Slow start hinders Seattle Sounders again in draw vs. San Jose Earthquakes

SAN JOSE — “It can’t happen again.”

That was the message all week in practice from Seattle Sounders interim head coach Brian Schmetzer after the club opened sluggishly in its 4-2 loss to the Portland Timbers two weeks ago. Seattle was burned for four goals in the first half in Portland and came in determined to start strongly against a San Jose team also fighting for its playoff life.

But the Sounders found themselves on their heels in the first 20 minutes of play yet again on Saturday until they were finally broken on a finish from Chris Wondolowski, who bagged his 10th career goal against the Rave Green. A Nicolas Lodeiro free kick in the 80th minute rescued a point in an eventual 1-1 draw, but only after Seattle stumbled out of the gate.

“They kept possession in our end of the field,” Schmetzer said. “They came wave after wave. We defend, defend, defend and then we give the ball away. We were never able to break any of their pressure. You could sense that something bad was going to happen.”

That premonition came on an error by right back Tyrone Mears. His touch on a long cross-field ball deflected into the path of an onrushing Jordan Stewart, who passed it in front to a wide-open Wondolowski for an easy slotted finish.

“I knew the left back had bombed forward,” Mears said. “I took my eye off the ball to check where he was, and I think looking back at it now, maybe I could have chested it, maybe just been safe and headed it. It happens and you’ve just got to get your head up and carry on with it.

“It’s tough,” he continued. “I’ve played a lot of games and I’ve been in this position before when you make a mistake and everybody looks at you. It’s difficult, you can’t put your finger on why it happens, it’s one of those things. I’ll get my head up, work hard on Monday and look forward to the rest of games.”

The Sounders responded well after Wondolowski’s goal, but still found themselves chasing the game. San Jose settled in content with the lead, and Seattle pushed farther up the field and found spaces in the center of the Earthquakes’ defense.

“I never, ever fault my team for giving 100 percent commitment form the opening whistle," Schmetzer said. "They were all over us in the first 25 minutes when they scored, and that’s just testament to a good team. San Jose is playing for their lives as well, so you have to give them some credit.”

The Portland Timbers defeated Real Salt Lake on Saturday night to push the Sounders’ playoff-spot deficit to six points with only seven matches remaining. A road point in September will always be a good result, but with the playoff window dwindling, it wasn’t what the Sounders wanted on Saturday night.

“We’re not going to have any more chances,” Lodeiro said through a translator. “We cannot continue to lose points…I came [to Seattle] with one objective: to make it to the playoffs.”

The Sounders will return home to CenturyLink Field next Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, a team now one spot ahead of the Sounders in the Western Conference after a road win in Columbus on Saturday night.

“They’re always there, they’re always in the game,” Schmetzer said of his team. “It’s just, ‘Can we play a little better soccer at times?’ Yes we can, and that’s what we’re going to work on.”