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Postgame Pontifications: Something finally changed

The result was largely the same, but at least we saw something different.

Last Updated
4 min read
Hannah Foslien-USA TODAY Sports

We wanted something different. At least we got that.

The Seattle Sounders, mired in their worst-ever start to a MLS season, finally made some significant changes to their starting lineup for Saturday’s game against D.C. United. There were five new starters in total, and just four players who began the game in the same position they started against the Vancouver Whitecaps a week earlier.

The results were, at best, mixed. On the positive side, they jumped out to a 1-0 lead — the first time they’ve scored first in a road game this year — and generally played exciting soccer throughout the match. Those were well outweighed by the negatives, however.

Not only did the Sounders lose 2-1 — they are now 0-4-1 on the road — but they once again self-destructed. Their lead lasted less than 20 minutes after Stefan Frei fouled Jared Stroud in the box, having been ruled to have not made a play on the ball after the attacker dribbled past him. That left the Sounders down to 10 men, and United capitalized before halftime when they were able to get Christian Benteke matched up with Cristian Roldan — who was giving up about seven inches — for a back post header.

Although the Sounders played some of their most inspired soccer during the second half, they were unable to find the equalizer and were left to settle for a moral victory while licking their wounds over a disastrous 1-5-3 start to the season.

“The reality is we’ve won one game,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said during the postgame press-conference. “That’s where we start, I’m pretty pragmatic. We can’t deny that. The only positive spin on this is that the team found a way to create multiple chances to get themselves back into the game and maybe steal a point.

“I’m running out of things to be positive about, other than our team showed some character. They showed a ton of character today and I’m very proud of them.”

It can be tempting to look at this game as yet another example of the Sounders’ being “unlucky.” By American Soccer Analysis’ expected-points metric, only the San Jose Earthquakes (-9.15) have underperformed more than the Sounders (-7.09). That also feels a little too simple. It’s fair to argue the Sounders have been on the wrong side of several close calls — they have the most penalties allowed plus red cards taken (6) in the league — but that’s also mostly their fault.

The Frei red card was a perfect example. Just last week, Frei had talked about getting excited about bailing out teammates when they make a mistake. Given that opportunity when Cody Baker got beat over the top, Frei was also slow to come off his line and then compounded the mistake by sweeping his arm in an uncontrolled manner. Giving up a goal there wasn’t the end of the world, but the red card was an absolute killer.

“We seem to be extremely snake bit,” Schmetzer said. “We have to top shooting ourselves in our foot. We have to accept responsibility for the position we’re in, but I have faith we can figure it out.”

To the degree that there can be a positive development from this game, it’s that perhaps some of the change Schmetzer was effectively forced into will stick.

Aside from getting beaten by a much taller player on that header and failing to convert a wonderful second-half stoppage time shot, Roldan was a borderline revelation at right back. He covered a ton of ground, flying up and down the sideline and at least allowing the Sounders the ability to attack with numbers. Léo Chú only got to play about 30 minutes, but also looked very good as the left midfielder, in probably his most inspired performance of the season. Josh Atencio was arguably the Sounders’ best player, like Roldan covering a ton of ground as he managed to slot in as a third centerback without sacrificing his ability to join the attack throughout the second half. In fact, two of the Sounders’ best looks came from Atencio, one a header that he put off the post and another a volleyed shot that forced Alex Bono into a diving save.

For at least the last month, Schmetzer has been asked about potential lineup changes. Each time he’s signaled that he’s open to them, but has still seemed somewhat resistant. Following this game, Schmetzer seemed his most open-minded yet.

“Nobody’s position is solidified,” Schmetzer said. “There’s going to be competition until we find the right formation with the right personnel. If we can’t get results, there might be a formation change. Nothing can be off the table.”

I don’t think Schmetzer’s job is in any immediate jeopardy, but we are getting to the point where I felt like it had to be asked if he felt the same standard goes for him. Schmetzer effectively confirmed that it’s majority owner Adrian Hanauer — not GM Craig Waibel — who will make that call.

“When Adrian calls me into his office and tells me it’s time to go, that’s when the reality will hit me in the face,” he said. “I have confidence in my ability, a great staff, a team that doesn’t quit, if the team had quit tonight i think you could say that Brian has lost the group. I didn’t see that tonight.”