SEATTLE — Nobody likes a party crasher.
Unfortunately for the Seattle Sounders, uninvited guests are making a habit of coming into Lumen Field, making a mess, and leaving with all of the unopened bottles of the good wine. For the fourth game in a row, an opponent has come in and left with a result, even worse this time because it was the Portland Timbers who made themselves at home on Seattle’s turf, blanking the Sounders 2-0. The Sounders’ haven’t beaten the Timbers at home during the regular season since 2017, a stretch that’s now five games long.
It was an especially bitter defeat after the OL Reign opened the “Pacific Northwest Experience” with a rousing 2-1 victory over rival Portland Thorns. The Sounders couldn’t provide the encore, coming out flat in the first half and unable to get out of their own way through a 45-minute period in which they were insipid, at best.
Seattle, to be fair was able to turn things around in the second half, only to be undone by a comedy of unforced errors on both goals, allowing the Timbers to smash and grab all three points, and damaging the Sounders’ on a couple of fronts. Results around the league kept the Sounders in first place in the Western Conference and within shouting distance of the Supporters’ Shield, but a victory would have further solidified their credentials in both races. As it is, they’ll have to stew over this defeat for nearly two weeks, as the international break takes center stage.
Sometimes the most anticipated parties don’t live up to the hype.
No home cooking
If the Sounders’ home form didn’t raise alarm bells before, a 2-0 shutout loss to their bitter rivals surely will. Seattle is now 5-3-4 at home, which is just slightly better than league average and no team in a playoff position has a worse home record than the Sounders. While they’re best-in-MLS road form is buoying their playoff position, they’ll obviously need to get that corrected if they have serious MLS Cup aspirations. The Sounders have used home-field advantage particularly well in the playoffs, where they’re riding a 15-game winning streak at Lumen Field while advancing to four finals in five years. Still, it’s unlikely that this sort of home form for the remainder of the year will keep the Sounders at the top of the Western Conference, so at some point they need to figure out what’s going on.
Sounders can’t pass
According to the halftime stats, the Sounders had a 86% passing accuracy, which based on personal observations would lead one to think there was a very generous curve. For much of the first half, the Sounders were their own worst enemy, failing to link with teammates on the initial pass when they won the ball, and unable to connect on the final ball when the opportunity was there. Confoundingly, these were typically not long diagonal switches or low-percentage crosses, but relatively simple passes that they were not able to complete. It made for a disjointed 45 minutes that the Sounders were somewhat lucky to escape with a 0-0 scoreline.
Put simply, this wasn’t a great performance by the defense. While Shane O’Neill put in a solid shift before he was subbed out with the Sounders chasing a goal, most of the backline struggled in one phase of the game or another. Whether it was Alex Roldan seemingly unable to connect basic passes, Yeimar Gomez Andrade’s loose back pass leading to the opening goal, Brad Smith’s relatively anonymous first half, or Stefan Cleveland’s misplays nearly leading to a comical deflected goal (and the miscommunication/misjudgment that eventually led to the game-sealing second), it was a showing that had not plagued the Sounders even during their mid-summer struggles.
Second half was better, but Sounders were unlucky
If the first half was dire, the second half was just frustrating. For as much as the Timbers outplayed the Sounders in the first half, the Sounders were all over their Cascadian rivals in the second. So it was particularly galling, then, to have the Timbers manage two goals due more to the Sounders’ errors than anything else. Equally so, was the Sounders’ lack of luck, hitting the crossbar on what seemed like every set piece they threw at the Timbers. If the crossbar wasn’t protecting the Timbers, Steve Clark was getting them out of trouble with some fine saves. And what Clark or the crossbar couldn’t get to, neither could the Sounders, as numerous chances rolled just wide of the net. On another day, perhaps those balls roll six inches the other way, but it was just one of those games.
Unfortunately, they weren’t treated to two standout performances, but the fans showed out for both the Sounders and OL Reign. The 27,248 in attendance for the OL Reign match broke a NWSL attendance record, while the 45,737 in attendance for the nightcap was the largest crowd since MLS Cup 2019. It was a raucous atmosphere that had been missing for essentially all of 2020, and for most of 2021 when crowds remain reduced by Covid-19, and was befitting of a Cascadia Cup rivalry match.