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Observations from Sounders' frustrating loss to Earthquakes

All the chances in the world don't matter if you aren't finishing.

Last Updated
4 min read
Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

Looking at the schedule, May promised to be a month where the Seattle Sounders might be able to put some space between themselves and the other contenders in the Western Conference. The Sounders played six league games, all of them against teams either outside of the playoff race or teetering on the edge and four those were played at home. There was not a single game on the schedule that looked remotely unwinnable.

Instead, the Sounders limped their way to a 2-4-0 record that included an almost impossible-to-believe three losses at Lumen Field, someplace they had not even allowed a goal in their previous five games. Although the Sounders gave up a respectable seven goals in those games, they only managed to score four. Even more frustrating was they generated plenty of chances in all but one of those matches.

The month closed with an especially frustrating game, a 1-0 loss at home to the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday in which the Sounders fired of a season-high 23 shots and absolutely dominated the final 40 minutes but couldn’t find a goal.

Here are my main observations from that game:

Tired of talking about xG

There’s been a rather shocking amount of debate lately around the value of expected goals and I’ll take some of the blame for that. But let’s make something clear: The reason I keep bringing it up is because it’s a good short-hand for talking about the quality of chances the Sounders are creating. Putting xG aside, there’s value in understanding that the Sounders’ struggles don’t seem so much about process as they are about results. Against the Earthquakes, for instance, they had at least four chances that I would say easily could have resulted in goals. Heck, if you give Raúl Ruidíaz that look he got in stoppage time 100 times, there’s a decent chance he converts on 95-99 of them. For someone of his skill, it is about as close to a gimme as they come.

I’m also well aware that generating chances is not how we determine success. That’s all about the final product and right now the Sounders are sorely lacking in that category. I do think that as long as they keep creating these types of chances the goals will come, but I’m also well aware that previous performance does not guarantee future results.

Welcome to the Léo Chú show

If you wanted to find one obvious positive from the Quakes loss it’s that Léo Chú looked like he made a serious step forward. Chú has been pretty good this year, but we’ve rarely seen the type of full-match performance we saw from him in that game. Given a rare opportunity to play all 90 minutes, Chú was effective all the way through. Aside from nearly setting up a couple goals and getting himself in position for some decent looks of his own, he was borderline unplayable on the wing. He was constantly looking to beat his man on the dribble, a dynamic aspect that the Sounders’ offense has often lacked. If he can maintain this level, big things are ahead.

Set-piece struggles

The one Quakes goal came on a blown zonal marking defense off a corner, with Jeremy Ebobisse being allowed an unmarked chance from point-blank range allowing them to score on one of the two corners the Sounders allowed all game. On the other side, the Sounders were gifted 10 corners and weren’t able to turn any of those into particularly dangerous shots. It’s become somewhat emblematic of the season, where the Sounders have the 11th worst set-piece defense by xG — which stands in stark contrast to their open-play defense which ranks as fifth best by the same metric — and have only managed to score two goals from set-pieces, neither of them directly from a corner. It was only two years ago that the Sounders were tied for the league lead for goals off set-pieces, but that well seems to have gone dry. Nicolás Lodeiro has started sharing more of that burden, but he’s still taking about two-thirds of the set-pieces. Maybe it’s time he give up even more of that responsibility.

Slow starts

I tend to think the degree to which the Sounders have started slow this year has been overstated, but there is some truth to the claim. Of the Sounders’ 20 goals, just seven have been scored in the first half and they have only one first-half goal in their past 10 games. To their credit, they’ve also only allowed four first-half goals but it does seem like a recent pattern of theirs to spend the first 50 minutes or so of a match feeling it out before showing more attacking interest. Against the Quakes, the Sounders largely controlled the first-half but still only managed five shots, which left them open for the gut punch at the start of the second half.

Looking ahead

The Sounders host the Timbers today in the first-half of a doubleheader with OL Reign. By now you probably know the Timbers have a four-game winning streak against the Sounders and haven’t lost at Lumen Field since 2017. That needs to end. The Timbers are not a good team and despite the narrative that the Sounders kick-started their season in the last meeting, they’ve gone just 2-3-2 in the seven games since. They’re also going to be missing several key players. There are no excuses.

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