With a few days to let things settle in, I’m still of at least two minds about the 2-2 tie the Seattle Sounders were forced to settle for in the first leg of the Concacaf Champions League Round of 16 meeting with Olimpia on Thursday.
The overwhelming feeling I have is one of positivity. This was always going to be a tough match for the Sounders to manage and they were thrown a few extra challenges when it was revealed that they’d be missing not just Nicolás Loderio and Gustav Svensson — both of whom had been in and out of preseason training — but also Harry Shipp, who apparently picked up some sort of illness while the team was south of the border.
This left the Sounders with a starting lineup they’d never before used. João Paulo was moved to the No. 10 spot after playing all preseason as more of a No. 8; Cristian Roldan dropped back into the defensive midfield after spending all preseason on the wing; and Jordy Delem and Joevin Jones moved into the starting lineup. Just to add another layer of complexity, Yeimar Goméz Andrade was starting at centerback having played just one preseason game with Xavier Arreaga and logging fewer than a dozen training sessions with the team.
Despite all of this — while also facing a very good Olimpia team that was in midseason form — the Sounders looked the far better side for the first 15 minutes or so and even after their legs starting looking heavy managed to find themselves up 2-0 and probably should have put the game away before Olimpia started their comeback in the 63rd minute. During that time, you’d have been hard-pressed to identify any Sounders players who hadn’t at least shown some positive signs and reasons for optimism.
Perhaps the most encouraging element of all of that was the Sounders appear to be just as deep as we all hoped they were. Even without four of their top 18 players — let’s not forget that Will Bruin is also out — the Sounders never looked short on talent. The three players who came off the bench — Danny Leyva, Shane O’Neill and Alex Roldan — all did just about all you could have expected them to do, as well.
Also encouraging was the way the Sounders attacked, even after their legs started to leave them. The Sounders squeezed off 15 shots and held a perfectly respectable 47 percent of possession. All but four of those shots came from 18 yards in and 10 of them came in the second half. The Sounders played like a team that believed they were more talented and weren’t willing to simply settle for a tie.
But they did...
The conflicting thoughts obviously are generated by the inability to head home with a better result. There are a host of explanations for why that happened — not the least of which is that the guy who scored both of Olimpia’s goals should have been sent off in the first half — but the Sounders will hopefully take a serious look at why this seems to be a continuing trend.
I’d be more willing to blow off this result as simply part of larger trend that saw MLS teams outscored 7-1 after the 62nd minute in their Round of 16 matches if not for the reality that this seems to be an ongoing issue for the Sounders. Dating back to Sept. 1, 2019, the Sounders have now blown four 2-0 leads in their last 11 matches. In that same time, they’ve led their opponents by at least two goals in seven of the games.
On one hand, it’s great that they keep jumping out to multi-goal leads and it’s fair to point out that they had won each of the three previous games in which this happened, but this has to be driving Brian Schmetzer absolutely crazy.
I’m not sure how much of what happened in this game can be fairly likened to what happened before, but let’s hope the Sounders can learn from it anyway.
Ironing out the kinks
It would be unfair to chalk up everything that went wrong during the final 30 minutes of Thursday’s match to tired legs, even if that played a significant part. Before we get to the defensive lapses, a chance on the offensive end could have put the game away.
Right after Morris had extended the Sounders’ lead to 2-0, he again found himself with a golden chance. But after getting in behind the defense to go 1v1 with the goalkeeper, Morris tried to cut it back to Raúl Ruidíaz only to see the ball cleared for a corner.
Don't think we've talked enough about how well Joevin Jones hit this pass that set up that Morris chance that probably should have sealed the game on Thursday. pic.twitter.com/zulq7JK7QB— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) February 24, 2020
As Schmetzer said in his postgame presser, Morris’ choice was not necessarily “wrong” but I think most of us would rather see him take that chance himself.
Not to pick on Morris — who was probably the Sounders man of the match — but his error also led to Olimpia’s first goal. With the ball deep in his own end facing minimal pressure, he failed to recognize where the defenders were and had his pass intercepted. A few touches later, the ball was in the net.
The second goal was similarly avoidable. After Arreaga does a good job to get position on the attacker, he then seems to take for granted that the ball will go out of bounds. Instead, Matias Garrido is able to float in a cross that forces the defense into scramble mode. Making matters worse is that none of the five defenders in the box think to mark Olimpia’s top scorer, who’s given a free header on an open goal.
Tired legs probably contributed a not insignificant amount to both of those goals, but that’s also when players need to play smarter. I don’t think any of that fully overshadows the positives to come out of the match, but I do think it gives the coaches plenty to pick on.