The Seattle Sounders went to Texas to face FC Dallas in Game 2 of their best-of-3 playoff first-round series with a chance to advance and get themselves an extra breather ahead of the next round. That’s not how things played out, though, as defensive frailties that have been absent for weeks reared their ugly heads and the Sounders fell 3-1 on the road.
Following a practically flawless performance by Nouhou in Game 1, the left back had a very flawed opening 20 minutes – most notably fouling Bernard Kamungo to give up a penalty in the 13th minute that ultimately provided the winner as Dallas took a 2-0 lead. It wasn’t the first meeting with Kamungo in which Nouhou came out the loser: Kamungo provided the assist for Paul Arriola’s opener in the 6th minute when Nouhou was caught between two minds as a crossing runner drew his attention for a split second, and five minutes later Nouhou received a yellow for bringing the attacker down at the edge of the box. His performance improved over the rest of his 84-minute outing, but the damage was already done.
Once Dallas took a 2-0 lead, Seattle finally seemed to wake up. For the next 70 minutes or so the Sounders were the dominant side, creating a variety of chances but struggling to find the bit of magic required to turn their iron chances into golden goals. It seemed like that may have changed at the start of the second half when Jordan Morris jumped on an errant back pass by Kamungo and poked the ball home. The offside flag went up, but after the center ref conferred with his assistant, it was deemed the goal would count as the pass was an intentional one made by a Dallas player. The score was 2-1 and Seattle had a ticket to the Western Conference Semis within their reach.
The Sounders kept pushing, kept creating chances. Morris had another possible goal called offside, although that particular call stuck, and in the 75th minute Raúl Ruidíaz was brought down in the box but no penalty was awarded even after a video review. More chances came for Seattle, but in the end it was Dallas who claimed the game’s fourth goal. With the Sounders trying to play through the Dallas press in the game’s final moments Jackson Ragen attempted to play a pass to Kelyn Rowe at left back, but the ball was under hit and picked off by Jader Obrian. Obrian, with a pair of runners to his left, drove at the scrambling Ragen and Yeimar and picked out the far post of Stefan Frei’s goal and re-established a two-goal lead for FCD in the 89th minute.
It was a rough game. There were positives, sure – Morris scored again, and looked more than capable of adding bunches of them if the playoff run continues – but they’re outweighed by the defensive struggles on the night. The Sounders have a week of training and a home crowd to try to put this game behind them when they host Game 3 on Friday.
6’ — Goal. Bernard Kamungo cuts inside from the right wing and sends in a cross that finds Paul Arriola wide open in the penalty area and he opens the scoring. 1-0 Dallas
11’ — Nouhou pulls down Kamungo at the edge of the area and is shown a yellow card.
17’ — Goal. Nouhou is judged to have fouled Kamungo in the penalty after video review, and Dallas have a PK. Jesus Ferreira steps up to the spot and beats Stefan Frei to double the lead. 2-0 Dallas
33’ — Albert Rusnák gets a dangerous shot from the top of the box after a good pass from Alex Roldan, but the shot is wide of goal.
37’ — Another dangerous moment for the Sounders that fails to produce a shot, as a couple of bobbles on the ball leads to Cristian Roldan trying to find space and having the ball taken off of him.
41’ — Nouhou sends in a first-time cross that goes just over Jordan Morris and is a touch too far ahead of Cristian Roldan. The ball bounces to Léo Chú, but his shot goes out for a goal kick.
48’ — GOAL! Jordan Morris appears to give Seattle a goal, but the offside flag goes up. After consulting with the AR, it’s determined the ball was played by Kamungo and the goal counts! 2-1
55' – Morris appears to score again after he chips Maarten Paes, but the offside flag goes up. Replays are a bit inconclusive and the call stands.
57’ — A scary moment as a pass from Frei falls right to the feet of Jesus Ferreira, but the danger is cleaned up quickly by Josh Atencio before any real trouble can come of it.
59’ — Seconds after entering the game, Nico Lodeiro gets his first touch and it’s a header that Maarten Paes catches pretty easily.
75’ — Raúl Ruidíaz is tugged back and goes down in the penalty area by Jesus Ferreira as Morris sends in a cross. VAR recommends an on-field review, but deemed not a penalty.
83’ — Lodeiro nutmegs a defender as he sends Obed Vargas in on goal. Vargas dribbles to the end line and plays a cutback for Ruidíaz who gets a touch but his effort rolls along the mouth of the goal.
87’ — Lodeiro sends in a free kick that Cristian Roldan gets a head on to draw a save from Paes. The ball bounces around a bit, but Dallas eventually clear the danger.
89’ — Jackson Ragen attempts a pass to Kelyn Rowe, but the pass is picked off by Jaden Obrian who drives at a scrambling back line and picks out Frei’s far post. 3-1 Dallas
90’ +3 — Dallas almost grab another as Obrian gets a wide open look at point blank range, but scuffs his shot and it’s cleared.
Nouhou giveth, and Nouhou taketh away: I’m not going to beat Nouhou up for this one. He knows what mistakes he made, his coaches do, piling on doesn’t help. I do want to say, though, that while he was justifiably and rightly praised for his performance in Game 1, some of the reactions may have gone too far. When a player has the best game of their career, it’s not exactly reasonable to assume that that’s how they’re going to play from then on. Similarly, when a player has a bad game, that’s not who they’ll be every subsequent time they step on the field. The reality lies somewhere in between. Nouhou’s game isn’t really his assist to Jordan Morris – although he did come awfully close to repeating that feat – and for all that his game can be chaotic I don’t think his challenging opening 20 minutes tonight is indicative of his next 20 minutes or the 20 that will come after that. When taken all together, Nouhou is a flawed but quality player who will probably play better the next time we see him.
Dodgy defending: On a similar note to the Nouhou performance, I would be much more comfortable betting that when these two teams meet again the Seattle defense will play much more like they have over the course of the 34-game regular season than they did in this one game. That season-long performance was the best or tied for the best in just about any stat that concerns letting other teams score. Even on the road they only allowed 21 goals during the regular season, or 1.24 goals allowed per game. Allowing three goals is certainly an outlier and something that only happened on two occasions all regular season. To further point to the idea that this team can and likely will put this behind them is the fact that they only lost back-to-back regular season games once, when they fell to Austin FC and the Vancouver Whitecaps on May 17 and 20. It’s no guarantee, but I trust that this team will bounce back.
Jordan Morris is that guy: Jordan Morris is a very good player. There are internet trolls and gremlins who use player avatars as their social media profile pictures and feature “USMNT” or some sort of player name portmanteau as their screen names who may disagree, but when you watch him play his skill and ability are obvious. He does get fair criticism, even from his most ardent supporters, though. He’s not always the most clinical, and he can be too deferential to the players around him when opportunities in front of goal arise. Playing as the tip of Seattle’s spear, though, Morris tried and very nearly put the team on his back. His goal was exceptionally well-taken, and the instincts to jump on that pass were outstanding. Similarly, his would-be second goal, although called off, featured an outstanding finish and very good timing on his run even if that timing wasn’t quite perfect. He caused Dallas all sorts of problems, even as they attempted to adjust specifically to limit his chances by compressing the field and denying him the chance to run. His goal tied him with Nico Lodeiro for third most playoff goals by an active MLS player, one behind Ruidíaz and Will Bruin. It wouldn’t be particularly surprising to see him take that top spot if the team makes a run, and if he can keep playing like this the No. 9 spot should be his to lose for years to come.
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One stat to tell the tale
115 – It had been 115 days since the last time the Sounders conceded a penalty kick in MLS play, on July 12 against the San Jose Earthquakes.