SEATTLE — It may not be a full-blown crisis, but the Seattle Sounders’ alarm bells are definitely ringing.
Thanks to some help from Minnesota United on the weekend, the Sounders came into Monday night’s match with the LA Galaxy once again controlling their own destiny. Once again, they couldn’t seize the moment. A 1-1 draw — which head coach Brian Schmetzer said felt like a loss — temporarily moved the Sounders to the top of Western Conference, but the result and performance won’t leave anyone feeling good about their chances of staying there. Not only will Sporting KC play their game-in-hand on Wednesday against Austin FC, but the Sounders have a road match against the surging Vancouver Whitecaps to close out the regular-season on Sunday.
Not taking advantage of opportunities has been a theme this year, and it was on full display against the Galaxy, as were the issues that have plagued the Sounders in their five-match winless streak. A slow start, slopping set-piece defending, injuries and some unfortunate luck all played their roles in failing to net all three points. That the Sounders have long since clinched a playoff berth and a first-round home game has provided some breathing room. If they can’t pull out of this funk, though, this might be an abbreviated postseason run.
Here’s five things we’re still thinking about from the game:
Jordan Morris returns
The return of Jordan Morris had been more of a slow burn, given that he had been training with the Sounders for the better part of two months. The anticipation had reached fireworks factory-levels of anticipation after a couple of false starts over the last two games. But Schmetzer was certain that Morris would feature against the Galaxy, and 60 minutes into the match, the moment everyone had been waiting for since he went down with an ACL injury last February arrived. Greeted with a rousing ovation (and a classy acknowledgement from fellow USMNT regular Sebastian Lleget), Morris finally hit the field, and while it may not have been the fairy-tale ending, the most important thing that he looked a lot like his old self. Morris certainly passed the eye-test from a speed and work-rate perspective, but after the game admitted his touch and timing was a bit off. He’ll get another game to work off the rust, and build his fitness for extended minutes in the playoffs.
Sleepy start (again)
The day after a Halloween weekend is pretty terrible for everyone, whether you were up into the wee hours with friends, or preventing your kids (or yourself) from diving face-first in a bag of super-sized M&Ms. The sugar crash can be real, which might explain why the Sounders looked so lethargic for the first 45 minutes against the Galaxy. To be sure, aside from one well-worked set piece from the Galaxy (more on that in a moment), Greg Vanney’s side didn’t create much. But if the Galaxy didn’t quite deserve the lead, the Sounders sure didn’t. Kelyn Rowe after the game said it took the Sounders 45 minutes to adjust to what the Galaxy were doing, which he conceded was about 40 minutes too long. Eventually, the Sounders managed to create chances by going more direct and attacking the Galaxy’s suspect backline, and in the second half were much more effective.
Set-piece struggles (again)
The first half was frankly a drab affair for both sides, but the Galaxy managed to snag the lead courtesy of their one true danger man on the pitch: Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. In the 19th minute Chicarito found himself unmarked on a corner kick after Nicholas DePuy headed the ball towards his feet, and was able to send it past Stefan Frei at close range. Set-piece defending, previously a strength for the Sounders, has been anything but over the last month even as Schmetzer said the team has specifically worked on the issues. Whether the Sounders need to change their zonal-marking tendencies or work on their mentality as Rowe said after the match, they’ll need to do something soon.
Injury bug hits (again)
It must seem as the Sounders will never get healthy. With Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro — who got through 75 minutes with no apparent issues himself — featuring, the Sounders were so close to a healthy roster. Unfortunately, both Raúl Ruidíaz and Nouhou had to come out of the match, with Nouhou only able to give the Sounders 45 minutes. Suddenly, the Sounders are very thin at both forward and left back, with Will Bruin and Jimmy Medranda’s status also up in the air. The upcoming international break typically cuts both ways for teams, as the two-week interlude typically results in teams not being quite game sharp in their first match, but Schmetzer will surely take that risk in exchange for getting some of his key pieces healthy.
Time to Integrate
Assuming the Sounders are able to correct some of their defensive issues and get reasonably healthy for the playoffs, the last piece of the puzzle will be working the returning talent into the squad such that there is an effective, coherent attacking force. Particularly in the second half, the Sounders showed some glimpses of the potential they had going forward, and were unlucky not to get all three points thanks to unkind rebounds from the post and a point-blank save from Galaxy goalkeeper Jonathan Bond in the dying minutes. But the attack generally was disjointed, even when the reinforcements came in. Schmetzer said after the match that the only benefit of the international break would be the training time they have to work on figuring out the best tactics and formations to put the players in the positions to be successful, and aside from having time to get players back from injury, he’s surely right.