SEATTLE — All it took was one big mistake at a particularly inopportune time for the Seattle Sounders’ historic winning streak to come to an end. That it was Stefan Frei, who has been arguably the biggest reason the Sounders were on this win streak in the first place, was particularly surprising.
As big as Frei’s mistake was — it was his pass that was intercepted, leading to Fafa Picault’s stoppage-time winner — there was plenty of blame to go around. The Sounders hit the post twice, missed several close-range shots and probably should have put the game away long before Picault got his chance.
Instead of effectively locking up a playoff spot — a win would have put them seven points clear with five left to play — the Sounders will go into Sunday’s game at the LA Galaxy needing some sort of result to continue to this momentum.
The Sounders came out of the gates blazing. Twice in the first seven minutes, Andre Blake had to come way off his line to keep Sounders attackers from getting 1-v-1 chances.
In the 8th minute, nearly took the lead again when Nicolas Lodeiro put a ball through the box that Victor Rodriguez just missed tapping into the net. It rolled all the way through to Ruidíaz, whose shot hit the post and rebounded out to Cristian Roldan. His shot off the rebound went just wide.
The Sounders maintained the pressure and were inches from taking the lead in the 16th minute. First Blake was able to tip a Ruidíaz shot over the crossbar. On the ensuing corner, Rodriguez hit a nearly perfect curling shot from about 20 yards out that completely froze Blake. The shot hit the upper 90 and fell harmlessly to Blake.
The first half took a decided turn shortly after that. First, Chad Marshall went down with an apparent head injury after Cory Burke head-butted him while going for a cross. He was able to return after several minutes, but then sat out the second half.
Almost as soon as Marshall returned, though, Ruidíaz went down with sprained ankle and was ultimately replaced by Will Bruin. Between the two injuries, the Sounders ended up playing down a man for almost 10 minutes and couldn’t seem to recover.
Over the final 30 or so minutes of the first half, the Sounders were out shot 4-1 and were a bit lucky to not go into the half trailing as Stefan Frei needed to make a sprawling save of a Burke volley from six yards out.
Point blank save from Frei. pic.twitter.com/Zyd6cJSzZQ— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) September 20, 2018
The Sounders dodged another bullet in the 65th minute when it appears as though Burke had given the Union the lead when he poked home a close-range shot. But VAR disallowed the goal after determining he was offside.
VAR waved the goal off because he was offside. pic.twitter.com/wXS7ZXKLpX— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) September 20, 2018
That seemed to wake up the Sounders a bit, and they nearly took the lead in the 76th minute when Kelvin Leerdam put a ball through the box that Will Bruin connected with, but not well enough to keep it on target.
Román Torres had another good look at a potential go-ahead goal, but his header from a Lodeiro corner kick was cleared off the line in the 85th minute.
After Jack Elliott was sent off for his second yellow in the 88th minute, it seemed like it was all lining up for a dramatic finish. That it was the Union who grabbed the late winner was highly unexpected. After Kim Kee-hee seemingly diffused a potential counter-attack by passing winning a long ball over the top and passing back to Frei, it all went haywire. In an effort to get back into the attack, Frei tried a short pass to Gustav Svensson. But he hit it both too soft and a bit behind Svensson, allowing the surprisingly pressing Picault to step up and intercept the ball. He calmly placed his shot through Frei’s legs.
Frei, who had been excellent tonight, gift's Philly a goal pic.twitter.com/g2dzo4eCKq— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) September 20, 2018
It was quite a ride
- Let’s at least take a second and appreciate what we just witnessed. The Sounders — a team many of us had left for dead a few months ago — set a MLS record by winning nine straight games in regulation during a single season. It was tempting to buy into the idea that they might be able to actually win out, but this was more a reminder of just how difficult it is to stack up wins in this league when the margins are so thin.
- If there was one reason to feel inclined to overreaction, it was the uncertainty surrounding the seriousness of the injuries to Marshall and Ruidíaz. The Sounders didn’t offer much in terms of hard updates following the game, but it’s probably notable that Marshall was allowed back onto the field after being evaluated by the third-party venue medical director and it seems as though his removal at halftime was more precautionary. It also seems worth mentioning that even though the Sounders called Ruidíaz’s injury an ankle sprain, he was wearing normal shoes with no visible heavy-duty wrap in the postgame locker room.
- Like all goalkeepers, Frei is not perfect. But the idea that he is somehow more mistake prone than other goalkeepers seems highly suspect. This is probably the second major mistake he’s made this year — frustratingly the other one cost the Sounders a point in stoppage time — but he’s waaaaaay on the positive side of the ledger. As much as he was beating himself up over the decision to go short on the play, I’m also more inclined to chalk this up to a physical error. The right thing to do there, especially at home, is to keep the ball and try to press forward for another scoring chance, not play it safe by booting it out of bounds. I suspect that’s the decision the Sounders will come to after watching the film.
90+3 — Picault
Sounders (4-2-3-1): Frei; Smith, Marshall, Kim, Leerdam; Alonso, Svensson; Rodriguez, Lodeiro, Roldan; Ruidíaz.
Union (4-2-3-1): Blake; Gaddis, Trusty, Elliott, Rosenberry; Jones, Medunjanin; Picault, Bedoya, Sapong; Burke.
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