Erik Friberg vs COL 150718
USA Today Sports

Late goal leaves Sounders FC in the lurch against Colorado

The ball seemed to hang up in the heat for a lifetime. Colorado Rapids defender Jared Watts had hardly glanced up before mashing a seeker 50 yards upfield toward center-forward Kevin Doyle, who’d been quiet for most of the match. With the Rapids and Sounders FC scoreless headed toward the game’s final five minutes, Colorado had gradually rolled back its attack and sheathed its already weakened claws. It looked like it had accepted a draw.

The lengthy pass almost seemed like an afterthought in a match both teams spent slipping and sliding on a temporary grass field installation. It was not.

Harrington’s deep pass ultimately bounced twice before caroming off Chad Marshall and into Doyle’s path in the run of play. Doyle didn’t even need a settling touch before smashing a left-footer past a helpless Troy Perkins and into the far lower corner. It was the Rapids’ second shot on target all night, and it was to be their last. Despite an edge in nearly every statistical category, Sounders FC was left without a point for a fifth time in its last six league matches.

Colorado 1, Sounders FC 0.

“Sometimes when you’re in something like this it just takes something to bounce your way,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “Sometimes you just need a flukey goal, you need something to bounce your way, go in, and then it’s like all of the sudden the dam breaks. It’s not like we’re getting outplayed. It’s not like we’re getting annihilated in games. We’re in every game, but because we haven’t been able to score the pressure mounts on the defense.

Hit by a glut of missing players, Schmid has exhausted almost every avenue available. He’s shuffled parts of the backline, changed formations, moved Cristian Roldan to various attacking venues, inserted two new midseason signings and rotated strikers. Even if the stat sheet has largely sung Seattle’s dominance, the final scoreline rarely has over the past six weeks.

In that sense, Schmid will continue to tweak, alter and tailor until the bulk of his absentee starters return. In the interim, the team can’t seem to catch a break. Schmid noted after the match he’d planned to start the recently signed Andy Craven up top against Colorado, but Craven suffered an injury in practice during the week and couldn’t go.

“Somebody’s got to find it along the way,” Schmid said. “We’re going to keep working. We’re not going to stop working. We’re going to keep thinking about it, we’re going to keep experimenting. We tried to do a lot of crossing and finishing to build up the confidence of the guys up front. We’ll continue to try and put out what is a formation we think can help us attack.”

On Saturday, the attack largely operated effectively out of its 4-3-3 lineup in every facet until the final third. The center midfield trio of Osvaldo Alonso, Andy Rose and Erik Friberg, who made his first appearance in Rave Green since 2011, formed a competent and diverse three-headed approach. Friberg spent the majority of his time shuttling possession between the lines, and in his first half back he had a game-high 27 passes at a 74 percent clip before running out of gas and tagging out in the 59th.

Friberg’s ease of movement in general will be a welcome addition to the midfield. He displayed an ease in possession and showed a willingness to push up toward the front line.

Meanwhile, Alonso stayed rooted to his familiar role as the poured cement in front of the backline, and Rose lived up to his box-to-box reputation while everything else orbited around Friberg. That largely kept the Rapids’ overloaded midfield from building into its three-player front line of Charles Eloundou, Doyle and Vicente Sanchez, who was a handful.

But the playing surface’s unpredictable condition mixed with the Rapids’ propensity to seek unorthodox methods going forward - they’re last in MLS in run-of-play goals this season - created a gap just wide enough for Colorado to run through for all three points.

“Both teams had to play on that field, so it wasn’t a disadvantage for anybody,” Roldan said. “I think if we’d practiced on it a day before it would’ve been a lot easier to get ahold of. Obviously you had to wear studs, but it was fine. I wasn’t complaining too much about playing on grass.”

The attention now turns in earnest toward arresting the slide and coming up with actionable solutions. With the loss, Sounders FC relinquished a hold on first place in the Western Conference it’d held for weeks. But there’s good news, namely that the return of two of the team’s three Designated Players is nearing. Clint Dempsey has just two Gold Cup matches left and Obafemi Martins’ fitness is improving. After the match, Schmid said Martins could join team training as soon as next week.

In the meantime, the team will continue searching for answers.

“You keep driving, you keep pushing on,” Perkins said. “You can’t hang your heads and sit here and go, ‘Oh I should’ve done that.’ You start questioning yourself and it gets worse. You’ve got to take it for what it’s worth. It’s a loss. It’s not the end of the world. We still got points in the bank. We’re in a good spot. It’s like I said to a couple guys, I’d rather have it now than come September and October.”