Larry is a Sounders season ticket holder and can be found at Club 212 Row S, Seats 1 & 2. Feel free to stop by.
– Seeking Justice for the Seriously Injured –
Matt Pentz is an award-winning sports reporter who writes weekly columns on Sounders FC for Prost Amerika. Matt’s work also appears on the Guardian, ESPNFC, FourFourTwo and Yahoo
Kansas City; Sounders return to their theater of nightmares
By Matt Pentz
The Sounders are struggling, so of course a trip to Kansas City is up next on the docket. If Portland is Seattle’s eternal rival, Los Angeles the measuring stick and Vancouver the affectionate younger sibling, Sporting KC is becoming the team that pops up when it Sounders FC teetering on the brink.
That hasn’t always meant the edge of a precipice in a negative sense – the narrow home win in last year’s Knockout Round stood up as a major breakthrough on the road to MLS Cup – but it has often been for the worse.
Kansas City was the first MLS team to face the Sounders post-Obafemi-Martins, and its opening day victory at CenturyLink Field set the tone for Seattle’s disastrous start to last season, defender Nuno Andre Coelho scoring his only goal in his short MLS stint.
SKC was also, of course, the final opponent of the Sigi Schmid era.
It’s a different year, of course, and the situation isn’t nearly as a dire as it was last summer. Still, on the occasion of Seattle’s first return to Children’s Mercy Park since that 3-0 loss last July, it’s worth looking back on a transformative afternoon in the recent history of the club as it faces its first significant turbulence under coach Brian Schmetzer.
Seattle was awful that day, lacking in energy and inspiration, and finished a late Joevin Jones strike from distance away from becoming the first team in league history to finish a match without a single shot on goal.
“It was one of the most embarrassing things as a professional that I’ve been through,” said former Sounders forward Herculez Gomez, who was substituted out at halftime. “This is not what I came back (to Seattle) for. This is not what I want reflected on me.”
There were extenuating circumstances, of course.
In retrospect, that game feels less like an indictment of Schmid’s hold on the team and more a combination of adverse factors coming to a head at once.
The loss to Los Angeles in the U.S. Open Cup earlier that week was hugely disheartening. Seattle twice took the lead before falling apart down the stretch, gifting the Galaxy goals through a series of defensive miscues en route to a 4-2 loss and elimination.
The mood was sour before the Sounders even touched down in the heartland.
Neither did the weather do them any favors. Factor in the humidity, which turned the air into a thick soup, and temperatures climbed near triple digits. Several players – including Brad Evans, who grew up in Phoenix – have since said those conditions were as punishing as they’ve ever played in.
That’s not to necessarily excuse the (lack of) effort that resulted, only to explain it. Nothing went right, up to and including Schmid’s puzzling decision to throw on a pair of defenders at halftime when playing from behind.
“It was a bad performance. It was simple as that,” said defender Tyrone Mears, whose half-hearted attempt at defending prior to Sporting’s third goal made for perhaps the worst optics of all. “With every team, there are a couple of games every year where nothing works. You play bad. It happens.”
The current group of Sounders can certainly empathize.
Saturday night’s 4-1 loss at Chicago wasn’t nearly as rough as that rout in Kansas City. Seattle played poorly, but it wasn’t exactly run off the field. The first-half encroachment call on goalkeeper Stefan Frei during a penalty kick was a bad break, and needlessly boosted the home side.
But nor did the defeat instill much confidence in a team still struggling to find its footing, especially as it related to the recurring “narrative” Schmetzer has bemoaned about a squad struggling to turn statistical dominance into actual goals.
Nicolas Lodeiro has struggled to adjust to the league’s adjustments. The Uruguayan international admitted a few weeks ago that opponents are learning how to defend him, and other teams are targeting the playmaker. Second-year forward Jordan Morris has scored just twice in 10 matches. Injuries have weakened a back line that has bled goals in recent weeks.
Part of the early struggles can be attributed to tough scheduling. Seattle has played six of its first 10 matches on the road. That doesn’t totally jibe, though, given that it managed just one point during a recent two-game homestand.
Kansas City’s tendency to catch the Sounders when they’re feeling low will continue on Wednesday, when they’ll face a team on short rest at the end of a Midwest road swing.
It’s far too early to call Seattle’s current state a crisis, or even a crisis of confidence. If ever there were an opponent that can be a harbinger of something more serious, however, it’s the team they’ll face off with on Wednesday night.