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Five Thoughts on Sounders’ stalling out in Portland

The broken-down bus was just the icing on the cake.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Portland Timbers Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

At some point as the Seattle Sounders suffered a 2-1 defeat in Portland Friday night, the traveling contingent from the Emerald City Supporters got some bad news when it was discovered that the bus that transported them some 130 miles south had broken down. Making matters worse, they had to wait for a replacement bus to arrive from Seattle. When it was all said and done, they didn’t get home until the early hours of Saturday morning.

They still might have had a better night than the Sounders they came to support.

Despite an early (set piece!) goal and something of a rally late, the Sounders were mostly bystanders at Providence Park, second to most 50/50 balls and ultimately on the scoresheet as their four-year reign atop the Cascadia mountaintop came to an end. Whether you consider that the worst news on the day depends on your perspective, as the Timbers also leapfrogged the Sounders in what passes for the race for the MLS Cup Playoffs.

One could credibly call this the nadir of the season, which started with such promise and was then crowned with a first-of-its-kind trophy, which seems at this point more a distant memory. Labor Day typically marks the unofficial end of summer, with the last call for barbecues and beaches. Few Sounders fans will probably miss it, because nobody is celebrating “Summer with the Champs” anymore.

Live by the set-piece...

It was the lone bright spot on the day, as the Sounders' much-maligned misery from dead ball positions finally brought some relief on a well-worked corner routine. Head coach Brian Schmetzer was acutely aware of his team’s deficiencies from corners and free kicks, and the Sounders managed to send in a quality ball from Alex Roldan from a deeper position, which Yeimar Gomez Andrade outjumped everyone for and thumped past Aljaz Ivacic for an early lead. The Sounders were a fair bit better generally on set-pieces and given their scoring difficulties, they're likely to need to continue to improve as the season winds down.

Die by the set piece...

Starting with the eventual game-winner, the Sounders got a taste of their own medicine as they somehow managed to get their marking all wrong in the 51st minute on a free kick that Dairon Asprilla managed to send across goal finding a wide-open Sebastián Blanco, who easily slotted the ball in what was basically an open net. For whatever improvement the Sounders showed in set-piece attack, they were equally as fragile defending them, which partially explains Schmetzer introducing Jackson Ragen into the match. Ragen seemed to help shore up the Sounders’ defense, and was incredibly unlucky not to nab the Sounders what would have been an against-the-run-of-play equalizer as his header caromed off the crossbar late in the match.

Not a penalty

The most dangerous set piece of them all should have never happened of course. The Timbers got their equalizer in the 41st minute courtesy of the aforementioned Asprilla, but it’s still unclear where the foul was that granted it. Eryk Williamson wrangled his way into the Sounders’ penalty box moments prior, but seemed to be more out of control than in it, and any contact with Yeimar defines the word “incidental.” Still, center referee Ismail Elfath — no stranger to controversial penalty calls involving the Sounders — pointed to the spot and the Timbers were level moments later.

Sounders weren’t in this match for most of it

Questionable penalty aside, the Timbers won this match on the merits. Unlike previous poor results this summer, the Sounders can’t claim to have played well but been unlucky. They barely out-possessed a Timbers side that revels in conceding possession and playing on the counterattack. But the main issue was in the midfield, where the Sounders couldn’t seem to string more than two attacking passes together, and the amount of unforced errors too numerous to count. The lack of cohesion explained why Raúl Ruidíaz had so few touches on the ball in the match, not something the Sounders want as they try to salvage their increasingly fading playoff hopes.

What’s left in the tank?

The Sounders now head off for Orlando, desperate to get some type of result having dropped points from winning positions in the last two matches. Had they managed to hold on against the LA Galaxy, the loss in Portland — while never good — might not have been as dispiriting. But now they face a team also in a playoff fight on short rest in brutal conditions. No matter how forgiving the playoff structure is in MLS, a team outside the playoff race has to find a way to pick up points where you don't expect them. And for most of this MLS regular season, the Sounders simply haven’t done enough of that.

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