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Postgame Pontifications: Joy killed in San Jose

For one fleeting moment, the Sounders felt genuine joy. Then it was gone.

Last Updated
3 min read
Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

As Danny Musovski rose up above his defender and headed in Cody Baker’s cross, all seemed right in the Seattle Sounders’ world for a moment. This was the team we had grown accustomed to watching, the team that could claw its way out of a deficit even when not at their best.

The Sounders had started the match with their fifth- and sixth-choice central midfielders. They had Cristian Roldan starting on the left, something he has only rarely done. Dylan Teves, maybe sixth choice, was starting on the right side.

It was a ramshackle lineup and played that way for much of the night, falling into a 2-0 hole that felt insurmountable in real time.

Only it turned out not to be. Despite the cobbled together lineup, the Sounders played about as well as they had all year during much of the second half. They were handed a lifeline when Yeimar drew a penalty after getting shoved ever so slightly in the back and were back in the game when Raúl Ruidíaz converted from the spot.

During the roughly 10 minutes between Ruidíaz’s penalty and Musovski’s header that made it 2-2, the Sounders actually looked like themselves. There was a dynamism and urgency that had mostly been missing, line-breaking passes and aggressive balls into the box. There was purpose to their play.

When Musovski’s shot hit the back of the net, there was a ignition of joy that had been almost completely absent this season.

But the moment was as fleeting as possible. Before the cameras could even return to the action, the Earthquakes were racing down the field for the go-ahead goal. Joy extinguished.

“At 2-2 it’s our responsibility to walk away with at least a point,” Musovski said in the postgame press conference. “In crucial moments we have to be better.”

Even worse than conceding so quickly after finding the equalizer was that it was the second time this game that the Sounders had conceded almost immediately after another goal.

Toward the end of the first half, the Earthquakes had gone ahead off a recycled corner kick. The Sounders hadn’t looked great up until that point, but they had at least avoided giving up high-quality chances and seemed to be growing into the game. Conceding there was a bit of a gut punch.

But they made matters so much worse moments later. Literally the next time the Earthquakes got the ball from the kickoff, they broke into the open field. There were several points of critical failure on the play where defenders could have broken it up or at least slowed down the break. Instead, Cristian Espinoza was able to put away a rebound under virtually no pressure (sound familiar?).

“Whenever a goal happens, it’s always next five,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “Not so much physically but mentally. That was said again today. It can’t happen.

“All you can do is try to prepare players but sometimes it happens. We need to do better. That second goal bothers me the most – we turned a hole into a double hole. The third goal was frustrating because we had just climbed out. It’s learning from these mistakes. It can’t become the norm.”

What makes this all so frustrating is that the one given for the Sounders this year was supposed to be their defensive solidity. The Sounders allowed the fewest goals and the fewest high-quality chances in MLS last year. Their entire starting defense returned this year, along with some high-quality reinforcements.

As much attention has been paid to the lack of offense, that’s easier to explain away. The cynic can say it was to be expected based on last year’s performance. The optimist can point to all the injuries. But even when key pieces have been missing on the defensive side, it hasn’t usually been the backups that have been the issue. Even worse, this was the first game where the Sounders had their full compliment of expected defensive starters, yet they gave up three goals to a team that hadn’t even scored as many as two in a game since last September.

Allowing six goals in four games isn’t exactly cause for panic, but this was the second straight game in which the Sounders had allowed more than 2.0 expected goals. They only did that twice in 38 games last year, including playoffs.

A team that prides itself so much on defending as a group now looks like they don’t trust one another.

“Individual mistakes have to stop happening,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We’re shooting ourselves in the foot.”

It’s obviously still quite early and a few wins can easily improve the mood around the team, but right now it feels about as bad as it has been in a long time. The Sounders must find a way to bring back the joy either through improvement or through changes.