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Postgame Pontifications: Never let your guard down

Loss was uncharacteristic but perhaps a useful wakeup call.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at San Jose Earthquakes Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Losing consecutive games to two of the league’s worst teams is hardly the way the Seattle Sounders wanted to head into two of the most important games in team history. Whether or not the way they lost those two games will ultimately prove useful, though, remains to be seen.

Just for clarity: It’s undeniably bad that the Sounders are stuck on seven points through seven regular-season games. It’s especially bad that they’ve lost two games that should have been rather easy wins, at least on paper. There’s a pretty good chance that these six lost points will play some factor in where the Sounders finish the season. I’m not trying to give them an excuse for any of that.

But if you’re looking for a kernel of positivity — especially in the Sounders’ 4-3 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes — it’s that they’ve hopefully been reminded that there’s never a good time to take a result for granted.

“For me, it’s about being more in tune with the game,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, whose goal made it 2-0 and seemingly locked up the game early in the first half. “This is more of a wake-up call. You learn from these moments.

“This is uncharacteristic. That stuff doesn’t happen [to the Sounders]. We have to be more focused. That’s what it’s going to take to get a good result. You move on and focus on the final. This is past us at this point, the important thing is to have all these guys gain the experience.”

Perhaps underscoring the potential value of such a frustrating result is just how out of character it was for the Sounders. For all their recent struggles, the Sounders had not allowed more than two goals in a game this year and hadn’t given up four in a regular-season match since April 21, 2019. San Jose’s stoppage-time winner was the first such goal the Sounders had allowed since Sept. 19, 2018 in a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, and the 94th minute goal was the latest decisive goal the Sounders had allowed during the Brian Schmetzer era, and tied for the latest in their MLS history (March 29, 2014).

Even more remarkable was that this was the first time during the Sounders MLS existence that they’d lost a game in which they led by at least two goals. The Sounders had won 123 straight games in which they led by two goals and came into this one with a 128-0-1 all-time record in such games. Even more painful, the Sounders were able to restore their two-goal advantage when Jordan Morris made it 3-1 in the 57th minute.

That goal, in particular, seemed to put the game away. Unfortunately, the Sounders may have felt the same way. By all accounts, the Sounders did a good job of understanding that they couldn’t look past the Earthquakes to the CCL finals. But it’s one thing to intellectually understand that and it’s another to actually stop yourself from doing it, especially when you jump out to an early lead and seem to have the game under control early in the second half.

The Sounders’ minds may have been saying “stay in the moment”, but their actions suggested otherwise.

“It was more complacency,” Roldan said, when asked when he felt the game slipping away. “People talk about [2-0] being the most dangerous lead. It was more on our end than San Jose stepping up. The game felt too easy at times and that’s when we let our guard down.”

I’ll admit that it’s a far too convenient to suggest that any of this was necessary. It should not require losing two entirely winnable games for the Sounders to understand the importance of not letting their guard down no matter what happens in CCL. But in a two-legged series against an opponent that is coming in with their own struggles of form and missing some key contributors, maybe it was useful to be reminded that, yes, even the Sounders are capable of letting victory slip through their fingers.

“You have to move forward because there’s nothing we can do about this,” Schmetzer said. “What I told them before the game, tried the message, it’s human nature to look forward. I thought we did a good job of that. They applied themselves early and got complacent at 2-0. We addressed it at halftime. We can’t think it’s over. We have to stay disciplined. When Jordan scored that great goal, everyone breathed and relaxed. That’s the lesson there. You can never, ever let your guard down.”