This was not how the Seattle Sounders intended to start the 2016 season.
The laundry list of unfortunate consequences rendered in the aftermath of Seattle’s 2-1 defeat to Real Salt Lake in Utah on Saturday were harrowing. There were the injuries, of course, but more than that, the Sounders failed to dig a point out of a second consecutive game in which it surrendered a soft goal and arguably had more substantive chances.
It’s still early, of course, but two losses from your first two won’t sit particularly well in the locker room.
Seattle will do its best to flip the page to the Vancouver Whitecaps for next week’s Cascadia Cup opener, but we learned some things about this team in its second MLS game of the season. Here are three takeaways.
Injury added to insult
All three of Seattle’s subs on Saturday trotted on to replace injured players. That happens maybe a handful of times in an entire MLS season across all 20 teams, if even that. And Seattle coach Sigi Schmid had to deal with it in the second game of the season.
In the 18th minute, Erik Friberg hobbled off the field favoring his right knee, his day undone less than a half hour after returning from a concussion. Cristian Roldan replaced Friberg, who was an integral part of Schmid’s preseason first team plans. Late in the second half, Jordan Morris joined him on the sideline when he clashed heads with Chris Wingert. Morris exited unsteadily holding the right side of his head, and Darwin Jones saw out the match.
Finally, Nelson Valdez came down hard on his left leg and was pulled from the match for Aaron Kovar in the 91st minute. Three minutes later, the match was over, Valdez walking gingerly to the locker room with an enormous ice wrap around his left thigh.
Seattle was already coping without two of its first choice center backs, one of which was team captain Brad Evans. After a bitter 2015 interrupted for some months by constant injury woes, things certainly didn’t get any easier after Saturday.
Some good, some bad in Tyler Miller’s debut
MLS rookie Tyler Miller leapt onto the bench to start the year as Stefan Frei’s backup over Charlie Lyon. That showed Miller’s progress, as both he and Lyon showed tons of promise last year in limited first team practice stints. A week after a goalkeeping mistake proved to be the difference in a 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City, Schmid handed the keys to Miller in Sandy.
And it went well. Until it didn’t.
For the better part of 86 minutes, Miller enjoyed a productive, quality debut. He was only called upon to make one serious save in that time frame, and he was up to the task. About 20 minutes into the game, Joao Plata directed a rocket toward Miller’s right, and he extended and parried the ball aside at a full stretch. Aside from that moment, he displayed a cool head under fire. Real Salt Lake’s equalizing goal was out of his hands. There was quite literally nothing he could’ve done.
But his day turned sour in a hurry. In the 86th minute, Miller was out-jumped by center back Jamison Olave off a corner, and Olave buried a point blank header after the cross sailed just over Miller’s fingertips. Like Frei against Sporting Kansas City last week, that’s one the young keeper will no doubt want back. Miller’s judgment on the ball in midair was just an inch or two off kilter, but sometimes that’s all it takes.
Taken as a whole, Miller’s day was positive. But he won’t be able to out-run the one moment that decided the match.
Cause for concern up top?
The 4-3-3 was always going to take some time to settle, and it’s far too early to scuttle the experiment over lack of results. The sample size isn’t nearly broad enough, and two weeks into the season is a bit early to begin smashing up the battle plan because the old one isn’t there yet.
That said, the Sounders might have some positional tweaks to make within that system on the attacking end in the days and weeks ahead. In the scheme’s first 360 minutes of 2016 - including two Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League matches - the front three of Morris, Valdez and Clint Dempsey have yet to score a goal in the run of play. That doesn’t mean there haven’t been chances, but the lack of finishing played a major factor in the three losses out of those four games.
Seattle did get a goal in the run of play on Saturday, its first non-own goal to not come off a set piece of 2016. And it came off a rebound put-back from Osvaldo Alonso, his first goal for Seattle in nearly 100 appearances. That gave Seattle a lead that lasted until just before halftime, which was the fourth goal Seattle’s surrendered in the final five minutes of the first half this season. For reference, that’s more than 50 percent of the goals the Sounders have given up this season, all within one five-minute window.
- STANDINGS: Where do the Sounders stand?
The Sounders were largely buoyant in the first half, but the game assumed a much choppier tenor over the final 45 minutes. The fact that Seattle finished with Valdez and Morris on the shelf wasn’t a particularly cheery bit of news for the front line’s immediate future either.
The ultimate barometer of whether this attacking system works will be whether it can weather the early storm and bag its first run-of-play goal from a forward of 2016. Goals tend to come in bunches, and if they can break the hex and work one in against Vancouver at home, things should begin to heat up quickly.