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Postgame Pontifications: Looking for answers

Sounders continue to struggle to find consistency after another frustrating result.

Last Updated
3 min read
Sounders FC Communications

Facing an opponent on eight days’ less rest, who was missing several key players and stuck in a funk just about as bad as their own, the Seattle Sounders’ trip to Southern California seemed to present an opportunity to get things headed in the right direction.

Instead, it started off as badly as it possibly could. Mateusz Bogusz was allowed to coast through the midfield almost completely unimpeded and take a shot from about 22 yards out that took a deflection and beat Stefan Frei.

That the Sounders recovered enough to mostly have the better play for the next 60 minutes or so is a point in their favor. That they could never actually find the equalizer and ultimately lost 1-0 to a team that should be running on fumes, however, is yet another bit of frustration for a team that has now won just 2 of its past 11 matches.

The confusing part of this result is that after a first half in which the Sounders were mostly dictating play, finding the better scoring chances and promised to be on the ascendency with LAFC’s tired legs presumably catching up to them, the second half refused to follow the script. Over the final 30 minutes, LAFC won the possession battle (51-49) and outshot the Sounders 4-1.

“We fell into the trap again of losing some balls, some simple passes [that] gave them a bit of life, a little bit of possession,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We needed to extend our possessions throughout the entire game to put them under pressure. They’re the team that’s played a lot of games. And remaining disciplined within our structure. We need to have guys that understand what we want. The team wants to win so bad that sometimes they just try and do too much and that ends up not being a good thing.”

As has been the case in many games in the previous two months, it wasn’t that the Sounders were objectively bad. They created some decent scoring chances, limited LAFC for the most part and put themselves in a position to at least get points. But their failures continue to exist on the margins.

In this one, a prime culprit was Nicolás Lodeiro, who was deployed as a nominal right winger. To his credit, I think, Schmetzer gave Albert Rusnák another look at the No. 10 spot after a solid showing against Charlotte FC in the previous game. The coaches seemed to add the tactical tweak of shading Rusnák to the left, which enabled Léo Chú to be more involved in the game. Rusnák was the Sounders’ most effective offensive creator, leading the Sounders with six shot-creating actions while losing possession just once. He also helped Chú get more involved, as the Sounders’ most promising attacks often came when the left winger was put into space.

Lodeiro, meanwhile, was all over the place. When he’s deployed centrally, that works to help create overloads. Combined with Cody Baker’s understandably more conservative approach — he was, afterall, primarily tasked with defending Denis Bouanga — the Sounders effectively vacated the right side of the attacking third.

On the occasions that Chú was able to get free on the left channel, there were precious few options aside from looking for Raúl Ruidíaz. Lodeiro’s effort can’t be questioned, but all that running didn’t do much to create positive matchups in this one. He finished with just one shot-creating action and no key passes.

Despite these struggles, the Sounders are still somehow third in the Western Conference — fourth even if you go by points per game — but the table is getting shockingly compressed. The Sounders are just four points out of first — a position they’d have vaulted into themselves with a win — but also just three points ahead of seventh-place Real Salt Lake. They have five games remaining before the Leagues Cup break.

It’s not completely inconceivable that the Sounders could win three or four of those matches and find themselves back in first place. But it’s equally plausible that they claim just three or four points from those matches and are suddenly just fighting for a playoff spot.

When asked about the messaging he’s sharing with his teammates heading into this pivotal stretch that continues on Saturday against Orlando City, Stefan Frei offered this: “Keep working hard. Put your head down and work hard because that is the only way you get out of it. If you think that someone else is going to do the work for you and you think somehow the opponent is going turnaround and bend goals into the back of their own net, and keep shutouts for you, then you’re sorely mistaken.

“The only people that are going to do that is us. It starts on the training ground; you have to be professional on and off the pitch — do everything you can. Take care of your bodies. Improve on the training field. Stick together; have each other’s backs — work for each other. That’s the only way you can do it.”