtual must-win games coming off a loss, the Sounders enter this stretch on a three-match unbeaten run in which they’ve allowed just two goals.
This team is in desperate need of confidence. Brian Schmetzer understands that as well as anyone.
Momentum, thy name is Sounders
Admittedly, three straight unbeaten would normally not be considered anything to get excited about. But considering it was an achievement the Sounders had yet to accomplish this year, I’m sure they’ll take it.
Unscientific as it may be, this is partly why I was totally OK with Schmetzer playing to preserve the tie. There have been at least a couple false dawns this year, but this feels like it might be sustainable.
The Sounders head into an absolute must-win match with the Vancouver Whitecaps playing the best defense they’ve played all year, as healthy as they’ve been all year and featuring a striker who’s surely looking to make an impression on his new fans. That the Whitecaps will have just played a Canadian Championship game in Montreal on Wednesday is just another reason the Sounders should be feeling good.
As a famous mountaineer once said, every summit begins with a few steps (or something like that).
By now, you’re probably aware that I’m pretty fond of Shipp’s somewhat understated game. He didn’t do anything spectacular in this one, but he still managed to make an impact with some clever plays.
There were at least a couple switches that helped open the field, he completed 17 of 18 passes and nine of those completions were forward. He also contributed on the other side of the field with 11 defensive actions, including two tackles and two interceptions.
It was the kind of game he’s become known for since joining the Sounders.
Shipp came to the Sounders as a bit of an unknown quantity. He had not played a ton the year before in Montreal, but had also accumulated 10 goals with 14 assists in his first two years with the Fire. I suspect most Sounders fans expected him to be a bit of a creative force, maybe someone who could back up Nicolas Lodeiro.
The reality has been different. He’s proven capable as a wide player and has some interesting components that might make him a decent No. 8. Regardless, he’s a player who moves well and reads the game as well as anyone.
I’m not sure what his best role is or how he’ll be utilized going forward. One way or another, though, he deserves to be on the field.
These are the VARs of our life
No discussion of the game would be complete without addressing the many potentially game-changing calls that went for and against the Sounders. MLS Rewind did a good job of summing them up here.
If you didn’t have time to watch that, here’s what they looked at:
- Leonardo Gonzalez Pirez diving near the penalty area and then only seeing yellow after elbowing AND slapping Lodeiro. At the very least this should have been two yellows. But even if you think giving a yellow on the dive was harsh, LGP has to consider himself lucky on that play with Lodeiro.
- Josef Martinez head-butting Chad Marshall. This wasn’t super obvious at full speed, but the AR was right there and VAR had plenty of time to look. How Martinez gets away with nothing is beyond me.
- Kim Kee-hee tackling Chris McCann on a corner kick. Yeah, probably should have been a penalty.
- LGP blocking a Will Bruin shot with his hand. I’m actually OK with the no-call here.
- Franco Escobar blocking a Harry Shipp shot with his hand. This is a very similar play to the one that didn’t get called, but I’m OK with the penalty decision if only for accumulation.
- Not reviewed in the above video: The first yellow to Jordan McCrary seemed pretty soft, especially considering some of the other stuff that went unpunished; Victor Rodriguez embellishing a forearm to the chest, which probably should have been a yellow.
There was a lot going on in this game on both sides. Call me a homer if you want, but I tend to think Atlanta ended up benefitting even though the Sounders were the only team to actually turn punishment into a goal.
More broadly, this was not the best showing for VAR in front of a record in-stadium crowd as well as the biggest-ever TV audience.
The game in one gif
Atlanta fans may have not liked it much, but the first half was a pretty impressive display from the Sounders. The second half was not so great and it would have probably gone full train wreck if this had resulted in a goal.
No idea how ATL didn't score here. pic.twitter.com/EdAa2sLx52— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) July 15, 2018
Quote of the day
“It was a surprise for me because when he touched the ball I thought, ‘Oh, no. I missed the penalty.’ I got lucky. Sometimes, I need it. It was good for the team too, because we needed that.” — Nicolas Lodeiro, who gave a rare interview in English
One stat to the tell the tale
44 — Atlanta put in a rather remarkable 44 crosses. If it seemed like the Sounders were spending a lot of time defending the penalty area ... they were.