It’s funny how quickly a narrative can change.
Two weeks ago, the Sounders were hoping to cap off an undefeated homestead, before being upended by the CF Montreal. The following weekend, the Sounders managed to right that wrong with a comprehensive victory in Toronto, leaving them comfortably in the MLS playoff mix.
Two weeks later, they’re trending in the wrong direction, and fast.
That 4-1-1 stretch has turned into a 1-3-0 slide after a 1-0 defeat to Nashville SC Wednesday night. Unlike the loss on the weekend to the Portland Timbers, the Sounders didn’t fall apart in the second half, but their first half stuttered after conceding what coach Brian Schmetzer deemed a preventable goal.
It’s a rough patch the Sounders find themselves in right now, and results aside something is missing. The loss of Raúl Ruidíaz perhaps has started to take its toll with consecutive shutouts and injuries and absences along the backline have led to an uncharacteristically leaky defense at times. Still, somewhat favorable results on the night and a forgiving MLS playoff structure mean the Sounders are far from out of the hunt.
But the Sounders will need to navigate themselves out of the woods, before they find themselves lost in the wilderness.
Not up to their standard
A quick start aside, the Sounders really struggled in the first half to get anything going against a Nashville SC side that is not known for its dynamism in attack. The Sounders controlled the possession early, but as the first half wore on, they lost that advantage and were unable to get out of their own half of the field thanks to sloppiness in possession, an inability to clear balls inside their penalty box, and some untimely fouls. Typically content to sit back and counter, Nashville was inexplicably allowed to dictate the tempo almost entirely in the first half, though that wasn’t how the game was ultimately decided.
One bad sequence dooms Sounders
As Schmetzer said, it’s one thing to get outplayed or lose on some moments of brilliance, and quite another due to lapses in concentration. The winning goal could be described as such, as Nico Lodeiro was dispossessed from behind and the Sounders were left exposed on a counter where all three centerbacks were further up field than maybe necessary. When CJ Sapong, who managed to beat Nouhou for pace going down the other way, centered a ball to Hany Mukhtar inside the penalty box, Nashville had their goal, and the game.
Better second half not enough
About 10 minutes into the second half, Schmetzer had seen all he needed to, and brought in Danny Leyva and Will Bruin to change things. The resulting player and positional changes certainly worked in that the Sounders were far better. That was due in no small part to Leyva, who won more than his share of balls and used some incisive passing to get the Sounders more goal dangerous. Unfortunately, the brighter play was not bright enough, and when Bruin missed one of the Sounders’ handful of genuine dangerous chances, it truly just one of those nights.
Only conceding one goal, it would be harsh to lay the blame solely on the backline. But when one goal is the difference, the spotlight will shine bright on the culprit. That said, as Schmetzer is fond of saying, soccer is a team sport. The backline was done no favors when Lodeiro had the ball taken off him in the middle of the field. Perhaps communication could have been better from his teammates alerting him to the impending danger. Either way, the Sounders are more experienced than to have these types of issues cropping up this way.
Some day, his goal will come (Part XV)
Though he had his part to play on the winning goal, Nouhou nearly made up for it with an excellent second-half performance, when he was the Sounders' most dangerous attacking threat. Whether one wants their defender to be the focal point of the attack is another discussion, but the Cameroonian international had Nashville on their heels when he got forward. He was desperately unlucky not to finally tally his first MLS goal when his deflected shot was subsequently tipped off the post by Joe Willis. It will happen. Someday, it will happen. For good measure, Nouhou also set up the Sounders’ highest-probability chance, too, sliding a ball to Bruin that the striker put just wide in front of goal.