LOS ANGELES — One of my most firmly held beliefs in my life is that joy doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Joy doesn’t exist without pain. The highs don’t happen without the lows. We don’t experience the wonders of the mountaintop without also experiencing the depths of the valley. This isn’t just true in life, but in soccer as well. If you don’t experience crushing defeats, you have no idea how sweet the victories are.
There’s no doubt about what happened Sunday night at the Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles. The Seattle Sounders were roundly defeated by Los Angeles Football Club. Seattle was the worse of the two marquee teams in MLS in every way. You, reader, probably already know that. You suffered the pain of that 90 minutes, too. It wasn’t fun. At all.
Suffering pain can teach us life lessons, but it can also teach us soccer lessons. Ever try to grab a hot pan from the oven without a mitt? That’s a mistake you only make one time. If we’re going to be dramatic—and let’s be honest, I do have a knack for the dramatic—a season of soccer can be a lot like a season of life. Highs and lows. Joy and pain. Mountaintops and deep valleys. And a lot like in a season of life, there are some lessons that only need to be learned once.
If the Seattle Sounders want to compete for the Supporters’ Shield, they need to ensure that the pain they experienced on Sunday afternoon in LA only happens once during this season. You can’t win every game. You have space in life to be fallible. The Sounders entered this match as the last unbeaten team in Major League Soccer, having that title for only 48 hours after the Houston Dynamo lost to the LA Galaxy on Friday night. As it is in life, the pain needs to inform the joy. Learn from it and grow.
One pain that the Sounders experienced against LAFC was a disorganized and disinterested back line. All the goals they conceded were bad, but none were worse than the fourth. No communication. No organization. No one tracking their man. There are a few lessons that can be learned there, but the specifics will certainly be talked elsewhere on the pages of this fine website.
After experiencing the lows of a loss like that, I find it helpful to look at the bigger picture. So, let’s do that. The Sounders came into this match as the last unbeaten team in the league this season—and they had the best points-per-game record. Neither of those things are true now. That’s okay. Even the best boxers take one on the chin from time to time. It makes you feel alive, I’m told. The Sounders took one on the chin Sunday night. A historically great defensive team looked all over the place against possibly the best attack that Major League Soccer has ever seen.
One lesson that the Sounders need to learn: what to do when Chad Marshall can’t play. Both Kim Kee-hee and Roman Torres had very poor afternoons in LA. The former looks like a Defender of the Year candidate playing on the right side of defense, but when he’s forced to play with Torres (and, subsequently on the left side of the defense) his quality suffers massively. Torres’ best days are behind him, that’s for sure, but as long as he is still a Sounders player, he needs to find a way to play better. Plain and simple.
This might sound incredibly daft, but I thought the Sounders played well at 4-1 down. Sure, LAFC easily cruised into the LA sunset, but Seattle was far more organized with Gustav Svensson and Nouhou playing on the backline. Svensson could and should be slotted into the left-sided center back position when Marshall can’t play.
As they fly back to Seattle on Sunday night, the Sounders can still consider themselves one of the top teams in MLS, but they still have room to improve. By now, we’ve gotten used to midseason signings turning an impossibly bad season into a late surge into the playoffs. Through seven matches I’m relatively sure that won’t need to happen—the Sounders are still off to their best start in franchise history. But with that said, I think the performance Sunday night showed the areas of the pitch where the Sounders should target with signings in the summer.
As I mentioned above, Svensson looked decent at the center of the defense. But, sliding him back there means sacrificing his role in midfield. I don’t expect Cristian Roldan to play as poorly as he did again this season, but the Sounders could really use another top level central midfielder. I’m not interested in rehashing the Ozzie Alonso debate, but I think the lack of depth in that position should be addressed. After all, Svensson isn’t getting any younger.
The Sounders could and should also target a younger center back to fill the Marshall-sized hole that exists when the big man can’t play and when he (sadly, eventually) hangs up his boots. I’m not in the business of predicting when that will happen, but the contingency plan for replacing the best defender in MLS history needs to be clear. After several seasons of attacking talent being infused into the roster during the summer transfer window, they should be looking to shore up their defense during the next window.
Now, do not misunderstand my point. I do not think the Sounders are all of a sudden a crap team. Far from it, actually. They are still a really, really good MLS team and they even showed that at times during Sunday’s match. Sometimes we do this thing as fans—I catch myself doing this all the time. But soccer, like life, is not binary. It is a logical game, but it does not happen with eithers and ors. It happens, just like life, with boths and ands. Next Sunday night, the Sounders could find themselves even on points with LAFC, the team that just categorically hosed them.
It is absolutely a joy to be alive, reader. I sit here watching the California sunset kiss the skyline of Los Angeles, as I did many times as a child. I flew to Los Angeles to write about this soccer game. I had an idea of how it would go, but my expectations weren’t met. But, you know what? That’s life sometimes. Pain teaches you joy. This could definitely be the case during a Seattle Sounders season that has every opportunity to be a special one.
On this Easter Sunday, weeping may tarry the night but joy does come in the morning.