No easy answers for Sounders after 1-0 loss to Colorado Rapids

May 22, 2016, 1:27 PM | Updated: Aug 26, 2016, 12:42 pm
Clint Dempsey continued on his fruitless quest to be a central midfielder Saturday against Colorado...
Clint Dempsey continued on his fruitless quest to be a central midfielder Saturday against Colorado. (AP)

Colorado Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni’s words for his team after Saturday’s match stuck with me, because it’s the opposite of what Sounders coach Sigi Schmid has had to say about his team all season: “[The Sounders] were sharp tonight, but you don’t make excuses – you find ways to win, and I couldn’t be more proud of that group.”

Just like they have in a number of matches this season, the Sounders played well on paper against the Rapids on Saturday — 66 percent of possessions, 17 shots, the list goes on. Had you looked at everything but the scoreline from Saturday’s match, you’d probably conclude that the Sounders won. But they did not. Despite having only two shots on goal and barely any time in the attacking third, Colorado beat Seattle 1-0 on the night. And as the soccer cliché goes, the only stat that matters is the score.

Despite the lineup sheet saying the Sounders put out a 4-3-3 at home against Colorado, the reality looked much more like a 4-4-2 until late in the match. Jordan Morris was the lone forward at times, and Clint Dempsey continued on his fruitless quest to be a central midfielder. Dempsey actually had one of his best matches of the season, mainly due to some flashes of technique and a handful of great passes to Morris. But what that meant was Morris was often completely alone against a very disciplined Colorado defense that refused to budge.

I’ve talked quite a bit this season about the Sounders’ stats flattering their performances, especially the “chances created” metric that is relatively subjective and often conceals the team’s actual attacking threat. At the risk of beating a dead horse, it’s a point that is relevant after yet another match. Seattle did have some solid chances on the night that Morris, Dempsey, and the others failed to do anything substantial with, but of the 14 chances listed by sports-data firm Opta, very few truly threatened the Rapids’ goal.

This problem doesn’t have any obvious fixes. The Sounders simply can’t find ways to win unless it’s handed to them on a silver platter. Meanwhile, Mastroeni has built a team that can snatch three points from a match they barely deserved even one from — that’s the kind of team that wins trophies. The Rapids win the games they’re supposed to win, and they manage to get a chunk of wins from the games they’re supposed to lose or draw.

I know the Sounders train hard for these matches, and finishing practice is always on the docket a few times each week. I often see guys like Morris, Aaron Kovar, and Cristian Roldan staying late after training to work on shots, free kicks, etc. This is a talented Seattle team, one full of players that know how to score goals. But there’s just something that’s keeping them from putting the ball in the back of the net freely and easily each week.

Whether it’s a mentality, tactics, coaching — whatever has been holding Seattle back from reaching its potential this season, it has to be extinguished if they have any hopes of making it to the MLS Cup playoffs. The loss of Obafemi Martins is in the past and it needs to stay that way — the team will likely make some big signings once the July window rolls around anyway. But one or two new signings won’t magically fix what ails this team, because the players they’ve already splashed cash on simply aren’t delivering in a consistent manner.

I don’t have answers for this team, besides the fact that 17 shots should produce far more than four measly shots on target. The fact is, Seattle looks every bit the team that is five points from a playoff position nearly a third of the way into the season. The Rapids are at the top of the league because they simply “find ways to win” when all signs point to loss. The Sounders are sinking fast because they can’t even snatch a point from the matches that they thoroughly looked like they could win.

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No easy answers for Sounders after 1-0 loss to Colorado Rapids