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Sounders rue blown chances

“Nothing about this feels good.” - Brian Schmetzer

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at LA Galaxy Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

CARSON, Calif. — It was a golden opportunity, and after the game the Seattle Sounders knew they blew it.

On the road, with the LA Galaxy down to 10 men for about 90 minutes of game time, the Sounders had the chance to get out of town with three valuable points against a Western Conference opponent. They couldn’t cash in the ticket. After the game in the locker room, the Sounders looked like a team that was on the receiving end of a 4-0 thrashing — as opposed to a 2-2 tie — because they knew.

“The first three or four minutes, Stefan [Frei] kept us in the game, making amazing saves,” said right back Kelvin Leerdam. “After that we had a lot of chances but we were sloppy and they scored and they start believing.

“In the second half we were lucky.”

The game started out as so many have lately, with the opponents on the front foot and causing havoc. A dangerous sequence by the Galaxy forced a fantastic reaction save by keeper Stefan Frei in the 4th minute. But then the Sounders caught a massive break when Daniel Steres was sent off for taking down Raul Ruidiaz about 40 yards from goal, after the forward did well to outmaneuver the left back to the ball. The early red card meant the Sounders were playing up a man for the vast majority of the match.

“Nothing about this feels good,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “I need to get a team that feels confident, that can defend confidently and that can attack confidently. We need to give those guys the right tools, the right messaging, the right whatever it takes to get them to play like the team that they were in the first six or seven games of the year. The game was ripe for the taking.”

The Galaxy sat back and defended stoutly, and when they did come out of their shell continued to press the Sounders into mistakes. Although the Sounders fired off 21 shots, including 16 from inside the penalty area, many of them came in bunches after they were trailing. The frustration we evident on the field with each wayward pass.

“We just played side to side and unfortunately, when you are a man down that is what you want,” Cristian Roldan said. “You want them to cross the ball, you want them to essentially play as slow as possible and go side to side and it’s really unfortunate we didn’t capitalize on opportunities that we had.”

The lack of quick play of fast passing was mostly the result of the Galaxy sitting back, which the Sounders have found it difficult to break through in recent games.

“They just sat back and parked the bus and made it hard for us to find spaces to play between them and behind him,” said midfielder Gustav Svensson. “It is always difficult to say because you want to keep the ball and you want to tire them out but at the same time we have to maybe get at them a little bit more, try to punish them a little bit more.”

At least for most of the rest of the half the Galaxy were equal to the Sounders, and it was perhaps slightly harsh when they went down in the 43rd minute after conceding in a somewhat ugly sequence, though well-finished off by Ruidiaz. The Sounders probably should have added to their lead about a minute later, but Ruidiaz could not finish off an arguably easier opportunity.

But as is usually the case, the Galaxy relied on their main man to get them back in the game. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who gave the Seattle backline fits all night, powered home a header to even the score right before halftime, and the Sounders went into halftime with some questions to answer.

“We shouldn’t have let them get close to score a goal even though they have Zlatan [Ibrahimovic], who is really good in the box, but we shouldn’t have let them even put ball into the box,” Svensson said.

It wasn’t so much that Zlatan was particularly dynamic, but he kept the defense occupied, winning headers and helping the Galaxy keep some possession.

“Even with a man down, his quality is that he can keep two or three players busy,” Leerdam said. “Normally a man [up] you can press, but he is somebody who they can trust to play the ball to anyone or keep it.”

The Sounders started the second half on the front foot and were much more dangerous throughout the second half, outshooting the Galaxy 21-7 and maintaining at 61 percent possession advantage overall. But they failed to turn any of those chances into goals and the Galaxy continued to opportunistically press the Sounders into turnovers.

The Galaxy for their part had one idea: boot the ball up to Zlatan and see what he could do.

The answer was, quite a bit. In the 65th minute, the star striker drew a penalty against Kim Kee Hee, who had his hands all over the Swedish striker and dragged him down in the penalty box. While Stefan Frei guessed the right way, the power on the kick was too much for the Sounders keeper and the Sounders were facing what would likely have been described as a humiliating defeat and would have asked serious questions about the teams ability to even make the playoffs.

“When we were down 2-1, it felt really hard especially because of the results we had before coming into this game, so that felt really hard,” Svensson said “You can see it in the team, you can see it in the players that the confidence is not really there.”

As it was, fate smiled on the Sounders, because the Galaxy were again the instruments of their own demise in the 83rd minute when David Bingham’s attempted clearance struck his teammate and ricocheted into the goal from about 24 yards out.

To their credit from that point forward, the Sounders were able to create numerous dangerous chances and probably should have scored, with Morris, Nico Lodeiro and Luis Silva all having close-range chances.

“The game was ripe for the taking,” Schmetzer said. “You can say that sometimes when you play up a man it is hard to play, the other team circles the wagons and certainly Zlatan [Ibrahimovic] is a large presence”

“But it’s two points dropped.”

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