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What we saw: Slumping Sounders drop second straight

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Sounders have now lost 3 of 4, including two straight at home.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders came into their match Saturday against the San Jose Earthquakes hoping they’d learned some valuable lessons from last week’s up-and-down performances. Instead, they have more questions to answer.

A sucker-punch right before the end of the first half rung the Sounders’ bell, and they couldn’t get off the floor as San Jose held on for a 1-0 victory in a match reminiscent of mid-2010’s “bash brothers” infamy. The Sounders are well known for making second half adjustments which spur them on to victory, but conceding the goal seconds before the halftime whistle changed the calculus for both sides, as San Jose spent the second half with most of their players behind the ball and time-wasting whenever a foul was called. The strategy worked, as the Sounders were far less effective in challenging the Earthquakes’ net than they were before the break.

The second straight home loss will raise alarm bells, though the Sounders’ unbeaten start to the year — along with some favorable results elsewhere —give them a bit of a cushion as they hit the midpoint of games played in the MLS season. The Sounders remain among the leaders in the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield race. But the pack has closed.

Here’s what we noticed from this one:

The first half was wasteful

The first half was a tale of what might have been. What if Raúl Ruidíaz had converted his wide-open chance in the 20th minute or another quality one in the 27th? What if Reed Baker-Whiting had directed his shot to either side of JT Marcinkowski after a wonderful ball from Ruidiaz left the 16-year-old 1-on-1? Unfortunately for the Sounders, the myriad chances they created in the first half were all left wanting, and after San Jose scored near the end of the half, the Sounders had few answers in the second period.

The second half was listless

The second half of games has affectionately been termed, “Schmetzer time,” because of the Sounders’ penchant for making the adjustments in tactics or performance which lead to dramatic comebacks, or at least improvements in play. Saturday night, none of that was evident, particularly in the early moments of the second period which portended a frustrating final 45 (plus 9) minutes. With a 1-0 lead, it was probably unlikely that San Jose was going to be particularly adventurous, and they played much of the second half with most of their players in their half of the field. The Sounders improved upon their first-half possession numbers (63.1%), managing 67% of the ball in the second half. However, they managed one less shot on target, and none seriously troubled Marcinkowski.

Home form is troubling

The Sounders of course pride themselves on taking care of business at home, and even with some early disappointing results at Lumen Field (2-2 tie against Vancouver, 0-0 draw against Austin FC), they had managed to at least collect points through their unbeaten run. That has come to a screeching halt, now having lost two consecutive matches at home for the first time since 2019. Alarmingly, the Sounders now have a better road record (2 ppg in 7 games) than home (1.8 ppg in 10 games). Counter-intuitive as it may seem, maybe it’s good that the second half of the season will see them on the road in 10 of 17 matches. Of course, it’s pretty unlikely that they’ll continue at 2.0 points per game on the road in MLS ... even if the charter flights do seem to have helped.

Duels doom Sounders

For all of the Sounders' statistical dominance in this match, there was one glaring exception, and Schmetzer pinned that as a major reason they left Lumen Field with no points. San Jose dominated the individual contests. The Earthquakes won 53% of duels in the match, winning the battles in both halves. Importantly, Schmetzer noted that on the goal, the Sounders lost four duels that could have prevented the shot in the first place. Sometimes, the ball doesn’t bounce your way, but when you have four bites at the apple and don’t get a taste, it’s not a surprise when the opponent takes advantage.

Soft goals becoming a problem

When you don’t win your duels, it can leave you open to goals that you shouldn’t concede. That was the case on the Earthquakes’ winner, where even after failing to win the ball, the goal itself was one that Stefan Cleveland probably could have saved. Either way, it was a microcosm of goals that the Sounders have conceded as of late, which have included turnovers in dangerous positions and lapses in concentration. They’re the types of goals the Sounders weren’t conceding early in the year during their undefeated streak and especially when they did not give up goals during the run of play. While it’s fair to say that such things even out over the course of a year, the Sounders have some work to do on the defensive side of the ball.