CHESTER, Pa. — The Seattle Sounders had a chance to clinch a berth in the Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs on Sunday, but they fell 2-0 on the road at the Philadelphia Union. Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer was blunt in his thoughts after the match.
“I’m not happy,” he said. “When you reflect on things, you have to start with yourself. I think how we setup the team, our overall tactics, going against a Union team that was certainly desperate to try to cling to any kind of playoff hope — that’ll be the first thing I do.”
Seattle was missing several key players on Sunday, which didn’t make Schmetzer’s job any easier, especially given a cross-country flight at the end of a three-game week.
Midfielder Víctor Rodríguez, who sparked the offense with a goal and an assist in a huge win over Vancouver midweek, traveled home to Spain to be with his wife in anticipation of their first child. Captain Ozzie Alonso exited the Whitecaps match on Wednesday with a right quad strain and did not make the trip east, nor did imposing defender Román Torres, who is battling knee soreness. Forward Clint Dempsey began on the bench due to normal rest and rotation, and midfielder Cristian Roldan played the game with two fractures in his left arm.
“It’s difficult, but we can’t have any excuses,” said Roldan. “We had guys who were fresh, and the first half just killed us.”
Added defender Kelvin Leerdam: “I don’t think [the Union] did anything special, but we just made too many mistakes, too many easy mistakes, lost too many balls in midfield, couldn’t get the pressure on. I think that was the key in the first half for them because we sat back too much and that’s how they got their chances.”
Schmetzer also questioned his own decision to start Roldan considering his injury. He is a workhorse on both sides of the ball, but he admitted he couldn’t get into as many tackles or shield the ball as much as he’s used to doing.
“That’s another one I have to do some soul-searching on,” Schmetzer said. “Cristian is a tough kid, and I think he’s Superman at times. Maybe we should have had a guy who was 100 percent. Playing with a broken arm is not easy, and you could tell he couldn’t do the things he normally does. So I have to own that one as well.”
Things turned in the Sounders’ favor after Dempsey and Henry Wingo subbed on in the first 15 minutes of the second half, and Seattle was perhaps unlucky not to find the back of the net. Dempsey added new life and helped create four or five great scoring chances only to see goalkeeper Andre Blake stand on his head on multiple occasions to keep them out.
“We started pushing guys forward, and we had nothing to lose at that point,” said Roldan. “I thought Henry and Clint did an extremely good job, Lamar [Neagle] as well. The three subs were crucial to us playing better. You see the pace of Henry, the willingness to go, and Clint being Clint, being a smart player. It was unfortunate, we had a couple of chances and could have equalized this game.”
The Sounders will look to turn the page quickly and get as many players healthy with the upcoming FIFA international break next weekend. Seven players — Dempsey, Torres, Joevin Jones, Gustav Svensson, Nicolás Lodeiro, Oniel Fisher and Nouhou — will all be away with their respective national teams, but it will be a great opportunity for the rest of the group to recover and catch their breath ahead of the final two regular-season games.
Seattle hosts FC Dallas on Oct. 15 before welcoming the Colorado Rapids to CenturyLink Field on Decision Day the following weekend. The Western Conference is a jumbled mess with the Whitecaps still the only team to have clinched a playoff berth. The Sounders, Portland Timbers and Sporting Kansas City are all even on points, four back of Vancouver.
“It’s a tight race,” said Schmetzer. “At this point we’re not talking about [the No. 1 or No. 2 seeds], we’re just talking about beating our next opponent…and then we’ll see where the chips fall.
“Our only thought is finishing out our season with two positive results.”