How you view the Sounders 1-1 tie with FC Dallas on Saturday probably says a lot about how you view the season as a whole.
The optimist would point out that this is just the fifth time in 13 trips to Frisco that the Sounders have even claimed a point. They’d also probably observe that this was only the second time all season that they’ve gone into halftime trailing and managed to pull out a point. They might even look at the final 40-odd minutes of regulation and suggest the Sounders managed to finish as the stronger team, outshooting Dallas 6-0 during that stretch.
The pessimist will probably dismiss most of that, and not without some merit. Sure, the Sounders struggled on the road against Dallas and fell behind early, but this is not a particularly good team, especially without some of their top players. The goal they scored was as much a product of some poor play and odd positioning by the Sounders defense as it was anything Dallas did well, something that has become a bit of a theme in recent months.
While it was nice that the Sounders pulled themselves together to get the point, the reality is that up until the goal they had looked pretty listless on offense. The Sounders had only taken three shots through the first 56 minutes and none of them were of particularly high quality.
Among this group, I suspect there’s also a lot of frustration around the game’s final sequence, where Josh Atencio played Jordan Morris into space for what seemed like a glorious chance to steal three points. But instead of shooting, Morris opted to try to pass to Nouhou – who was streaking in from the left – and the ball was cut out, only for the whistle to blow immediately.
Even Brian Schmetzer was frustrated with that one.
"Jordan at the death there is too nice of a kid," he said." Maybe it’s the right play but if he shoots that I bet he scores."
You probably won’t be surprised that I fall somewhere in the middle. I think there were definite positives to take away from the match, most of them in the second half when I think it was inarguable that the Sounders were the better side. Some credit for that belongs to Schmetzer, who made a couple of tactical tweaks that allowed the Sounders to gain control.
The biggest change was swapping Morris and Albert Rusnák. In addition to putting Morris in a more comfortable spot, it also allowed Reed Baker-Whiting to get much more involved than he had been in the early stages. Up until then, Baker-Whiting was effectively asked to do more of a Nouhou impression, mostly staying back as a third centerback.
But when Morris moved to left, the Sounders also altered the way they were defending as they moved to more of a four-man defensive box with both João Paulo and Obed Vargas sitting a little deeper to cover for Baker-Whiting when he roamed forward.
Of course, that prompts the question: "Why even start with Morris and Rusnák on opposite sides of where they've been most comfortable?" I don't have a good answer for that and Schmetzer admitted he may have overthought the decision.
Once again, the Sounders had something pretty close to a first-choice group, but really didn't do anything to assert themselves until the second half. In all but one of their last eight games across all competitions, the Sounders have fielded a starting lineup that featured at least nine first-choice players. Interestingly, that one game is the only time they've claimed all three points during that stretch.
If there's been one criticism that I've been particularly sympathetic to this year, it's that Schmetzer and his coaching staff have been too reluctant to change the lineup. That Baker-Whiting ended up being the Sounders' best player and that the result nearly turned on Atencio's insistence on pushing the action on the final play shouldn't be ignored. These are two players who have consistently shown that they can handle bigger roles and potentially offer more dynamic play than what the Sounders have been getting. My hope is that we'll see both of them in some capacity against the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday.
What's been frustrating over the last few months isn't that the Sounders are completely lacking in talent or even that they haven't shown the grit to remain competitive, it's that they're too often a boring team to watch. The Sounders have nearly perfected the art of playing just well enough to keep you thinking better days might be ahead, but falling short in some critical way that leave you pulling out your hair in frustration.
Looking at this roster, I still think there's a good chance the talent they need to get unlocked is still there. The question is if Schmetzer and the coaching staff can find the right combination before it's too late.