What is going on with the Sounders?

by Michael Martinez
Sounders midfielder, Roldan, battles for the ball.

Instead of writing the usual match reports, I have spent the last few weeks trying to figure out what the hell is up with the Sounders. Seattle’s “Summer with the Champs” media campaign was a way to take a bit of a victory lap after their historic Concacaf Champions League campaign. The victory celebration culminated with the banner drop in front of the Portland Timbers. The FO did it with the idea that we would rub it into our rivals’ faces with a victory. But, of course, that party was decidedly spoiled on the day, and the Sounders haven’t had a chance to celebrate.

Since the revealing of the banner, the Sounders have only earned six points from the last eight games. In that same time, they have only scored two, TWO goals from open play. Even with having their DP striker out, it’s just plain embarrassing. There are plenty of reasons to think why the Sounders are in their rut, but for now, I am only going to talk about the three most significant things that come to my mind.

Image via Seattle Sounders FC

Can we not score without Raul?

In the previous five games, they have won once, and in the last three, they have not scored. While Ruidiaz has had his fair share of injury issues this season, we still have Jordan Morris, Nico Lodeiro, Albert Rusnak, and Fredy Montero. All of whom are more than capable of scoring on their own. So what is the problem?

Over the last eight games, the Sounders have an xG of just above one (expected goals) and outshoot their opponents 93-84. So it’s clear they are taking chances and getting into positions, but they are not taking any good enough chances. Of those 93 shots they have taken in the last eight games, only 22 have been on target. That makes just 23% of their shots have been on target. That number is astonishing for a team that is considered part of the elite of MLS.

Both Nico and Rusnak have averaged double-digit numbers in the past, but they have not been able to achieve those numbers due to the positions they’ve played. The same goes for Morris. He’s playing on the wing despite being a natural forward. So again, I don’t want to blame position placement or Schmetz’s tactics, but it’s something to consider.

Depth, or lack thereof

Ruidiaz’s absence has shown in the lack of scoring, but João Paulo’s and now Vargas’s injuries may have been the most damaging of all. The injuries have had a cascading effect that has forced a rotating cast at the defensive midfield positions. This is mainly for those who are not defensive midfielders in the slightest. Dropping both Lodeiro and Rusnák back has not worked as they had planned. While Lodeiro said he will always do whatever is necessary to help the team, he prefers the ’10’ or advanced role. Given the Sounders’ roster issues, they may need to find reinforcements outside the organization.

The transfer window is now closed, and it would have been a perfect time to bring in someone. According to Sounder at Heart, the Sounders have $1.175 available in GAM after trading an international spot to Atlanta United. Garth has clarified that they will use that money to balance the books. The MLS window is closed, but there is still time to sign a free agent. There are plenty of players available for free that could fall under the TAM or GAM salary limits.

Signing a player on a free is nothing like it is on FIFA or Football Manager, but you have to think the Sounders will be open to bringing in a player to help fill a much-needed gap.

Playing players out of position.

This is one that I have been sitting on for the entire season. The Sounders have been playing too many players out of position for too long. I get that the players can do a job in those spots, but that does not mean the coach should permanently play them. The most significant example of that is Kellyn Rowe. He is the perfect squad player and utility man. He loves this team. But he is not an out-and-out starter; yet, Schmetz tries to get him on the pitch as much as possible. As a result, Rowe is a player who should be coming off the bench to impact the play late in the game.

Another player that I don’t have too many complaints about is Rusnak. He is a natural #10 and loves being up the pitch. Last season he hit double-digit figures in goals and assists. However, because of the Sounders’ lack of CDM depth and JP going down, he has been moved back into a #6 role and plays like a Regista (Think Andrea Pirlo-esque). The problem with this is that there is no defensive-minded CDM to play along with him so he can move up more. There needs to be a true #6 to play in those roles to hold down the midfield. Those players are not Roldan, not Nico, and please, not Rowe. Instead, we have Leyva and Atencio available, who are capable of starting and hardly see the field.

Final Thoughts

The Sounders always find a way to get back into it. By definition, they are a second-half-of-the-season kind of team. The highs from winning the Champions League are over. It is time to focus on the league and get back in form. Raul is back from injury, so hopefully, the poor scoring rate gets better. Also, he is playing in the MLS All-Star game (not happy about that), so he should be game ready for the next match.

Ten games are left in the season, and every single one is crucial. While the Sounders have a game in hand, they must put games away. The West is as competitive as ever, and plenty of teams are vying for those top seven spots. The Sounders have the squad and pedigree to do it. They just have to show it.

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