Galaxy 1, Sounders 0: Three things learned as last-place Seattle keeps slipping
SEATTLE – The LA Galaxy claimed its third straight win in all competitions on Saturday, but with the Seattle Sounders sitting at the bottom of Major League Soccer’s Western Conference, the takeaways from the hosts’ 1-0 defeat in front of 40,813 fans at CenturyLink Field will be far too familiar: isolated errors in defense; futility in the final third; another disappointing result.
All three were on display in the first half, a 45 minutes that stood in stark contrast to the second stanza. In that opening period, the Sounders’ strong start was undone in the 15th minute by a lack of pressure on the ball, allowing LA to break down the defense’s right flank. When Gyasi Zardes turned Zach Scott into the ground before setting up Robbie Keane’s opener, LA had the only goal it would need.
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) July 9, 2016
Though the Sounders held 60 percent of the ball before halftime, they failed to meaningfully test Brian Rowe, leaving the home side to return to its locker room down a goal. It was, in too many ways, a typical first half for Seattle.
Come full time, the 7-5 edge in shots the Sounders took into intermission ballooned to 22-7, and at various points before the final whistle, the Sounders looked deserving of an equalizer. But when Baldomero Toledo brought the match to a close, Seattle was left with what’s becoming a typical result. Another loss at home; another reason to doubt. The Sounders are last in the West and have more points than only Columbus and Chicago in the East, both of which have played fewer games.
Seattle’s formation remains a series of compromises
The big story coming into this one was how Sigi Schmid would reincorporate Clint Dempsey, one of the U.S.’ big players during Copa America, but somebody who hasn’t found his footing for Seattle since Obafemi Martins’ departure. Unfortunately for the Sounders, Saturday’s selection was another unbalanced collection of half-measures, compromises, and blind hope. Same ol’, same ol’.
Starting Dempsey in the hole behind Nelson Valdez, whose industry was used to bridge the gap between target man and right-sided winger, allowed Seattle’s most skillful player to act as the team’s focal point, but it also forced Jordan Morris wide left, where he was largely lost. Given Morris was coming off his best game as a pro last week in Toronto, the setup was a disappointing choice. Any momentum the Sounders could have carried out of a dominant final 30 minutes in Toronto was lost thanks to its lineup shuffle.
Attack wasn’t the only place Seattle was compromised. Having dropped right wing Aaron Kovar to keep Cristian Roldan, a midfielder, in the starting XI, Schmid relied on Valdez to be a target man in attack and pressure-man for the left side of LA’s. In the 15th minute, when that pressure didn’t arrive, left-center back Jelle Van Damme was able to carry the ball well into Seattle’s half before starting the sequence that led to LA’s goal.
Moving Morris out left? A compromise to have both Dempsey and Valdez up top. Not balancing that by starting Kovar out right? Schmid wanted to keep Roldan and Erik Friberg on the field. At some point, you need to make positive, proactive choices. Right now, Schmid’s choosing half-measures, hoping something finally works.
LA’s making its own compromises, too
Steven Gerrard has come to life over the last three to four games, an improvement that started when Bruce Arena moved him higher in the formation. Instead of being the deep-lying distributor he was during his final days at Liverpool, Arena has made him something closer to a No. 10 – the original Stevie G.
Like Schmid, though, Arena has had to make compromises to accommodate his big-name star. That means Gyasi Zardes, who was stellar this spring as a forward, is playing the left midfield role he excelled in for the U.S. at Copa. And Giovani dos Santos, another person who plays better through the middle? He was out right in what amounted to a 4-2-3-1.
Who knows if that will work in the long run. With A.J. DeLaGarza and Ashley Cole (absent on Saturday) at fullback, it might, especially if Zardes and dos Santos can keep creating chances from wide. Before dos Santos as taken out in the 77th minute, LA’s wingers were responsible for five of the team’s seven chances created.
It’s too early to pass judgment on LA’s new look, especially given how Zardes and dos Santos have excelled through the middle, but if Arena can get those two to buy into Gerrard’s need to play forward, the Galaxy may be able to work its way out of its recent scoring funk.
The eternal Seattle question remains unanswered
All season, Sigi Schmid has said positive things about his team’s ability to create chances, and for most of that time, we’ve disagreed. As the team struggled for goals, Seattle certainly was creating some chances; just not enough good ones.
Over the team’s last 120 minutes, though, that’s changed. Seattle’s last 30 minutes against Toronto provided legitimate reason for hope, and although Saturday’s first half felt like the team’s typical “close, but not good enough” output, the second half cast that in a new light. DeLaGarza saving a Morris chance off the line, Dempsey putting a ball off the post, another chance a Galaxy defender had to keep out? These weren’t the half-chances we’ve seen too often.
Ultimately, despite a huge advantage in shots and possession, Seattle was shut out for the sixth time this season. The team has been held to one goal or less in 14 of its 17 games this season, with most of those efforts striking the same note as Saturday’s.
Shot quality is normally a pretty good predictor of future goals, but the Sounders may be an exception. At some point, you just have to score goals. Seattle just hasn’t figured out how to do so.
Richard Farley is the West Coast Editor of FourFourTwo USA. Follow him on Twitter @richardfarley.