Seattle Sounders struggle without Osvaldo Alonso, wilt against Sporting Kansas City

Even at its worst this season, when the light at the end of the tunnel leading to the playoffs looked almost impossibly dim, the Seattle Sounders always played reasonably well. Whether the finishing was off or the back line was responsible for an odd let-down, the required tweaks never seemed particularly systematic.

Sunday, though, was a tough pill to swallow. It was perhaps the first loss this year in which answers were very, very difficult to come by in the match’s cruel aftermath.

The Sounders desperately needed a result on the road in Kansas City to rescue some postseason hope from the mire of a season that has not gone to plan. A win was never going to come easy - not in the withering heat, or the difficult environs of Children’s Mercy Park, or against a particularly well-coached Peter Vermes team. But even a draw with an encouraging performance could do wonders for team morale.

The Sounders did not get one. Sporting Kansas City sprinted away from Seattle for a 3-0 win, and the Sounders are back where they started before the match: ninth place in the 10-team Western Conference and flailing for momentum wherever they can find it. And it certainly wasn’t here.

In the aftermath of a difficult, sweat-drenched afternoon in the Midwest, here are three things we learned.

Numbers Don’t Lie

There’s no getting around the numbers. Seattle narrowly avoided becoming the first team in MLS history to fail to register a shot over the course of a match thanks to an 88th-minute effort from Joevin Jones dragged about 10 yards wide. Still, the Sounders were undone in most every category by a Sporting KC team that simply looked like it wanted it more.

Here’s a look at the complete stats run-down. It is not a pretty sight.

Seattle Sounders struggle without Osvaldo Alonso, wilt against Sporting Kansas City -

The Sounders were out-shot 19-1, and 6-0 on target. Perhaps the larger surprise was the Sounders didn’t even register a single blocked shot, meaning they weren’t even speculating late in the match. The chances weren’t there, and even in the odd situation they were - like Clint Dempsey’s near-shot just after the halftime restart - there wasn’t a shot on the other end.

The passing numbers are probably the most notable. We’ll get into this more intently in our next point, but the Sounders went into this match averaging nearly 500 passes per game. Their 124 in the first half was easily their lowest total in a half this year, and one of their lowest ever.

Frankly, everything was down, not just against this year but against Seattle’s historic lows. For a number of reasons, it simply wasn’t Seattle’s afternoon.

No Ozzie, No Party

On an individual basis, you can certainly argue there are more exciting players on this roster than Osvaldo Alonso. But at least based on Sunday’s returns, it’s difficult to argue there’s any player more integral to just about every aspect of the Sounders’ game plan. Because at times Seattle looked lost without him in Kansas City.

Alonso missed Sunday’s match due to yellow card accumulation after the loss in Portland last weekend, and Seattle coach Sigi Schmid covered by inserting Herculez Gomez and shifting Dempsey around. It did not work, as the midfield duo of Erik Friberg and Cristian Roldan struggled without a third wheel and the forward line was disconnected from the middle.

Alonso has been more involved in the attacking build-up this year than ever, so his miss affected every portion of the field. Only one player has completed more passes in the attacking half than Alonso this season, and so the fact that Seattle only generated a paltry 28 passes in the final third over the first hour of the match - the period in which the match was effectively decided - pointed back, surprisingly enough, to Alonso’s absence.

More than that, Alonso is the glue that holds the midfield together, and without him the machine flew apart. In the first half, Seattle managed a frankly unheard of 28 percent possession. For a team that tends to pass more than any in the league, finishing a match with just a 35 percent share of the ball isn’t something you expect. But then again, without Alonso this team simply is not the same.

Formational Blues

Coaches like to say that formation talk is largely useless, and in some form they’re correct. But it’s useless only in the construct that you approach the discussion as if the lineup on the starting sheet is the static reality. Because it never is. If you break it out and look at the formation as a living, breathing organism, then the analysis begins to make more sense.

The Sounders have fronted a 4-3-3 on every lineup sheet this year, but at least lately it’s rarely looked like that on the field. More often than not it’s looked like an exceedingly narrow 4-4-1-1, but sometimes the midfield and forward lines get so mushed together that it’s hard to tell.

Sunday didn’t go very far in setting the tone for what this formation is. On average, this is what the Sounders looked like positionally over the first 45 minutes, in which they were out-shot 9-0.

Seattle Sounders struggle without Osvaldo Alonso, wilt against Sporting Kansas City -

Chad Marshall (14) actually played, effectively, as a sweeper for the first 45 minutes, as Brad Evans (3) stepped into the midfield to aid Roldan and Friberg, who were swamped with marking the unusually high Benny Feilhaber. This fashioned Marshall into the last man back all too often as Jones and Tyrone Mears bulled forward.

Schmid essentially hit the reset button at halftime, pulling off Gomez and Friberg in favor of defenders Zach Scott and Tony Alfaro. The idea was to free Evans and Jones to move up as midfielders, giving Seattle more numbers in the middle and perhaps nicking a chance or two after a poor first 45. Here’s what that looked like once Schmid made his final sub, Michael Farfan in for Andreas Ivanschitz.

Seattle Sounders struggle without Osvaldo Alonso, wilt against Sporting Kansas City -

The problem with this was that it didn’t really solve what the Sounders were doing in the attacking third. The possession straightened out a little bit, but by the end, with the heat taking its toll and Seattle driving forward, it only served to open up Seattle at the back more. In this way, Dom Dwyer got his second goal after a bad bit of miscommunication between Mears and Scott, and that was all she wrote.

Whether or not Sunday’s match effectively ended Seattle’s postseason hopes - it did not, but the bulb dimmed significantly - the Sounders will be disappointed in their performance all the way around once they review it. Even if Seattle is further from the playoff picture than ever, playing better soccer down the line should be a matter of personal pride, if nothing else.



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