SEATTLE — Stefan Frei understands as well as anyone that his position has virtually no room for error. As good as he’s been over the past five seasons and as many massive saves as he’s made, he surely remembers the handful of costly mistakes even more than the countless times he’s bailed out his teammates.
More than just about anyone else on the team, though, he’s always willing to own up to his errors. So it was little surprise that he made himself available following Wednesday’s loss in which his errant pass in the 93rd minute gave the Philadelphia Union their chance to score the winning goal.
“Saving my teammates butts is my job,” he said. “That’s what I do. When you make a mistake as a goalkeeper it never leads to anything pretty.
“It’s frustrating that it’s not even the goalkeeping that leads to a goal. It’s something we’ve been working on hard, distribution and not boot balls away and keep possession. You take a risk there, when you’re passing the ball around near your own goal. I think we’ve done exceptionally well. I think this is the first time we’ve gotten bitten. It doesn’t make it any easier.”
In the immediate aftermath of the game, Frei was openly questioning his decision-making process, suggesting he probably should have booted Kim Kee-hee’s backpass out of bounds rather than trying to play it to Gustav Svensson. I hope that’s not his takeaway.
Although Frei’s distribution might be his weakest attribute, it has improved considerably since he arrived here in 2014. This was probably his most notable passing mistake since that year when he chose to roam far outside his goal and clear a ball to midfield that ultimately led to a Vancouver Whitecaps goal.
I tend to think his instincts were correct on Wednesday. The Sounders were at home and chasing a goal in the dying minutes of stoppage time. It made sense to look to get the counter-attack going, especially considering the Union were down a man and had committed at least two players to pressing. If Frei leads Svensson to the outside just a little more, we’re thinking nothing else of it.
Equally ridiculous is the idea that the loss falls solely or even mostly on Frei’s shoulders. Up until his error, Frei had made at least two or three amazing saves, including one on Cory Burke from point-blank range and double-save early in the second half. If the Sounders had finished any of their numerous scoring chances, Frei wouldn’t have even needed to worry about passing that ball and could have safely booted it out.
Luckily, Frei’s teammates and coaches are well aware of all that, even if he knows he ultimately needs to deal with it himself.
“There’s not much to be said,” Frei said. “I’m so, so happy with the support I get around me. Things need to be sorted between these two ears, by yourself. They’re not going to go away because of other people’s comments.”
If history is any indication, Frei will come out of this just fine.
Speaking of those chances...
That the Sounders didn’t go into halftime with a multi-goal lead was a bit of a shame. In the first 20 minutes alone, they hit the woodwork twice and had three or four other quality chances. Although the attack wasn’t able to keep up that degree of pressure, they still generated a couple more decent looks later in the half, the best of which didn’t even result in a shot.
Victor Rodriguez had put Brad Smith in on the wing with three Sounders making runs into the box, including a wide open Will Bruin at the back post. All Smith had to do was gently lay a ball through the box and the Sounders likely score. Instead, Smith fumbled it away for a goal kick.
Of course, it was the kind of night that even when they put in good crosses they somehow managed not to finish those either. Twice they managed to put crosses through the box with both near- and far-post runners waiting. In both instances, the near-post runner whiffed on their attempts and the far-post runners couldn’t put their shots on target.
It’s tempting to suggest that the Sounders’ offense turned punchless once Ruidíaz came off, but all but one of those chances were created after Bruin replaced him. Generating danger and controlling play was not their problem, and you could argue the offense looked more dangerous than in most of the games during their winning streak.
Maybe the Sounders were just due to lose a game like this, after winning so many they could have easily tied or even lost.
The pressure builds
Coming into this week, I was strongly of the opinion that the more important of the two games was the home one. If the Sounders had taken care of business against the Union, it really didn’t matter what happened on the road against the LA Galaxy.
The Galaxy game is certainly not a must-win — the Sounders are going to make the playoffs if they win their three remaining home games and they’ve still got two more winnable road games after this one — but the Galaxy game would go a long way toward calming some nerves among a fanbase that seems to be teetering on the edge.
The Sounders seem to understand that.
“We have continue this way of playing as you head into the playoffs,” Roldan said. “All this confidence was built up and then you lose it and all of a sudden if you lose another one, the confidence goes down even more. You have to ride the wave and realize you weren’t going to win every game and we’ve put ourselves in a tough spot.
“The truth of the matter is there’s a lot of pressure on this game.”
Perhaps recognizing that this was the more important of the two games, Schmetzer opted not to use much squad rotation in this one. For the most part, I think that was the right call, and Rodriguez — the one change — looked sharp during his 75 minutes.
The one notable exception may have been Osvaldo Alonso, who had probably his quietest performance since returning from injury near the start of this streak.
Alonso wasn’t necessarily bad, but he had just one defensive action — a clearance — and never really got involved. Gustav Svensson, in contrast, had six tackles and had several switches that starting dangerous sequences.
It’s possible that Alonso simply had an off night, which is certainly allowed. But I can’t help but feel he might be due a night off after playing 90 minutes in six of the Sounders’ last seven games.
I’m assuming Schmetzer won’t do much rotation against the Galaxy, either, but I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing a revival of the Svensson-Roldan defensive midfield pairing with Harry Shipp and Rodriguez start in the wide attacking positions. Alonso has earned the right to be an unquestioned starter at this point, but this seems like a good opportunity to get a different look to the midfield.
The game in one gif
Yeah, I’m still annoyed that this didn’t go in and not just because of the result.
Quote of the day
“We’re very proud of what this team has accomplished. We put ourselves in a massive hole, and we’ve climbed out of it. Now, there’s still work to do. But winning nine games in a row is an accomplishment that was a big one.” - Brian Schmetzer, reflecting on the history-making win streak.
One stat to tell the tale
1 — This was the Sounders’ first home loss in September since 2014. They had gone 5-0-2 in those games prior to Wednesday’s loss.