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Postgame Pontifications: No easy answers

Sounders were at their uncharacteristic worst in loss to Whitecaps.

Last Updated
4 min read
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — Stefan Frei’s body language seemed to tell a story. The veteran goalkeeper stood in front of his locker, arms crossed and stern-faced while taking questions from reporters following a 2-0 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday that head coach Brian Schmetzer called “one of the lowest points” he could ever remember with the team.

During his 10 seasons with the Sounders, Frei has seen plenty of ups and downs. He’s seen the Sounders start slowly and hit various slumps throughout the season, but they’ve always bounced back to one degree or another.

He’s never seen anything quite like this, however.

Eight games into the season, the Sounders are 1-4-3. It’s officially their worst-ever start to a season, both the first time they’ve failed to win at least two of their first eight and the fewest points they’ve had at this stage in any of their previous 15 MLS seasons.

The loss to the Whitecaps followed a familiar storyline. The Sounders failed to act decisively in the final third and opened the door for some critical errors to sink them. The twist this time was the sheer number of critical errors and how badly they compounded.

Frei seemed to be almost at a loss to explain what happened that led to the Sounders allowing two goals on completely avoidable giveaways by defenders and finishing a virtual must-win match with just nine players on the field.

“Today’s a difficult one,” Frei said. “We shot ourselves in the foot with the goals we gave up and then we go down two men, it’s just pure frustration. It gets a hold of us in all the wrong ways. How do we harness that? Sometimes we’re a little too methodical in how we approach games and we lack that aggression. Here is a perfect example to feed off the aggression you’ve been fed by certain things and turn that into something productive. We were not able to do that.”

The incident Frei had hoped may spark his team was the red card to Jackson Ragen, which came after a VAR decision that took more than four minutes to render. Frei said he had already expressed frustration over referee Ramy Touchan’s management of the match, which he claimed left players on both teams unsure about how tightly the game was being officiated.

Instead of igniting newfound intensity, the Sounders mostly ceded control. That bit them when Yeimar Gomez Andrade attempted an ill-advised pass into pressure that was immediately turned into a goal. Compounding that mistake was Alex Roldan’s red card, which was then followed by Xavier Arreaga trying to dribble through a double-team at the top of his own penalty area, which was converted into the Whitecaps’ second goal.

Cristian Roldan went as far as to call the lapses “unprofessional,” while also acknowledging that things can get worse rather quickly if the Sounders don’t fix these types of mistakes.

“We talked about the energy and using it the right way and that’s something we need to bring back,” Roldan said, name-checking players like Osvaldo Alonso, Gustav Svensson and Nicolás Lodeiro. “We have to do it in a controlled manner. We have to have each other’s backs. This is going to be the toughest stretch of the season, a lot of games, a lot of games on the road. We’re going to need bodies and we’re going to need to have each other’s back going into these games.”

Although Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer acknowledged that a performance like that would normally lead to some lineup changes, he also insisted the upcoming schedule is going to complicate things as he’ll likely need to give players minutes regardless of form.

Schmetzer can’t let himself off the hook quite that easily, though. While he might need everyone, Schmetzer still needs to try different lineup combinations. If those lineup changes pay dividends, he needs to show a willingness to change, something he’s been reluctant to do this year. He can’t simply wait and hope that underperforming players will suddenly snap back.

Starting with Saturday’s road match against D.C. United, the Sounders will embark on a stretch of games in which they will play at least 10 and potentially 11 matches across all competitions over the course of 36 days. By the end of it, we’ll likely know for certain whether or not the Sounders are capable of turning this season around.

Frei may not have the answers, but he knows how he plans to go about trying to find them.

“When things aren’t working for you you can either sit there and mope or you can find another level,” Frei said. “The easiest way to do that is to show up and work extra hard, to give it your all in everything you do. I can’t tell you we did this wrong and that’s why we lost. The way we can get out of it is just trying to do your best. That starts now. Can you do everything to the best of your ability? I think if we do, we have a really good locker room, really good players and those talents will shine. If they don’t, at least you can hold your hand up and say we’ve given it our best. That’s how I look at it, that’s how I will try to get guys to look at it as the captain.”