SEATTLE — Raúl Ruidíaz’s miss in the 22nd minute against the Portland Timbers was emblematic of the Seattle Sounders’ Sunday night. The club generated plenty of chances, but could not finish most of them in a 2-1 loss to their arch-rivals.
There was an early portent for how the course of 90 minutes would run. Just 15 seconds into the match, Nico Lodeiro blocked a pass downfield and the ball bounced back toward the Portland goal. Ruidíaz raced onto the ball, but his touch took him wide and, without support on the unexpected turnover, he was forced into a low-percentage shot that was stopped by keeper Steve Clark.
“I thought we created a lot of chances,” Seattle head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the match. “But the game is cruel sometimes. We could’ve scored in the first 15 seconds. We could’ve scored any number of goals in the first 20-30 minutes, but we didn’t do it. That’s part of a team sport. You can talk about the defending and mistakes, but we also have to hold everybody there accountable. We needed to finish some of those chances. We had some really good looks on set pieces, but all of that doesn’t matter right now.”
Seattle outshot Portland 16-14, including an 8-5 advantage in shots on target. The Sounders took 14 shots from inside the penalty area (one goal, one blocked, five on target), tying a season high. Their Opta-generated expected goals of 2.93 was their second best of the season, ranking just behind last week’s game.
The lack of execution was exacerbated by the club’s occasional reluctance to press the issue while on the ball. Oftentimes, Seattle would reach the wide channels in the final third and come to a standstill (against an admittedly compact Timbers defense), before hitting a series of short passes that led to an ill-connecting cross — of which the club completed 13 of 35 on the evening.
For Schmetzer, possession in wide spaces was part of the plan.
“Our game plan is always to wear teams down with possession in their half of the field,” he said. “Our objective for the game was to draw our opponent to one side of the field, change our point of attack quickly and use our outside backs as weapons. That’s who we are. It just didn’t manifest itself on either side tonight.”
The issue was complicated by a Portland defense that was determined not to leave open spaces, but it did contribute to the appearance that Seattle was out of ideas on offense.
In a telling anecdote, Seattle won the ball with time dwindling in the first half. The club proceeded to knock the ball around at midfield, failing to find space to move forward before referee Drew Fischer blew for halftime.
“I thought we were a bit lethargic in our possession,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said. “I think we could have been a bit more aggressive in going after them. I think we were looking for patience, but maybe it didn’t come across as patience. At times we baited them to one side quite well and would have good switches, but then stayed on the ball. I think those were moments where we could have taken it to them and see what would happen. We got a couple chances in the beginning; maybe it looks different if we score one of those.”
When Seattle did equalize in the 50th minute, the club also missed the opportunity to play on level footing when it conceded the game-winning goal to Brian Fernandez 77 seconds later. The goal robbed the club of momentum and sucked the air right out of the home fans in a crowd of 50,072, the largest Seattle has hosted since 2017.
“I have to make sure that we, as a staff, do better,” Schmetzer said. “I have to make sure that after we score that goal, that we stay at 1-1 for an extended period of time. Teams are always susceptible on the other end when you score. Those first five minutes are important. I thought we were fine and trying to create some momentum and get things going to score the equalizer. I’ll work with the team on that, for sure.”
The Sounders have allowed their opponent to score within five minutes after a goal on five separate occasions in 2019, nearly a quarter of the club’s matches so far. Seattle is 1-3-1 in contests where it allows a quick response.
The good news for fans and club alike is that Sunday’s match is characteristic of a bad day at the office, rather than a failing company. Still, it would be understandable if the club had (literally) unfinished business on the brain when it travels to Portland for the return fixture on August 23.