It was only a few weeks ago that I felt pretty confident in saying that the Seattle Sounders had firmly put last season behind them. They had started the season strong, looked very good at home and were showing the kind of grit that seemed to elude them in close matches.
Boy, have things changed. In the last four games, the Sounders have gone 1-3-0 with their only win coming against a nine-man opponent. In the other three, they’ve fallen behind 2-0 in each despite facing teams that were all at or near the bottom in the Western Conference standings.
Collectively, they’ve brought back all sorts of negative feelings about last year’s collapse. Not to pour salt in the wound, but here are some of those ugly trends I’ve seen return, especially in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Whitecaps:
The last time the Sounders scored a first-half goal was on April 1 in a 2-1 win over the LA Galaxy. That was eight games ago! The Sounders had a couple of decent looks on set-pieces in the first half against the Whitecaps, but were still outshot 7-3. Against the Whitecaps, the Sounders struggled to string passing sequences together and had a hard time handling the press. Still, it looked like they were going to get into halftime tied until Alex Roldán made a very regrettable error by failing to clear a ball that Pedro Vitte eventually poked into the goal. Generally speaking, the first-half defense has actually been decent during this stretch, but the margins are so thin that any mistake proves costly.
Playing from behind
Somewhat related to the slow starts is the Sounders’ sudden tendency to give up the first goal … or goals. This was the third time in four games where the Sounders found themselves in a 2-0 hole, something even the most prolific offenses struggle to overcome but more relevantly a deficit good teams avoid getting into at all. What’s particularly frustrating about this deficit is how the Sounders were their own worst enemy on both goals, coming off turnovers in their own end. Through much of their hot start, the Sounders were impressive in their ability to play through pressure. We haven’t seen that since at least the St. Louis City game.
Lack of fight
One of Brian Schmetzer’s favorite stats is duels, in part because I think he sees it as a sort of proxy for effort. Notably, the Sounders have now lost the duels battle in 3 of 4 games, including in all three losses. Against the Whitecaps, it was 53-45. Schmetzer noted that this isn’t just winning obvious battles like aerial duels, but players just showing a willingness to chase a ball that might seem out of reach. I’m sure some of that has to do with tired legs, and this was the Sounders’ third match in eight days, but the Whitecaps were dealing with the same thing. For the Sounders to turn this around, they have to be harder to beat than they’ve been.
Depth running short
At various times this year, I’ve felt as though the Sounders were among the deepest teams in MLS. The key part of that sentence, though, is “in MLS.” As anyone reading this column surely knows, there are intense limitations foisted upon MLS teams. Even the deepest squads get pretty shallow once you go beyond the backup at any position or get to the 18th or 19th best player on the roster. The Sounders have been finding that out the hard way. That’s why Nouhou and Léo Chú were both allowed to start despite appearing something well short of fully fit. It’s why Nicolás Lodeiro and Jordan Morris both started all three games and definitely looked a bit slow as a result. The good news is that the Sounders appear to be getting closer to full fitness.
Everything else you need to know
- This loss runs the Sounders’ Cascadia Cup losing streak to four games, including 0-2 this year. The good news is that they still have four games remaining to make up for that.
- The Sounders get a full week to prepare for the New York Red Bulls, a team that is 2-0-1 since their coaching change but still 0-3-4 on the road.
- It was a bad weekend for professional soccer in the area. OL Reign got thumped by Gotham City 4-1 at home, while the Tacoma Defiance fell 1-0 to Vancouver Whitecaps 2.
- Obed Vargas started and played about 70 minutes for the USA at the U20 World Cup in their 1-0 win over Ecuador. He was very good, especially in the first half where he had one of the USA’s best scoring chances and made a goal-line clearance to save a goal. The USA is back in action today against Fiji.
- Speaking of OL Reign, they’re for sale. My understanding is that there are two local groups interested in potentially buying them.