One of the hallmarks of any good organization is a refusal to panic. This has been one of the constants with the Seattle Sounders, who have been one of the most stable organizations in sports ever since Adrian Hanauer first hired Brian Schmetzer to be the head coach in 2002.
Over the past 20-odd years, the Sounders have gone through plenty of slumps but have always proven perfectly capable of correcting without over-reacting. In that sense a three-game losing streak — or four losses in five games if you prefer — hardly seems like something to get too worked up over. I don’t think that any dramatic changes need to be made to the coaching staff or roster, for instance.
That’s also not to argue that everything is fine. Everthing is not fine.
The Sounders just finished a three-game week in which they claimed zero points. They were not hopelessly overmatched in any of those three matches and should have approached all of them as perfectly winnable. During this losing streak, they have never led at any point and have now gone scoreless for 300 consecutive minutes despite facing three opponents who were, at best, middling defensively.
What was particularly disappointing in Saturday’s 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire, was the Sounders’ inability to seriously threaten goal while holding the possession advantage and outshooting their opponent, 15-9.
“We were too casual, need to be crisper, need to be more dynamic,” a clearly frustrated Will Bruin told the broadcast after the game. “When we go forward, we have to actually go.
“This week was a rude awakening and we need to regroup and come back with a good week of training, start focusing and turn it on.”
The situation the Sounders find themselves in is hardly dire. They are still just a point from a playoff spot and a solid run of games could push them into their customary Top 4 positioning. But these dropped points are further eroding their room for error.
Tempting as it may be to point fingers at one player or another, what we’ve seen this week is indicative of a team that’s just generally lacking sharpness. In addition to their inability to score, the Sounders allowed soft goals in all three matches, the product of errors that are perfectly avoidable. This time it was allowing an unpressured cross and the defensive line failing to push forward together, leaving three defenders to mark five attackers.
“I think the issue is the whole team,” Sounders midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro said during the postgame press conference. “We had a really bad week. We know we need to improve, to work a little more.
“We definitely feel frustration and also uncertainty. We’re not doing things well, we’re not performing the way we’d like to, and the problem is we’re getting less and less time to turn this thing around. We have to change fast because we don’t have much time left.”
That the Sounders don’t need to look too far in their past to find evidence of their quality is both a good and bad thing. In one sense, the Sounders know they can beat some of the continent's best teams. Heck, as recently as a month ago they played LAFC to a draw. That also just illustrates how quickly things can change.
“We’re definitely not the same team that played at Concacaf tournament,” Lodeiro said. “Not only in this game, but in other games. We feel tired, without inspiration and in some of these games we’re not able to complete chances.”
Like Bruin, Lodeiro thinks the problem is potentially mental more than physical. The Sounders have now played 29 matches across all competitions, the rough equivalent of a full season. As much as they say they treat every game with equal performance, that’s just not always realistic. It’s perhaps telling that their only win in their last five came with a heavily rotated lineup.
But that’s not an excuse meant to justify this run of poor results. The Sounders recognize that something must change.
“We have to change our attitude,” Lodeiro said. “We have to be more aggressive. We have to have the ball, we have to want to have the ball.”
This match was not without positives to build from. I liked Danny Leyva’s play as Albert Rusnák’s partner in the double-pivot — it was the first time they’ve been paired together and that offers some upside. Similarly, getting Xavier Arreaga and Yeimar Gomez-Andrade on the field together should help solidify the defense. The Sounders are 7-2-2 when they both start at centerback, and this was their first loss with the pair starting since the MLS regular-season opener.
The Sounders have come out of ruts like this plenty of times before, and this tends to be the time of year when they start to turn it around. They’re also well aware that change will require more than flipping a proverbial switch.
“We talked about pressure, about how when things aren’t going well you have to step forward, not be afraid to change your mindset and do things differently,” Schmetzer said. “We addressed that pressure of running out of time, of pulling yourself out of a hole.
“We’ll continue to address things in a positive way. I don’t think there’s any panic but there is a lack of confidence when I see the team play, and that’s what we’ll try to address.”