No one likes to lose a match 4-1. It’s especially painful when the loss comes against a team you’re measuring yourself against. There’s no reason to pretend that the Seattle Sounders’ loss to Los Angeles FC was anything short of a thorough dismantling.
I do think it’s possible to overstate just how important this loss was, though.
It’s not just because the Sounders were forced to give Harry Shipp and Román Torres their first starts of the season, although that contributes. Torres was arguably the Sounders’ worst player, and while Shipp was generally fine, that doesn’t really explain why virtually every Sounders player seemed to have an off night.
Rather, I’d argue that the main thing we learned is that when LAFC is on their game, the Sounders don’t stand a chance unless they’re at their best, too. On Sunday, they were far from that.
In a larger sense, I’d even argue that losing the way Seattle did was probably preferable to losing a more closely contested match — or even grinding out a single point — by taking a more overtly defensive posture. For as much hype as this game received, it was still an early-season encounter. That the Sounders at least tried to play LAFC straight up was the right choice, I think, and if this serves as a wake-up call, all the better.
This is the benefit of a strong start — being able to afford to lose a game like this and not have it cause a complete crisis.
The Sounders, of course, have two more games this week — including at home against LAFC on Sunday — and can feasibly find themselves tied for the Supporters’ Shield lead with a game in hand by the end of it. They’ll need to be a lot better than they were in this one, but there’s every reason to think it’s possible.
What went wrong?
In short, a lot. I’m not sure anyone had a particularly strong outing for the Sounders, but let’s start with the defensive midfield duo of Gustav Svensson and Cristian Roldan. Take nothing away from how they have played through the first six games, but Game 7 was not good at all. Between them, they lost eight tackles and won just three. They also combined for just 18 positive defensive actions. In their previous four matches combined, they had lost just six tackles and never registered fewer than 20 positive defensive actions in any one contest.
They weren’t helped much by the ostensible third central midfielder, Nicolás Lodeiro. The Uruguayan had a season-worst 63 percent passing and only attempted 43 passes, nine fewer than in any other game. He was also held without a key pass for the first time this year. It was, almost without a doubt, his worst performance since at least last June.
The backline was collectively pretty bad, too, and seemed completely out of sync on the final two goals, but when the central midfielders are having that off of a game they are going to be up against it regardless.
It should be said that the Sounders press still generated 20 positive defensive actions in the offensive half. That ties a season low but is very much in line with what they’ve generated all year.
As frustrating as that performance was, history suggests we should be able to count on these three improving.
Not that deep?
There’s been a fair amount of discussion about how the Sounders’ relative lack of depth was exposed in this game. I’m not so sure that’s true. This was, quite possibly, the worst game to test that depth and Torres was particularly poorly suited for this matchup. But I thought Shipp acquitted himself fine and his goal was well taken.
Forced to play a position he’s hardly played over the past 15 months, Jordan Morris also looked off. He was isolated up top for most of the contest, only had 22 touches and failed to take a single shot.
But the mark of depth in MLS is not being able to plug along at the same high standard regardless of injuries. The Sounders might not be a Supporters’ Shield contender with this exact configuration — although a one-game sample size is hardly the final argument — but I still like their chances against most of their MLS contemporaries.
What else could they have done?
As I suggested earlier in the column, I think it was probably the right big-picture decision to essentially try to play this game straight up even with a slightly depleted group. If this had been a must-win game, though, I think a few changes would have been in order.
First off, I think Nouhou would have been better equipped to handle Vela on the left-hand side. He only played 27 minutes in this one and the game was well out of hand by that time, but he looked strong there.
To further bolster the midfield, I’d also want to see Roldan moved to the right side and Jordy Delem alongside Svensson. One area where the Sounders struggled was getting outnumbered in the middle when Lodeiro was caught too far upfield. With Roldan on the right, he could have dropped in to help provide support while Delem could have a bit more of a free role to clog passing lanes.
Hopefully the Sounders will be closer to full strength by Sunday and we won’t need to find out, though.