SEATTLE — Flirt with a near-empty tank of gas enough and eventually, you’re likely to find yourself stranded.
Everyone who has ever driven a motor vehicle knows how this goes. The warning indicator comes on telling you you’re low on fuel, and you’d better get to a gas station ASAP. You think you can squeeze a few more miles out of your car — and usually, you can. Maybe even 10 or 20 miles even. But at some point, you invariably push your luck a little too far, and there you are on the side of the road, pulling out your gas can (if you have one) and making the long walk to the gas station.
While Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer wasn’t so much pushing his luck as hoping he could make it to the shop for some much-needed repairs, time ran out as Sporting Kansas City came into Lumen Field and humbled the Western Conference leaders to the tune of a 3-1 victory, handing the Sounders their first home defeat of the year.
The Sounders thanks to their sizzling start to the year remain atop the West, though SKC now has a game in hand and just two points to make up. The Sounders also lost their grip on the Supporters’ Shield for the time being. Still, more important is a full week’s rest, and hopefully some roster reinforcements either internally or in the form of some new signings. One time stalling on the side of the road is usually enough.
Here are five things we noticed from the game:
Fredy Montero gets his 50th
There weren’t many bright spots in the match today, but Fredy Montero notching his 50th MLS goal for the Sounders certainly tops the list of highlights. Montero put in about as solid a performance as anyone in rave green, and his scrappy goal in the 51st minute was fitting given the disjointed nature of their play today. That said, Montero nearly knocked in what would have been a show-stopper of a bicycle kick midway through the first half, forcing a save from SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia. Who knows how the match would have gone had the ball found the back of the net, especially when you consider Sporting Kansas City found their first goal a few minutes later.
The Sounders, strictly speaking, have never been a team that high presses opponents into submission. Whether that’s due to Schmetzer knowing his personnel, or just a tactical decision, it’s just not something that is part of the Sounders DNA. If there is one thing that can make a press more ineffective than a team not used to doing it, it’s a tired team not used to doing it. Never was that more evident in the second half, as the Sounders pushed desperately for an equalizer, and then having conceded a third goal, just trying to get back into the game. Much of the last 20 minutes of the match more resembled high-school kids playing keep away from their middle-school counterparts, as SKC passed the ball around the Sounders with little trouble, only losing it when they decided to get overly adventurous. It was the kind of dispiriting display that lets you know that you don’t have it on the day, a conclusion Schmetzer summarized when he said the performance wasn’t up to the standard of the club after the game.
Last week in his first start as a right wingback, Kelyn Rowe put in a solid if unspectacular shift in the Sounders’ loss at Minnesota. Against, SKC, Rowe struggled as the Sounders did as whole. A few attacks aside, Rowe’s night featured an atypical number of turnovers, most notably on SKC’s decisive goal as he took too long on the ball saw his slow-developing pass intercepted and eventually put past Stefan Cleveland by Dániel Sallói on a clinical counter attack. Like most of the Sounders, Rowe was likely feeling the effects of too many minutes over the last eight days, and it finally caught up to him.
As exciting as the victory was against Austin FC, Sunday provided a stark reminder that when it comes to playing against grown-ass men, even the most talented of phenoms will take their lumps on occasion. And the Sounders kiddie corps, while not completely out of place Sunday, looked like the young kids they in some cases are. Partially a function of a tired Sounders team in general, Danny Leyva had a rough go of things, giving up the foul that led to the first SKC goal, and being bodied off the ball on more than one occasion. Reed Baker-Whiting struggled to influence the game, while Josh Atencio had a solid showing, continuing his run of form since returning from injury. Ethan Dobbelaere did what he could in his 16-minute cameo, but the game was essentially over by then.
Goals change games, the saying goes, and while every team gives up their share of them over the course of a season, any player will tell you it’s the soft ones that really grate. While one can quibble with the foul that set up the Johnny Russell opener, the goal itself was a classy one. The same can’t be said for the next two, borne more of sloppiness from the Sounders than quality from SKC. Particularly galling was the goal from Cameron Duke in the 72nd minute that provided the final margin. It was a simple ball over the top that was neither closed down to begin with nor properly marked at the end. A breakdown that neatly summed up the Sounders’ performance on the day: too slow, and lacking sharpness and concentration.