Sounders repeatedly felled by Timbers’ counter-attack in 3-1 loss

Jul 18, 2016, 11:11 AM

The feeling around the Sounders locker room after Wednesday’s big 5-0 win over FC Dallas was one of optimism. All the potential that had been touted all season finally looked like it was coming to fruition. Five different players scored those goals, and it truly felt like the floodgates were opening. But when the Sounders made their trip to Portland to play their biggest rivals, the defending MLS Cup champion Timbers, they were sent crashing back to reality.

Clint Dempsey may have been missing, but the team should have been able to compensate for that. Instead, the Sounders looked toothless in attack and overwhelmed in defense. The Timbers’ counter-attack proved too much for them, and it showed when two of the home team’s goals came directly from such situations.

So what went wrong?

Why were the Sounders so easily overwhelmed on the counter? Tyrone Mears and lack of organization following attacking set pieces.

• On Portland’s first goal, Mears found himself out of position and unable to get back to where he should be, and the Sounders were punished. With Diego Valeri’s first goal, the Timbers midfielder was able to have a one-two with Lucas Melano and skip past Mears, who is unable to get back in time to help out his defenders before Valeri’s curling shot.

• With Fanendo Adi’s goal, Mears is the closest defender to the goal when the Timbers start their counterattack. As Melano bears down on the Sounders’ box, Mears chooses to stick to Melano instead of Adi. It was a split-second decision, which is somewhat understandable, but it was clearly not the best one as it left Adi relatively unmarked.

• More than anything, the third goal exposed the Sounders’ complete inability to control the game after losing possession following a corner kick. The central defenders were in a full sprint trying to get back as Portland was flying up the pitch. The midfield especially should be prepared to stop those counters, and the Sounders should have had a better gameplan against a team that used such tactics.

The lack of Dempsey was obvious at times, but it’s hard to say if he would have changed the game.

• I think he would have done much better with the chances that Nelson Valdez has, but in his recent Sounders form it’s not something you could bet on.

• It’s clear that Valdez doesn’t belong on this team. For a DP-level forward, he should at least be putting shots on goal and scoring one every once in awhile. The team needs to cut their losses as soon as possible with him, and bring in a 10-15 goals-per-season forward.

The Sounders are suffering from a severe lack of creativity, often forcing a cross-heavy gameplan that never works.

• If the rumors are true, the Sounders are bringing in players soon, including a creative attacking midfielder. Erik Friberg has been forced to play this role most of the season, and while he’s done an adequate job at times, the team needs more high-quality chances. Friberg would make an excellent backup or rotation player, but relying on him for creativity from central midfield isn’t the answer.

• The Sounders also seem to rely on a cross-heavy gameplan that forces the ball into wide positions for a full-back or Andreas Ivanschitz to cross into the box. It’s obvious that their best play comes when they don’t do this (see the FC Dallas win), but when Valdez is on the pitch, the team reverts to that strategy. Pumping in crosses is a gamble even with the best of target forwards, but with a guy like Valdez who latches onto a handful and puts little to none of them on target, it’s perplexing.

• New tactics are clearly needed, and hopefully any new signings are suggestive of a new type of tactic. Pass-and-move, through-balls on the ground, anything other than the pump-to-the-flanks-and-cross tactic that they have pushed in matches such as this one.

As a whole, the Sounders’ weaknesses were clearly exploited by a team who has their tactics nailed down and executed them perfectly. Seattle took parts of what worked and replaced them with others that did not. The Sounders are a team struggling to find an identity, and they lost to fierce rivals who have just started to nail down their own. As I said after the loss to LA, the Sounders have a broken roster that needs to be fixed. This will probably need to happen in the offseason, but fans will be hoping that they can at least fix a few things this summer.

They head to LA for their next Open Cup match on Wednesday. As they have so many times this season, they’ll be hoping to get a win that could help get their season back on track.

Spenser Davis also covers the Sounders for Sounder at Heart.

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