SEATTLE — As regular-season home openers go, it’s hard to imagine it going much worse than it did on Sunday.
The scene had been reasonably well set. The mood surrounding the Seattle Sounders was about as good as you could ask following a disappointing end to last season. They were also coming off a resounding win over Motagua in Concacaf Champions League, seemingly shaking off the frustration that had carried over.
Nashville SC had other ideas. The newest members of the Western Conference came out with a game-plan seemingly designed to frustrate the Sounders and executed it just about perfectly. For the first 30 minutes or so, their press was effective enough that the Sounders struggled to even get out of their own end. The Sounders were eventually able to start connecting passes, but it was almost all through their two fullbacks and rarely through the middle of the park.
It was really only after Nashville broke through for the game’s first goal in the 80th minute that the Sounders started applying sustained pressure, and it wasn’t until the 87th minute that they actually put a shot on frame. A 0-0 score probably would have been a fair result on the balance, but it’s hard to argue the Sounders deserved any better than the 1-0 loss after generating just .4 Expected Goals.
“Yeah, that’s an organized team, they are very cohesive in the way they play,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said in assessing what Nashville did well. “We didn’t get too many opportunities to run in behind the back line because of the way they play. It’s always frustrating to play a game like that, but at the same time I didn’t think that we played very well. I felt that we were lacking a little bit today.”
Perhaps the best illustration of the Sounders’ struggles was the degree to which their two most attack-oriented starters were limited. Sam Adeniran — who replace the injured Raúl Ruidíaz at forward — and Jordan Morris combined for just 33 touches, one shot, zero dribbles and only two actions inside the penalty area in 119 combined minutes.
Sounders fullbacks Alex Roldan and Nouhou, meanwhile, were the team leaders in touches with 100 and 88, respectively.
Like Roldan said, Nashville deserves a good deal of credit for executing their game plan. They were committed to not letting the Sounders break them down through the middle of the park and did a wonderful job defending the zones in and around the penalty area.
What’s most frustrating about this is that it feels like a continuation of what happened through much of last year, when the Sounders had their worst-ever home record during the MLS era in which they failed to win any of their final three home games.
The Sounders mostly rejected this particular concern, it should be noted. Similarly, they were unwilling to pin this result on having just played in Champions League, though it does seem notable that the three other MLS teams who played midweek CCL games all lost their openers as well.
The night was certainly a setback, especially for those of us who believe this team is capable of winning everything. But if there was a concern that this result might force the Sounders to scale back their ambitions, well, Brian Schmetzer rejected that outright.
“I don’t buy into the idea that teams who put everything into Champions League can’t make the playoffs,” Schmetzer said. “The winning culture of this club is the next game is the most important. We’ll take each game as an individual opportunity to do what we want to do, to win games and compete for trophies. That’s the mantra of the club.”