2016

Seattle Sounders start season off with tough result, worrisome injuries

SEATTLE — Maybe there was something figurative in the fact that a massive, biblical deluge opened up in the sky over CenturyLink Field on Sunday. Around the 60th minute of the Seattle Sounders' season opener against Sporting Kansas City, the heavens broke and the downpour arrived.


Rain in March. This is Seattle, after all.


Ten minutes later, Sporting KC poured on the only goal in a game the Sounders would rather put firmly in the rearview.


The Sounders enjoyed a bright opening 40 minutes to their 2016 MLS season after being dumped out of the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League earlier this week. The repartee from the front three was largely dynamic, Chad Marshall hit the crossbar once and Jordan Morris lifted a gilt-edged chance over the bar less than 10 minutes in.


Then the red card. And the rain. And the loss.


Here are three main talking points to take from Sunday’s season opener from Seattle’s perspective.


Oniel Fisher’s red card fundamentally altered the match


Pure match analysis is essentially thrown in a giant blender once a red card is introduced. And while there was no damage done on Fisher’s tackle, he didn’t leave referee Alan Kelly much choice once he went into the challenge with studs on both boots flaring in the 41st minute. Argue the call all you want, but Fisher didn’t leave himself much room to escape the hook.

Kelly immediately unsheathed his red card, and Fisher was on his way to an early shower. From then, substantive match analysis with any real bearing on the team’s season is hard to muster.


After an extremely strong opening 40 minutes in which Seattle owned just about every attacking category, the team was suddenly trying desperately to patch holes in the hull as new ones seemed to spring up by the minute. Cristian Roldan scooted to right back and after half the team settled from a 4-3-3 into a defensive 4-4-1 with Nelson Valdez marooned up top.



Defensively, the formation mostly worked. Sporting KC weren't particularly dangerous throughout the second half, and in truth their only goal wasn’t as much of a defensive lapse—nor a moment of attacking brilliance—as it was an unfortunate breakdown that’s hardly the norm.


That said, as few chances as Sporting KC actually generated (only one shot on target in the entire second half), they owned 70 percent of the possession over the final 45 minutes. Burdened with one fewer man, that limited the Sounders to a few quick-fire chances that all petered out before becoming truly dangerous. This might be just about the only time you see Seattle play on the break at home all year.


Given the fact that Seattle only had one red card all of last season, the team is now hoping it’s hit its share for 2016 after the first match of the year.


Stefan Frei will want Sporting KC’s goal back


The biggest talking point of the match in hindsight is almost certainly the red card. And it was no doubt fundamentally important to the game’s shape. But the game’s only real misstep—and ultimately its biggest turning point—came on Sporting KC’s goal, which skipped under Frei not long after the worst of the rain had moved through the stadium.


It’s not a stretch to wonder if Frei would’ve dug out what might otherwise have been a routine save on dry turf.


Seattle’s field surface is new, and Frei’s only played one competitive match on it so far. Notably, there was no rain on the surface the first time, let alone this much. The ball was stung from 30 yards by center back Nuno Andre Coelho, and Frei had a bead on its trajectory almost immediately. The ball skimmed above the turf and bounced just in front of Frei, who was sprawled out to his right. Frei over-judged the ball, but it barely came off the turf. Almost as soon as it hit the field’s fat, synthetic blades, it jumped forward slightly off the surface. Right under Frei’s arm.



“Obviously it seemed to skip past him on the wet turf,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “I’m sure it’s one he’d like to see again.”


After the match, SKC coach Peter Vermes noted how much the ball was skidding and speeding up off the surface once it hit, and that certainly happened on Coelho’s goal. And, as Schmid said, it’s no doubt one the Sounders’ normally reliable No. 1 would like back.


Patchwork defense takes another hit


The Sounders’ defensive unit was already banged up entering Sunday’s match. We always knew it’d be a long road to recovery for hulking center back Román Torres, who doesn’t look like he’ll be ready for first team action for a while yet. Meanwhile, regular right back Tyrone Mears missed Sunday’s match thanks to a quad injury, and of course Fisher could face additional time off from the league office due to his red card.


The worst news of all, however, might’ve been delivered with just minutes remaining in Sunday’s match.


After being shifted to right back late in the match when Oalex Anderson came on to make his first-ever appearance just days after signing with the first team, captain Brad Evans came down hard on his left shoulder following an aerial clash with Dom Dwyer. Evans immediately signaled to the bench for medial assistance, and after grimacing on the ground for more than a minute, he walked off solemnly for Dylan Remick cradling his shoulder the whole way.


This is not a passing concern. If Evans’ shoulder injury is even moderately serious, the Sounders will be without three of their top four center backs in the early going. And one of those happens to be the team captain and emotional leader.

If Evans isn’t immediately available, Schmid’s first choice back line should be interesting when the team lines up against Real Salt Lake on Saturday. It’s entirely possible Fisher, Mears and Evans could miss the match, which would mean a patchwork back line against an RSL team that scored two goals on the road in its first match this year.


After a brutal run of injuries in 2015, it's not exactly how the team hoped to open 2016.

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