Matt Pentz: It might not be good for pundits, but sometimes a loss is just a loss


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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

David Villa, celebrating one of hist two goals scored on Saturday against the Seattle Sounders (photo credit: NYCFC)

It might not be good for pundits, but sometimes a loss is just a loss!

By Matt Pentz

There is an impulse to read too much into every single match, to dig for deeper meaning no matter how early in the season or how fleeting the result.

The desire is understandable. How else does one stay engaged for the entirety of Major League Soccer’s eight-month, 34-game regular season? Sifting through the tealeaves is certainly less cynical than pondering whether springtime road matches against non-conference opposition matter at all.

Yet sometimes, it’s healthier to accept a result as a one-off. Seattle’s 2-1 loss to New York City on Saturday at Yankee Stadium was one of those times.

Sure, you can reach for a wider narrative, if you stretch: the defeat as an indictment of an attacking front still lacking chemistry; of the road form of a team that has lost six times in nine games away from CenturyLink Field this season; how it underscored the pressing need to add summer reinforcements.

But really, any chance to ascribe a deeper meeting evaporated the moment that torrential downpour rolled in over The Bronx. Saturday’s match was played in a giant puddle – “Stefan Frei again having the standing water come to his aid” was a description the ESPN commentator used at one point.

Asked afterward the last time he played in similarly averse conditions, Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso had to reach back to before he defected from Cuba in 2007.

“Here, in the U.S., I haven’t played on (a field) like that,” Alonso said.

Yankee Stadium’s comically narrow playing surface, a league-minimum 70 yards wide and penned in on one side by the outfield wall, is an outlier in the best of times. These weren’t those. Play was hemmed into the middle of the field, limiting the opportunity to keep possession and forcing each side into numerous long balls over the top.

Adding to the fluky nature of NYCFC’s victory was its game-tying penalty kick, when David Villa went down very easily inside the Sounders box. Not even Villa seemed to think it was a foul, as he got up quickly to retrieve the ball for what he figured would be an upcoming corner kick, but his resulting conversion from the spot changed the game.

“It gave them some life,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Again, referees have a tough time. Sometimes they get it right; sometimes they get it wrong. But it did spark them a little bit.”

[See: Brian Schmetzer – we don’t blame referees for losses]

Villa struck again with 13 minutes to go – if one feels like they must ascribe at least some kind of blame for the loss, it’s fair to wonder how the Seattle defense allowed such a prolific goalscorer to get so wide open at the back post – and that was that.

“I think you honestly just throw this game away,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, who netted his team’s only goal. “It was that type of game — the weather conditions, the puddles, the short, small field. You just put this in the back of your mind and try not to think about it.”

Luckily for the Sounders, they won’t have much time to dwell on it. Fortuitously for armchair analysts, this upcoming week should give a better read on where this team is headed.

Orlando City visits CenturyLink on short rest on Wednesday night. Even after a quick turnaround, Seattle really should take care of business. Anything shy of all three points, and it could soon find itself toward the very bottom of the Western Conference standings.

The short trip to Portland follows on Sunday, and those games always possess the weight of greater significance. So often, Cascadia derbies can alter the trajectory of entire seasons. With both rivals in some ways teetering – the Timbers between being a genuine and fringe contender, Seattle on the very fringe of the playoff picture – that one feels like a bellwether in a way the NYCFC match very much was not.

“It wasn’t the field’s fault that we lost,” Schmetzer said on Saturday afternoon, his clothes still damp from the downpour. “The rain isn’t why we lost.”

Were there any positives to take forward into Wednesday’s match against Orlando?

“No,” Schmetzer said. “No. It was a loss.”

Sometimes, that’s all it is.


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