For the better part of the first 60 minutes against Orlando City, the Seattle Sounders attack looked like it was clicking. No, they hadn’t scored but they were creating chances and looking dangerous. At that point in the match, the Sounders held a 14-6 shots advantage and all but four of those shots had come from inside the penalty area.
Over the game’s final 30 minutes, however, the Sounders only managed two more shots while allowing Orlando City to take seven. In the end, the Sounders had to consider themselves at least a little fortunate to have escaped with a 0-0 tie.
It was the third straight home game and the fourth time in four games in which the Sounders had failed to score. It’s a pattern that is growing increasingly frustrating and one that doesn’t have an obvious solution waiting in the wings.
Here’s some of my main observations from the game
Someone has to step up and score
At the risk of stating the blatantly obvious, the Sounders really need to find some goal-scoring. Best I can tell, this 12-game run in which they’ve scored just nine goals ties their worst scoring drought in history. Notably, that previous run of awfulness in 2018 included eight home games. As you may remember, they eventually turned that around and posted what was at the time the best half-season in MLS history (a jaw-dropping 43 points in their final 17 games that season).
The obvious candidates for stepping up to score are forwards like Raúl Ruidíaz and Héber. That would certainly be appreciated, but it’s worth repeating that forwards have mostly been carrying their share of the scoring burden this year and during this stretch they’ve scored four of the non-penalty goals. To sustainably break out of this slump, the Sounders need a more varied attack. That means players like Nicolás Lodeiro, Albert Rusnák, Léo Chú or even João Paulo need to start bagging a goal or two. Heck, maybe the Sounders can even find a way to get one of their defenders on the end of a set piece? That sure would be a welcome change.
Defense continues to be pretty good
Not to be lost in all of this is a defense that is playing well enough to keep the Sounders from completely falling apart. Unsatisfying as scoreless draws are, they sure beat 1-0 losses! The Sounders have now managed to keep six clean sheets during this 12-game run — interestingly enough the exact same rate of shutouts they posted during the first eight games. In those six shutouts, the Sounders could have claimed anywhere from six to 18 points. They’ve actually claimed 12.
The underlying numbers suggest this is not just some run of good fortune either. The Sounders have allowed 1.02 xG per game is actually a little better than the actual 1.15 goals they’ve allowed per match. If the Sounders can just combine that defense with anything close to the type of scoring pace they started with this could still be a very good season.
João Paulo has quietly returned to old form
It hasn’t been discussed too much, but João Paulo has effectively returned to the elite status he enjoyed prior to his ACL injury of a year ago, with the notable exception of goal-contributions. João Paulo’s passing and defending, however, appear to be up to his old standard.
Compared to the rest of the league’s midfielders, João Paulo is among the leaders in a host of passing and defensive metrics and has re-established himself as arguably the Sounders’ most important player.
What to do about Nico?
It should be said that Saturday was one of Nicolás Lodeiro’s more effective performances in quite some time. But the .3 non-penalty xG+xA that he generated is is still well below his Sounders career average (.46). He’s currently average .33 for the season, and he has just one goal-creating action in his past 11 games. In this game, he was deployed as a right winger and while he was at least a little more disciplined with his movement than he was in the midweek game, he was still inclined to roam quite a bit.
It’s probably unrealistic for the Sounders to expect Lodeiro to reach anywhere near his previous heights, but they also need to accomodate for his drop in production. Moving him out of the middle is a fine short-term solution, but once the Sounders are at full strength I think serious consideration must be given to bringing him off the bench.
Jackson Ragen is out
Aside from the lack of goals, the biggest disappointment from Saturday’s game may have been the yellow card Jackson Ragen received. The card came in the 20th minute on what appeared to be a completely accidental situation where Ragen stepped on Duncan McGuire’s foot with his trailing foot. A foul? Maybe. But was it dangerous and wreckless? I didn’t think so.
Beyond forcing Ragen to play 70 minutes on a yellow card, it also will rule him out for this weekend’s game against the Houston Dynamo. That’s because it is Ragen’s sixth yellow card of the season, four of which have come in his last six games. What makes the suspension particularly inconvenient is that it comes just as the Sounders learned that Xaiver Arreaga would miss 8-10 weeks after injuring his quadricep while on international duty.
Everything you need to know
- The Sounders host the Houston Dynamo on Saturday at 7:30 PM. You’ll need MLS Season Pass to watch it, but it will be available for free on the radio.
- Jordan Morris was the only Sounder named to the MLS All-Star Game roster. That game will be played on July 19, a few days after the Gold Cup final and a few days before the Sounders’ Leagues Cup opener.
- We’re going to record a mailbag episode later today. Please feel free to submit questions here.