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Postgame Pontifications: Struggles where they ought not be

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The Sounders needed three points. They got one. That’s how this season seems to be going.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — That was not much fun.

Blame it on the short rest, the limited squad rotation or simply having to play on a Wednesday night in September, but whatever the reason, the Seattle Sounders simply did not put on much of a show. The first half was particularly hard to watch as both teams struggled to complete passes or generate dangerous scoring opportunities. The second half improved, but really only after Victor Rodriguez and Jordan Morris entered the match.

What makes it worse is that while this was not a game the Sounders literally needed to win, three points would have made the stretch run a whole lot less stressful. Instead, the Sounders need to find a way to get a result in upcoming road matches at D.C. United and the San Jose Earthquakes and will almost certainly have to close out the season with a win against Minnesota United if they are to host a playoff game. Chances are they’ll need even more than that if they are to remain in the No. 2 seed.

But maybe that’s just how it should be, given the way the rest of this season has played out. Since they started the season 5-0-1, the Sounders have failed to make life remotely easy on themselves. A lot of that is due to various types of absences, but expecting this team to win 4 of 5 — as they were poised to do for the first time since that blistering start — would have simply be too against the narrative of this highly frustrating season.

In a completely twisted way, I suppose the Sounders have potentially set themselves up for another narrative turn. Maybe they can surprise us by playing well on the road and closing out the season strong. Wouldn’t that be a treat?

A bit too conservative

If there’s one looming frustration over the tie, it’s that there’s an overwhelming sense that Brian Schmetzer simply got it wrong when selecting his lineup. I can accept that Jordan Morris, Brad Smith and Victor Rodriguez weren’t fit to start, especially given their battles with injury this year. But Schmetzer needed to do something to replace his dynamic attackers and simply putting Joevin Jones on the wing wasn’t the answer.

There’s a world in which Jones turns into an effective attacking option, but everything we’ve seen from him since his return to Seattle suggests he’s much better when deployed as a left back. We saw that against Dallas, as he managed to look far more dangerous in his 25 minutes as a left back than he did in the 65 minutes he played farther up the field.

I’m willing to even give Schmetzer a bit of a pass on this one. I’m assuming he liked the matchup of Nouhou against FC Dallas’ attack and is hoping Jones can rediscover some of his spark. Fair enough. At the very least, I think Jones showed that he can still be effective as more of an attacking option as a left back. He might not be a better option than Brad Smith, but it’s a good option to have and gives the Sounders some flexibility.

What I think was the bigger mistake was deploying Jordy Delem and Gustav Svensson together in the midfield. Delem and Svensson, it should be said, both played reasonably well. They combined for eight interceptions, two tackles and three recoveries while completing about 85 percent of their 155 passes.

Unfortunately, facing a bunkered team, the Sounders really needed a more dynamic player in one of those two spots. It’s entirely possible that Schmetzer simply prefers to keep Cristian Roldan primarily as a right mid at this point, which is fine. That still leaves him with one of Danny Leyva or Emanuel Cecchini as potential options as more aggressive defensive midfielders. Both players have shown a willingness to dribble through lines and make attacking runs, something neither Delem nor Svensson do with any regularity. What’s equally frustrating is that the pairing of Delem-Svensson would make a TON of sense on the road where a tie would be perfectly fine, but I suspect at least one of them will now need to be rested against D.C. United.

Rodriguez’s role

If there was a positive to take away from this match, it’s another solid performance out of Victor Rodriguez. In just 25 minutes, he managed to tie for the team lead with three shots, had two key passes and generally just brought the attack to life. Of his 18 passes, 10 of them were toward the goal.

A pretty static attack, with players rarely making strong moves off the ball, suddenly woke up once Rodriguez stepped on the pitch. Eight of the Sounders’ 14 shots came with Rodriguez on the pitch, as did eight of their 11 key passes. I’m not sure when Rodriguez will be fit enough to start, but it’s good to see that he can find ways to be effective and lift the team’s overall performance in relatively short spurts like this one.

As far as Jordan takes them

Not to put too much pressure on the kid, but it’s starting to look like the Sounders are probably going to go as far as Morris is able to take them. I’ve raved about how good he’s been recently, and nothing we saw on Wednesday diminishes that. He was all over the place against Dallas and it’s not shock that the Sounders’ two best chances had Morris on the end of them.

That said, there’s a big difference in the Sounders’ performances when Morris starts vs. when he comes off the bench. In his last nine starts, the Sounders are 5-2-2 with 21 goals scored. That includes seven games against likely playoff teams. In the last 10 games the Sounders have played without Morris in the starting lineup, they’re just 2-6-2 with seven goals scored. Admittedly, those 10 games include eight on the road, so it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples comparison, but it does serve to illustrate just how much more dynamic the Sounders are when Morris is on the pitch. As helpful as his direct contributions are, he just opens up the field in a way that no one else on the roster really can and creates space for guys like Raúl Ruidíaz, Lodeiro and Rodriguez.