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Postgame Pontifications: In desperate need of confidence

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Sounders aren’t necessarily playing poorly, but they are not playing like a team with much self belief.

Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

Given the Seattle Sounders’ current form, I suspect most fans would have happily accepted claiming a single point from Saturday’s trip to Southern California. Although the LA Galaxy’s home has not been nearly the house of horrors it once was, points are still hard to come by in Carson and the Sounders haven’t even been doing a great job of performing in closer to optimal circumstances.

In that sense, the 2-2 draw can be seen as a step forward, if for no other reason than it keeps the math of the playoff seeding within the realm of possibility.

Unfortunately, we do not simply get to ignore how the Sounders came about claiming that single point.

Before getting too deep into this, I should say that I reject the idea that the Galaxy “gave” the Sounders anything in this one. Sure, they took an early red card and ceded the equalizer on an own-goal, but the Sounders deserve credit for creating the pressure that led to both situations. What’s concerning is how they played between those two moments.

Playing timid

The match did not start well, with the Galaxy generating a couple good scoring chances in the first five minutes. The Sounders turned the match on its head directly after one of those chances, though, with Nicolás Lodeiro putting a ball over the top that would have put Raúl Ruidíaz in alone on goal if Daniel Steres hadn’t pulled him down.

But even after going up a man, the Sounders seemed reluctant to seize control of the match. Perhaps they were a bit wary of getting stuck in situations where the shell-shocked backline might have to defend Zlatan Ibrahimovic in space or were just biding their time and hoping to wear out the Galaxy defense as the game wore on. Whatever the reason, it was beyond disappointing to see the Sounders spend the better part of the 35 minutes following the red card essentially sit back and allow the 10-man Galaxy dictate the pace and tempo of the game.

During those 35 minutes, the Sounders barely pressed the Galaxy — mostly just drawing a line of confrontation around the midfield line — and barely generated any real scoring opportunities.

The Sounders took just five shots (left) and made only seven attacking-half defensive actions (right) in the first 40 minutes.
MLSsoccer.com

The only players seemingly interested in forcing any action were Jordan Morris, who played in a dangerous cross and probably should have put away a header, and Nicolás Lodeiro. Gustav Svensson, not necessarily a player who should be responsible for pressing the action, at least attempted a couple switches and lined up a quality look from long range.

Perhaps most infuriatingly, neither outside backs were involved offensively. This was a problem that was highlighted in a recent Fanpost and was very much on display early in this game. I understand why the Sounders are wary of being countered — an inordinate number of recent goals allowed have come from transition moments — but they can’t afford to play timid.

But mostly, you’d never know from watching the game flow that the Sounders were playing a man up. They definitely don’t look like a team full of confidence, something Brian Schmetzer explicitly referred to in his postgame comments.

“I need to get a team that feels confident, that can defend confidently and that can attack confidently,” he said. “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 curious case of Cristian Roldan

If there’s one player who could seemingly press a bit harder it might be Cristian Roldan. Usually deployed as the more attack-minded of the Sounders’ center mids, Roldan has instead become a bit more passive in terms of his offensive involvement.

In this game, he made a rather eye-popping 118 passes and while he completed 92 percent of them, they were mostly lateral. He did not attempt a single pass from inside or even into the penalty area and did not have a single key pass. Roldan did take two shots — both from inside the penalty area, one on a nifty backheel — but he rarely seemed intent on pressing the action.

Probably against the game-planning, Gustav Svensson actually ended up being the center mid who was more prone to driving passing behind the Galaxy defense or forcing the defense to react with shots from deep. I suspect that may be part of why Gustav Svensson was apparently having words with Schmetzer when he was pulled.

Roldan has not scored since banging in back-to-back Goal of the Week candidates in May, a stretch of 11 games in which he’s taken just seven shots. Simply put, the Sounders need more from Roldan if they are to regain the kind of form that had them looking like a MLS Cup contender earlier in the year.

Signs of life, again

For all the frustrations, this was still a match the Sounders could have easily won. They started the second half strong, pushing the fullback high and getting both Svensson and Roldan involved in the attack.

In the game’s final 25 minutes — after Ibrahimovic’s second goal — the Sounders managed to squeeze off nine shots, all from inside the penalty area and the vast majority from dangerous spots. For the game, their xG was again well over 2.50. Of their six best xG performances of the season, four have come in their past seven. It has not necessarily pretty to watch and in this game certainly wasn’t the product of flowing soccer, but they’ve been consistently generating real chances. What’s woefully lacking is an ability to take advantage of those chances and, just as importantly, keeping opponents from generating their own. It feels like a cyclical problem, but one that can hopefully be addressed with one big win.