Momentum is a funny thing. While it’s going your way, it feels like you can do no wrong. When it’s going against you, it seems like you can never catch a break.
The Sounders are very much experiencing that right now. At the start of last week, it seemed like going on a 16-game winning streak to close out the season might at least be plausible. They had just finished up the toughest part of their schedule, after all, and their remaining games were hardly a murderer’s row.
After a second straight loss — this one a shutout at the hands of the previously defenseless LA Galaxy — it now suddenly seems fair to wonder if the Sounders can even correct course enough to get to the playoffs.
I know your blood-pressure is probably rising at this point so take a couple deep breaths and stay with me...
- The first and most important thing to keep in mind is that making the playoffs still seems exceptionally likely. Sports Club Stats put the Sounders postseason chances at 99 percent at the start of the week and still have them at 95 percent. It will take a rather epic collapse to miss the playoffs entirely. They still have a three-point cushion with a game-in-hand on the seventh-place Galaxy.
- Even after this rather dispiriting week, the Seattle Sounders are not in a considerably worse situation than when it started. After the win over the Whitecaps, they were in fifth, one point out of fourth (a home game in the Knockout Round) and six points shy of second (a first-round bye). Now, they are sixth, three points shy of fourth and seven points out of second.
- The reality is that the Sounders still have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the league. When adjusting for their home/road performances, the five remaining opponents have a collective points per game of .90. If the Sounders simply win their home games — where their remaining opponents have a road PPG of .53 — they’ll finish on 56 points, which would likely get them to at least fourth place. If they can get at least two points from those road games, there’s a chance they could get as high as second.
Of course, this is MLS and strange things happen — like previously horrible teams going on league-record winning streaks — but as long as the Sounders take care of business against the Rapids this week, we should be able to breathe normally again.
Speaking of streaks
I was curious about what happens to teams after they go on long winning streaks, generally speaking. I won’t try to convince you of the statistical validity of this research, but I did some hand-checking of previous winning streaks of at least six games and unbeaten runs of at least 10 games. What I found suggests there is some hangover effect.
Of the 11 other teams to post a win streak of at least six games in a post-shootout era season, the average number of points in the three games following their first loss was 3.18. Only two of those 11 teams came back to win the two games following their streak-breaker and two others went on a losing streak of at least three games following their winning streak (Orlando City SC impossibly went on a nine-game losing streak following a six-game winning streak this year). Of the seven teams that weren’t relative outliers, the average was exactly 3 points.
The numbers are actually pretty similar among the 15 other teams that have posted unbeaten streaks of at least 10 games since 2009 (I narrowed the parameters because I got lazy). Those teams collectively averaged 2.71 points in the three games immediately following the end of their unbeaten streaks with only the 2011 LA Galaxy winning the two games after the streak-breaker.
I say this all to point out that there is often a hangover period following a long successful run. That the Sounders lost two games is not necessarily the end of the world ... again, as long as they can pull it together for the eminently winnable game this coming weekend.
Reflecting on Frei’s amazing run
One other streak that came to an end was one that Stefan Frei had been on since earlier this year. This game marked the first time since June 13 that Frei had allowed more than a single goal in a game, a run of 14 matches in which the Sounders had been scored on just nine times (that’s a tidy .64 goals allowed per game).
It also ended a streak of 25 games in which Frei had given up no more than two goals and this was just the second time he’d allowed more than two in 49 games (including postseason). Even after this game, the Sounders have allowed a measly 43 goals in Frei’s past 50 appearances. That would be good for a goals against average of .86. No goalkeeper has a GAA under 1.00 this year.
Even after giving up three goals, Frei is still on pace to post one of the best seasons ever in terms of overperforming his Expected Goals. If there’s any justice in the world, Frei should be among the favorites to win Goalkeeper of the Year.
All that said, Frei got hung out to dry pretty badly on Sunday. The first goal came on a completely avoidable penalty; the second when the defense basically quit when they thought it was going to be whistled offside (he wasn’t); and the third came courtesy of Román Torres completely whiffing on an easy clearance.
One actual reason for concern
I don’t think most people are too worried about two losses, frustrating as that may be. My read on the collective temperature is that any bubbling frustrations is about the way the Sounders lost these games. Namely, that they went scoreless in both of them.
Even if you’re willing to write off the Union game as a product of some bad luck, it’s still borderline amazing that the Sounders managed to not score against a Galaxy team that had given up 28 goals in their past nine games and had given up at least two in all but one of those. Minnesota United and the Colorado Rapids — the two worst road teams in MLS — each managed to score two at StubHub Center.
It wasn’t that the Sounders failed to create chances — again — it’s that they didn’t do anything with them. I’m still trying to figure out how Will Bruin managed to not put his wide open back-post header on frame and still a little baffled that Raúl Ruidíaz didn’t finish a couple of the chances he had.
There are potential explanations for this, granted. The Sounders were playing their third game in nine days and they were limited in how much squad rotation they could do after Harry Shipp went down with a hamstring injury. Ruidíaz may have also still been feeling the effects of the sprained ankle he suffered on Wednesday.
None of that likely lessens the feeling of dread many Sounders fans felt, as the performance felt eerily similar to some of those early season games. The Sounders were never able to find any sort of groove in this game and were far too content to lump in crosses (they had 22).
It should also serve as a bit of a cautionary tale when it comes to the limitations of the 4-4-2. Although a two-forward formation has been used effectively late in games, this was the first time the Sounders had started with two true forwards all year. The effect was Nicolas Lodeiro having one of his least effective matches of the season, as he registered just one key pass and one shot.
As important as Ruidíaz is to the Sounders’ hopes of a lengthy postseason run, I’d say Lodeiro is even more so. I don’t think the 4-4-2 was solely to blame for his ineffectiveness — he still got a lot of touches in the offensive third and he still had a pretty free role — but having one less midfielder to interchange with does seem like it made it a bit tougher.
Quote of the day
That second goal was the one that really killed us and that is the one I will take responsibility for because the team needs to be coached in a fashion where they play until the whistle is blown. That will be addressed and that won’t happen again
The game in one gif
Look, if Zlatan says she was MVP who am I to come up with a more telling moment
One stat to tell the tale
3-0-3 — That was the Sounders’ record against the Galaxy during the Brian Schmetzer era before Sunday’s game. It had included a 2-0-1 record at StubHub Center.