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Postgame Pontifications: In need of a confidence boost

It was only a few weeks ago when Sounders were running rampant. One good performance can get them back there.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — It was only a few weeks ago that it seemed like everything was lining up for the Seattle Sounders. They had won four straight in which they’d outscored their opponents 12-3 and had done it against three of the Western Conference’s hottest teams. They had clinched a playoff spot, were in the driver’s seat for the top spot in the West, and making a run at the Supporters’ Shield didn’t even seem to be out of the question. To top it all off, they had been doing it while missing several key players, all of whom were likely to return sooner than later.

Heading into the final game of the 2021 regular season, that all seems like ages ago.

The Sounders are now winless in five and struggling to find cohesion on either side of the ball. It’s their longest winless run since 2017 and as long as any since they ended the 2013 regular-season on a 7-game winless streak. The 1-1 tie to the Galaxy on Monday was a bit of a microcosm of their struggles.

The Sounders weren’t necessarily bad — and they were the team pressing the action throughout the second half — but they were again plagued by a slow start and poor defending on set pieces, and were missing that little bit of luck that can sometimes turn around a season. The Galaxy struck first on a well-constructed corner kick in which the Sounders’ zonal marking somehow managed to not account for their opponent’s top scorer being left unmarked in front of goal. If not for some exemplary goalkeeping, the Galaxy could have scored another on a corner kick right after the start of the second half.

That chance seemed to wake up the Sounders, who had up until that point compiled just .18 worth of expected goals. On the sequence immediately following the Galaxy chance, João Paulo put Cristian Roldan in behind the defense with a perfectly weighted ball. Roldan was able to round left back Oniel Fisher and draw the penalty. Raúl Ruidíaz coolly converted a panenka to equalize.

The Sounders mostly dominated the game from that point forward, with the Galaxy only finding chances through counter-attacks. If not for the unkind woodwork — which the Sounders struck three times, including Xavier Arreaga’s stoppage-time header that Jonathan Bond deflected off the crossbar — the Sounders could have claimed all three points.

“It wasn’t what we wanted at all,” Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe said in the postgame press conference. “You always want to get three points, especially at home, especially in this tight race coming down to that first, second place. So, we aren’t happy with it; we aren’t happy with the fact that it has taken us [conceding] a goal to get kind of going on the attack. To get kind of going physically.”

The tie left the Sounders with a middling 8-4-5 record at home. At 1.71 points per game, that’s the worst record they’ve ever had during their 13 MLS seasons.

Frustrating as the Sounders’ home form has been, I’m not quite as discouraged as I figured I’d be with the performance. It’s not like the Sounders are literally falling apart. The only game in which they were badly outplayed was the 3-0 loss to LAFC, and even then some great saves made the scoreline look worse than it was.

The Galaxy game was also the third time during this winless run that a stoppage-time shot off the woodwork cost the Sounders points, and they’ve dropped four points this season at home (Timbers +1, Sporting KC +1, Galaxy +2) on similar chances, which shows the margins we’re often looking at.

Beyond the play, I think we have to be optimistic about what the returning talent can do for this team. There’s some reason to be at least a little worried about Raúl Ruidíaz after he apparently strained his hamstring and had to come off after 60 minutes, but Nicolás Lodeiro got through 73 minutes and seems to be working himself back into shape.

There was, of course, also the return of Jordan Morris. His 30-minute runout may have been a bit longer than was initially planned, but he looked a lot like the player we last saw torching defenses last year. Morris didn’t really get a chance to open up his legs with the Galaxy hunkered into a low block, but he still found ways to influence the game with his defensive effort and ability to win set pieces.

I can’t tell you that I’m super confident that the Sounders will win on Sunday against the Whitecaps. But more important than the result in that game is how the Sounders play. A strong performance, even if it’s not a win, would do wonders for their confidence. This is a team whose fundamentals were strong a few weeks ago, and they’ve only added talent since then. One strong performance might be all it takes to remind them — and us — of that.

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