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Postgame Pontifications: Something to build on

It’s fair to be frustrated with another early Open Cup exit, but there were definitely some positives in the loss.

MLS: US Open Cup-Seattle Sounders FC at LA Galaxy Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For the fourth straight U.S. Open Cup, the Seattle Sounders failed to advance even as far as the Round of 16. The 3-1 loss to the LA Galaxy on Wednesday also dropped the Sounders’ record to 2-4-1 in this tournament under Brian Schmetzer during the MLS era.

If we are to take Schmetzer at his word, he had intended to be more competitive this year and was even willing to use more of his regulars in an attempt to do that. Injuries seem to be a reasonably good explanation for why that didn’t really come to pass, but the fact remains that this is the continuation of a rather ignominious trend that now stretches back nearly a decade to when they won their fourth title in 2014.

“I understand it’s not a great statistic,” Schmetzer said during the postgame press conference. “It is getting harder to win. It’s unfortunate we carried some key injuries or else maybe you throw a couple more starters in there and maybe it changes the outcome, maybe it doesn’t.

“That’s sports. We weren’t able to complete the project. We’ll try it again next year.”

As frustrating as the outcome of the game was, however, I don’t think Schmetzer was being insincere when he noted, “if you look for the silver lining, there were some bright spots.”

The Sounders used a lineup that didn’t feature anyone with more than three starts during the current MLS season and only three players who had even started one MLS game this year. Also among the starters were Tacoma Defiance players Paul Rothrock and Cody Baker. It was, generally speaking, a very similar lineup to the one that faced the San Diego Loyal in the previous round.

The Galaxy, on the other hand, rolled out a lineup that featured seven of the same starters from their weekend game against the Colorado Rapids, and that’s not even including goalkeeper Jonathan Bond, who had been their starter before suffering an injury. Among those starters were high-priced stars like Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Riqui Puig, both of whom make more than the combined salary of the entire Sounders’ starting lineup.

On paper, the Galaxy should have probably dominated the game, and after they scored a wondergoal on a 25-yard strike in the 3rd minute, it felt like the Sounders could be in for a long night.

Instead, the young Sounders responded in a way I think we all wished the veteran-laden team had done over the weekend. Almost immediately, the Sounders drove back down the field and probably should have had the equalizer in the 10th minute when Fredy Montero’s well-worked shot was cleared off the line by a defender’s knee. Reed Baker-Whiting was particularly dangerous going forward, looking confident on the ball and sending in several dangerous crosses. The Sounders continued to generate quality chances throughout the first half and with a bit better luck they probably could have been up 2-1.

The Galaxy dominated possession in the game, but struggled to create quality scoring chances. Still, they found the back of the net again on another set piece in the 66th minute when Memo Rodriguez fired in a loose ball from near the penalty spot.

This time, the Sounders answered. Ethan Dobbelaere put in a perfect cross to Rothrock at the back post where he powered in the header.

The Sounders weren’t able to complete the comeback — the Galaxy added another goal in the 83rd minute — but it was notable that Seattle spent significant portions of the game looking like they were the better team.

No one is claiming that this was anything like a desirable result, but that shouldn’t diminish that there were some valuable data points gathered. That the Sounders’ reserves stood toe-to-toe with an experienced MLS roster was notable.

“It’s not about the lineup we have; we have to be confident we can win,” said Dobbelaere, who has just seven minutes of MLS playing time this year but logged a goal and two assists in two Open Cup matches. “We were happy that LA put out that starting lineup because it gives us a chance to compare to them.”

If there was one area ripe for second-guessing, it’s that the Sounders opted to only make two of their normal starters available off the bench and there wasn’t really much of a meaningful explanation for that choice. Still, that decision made it possible for more young players to showcase their abilities and virtually all of them showed some promise. Baker, who is likely in line to start again this weekend, may have even put himself in position for a full first-team contract.

There’s an argument to be had that the price the Sounders paid to get this experience might have been too high, but there is a potential payoff.

“To test ourselves against players like that, it gives us the confidence we can play at the next level,” said Rothrock, who became just the third Sounders player to score in each of his first two appearances. “There’s still a lot of games left and other competitions.”

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