The Week In Seattle Sounders: Frustration hits tipping point

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle's loss at home to New York City FC offered little be optimistic about for the Sounders, Richard Farley writes.

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The week in five words

Yes, things can get worse.

What went well

When you lose at home and are shutout by the worst defensive team in the league, pickings become slim in the “well” column. Amid the cacophony of wails after the Seattle Sounders’ 2-0 loss to NYCFC on Saturday, though, a couple of rave green alumni showed their hearts are still very much in Seattle.

For Steve Zakuani, that was no secret. The former Akron Zip and Portland Timber spent his best days in soccer with the Sounders, for whom he now serves as color commentator on the club’s radio broadcasts. In the wake of Saturday’s loss, the best left-winger in club history took that color to social media, showing how much he still (at least digitally) bleeds for the club:

Zakuani was joined on social by somebody whose Seattle loyalties were once less clear. Recently, however, former U.S. international Eddie Johnson has been very open about his feelings about the team and community he left in 2014. Now retired, Johnson used his own reasons for leaving Seattle to call out one of the club’s highest paid players:

If you’re looking for more silvery linings after such a dispiriting weekend, good luck, because we couldn’t find any. At least some of the club’s former stars are on the same page.

What didn’t

Just the attack and defense. Oh, and the team’s chemistry. And there were some lingering questions about the team’s selection and substitutions. And, also, the infamous ‘puto’ chant was heard in the stadium’s south end during Saturday’s second half. Other than that, not much.

We’ll start in attack, where head coach Sigi Schmid, after the loss, continued strumming the same note he’s played all season: chances good, finishing bad.  At this point, though, it’s hard to see what’s so good about the Sounders’ chances. While there are isolated moments in each game where the team seems one pass, touch or decision from a good opportunity, opposing goalkeepers have generally had it easy against the Sounders. In terms of goal rate, shots per possession, open play shots and, to a lesser extent, shot location, this is clearly a below average attack right now. Continuing to harp on a ‘chances are good’ silver lining hints Seattle might not know the extent of its problem.

In defense, at least, that’s not the case. A missed handball call left the Sounders unlucky after Saturday’s first goal, but the second came after the type of defensive breakdown we’d seen throughout the game. Ronald Matarrita’s finish off a ball carelessly sent back into the penalty area may have only been the game’s second goal, but there were multiple other times when missed assignments and careless play paved the way for New York.

The whole day forced me to reconsider an assumption, one I’d been holding since the first weeks of the season. The Sounders’ poor goal rate left me thinking the attack was bound to regress, returning to a level more indicative of the team’s assumed talent. What if the defense, which has generally been good, will also regress, perhaps back to a level indicative of a young left back (Joevin Jones or Dylan Remick), the first full year in the middle for one defender (Brad Evans), and some age-based regression from two key parts (Chad Marshall and Stefan Frei)? Perhaps, just as attackers like Clint Dempsey and Andreas Ivanschitz are showing signs of their age, Marshall and Frei won’t replicate last year’s borderline all-star level? And maybe that will make the defense look worse as the year goes on?

Quote of the week

This is a long one, but it’s also unprecedented. For the first time in the seven-plus years of Sounders MLS soccer, the team’s captain had to take parts of his squad to task. And if Brad Evans’ words don’t sound harsh enough, they only partially capture the intensity as he met the media:

“Certain guys are maybe OK with how it’s going. Maybe they’ve been at teams before where losing was a tradition, and you wait for the next season to get a fresh start. But that doesn’t happen here. We don’t have losing seasons. We don’t rest when we’re losing. We’re not OK with it. So it’s got to be an eye-opener …

“We’re to the midpoint of a season where it can go one of two ways now. We can either come in and say ‘It’s OK to lose games, we’ll get [it] next time.’ Right now, we can’t afford to, because if we lose two or three right now, we’ll end up bottom two in the entire league. That’s the way the season will go.”

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

We know: tough to watch. (Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports)

The need-to-know facts

  • With 16 points through 15 games, Seattle’s point rate is better than only two teams: the Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo. The team’s three points in six games leaves it at the bottom of MLS’ form table.
  • Seattle is the only team in MLS averaging less than a goal per game, having scored 13 times in 15 games.
  • Seattle’s raw shot totals, however, are not that bad. The team is 11th in the league in shots per game (13.1) and 10th in shots on target (4.7 per game).
  • One person who is enjoying a good season: Osvaldo Alonso. His interception rate (2.1 per game) is up 40 percent over last season’s, while his tackle rate (3.9 per game) is at a four-year high. His one goal, two (non-hockey) assists and 1.3 shots per game put him on track for his most impactful offensive season since 2011.

Video of the week

Goal, or no goal? An angle eventually emerged that showed this ball hitting Frank Lampard’s wrist. For the four or five minutes before that shot emerged, though? This looked like a good goal:

Winner of the week

Sigi Schmid, who, while hitting the milestone on the road at the Red Bulls on June 19, was honored for becoming the first MLS head coach to preside over 500 regular season games. Including the postseason, Schmid has now coached 551 games in Major League Soccer.

Loser of the week

Joevin Jones may have been occasionally losing minutes at left back, but able to offer width going forward, the Trinidad international had started seeing more time in attack. On Saturday, however, he seemed to be part of the “where losing was a tradition” players to whom Evans alluded. Moved back to fullback in the second half, when Schmid brought Nelson Valdez into the attack, Jones looked incapable of balancing his defensive responsibilities with his offensive role.

Jones was seen as a bit of a steal when he was acquired from Chicago this offseason, and for the most part, his youth and talent is a long-term win for Seattle. In the midst of this slump, though, missed assignments and a lack of intensity are inexcusable to a veteran core. Jones may be part of Schmid and GM Garth Lagerwey’s long-term vision, but continuing to give him regular minutes might foster tension that’s begun to surface within that core.

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Richard Farley is the West Coast Editor of FourFourTwo USA. Follow him on Twitter @richardfarley.