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Winners & Losers: Sounders 2, Earthquakes 2

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A strange and wild game taught us some things.

SEATTLE — What a strange game that was. The Seattle Sounders managed to pull off a 2-2 draw after going down 2-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes, but Coach Brian Schmetzer considered it two points dropped, given the game was at home against a side near the bottom of the MLS table. The Sounders initially had no problems adjusting to San Jose’s unorthodox pressing/man marking style, bossing the game for the opening 20 minutes or so. For the next 40 minutes of game-time, they came completely unraveled, ceding two goals and were probably lucky not to be down three or four.

That said, they were able to turn around the game thanks to contributions from the bench, and had numerous chances to win (or lose) the game. Harry Shipp characterized the game as a “track meet,” because it was that up-and-down for the last thirty minutes. It certainly made for an entertaining affair, and no shortage of winners and losers.

Winners

Harry Shipp

Starting with the aforementioned Shipp, he came on the field and seemed to be a steadying presence among the chaos. And let’s talk about that delightful shot: a slightly sliced finish that faded away from Earthquakes keeper Daniel Vega (we’ll get to him in a moment), leaving him no chance. Shipp has two goals in two games off the bench, which bodes well for his bid for increased playing time.

Stefan Frei/Daniel Vega

It’s not often that you’d call a couple of keepers who combine to give up four goals winners, but it’s probably fair when they keep the score from being 5-5. Frei had two crucial saves (including a one-on-one) in the space of about two minutes, while Vega impossibly saved a Handwalla Bwana header which seemed destined to find the back of the net and would have completed the Sounders’ improbable comeback. None of the goals conceded were the fault of the keepers.

Handwalla Bwana

It’s been tough to find time for the young winger, given the early stability of the Sounders lineup. Given the injuries sustained by players ahead of him, he was given the chance to start and showed why the Sounders are so intrigued by his skill set. Direct in one-on-one situations and loads of skill in possession, he routinely got into dangerous positions and was not afraid to shoot from distance, forcing three saves from Vega. Schmetzer indicated he needs to work on finding the final pass when he gets open instead of shooting, and he lost possession more than once. Still, hard to call him anything but a winner after that performance.

The Bench

Cheating a little bit, as Brad Smith was on the bench only for rotation, but the game clearly turned around with his introduction to the game. Shipp of course scored the goal, but Henry Wingo deserves praise as well for his contribution which was mostly effort, but he was able to get into dangerous positions and hold the ball effectively from the midfield too. Given the Sounders see his future as a right-back, it’s interesting to see him coming into games further up the field (he played forward on Sunday). Either way, he provides a jack-of-all-trades option for the injury-depleted Sounders.

Losers

Defense

Not good. Not good at all. The Sounders have now given up six goals in two games, and the back line has mostly been intact, save Chad Marshall missing a game. But it’s not just the back four: it must be said that the defensive midfield has had all sorts of trouble getting pressure on the ball, and San Jose’s man-marking system doesn’t really explain how they were routinely able to get into dangerous positions on offense. If not for Frei, this game could have been lost before the Sounders had the chance to come back.

Injuries/Deep Depth

The Sounders’ bench has come through with aplomb the last two games, and now they may really be tested with a full-strength Los Angeles FC set to visit Century Link Field Sunday. While Victor Rodriguez is not in concussion protocol, he status is up in the air after taking a nasty fall in the San Jose game. Nouhou had to leave the game with an ankle injury, and Gustav Svensson come off the field with a hamstring injury. Both Nouhou and Svensson looked to be in reasonable shape after the game, but if none of the three injured Sounders can go along with Raul Ruidiaz (still in a boot) and Will Bruin (hamstring), the Sounders will be severely tested in even having a full 18 available on the bench, to say nothing about stopping an in-form LAFC side.

Referee

Normally referee complaints wouldn’t make it here, but since even Schmetzer brought it up (gently) at the post game presser, it feels fair to mention it. There were numerous issues with Fotis Bazakos’s performance. There was what appeared to be a clear handball shout on a header by Svensson in the first minutes of the game which was not given, and Schmetzer was clearly agitated by the lack of foul calls when Sounders players would receive the ball with their back to goal. Bazakos eventually warned the Earthquakes about persistent infringement, but by then the Earthquakes had gotten away with it. On the other side, there was a particularly curious decision to play advantage when a foul call would have given the Earthquakes a free kick from the top of the arc. More confusingly, the Sounders had numbers back in defense, meaning there was no real advantage to be played. Just an oddly refereed match all the way around.

Now it’s your turn — who are your winners and losers?