Analysis

Stats Zone: Wasteful Sounders left wondering after loss to Whitecaps

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

The Sounders are the only team in MLS without a point through three rounds. Richard Farley explores what's going wrong.

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SEATTLE -- Detached from the rest of Saturday's post-game press conference, Sigi Schmid's final words were ominous - the sober foreshadowing of a veteran boss on the wrong end of a fruitless start. Never mind those words came after six-and-a-half minutes of context, reasons why his Seattle Sounders have performed better than their 0-3-0 record. After a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps in the season's first Cascadia Cup derby, and after three one-goal losses leave his Sounders as Major League Soccer's only point-less team, Schmid reminded the assembled media of the business' bottom line.

"Obviously we're not happy. I'm not happy. The players aren't happy. The organization's not happy," Schmid said, closing a session that otherwise focused on Saturday's silver linings. "It's a results-orientated business. I know that as well as anybody. At the end of the day, we've got to start getting some results or quite a few of us could be looking for new jobs."

For many who watched Saturday's derby, though, the performance of Schmid's team was secondary to that of Mark Geiger. A veteran official who enjoyed a spell of fame for his positive performances at the 2014 World Cup, Geiger controversially awarded the Whitecaps two penalties: the first, in the ninth minute, after Christian Bolanos tripped on the turf in Seattle's penalty area; the second, in the 73rd, after a veteran move from Blas Perez initiated contact with Chad Marshall. Sandwiched around Andreas Ivanschitz's 52nd minute equalizer, two conversions from Pedro Morales gave Vancouver its first points of the season.

Dominant in possession, outshooting their rivals 19-9, Seattle had plenty of reason to think they were the better side. In the face of the scoreboard, though, being better was irrelevant.

"I can't walk into that locker room and say, ‘you guys didn't control the pace of the game,’ because that would be lying to them ..." Schmid explained. "But at some point, you need to get results. At some point, you need those results to have your confidence and your belief in what you're doing."

Going into the international break, the results give Seattle little reason for belief. For the first time in franchise history, the Sounders are without a point through three rounds.

Passive Whitecaps dictate Seattle's tactics

Schmid was right to note "[the Sounders] were the team on the attack the most," but that was by design. Shifting away from their normal 4-2-3-1, playing with banks of four behind two attackers, Vancouver often kept their forwards 15 or 20 yards off of Seattle's defenders as the Sounders built play through the middle third. The tactic forced Marshall and partner Zach Scott to play around Vancouver's defense, leaving Seattle reliant on crosses to their out matched forwards.

Almost all of Marshall or Scott's passes targeted each other or their corresponding fullbacks. Those aren't uncommon patterns for a central defenders, but the effect was particularly pronounced on Saturday. Geographically, almost all of the passes originate from the edge of their defensive third, a safe distance from where Vancouver forwards Blas Perez and Octavio Rivero stood waiting at the edge of the Whitecaps' half.

Vancouver defenders feast on crosses

Carl Robinson's tactics placed a heavy onus on Kendall Waston and Tim Parker, Vancouver's center back tandem. If the team was going to funnel play wide and dare Seattle to cross, the team's central defenders would have to dominate in the box.

Dominate may be an understatement. Of the 18 penalty area clearances Waston and Parker attempted, 17 were successful. In comparison, Marshall and Scott were only asked to make six clearances (and were successful on five):

Since joining the league just under two years ago, Waston has established himself as one of the most imposing penalty-box presences in Major League Soccer. Last season, he was third in the league in clearances per game, his 7.0 average down from the 10.5 per game he average in his limited 2014 debut (11 games). This season, through three rounds, Waston is averaging six per contest, but with more performances like Saturday's, the Costa Rican international will resume his place among the league's most prolific defenders.

Penalty calls in isolation

The two whistles that went against Seattle weren't merely controversial; in the context of the match, they were aberrational. The Sounders only committed two fouls in or around the penalty box - the two that ended with Morales’ conversions. Vancouver, on the other hand, committed six infractions around the box, albeit none in the penalty area.

The causation here isn't that complicated. With their early goal, Vancouver had little need to keep the ball. When they won possession, they usually tried to counter, with Seattle contesting play higher up the field.

In contrast, when Vancouver's defense stiffened, it was usually after Seattle had advanced down one of the flanks, leaving most of their defensive actions in their opponent's final third:

Sounders attack resurgent yet wasteful

Seattle came into the night with one goal in 180 minutes, but the team's lack of chances was more worrying than an inability to convert. Through two rounds, the Sounders had only generated 14 shots, the lowest total in Major League Soccer.

On Saturday, quantity was not the problem. Finishing became the issue. Of the 19 shots Seattle created, nine came inside Vancouver's penalty area. Unfortunately, only three ended up on target, with Clint Dempsey's late miss of an empty net leaving the Sounders empty-handed for the third weekend in a row.

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