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Observations from Sounders' loss to Timbers

This felt very out of character, but also very much in line with how this rivalry has been going.

Last Updated
5 min read
Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

PORTLAND, Ore. — Of all the ways I’ve seen the Seattle Sounders lose games, I’m not sure I’ve seen one more odd than Saturday’s. It’s not that a very good Sounders team lost to a pretty bad Timbers team — we’ve seen that before — it was how good they looked for the first 70 minutes and the degree to which they completely fell apart over the final 20.

I know before the game I said “weird things tend to happen in rivalry games” but I was definitely not expecting this. The loss was so seemingly out of character and the collapse so sudden that I’m still struggling to understand exactly what happened even after watching it back a second time.

Here are some of my observations:

The first 70 minutes

It should not be lost that the Sounders came into this match with a clear identity and  gameplan, and pretty much executed it … for 70 minutes. During that time, the Sounders did a wonderful job of keeping the Timbers from getting out in transition, moved their defense around and created good chances.

By the time Raúl Ruidíaz opened the scoring in the 58th minute, the Sounders had totally seized control of the match and they easily could have scored another goal or two shortly thereafter. Jordan Morris and Léo Chú continuously found space on the wings and were creating danger. Nicolás Lodeiro was pulling strings. The defense was stable. The crowd was basically a nonfactor.

Then Dairon Asprilla scored an bicycle kick out of basically nothing and everything flipped. The crowd was energized, the players fed off it and the Sounders suddenly seemed helpless to do anything.

Formation change

Even without the benefit of hindsight, it was a little odd to see Héber replace Léo Chú and for the Sounders to move into a 4-4-2. Brian Schmetzer said he had liked how Héber and Ruidíaz looked together a week earlier against St. Louis City, but the circumstances in that game were very different.

Not only was that game at home, but the Sounders were already up 2-0. Making such an aggressive sub in that situation made sense, but it was unnecessarily risky here.

There was no real margin for error this time, especially with Ruidíaz having already played more minutes than in any previous game this season. The sensible move probably would have been to have Héber replace Ruidíaz and to stick with the 4-2-3-1 and then maybe bring in Danny Leyva to spell Léo Chú.

I don’t think Schmetzer’s move deserves quite as much blame as it’s getting — there were a lot of defensive mistakes that didn’t strike me as directly related — but I would hope we leave the experiments for less potentially volatile situations.

Failure to rise to the occasion

As you’ve likely seen by now, Schmetzer was extremely animated following the match. Usually, Schmetzer is pretty calm even after frustrating losses but he was pissed. I can’t blame him. The Sounders have now lost four straight to the Timbers and have been outscored 11-2 in those games.

Keep in mind that this is a time when the Timbers are not good. They came into this match as one of the worst offensive teams in the league this year and looked pretty much dead until Asprilla’s goal.

To their credit, they took that momentum and ran with it. The Sounders didn’t come close to meeting their energy.

A good illustration of the difference was during the first 70 minutes, the Sounders made 13 blocks. They were sacrificing their bodies, getting in the way of shots and passes and generally playing like the stout defensive team they’ve been all year. During the final 20 minutes? They had one block and looked extremely tentative defensively.

When it comes to this rivalry, the Timbers seem to be able to find a new level while the Sounders can’t. I don’t know why that is, but it would be nice if we could figure that out.

Defensive breakdowns

As much attention as we’ve paid to the Sounders’ offense this year, the defense has been arguably even better. Alex Roldan, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Jackson Ragen and Nouhou have probably been the best back four in the league and Stefan Frei — despite a few notable mistakes — had been mostly very good as well. Add in the play of João Paulo, I’m not sure I’d take another back six.

This game was rough for them, however. On Asprilla’s goal, João Paulo makes almost no effort to close down the passer; on the second goal Obed Vargas, Yeimar and Ragen all take bad angles; on the third goal Frei totally flubs the initial save, but there are THREE Timbers closer to goal than any Sounders defender; and the fourth goal is just a lot of players out of position.

I’m going to assume this was just a blip, but I don’t think anyone is going to like what they see on the film.

Some positives

Aside from the overall play of the first 70 minutes, I do think there were some positives to take out of this match. The big one is Ruidíaz scoring again. Ruidíaz still doesn’t look quite as sharp as we’re used to seeing, but his goal was totally vintage stuff. The way he just swept it into the goal from about 12 yards out and at a tough angle is a sign that he’s still got it, even if his touch looked a little heavy and he had a couple other looks he could have done better with.

I also thought that Vargas was mostly pretty good. Again, not quite vintage stuff we saw from him last year, but considering this was his first start since last June it was encouraging. His assist to Ruidíaz was surely the highlight, but he was also solid defensively and was a good connector.

Let’s not forget that the Sounders were missing three starters from last week — Albert Rusnák, Cristian Roldan and Josh Atencio — and barely missed them through two-thirds of the match. It also didn’t help that Roldan was scratched after Friday’s training session, meaning the Sounders never even practiced with this lineup. That doesn’t excuse the way the Sounders fell apart, of course, but it’s a reminder that everything we thought about this team prior to this week likely remains true.

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