After two straight dominant performances, the expectation was that the Seattle Sounders would get their first serious test against expected Supporters’ Shield-contenders FC Cincinnati on Saturday.
If we’re judging based purely on a pass-fail scale, I suppose you’d need to admit that a 1-0 loss qualifies as a “fail.”
But if you’re inclined to see a bit more nuance, I think I’d probably be inclined to give this something like a “C.”
“There were some decent moments, but there’s plenty of stuff to work on,” was how Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer put it.
As is usually the case in any close game, there were a few moments that ended up defining the outcome. Early on, Cristian Roldan played a wonderful ball that put Jordan Morris into space. Morris managed to round the goalkeeper, but his shot from a tight angle squirted just wide. That came while the Sounders were mostly under pressure and getting outplayed. The Sounders adjusted at halftime and were mostly controlling play in the second half until around the 60th minute when they turned it over on back-to-back attempts to build out from their own end.
The first time, they escaped punishment when Brenner’s tight-angle shot hit the outside of the goal. But the second one, literally from the next goal kick, Brenner was able to get off a shot from the top of the box that Stefan Frei got a hand to but was unable to stop. Frankly, it’s a shot Frei probably saves at least half the time, but this time got punished.
The Sounders controlled most of the match from that point forward, too, but aside from Yeimar Gomez Andrade’s equalizer that was disallowed for a foul on the buildup, there wasn’t a ton of truly dangerous chances.
Frustrations with the result aside, I don’t think anyone can take a serious look at this match and determine that the Sounders were really outplayed. I can understand why someone might feel that way, but the stats tell a pretty compelling counter-narrative as the Sounders led in shots, possession, expected goals and even duels. The defense, it should be said, stood up very well. Facing a prolific attack, the Sounders held the trio of Brenner, Brandon Vazquez and Luciano Acosta to just four shots, three key passes and just 2 of 7 on dribbles.
“I think it wasn’t a bad game in any sense,” Sounders right back Alex Roldán said. “Sometimes when you feel like you’re under it in the first half, you may think you played bad but they didn’t have any real opportunities other than the one and then the goal. We kept them from having solid opportunities. On the other side, we just need to clean.”
In the first half, especially, the Sounders missed Héber’s hold-up play. They needed someone like that to help them relieve the pressure of FC Cincinnati’s surprisingly aggressive press. But even without Héber, the Sounders seemed to figure that in the second half.
The frustration, I think, has more to do with the reality that this trend of close losses on the road goes back to last July, the last time the Sounders won a game on the road. That’s a 10-game winless streak in which the Sounders have gone 0-9-1 with no games decided by more than one goal. I’m inclined to believe that this game is not simply a continuation of last year’s collapse — the two previous games suggest otherwise — but it doesn’t necessarily change the frustrating feeling.
“It did feel like a game last year but it’s 100% correctable,” Morris said when I asked him to compare the loss to 2022. “We do need to be better on the road. It’s about taking chances. If I put my chance away in the first half it’s a different game. We need to be cleaner in those little moments. We might only have one chance.”
As Morris is keenly aware, though, even if this test was not pass/fail, there are only so many C’s that a high-achieving team can take before it feels like a real failure. It would be good to add a few A’s and B’s early in the season to pad that grade.