Despite the returns of three key starters, the Sounders played probably their worst game in a skid that has reached eight losses in 10 games, this one 3-0 to Cascadia rival Vancouver.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid emphasized wanting to put on a show before the home crowd against Vancouver Friday. While the match proved to be a spectacle of sorts, it had many fans trudging to exits well before the final whistle. Three set-piece goals proved the difference in the score line, but the Seattle Sounders’ collapse was of their own doing, disintegrating against the Whitecaps, 3-0.
Vancouver (12-3-8) drew first blood in the sixth minute. Whitecaps midfielder Cristian Techera was hauled down in the right alley and won a free kick. The service took a deflection off a Vancouver player before falling in front of Seattle’s backline. A failed clearance left the ball at waist height for the Whitecaps’ Pa-Modou Kah, who pivoted and volleyed the ball past an anchored Stefan Frei to record his first goal of the season.
“Taking a goal early in the game, everybody’s head drops a little bit,” Schmid said. “I felt we could come back in the second half and do well. Then we take another early goal, and everybody’s head drops a little bit.”
Kah struck again in the 49th minute. A short corner rolled into space for Techera, whose shot on the ground rolled into the middle of the Sounders’ defense before being back-heeled into the far side of the net by Kah.
Pedro Morales, who entered the match in the 72nd minute, played three minutes before notching a goal of his own. Stepping up to take a long free kick, Morales curled the ball over the wall and past the fingertips of a diving Stefan Frei to strike the final blow.
Seattle (10-11-2) had three big-name players return to training this week, all of whom started. Frei recovered from his sprained left shoulder, while defender Brad Evans and forward Clint Dempsey returned to the club after a disappointing Gold Cup campaign with USMNT.
Evans—once more bearing the captain’s armband—retook the helm of a team that had all but run aground in July. Dempsey, who had not been aboard since his three-match suspension for a U.S. Open Cup outburst in June led into his Gold Cup campaign, attempted to help navigate the rough waters. In the back, a rejuvenated Frei attempted to help bail out a side as it sank in the MLS power rankings.
Despite the veterans’ presences, the Sounders were shaken early and never recovered. The crosses were sluggish, the midfield was disjointed and looked uncomfortable with the ball at its feet, and an offensive effort comprised of ponderous long balls had more missed connections than Craigslist after Bumbershoot.
Dempsey seemed anxious, unable to get into the flow of the match. Several times he ranged as far back as his own defenders, hoping to get involved in the buildup, but Vancouver’s defensive midfielders, Matias Laba and Gershon Koffie, left him little room to work on the forward third.
“Everybody thought: ‘OK, everybody’s back, so it’s a snap of the fingers and it’ll all happen again,’” Schmid said of the high expectations for his replenished roster. “That’s not the way it works. We’ve got to get guys back playing together. Friberg’s never played with Dempsey before. Clint hasn’t played with Thomás, so there are still connections there that aren’t established yet.”
The Sounders won’t have long to build bridges. They travel to Vancouver to play the Whitecaps in the CONCACAF Champions League Wednesday. Evans said the short turnaround would hopefully spur dramatic improvement.
“We’ve just got to get back to playing our normal style of soccer and get back to our winning ways,” he said. “The focus is on us, not on the other team.”
Schmid, however, did take note of Vancouver’s post-match celebration on the pitch.
“Hopefully (the Sounders) will remember that they went out and celebrated on our field, we’ve got make sure that we right that and that we pay them back for that,” he said. “I don’t think players should be coming in here and taking pictures and snapshots on our field. It pisses me off and I think it pisses our players off.”
Seattle has lost seven of its last eight matches and is on a four-game skid. The team has not scored in 362 minutes of play.
Mark Geiger, MLS ref of the year in 2014 who was part of the U.S. refereeing contingent at last summer’s World Cup, returned Saturday to MLS in Seattle following the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Geiger played a major role in the outcome of a semifinal game between Mexico and Panama so controversial that it sparked an investigation by the federation into the tournament’s refereeing.
Geiger oversaw a rough-and-tumble Cascadia derby match, but appeared to have overlooked some contact to the head of Seattle’s Gonzalo Pineda. Pineda received a laceration on his face from an apparent elbow in the second half. The midfielder was subbed off immediately afterward.
Schmid assessed the incident diplomatically.
“It’s not a foul, but somehow he got cut open, so I guess the ball must have got him.”