SEATTLE — So much for defending the home turf.
The Seattle Sounders came into Sunday’s game against the Portland Timbers with a chance to confirm their status as the top team in the Western Conference, if not MLS. Unfortunately, they fell flat in a performance that could be described as forgettable at best. Going behind early behind a Eryk Williamson goal in the 9th minute, the Sounders settled in for most of the first half before being a Kelvin Leerdam golazo tied it. Though they ended the half on a high note, the remainder of the game saw them struggle to break down the Timbers, and rely on Stefan Frei to keep them in the game.
That only lasted until the 83rd minute when the Timbers went ahead behind a goal from Felipe Mora, and the remainder of the game saw a disjointed attempted to at least salvage a point. The best chance came just before the Timbers went ahead when Miguel Ibarra scuffed a shot with the goal mouth gaping, and moments later the Timbers scored the go-ahead goal.
As it is, the Sounders lost a golden opportunity to put significant distance between themselves and their Cascadian rivals, though results elsewhere meant the Sounders will retain second place with a game in hand over first place Sporting Kansas City.
No Blanco, no problem
Even with the Timbers struggling, Sebastián Blanco remains one of the most dangerous players in the league. The Sounders game-plan surely relied on focusing the defense on stopping Designated Player. So when he went down in the 2nd minute with an apparent knee injury, it was obviously a tough blow for a Timbers side that was 0-2-1 since the MLS restart.
There is something to be said for rallying around the team when the chips are down, and the Timbers responded in impressive fashion. A nice dribble and drive from Eryk Williamson led to a one-two combination and he slotted it past Frei for what had to be considered a shock lead.
Breaking down is hard to do
With an early lead, Portland was content to sit back and defend deep and dare the Sounders to break them down. And until about the 40th minute, the Sounders had next to no luck in the attack. Even with a passing accuracy of 90% in the first half, much of the action took place in the center of the park. On the occasion the Sounders got deep into Timbers territory, one of the few misplaced passes killed the attack. It looked like the Sounders were going to go into the half empty handed and frustrated.
Kelvin keeps scoring
Contrary to belief in some quarters, Leerdam has a fairly prolific scoring record for a right back since the start of last year. Schmetzer’s setup does rely on his outside backs getting forward quite frequently, and with the attacking talent the Sounders have, there are plenty of opportunities for the likes of Leerdam and jones to pick up the odd goal here and there. That said, it’s unlikely anyone expected Leerdam to unleash a laser from 25 yards out to get the Sounders level. The benefit of Schmetzer’s tactical system was on display here, as Leerdam was up in the attack on a Sounders corner, and a clearance fell to the Suriname international, who laced the ball past Steve Clark. For the reminder of the half, the Sounders were much more dangerous in attack.
You might be inclined to give Portland some credit for their goals in that they were well well-worked plays, although Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer wasn’t quite as complimentary about they way they conceded. There was a striking similarities to each finish, where secondary attackers came from the midfield and drove at the backline, then combined to split the center backs, leaving both Williamson and Mora one-on-one versus Stefan Frei. In the postgame press conference, Cristian Roldan said he felt the team didn’t do the extra 10% to close down Portland players from deeper areas on the field, and it cost them in the end.
This marks two games in a row where the Sounders have given up late goals which have cost the teams points, and in a season where the number of games left to play is uncertain, dropping points late can be the difference between a top seed in the playoffs, or missing them entirely. While it’s extremely unlikely the Sounders miss the playoffs, conceding late goals is a good way to get bounced from them early. Coach Schmetzer admitted in the post-game press conference that it is a concern now, so he’ll have work to do to sort it out.