TUKWILA, Wash. – Winless in five straight overall and riding a three-game losing streak, there’s an undeniable sense of urgency as the Seattle Sounders prepare to start a stretch of three games in seven days.
Although they are still in fourth in the Western Conference, they are now closer to being outside of playoff position (six points) than they are to first (eight points) for the first time all season.
“We’re professional athletes who get paid to get results, coaches get paid to get results and when we don’t our jobs are on the line,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said following Friday’s training session. “Everyone should be on the hot seat, including myself, including everybody. We can’t be happy with where we’re at. We have too much quality, we’ve shown what we can do with our quality. We’re not getting results and this is a results-based business. Nobody should be happy about it and no one should be content with where we’re at.
“We’ve had a string of bad results for a while and hovered around fourth for some weird reason for almost too long. We can’t have these results happening for too long because before you know it we’ll be out of the playoffs. It’s not going to get any easier.”
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The first test of the week comes on Sunday when the Sounders travel to Minnesota United. Although Minnesota has been middling at home – 12 points in 10 games – they’ve been a very different type of team ever since Emanuel Reynoso joined them. Minnesota has been averaging 1.92 goals per game with Reynoso, twice their output in their 15 prior league games.
Almost as important as the result in Minnesota, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said he’s just as interested in how the team plays.
“Results will come, they won’t come, but we need the team to play up to their potential,” Schmetzer said. “We still believe they’re good enough to win games. They believe it. We just need to accomplish the words we’re saying, execute the tactics we’ve been working on. I have to give them the right tools to be successful. We all have to come together and start producing or the season will slip away.”
Cristian Roldan update
Even more than he was earlier in the week, Schmetzer was non-committal about the role Cristian Roldan would play on the road trip. Roldan has cleared the medical portion of the concussion protocol, but there are still questions about his readiness to return. Schmetzer would only say that Roldan will travel with the team to Minnesota and seemed more focused on ensuring that his midfielder is ready to play a significant role when the Sounders host the Portland Timbers on Sept. 2.
The Sounders have scored 19 goals in Roldan’s 10 MLS appearances and just 10 goals in the 15 matches they’ve played without him.
“We’re trying some different things now until Cristian comes back, trying to unlock the offense,” Schmetzer said. “Those didn’t manifest themselves against Atlanta, if they don’t manifest against Minnesota we’ll have to make different adjustments for Austin and then hopefully by the Portland game Cristian will be able to feature and we can go back to some of the things we did well earlier in the year. It’s not all about Cristian. I’m not just waiting for Cristian to be the savior. It’s our job to find the groupings and the players who are going to perform.”
The curious case of Josh Atencio
By just about all the numbers, Josh Atencio has been one of the Sounders’ better central midfielders. Yet, his last start was on May 31 and he’s only logged 531 first-team minutes. In an effort to keep him sharp, Atencio started Friday’s Tacoma Defiance match and actually scored.
Asked what Atencio needs to do in order to get more minutes with the Sounders, Schmetzer said he wanted to see more consistency.
“I know that’s hard without playing games,” Schmetzer said. “But even in training, he’s been up and down. He’s had a back issue. He was working through some niggling things that were slowing him down.”
Schmetzer also suggested the issue was partly about how Atencio fits with the other midfielders, not ideal as a 6 nor as part of a double-pivot.
“Would he be better in a 4-3-3 as one of the 8s? Probably,” Schmetzer said. “It’s a situational thing, where does he fit with how we play? He’ll get a chance to play this week.”