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Postgame Pontifications: Opportunity lost

Sounders had a chance to close out a glorious homestand, but instead will head on the road needing results.

MLS: CF Montreal at Seattle Sounders FC Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — Five-game homestands are a relative rarity in MLS. Up until this year, the Seattle Sounders had never played more than three consecutive league games at home. When they do happen, they’re almost always related to some sort of construction, either of a new stadium or significant renovations.

The Sounders’ lengthy stretch of home games was not as planned. Originally, it was only supposed to consist of four games — which would have still been the longest in team history — but got extended by a game after Concacaf Champions League forced some rescheduling.

Whatever the cause, this seemed to present a pretty massive opportunity for the Sounders to make up some ground. After securing 10 points in the first four games, it seemed to be setting up just about perfectly. A win on Wednesday would have allowed the Sounders to move all the way up to fourth in the Western Conference standings, quite a feat considering they had been dead last as recently as two months ago.

It was not meant to be. After Jordan Morris staked them to a 1-0 lead over CF Montreal less than three minutes into the game, the Sounders struggled to find any consistent rhythm. In the end, they fell 2-1 after a pair of largely preventable goals by Mason Toye.

“Yeah, frustrated, I think,” Morris told reporters when asked about his emotions following the loss. “It was an opportunity for us to keep climbing the table and whenever we play at home we wanna win so it’s a tough result.”

The result itself was perhaps more predictable than it may have seemed. The win allowed Montreal to move to the top of the Eastern Conference and they’ve been one of the league’s top-scoring teams all year. Their relatively anonymous reputation aside, this has been a very good team.

Long homestands

Team Games Points PPG Year
Team Games Points PPG Year
LA Galaxy 6 11 1.83 2003
Sporting KC 10 18 1.80 2011
D.C. United 7 19 2.71 2018
Portland Timbers 10 14 1.40 2019
Austin FC 7 7 1.00 2021
Sounders 5 10 2.00 2022

Long homestands also tend to be tougher to fully maximize than they may seem. Of the five longest I found, only D.C. United, who claimed 19 points over seven straight home matches toward the end of 2018, had a better per-game average than the Sounders’ 2.0 during this recently concluded stretch.

While that gives some context, it shouldn’t diminish the sense of missed opportunity. Watching the game unfold, it’s not hard to feel as though the Sounders were their own worst enemies for much of the night.

The solid defending and smooth transitions into counter-attacks that has defined much of their play since the CCL final was in frustratingly short supply against Montreal. The midfield was particularly out of sorts, often unable to connect forward passes and generate any real sustained pressure. The main culprit seemed to be Montreal’s press, which came out as a 3-5-2 and limited the Sounders to just 11 shots and .9 expected goals, both among their lowest outputs at home in 2022.

“I think we tried to play through the press and then once we got through we rushed our final pass, we rushed the final piece,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “I feel like once we break that line the game kind of gets open and becomes a bit of a track meet. I don’t think that’s what we’re good at and I think that’s kind of what happened today. We were disjointed. Four guys attacking and then six guys behind the ball. Just trying to get up the field. We didn’t build towards a goal, we just kind of ended up kicking a long ball based on their press.”

What particularly frustrated Roldan was that early on the Sounders found some success by playing vertically. The Sounders goal came out of Roldan winning a ball and then quickly playing Morris in behind. For the first 15 minutes or so, similar openings seemed to be available. But after Montreal tied it, the Sounders seemed to stop looking for those longer balls over the top.

Perhaps in an effort to establish possession and maybe just prove they could, the Sounders seemed insistent on playing through the press rather than over it. Roldan was left shaking his head.

“I’ve always liked our chances 3-v-3 in the front,” he said. “They were playing us aggressively. If we stretch the line, spaces are going to open up, they’re not going to press as much. Sending a message — just like they’re sending a message to us — that if they’re going to press, we’re just going to bypass it and go forward with directness, verticality. I felt like that’s something we didn’t do.”

This result by itself was hardly a disaster. The Sounders still find themselves in playoff spot and with a game in hand on most of their competitors. It would not take a long string of results to move into an even more advantageous position. But this was also an opportunity lost, in part because the upcoming schedule looks far more daunting. Four of the Sounders’ six matches in July are on the road and three of those will be played on short rest. You can bet that at least some of the Sounders’ opponents will see what Montreal did and do their best to mimic it. The Sounders can not afford to get complacent.

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