Seattle Sounders take road point in San Jose, but plenty of work still to come

It’s hard to gauge at this point in the Seattle Sounders’ season where a draw ranks in terms of importance. But at least as far as the first 80 minutes of the team’s match on Saturday night goes, the Sounders will take this point and run back to Seattle with it.

The Sounders largely struggled to create substantive chances on Saturday night at San Jose. Never has the absence of Clint Dempsey been felt more intensely as the Earthquakes took a 1-0 lead in the first half and looked to coast home with a resolute defensive performance bent on stymying Seattle’s otherwise dangerous front line. Indeed, Seattle only produced a single shot on target all night.

And yet that one made all difference. And it might’ve saved the Sounders’ hunt for the postseason for another week.

Seattle was no doubt hoping for all three points in Saturday’s road meeting with the Earthquakes. Both Seattle and San Jose were in striking distance of sixth-place Portland, and with the Timbers’ win on Saturday night both needed all three to close the gap. But a loss would’ve been even more damaging.

Ultimately the match deferred the importance to a later date. Portland’s win over Real Salt Lake no doubt made life more difficult for both San Jose and Seattle, neither of which could effectively close the gap with a single shared point. But it didn’t outwardly eliminate either. Here’s a look at three things we learned.

Sounders’ Space Vacation Bites Them

Before the match, this game had all the hallmarks of a match that the Sounders tend to dominate. San Jose’s passing average was in the bottom third of the league, and the Sounders average more passes per match than all but one team in MLS this year. And yet the Sounders surprisingly dropped off to start the match and ceded a large portion of the field to San Jose early. And make no mistake, the Earthquakes did not waste that advantage.

The crux of the issue for Seattle was around the differing personnel in the defensive third. Brad Evans was a late scratch due to a back tweak he picked up earlier in the week. That cleared any confusion that Roman Torres would get his first start in a year since recovering from an ACL injury, but it didn’t help the buildup as a whole. Evans has always been an exceptional boon for the Sounders’ possession, given his predilection for midfield duty even as a defender.

Torres doesn’t give you that, and without the Sounders’ vocal captain it took Seattle a half hour to stabilize. And San Jose didn’t waste the chance to take a lead.

The Earthquakes grabbed their 1-0 lead in the first half on a frankly avoidable goal that typified the way the Earthquakes like to strike. It was quick, it was off a miscue and it finished with a Chris Wondolowski poacher effort. Jordan Stewart received an over-the-top ball on the left flank off a flubbed interception from Tyrone Mears and quick-touched a cross to Wondolowski, who finished from seven yards. It was Wondolowski’s 10th career goal against the Sounders, more than any other player in MLS history.

.@jordanstewart3@ChrisWondo GOAL#SilenceTheSounders |

— San Jose Earthquakes (@SJEarthquakes) September 11, 2016

The Sounders spent nearly an hour trying to equalize. Luckily, they did.

Lodeiro Strikes Again

For nearly two months now we’ve been talking about the almost unbelievable impact Nicolas Lodeiro’s had on the Sounders’ season. Before he arrived the team was left for dead in the playoff race. The Sounders may still have a significant amount of work to do, but Lodeiro has given them a chance. And now for the second time this season, one of his goals on the road has saved a point and given them an opportunity to live another day.

By his standards, Lodeiro had a relatively quiet match, at least for the first 80 minutes. San Jose swamped the central midfield and actively attempted to kick him out of the chances his so often attempts to create. San Jose coach Dom Kinnear deployed a central defensive shield of Darwin Ceren and Fatai Alashe to crowd Lodeiro and make his creative life difficult, and for the most part, it worked.

Without Dempsey, Lodeiro tracked far and wide for chances and was mostly stopped from creating those gaps he likes to generate by pulling defenders out of position and utilizing the space with his picture perfect through balls.

But you can’t keep a good man down for long.

Lodeiro’s goal was his third for the Sounders - a seeing-eye free kick David Bingham couldn’t track through a thicket of players - and second in three games that saved a point on the road. He’s played all 90 minutes of every game in which he’s been available and once again proved a factor on the final score sheet. Perhaps this goes without saying, but it’s almost unimaginable where the Sounders would be without Lodeiro right now. Certainly not in the playoff hunt.

Sounders Miss Dempsey

It can be hard to quantify the loss of a single player in a sport so chronically unquantifiable, but let me try.

On Saturday night, San Jose managed 29 touches inside Stefan Frei’s box. And despite a general lack of real chances, San Jose still managed a goal. Meanwhile, Seattle had a meager eight touches inside the box all match. Not shots on target, or even shots as a whole. Touches. Period. That’s a small total.

There’s no easier way to describe why this was than to look at the absence of the Sounders’ most consistent player over the last three years: Dempsey. With the advent of Lodeiro, Dempsey had been freed as a runner into the box off Jordan Morris’s back shoulder for the secondary runs the team feasted off of so heartily during the Dempsey-Obafemi Martins era. When Lodeiro joined, that essentially turned into Dempsey-Morris. Those days hit turbulence when Dempsey went on the shelf indefinitely with an irregular heartbeat.

Watch game tape from Saturday night and you’ll see Morris ghosting into the box without secondary runners. That was routinely a problem, as there simply wasn’t enough attacking support to pepper Bingham with chances.

The Sounders are still in the playoff hunt, but Saturday night made life more difficult. From now on they’ll need to take more chances to ensure their season doesn’t end before the playoffs start for the first time in the club’s MLS history.



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