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Postgame Pontifications: As bad as it looked

Sounders have some soul-searching to do after feckless loss to Whitecaps.

Mike Fiechtner / Sounders FC Communications

By almost any metric, the Seattle Sounders’ last seven games have not been good. In that time, they’ve scored just five goals, given up at least two goals in four games and claimed seven points.

The Sounders are still just two points behind Western Conference-leading LAFC, but that’s also with the benefit of having played two more games. By points per match, the Sounders actually sit fourth in the West and seventh overall.

Through most of this stretch, I’ve argued that for all their struggles, the underlying numbers have mostly suggested that the Sounders have been okay. That if you believe in the ethos of process over results, there wasn’t too much cause for concern.

The performance in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps was a bit different, though. It wasn’t just that the Sounders gave up the game’s first two goals for the third time in four games, it was how bad they looked while doing that and how little of a response they mustered once it happened. This was the first time this year that the Sounders never really looked capable of controlling the game.

“We have to get back to competing, winning our duels, making plays, understanding it’s life or death in the penalty box,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “That will carry over into clean sheets. That’s what’s most disturbing to me. We’ve given up some soft goals.”

To Schmetzer’s point, the Sounders lost the duels 53-45, including the Whitecaps winning 57% of ground duels. That came a few days after the Sounders were outdueled 49-34 by Austin FC.

The Sounders were also outshot 17-8 — managing no shots from the 65th minute until stoppage time — and lost the xG battle 2.3-0.5, their most lopsided statistical loss of the season.

Schmetzer did acknowledge that this game was being played on just two days’ rest and was the Sounders’ third game in eight days. It also seems as though the dual strain of fixture congestion and a depleted roster is starting to take its toll. While Nouhou and Léo Chú were both able to return to the starting lineup, neither looked entirely fit and both were pulled at halftime. Among the players who started all three games last week — Jordan Morris, Nicolás Lodeiro, Alex Roldan, Albert Rusnák, Yeimar Gomez-Andrade and Stefan Frei — none looked particularly sharp, but that could broadly be said for everyone on Saturday.

These are of course problems that afflict all teams. The Whitecaps were also playing their third game in eight days and missing several starters for one reason or another. Yet their press looked energized and they managed to stay on the front foot almost from start to finish.

What’s perhaps most concerning is that this stretch of games feels an awful lot like some of the worst parts of last season, which of course resulted in the Sounders missing the playoffs for the first time in their MLS history.

The hope is that the Sounders learned from that and are better equipped to recognize problems before they become season-ruining.

“We’re not going to panic,” Frei said. “We’re going to work hard, stick together, work for each other and take this club as far as we can. These moments are important. That’s where you grow as a team.”

The Sounders now enter what could be a defining portion of their season. Starting with Saturday’s game against the New York Red Bulls — who are 2-0-1 since changing head coaches — the Sounders play three straight home games, culminating with a match against the Portland Timbers.

“We’re frustrated but we have to put our heads down to work,” Frei said. “Maybe that frustration can turn to anger and drive for more bite. We were disappointed after the Club World Cup and took that into the beginning of the season. I see some frustration — we’re giving up crappy goals and giving up points.

“It’s about turning that frustration into something more positive. That can help us the next three games.”

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