I’m not even going to pretend I have a pulse on the fan base at this point. I live near 3,000+ miles away. Outside of social media there really isn’t any way for me to really gauge the feeling people have on the Sounders loss this past week. Though I think it’s expected that some are upset or disappointed over the loss this weekend. They didn’t play terrible and looked like, in the second half, they might even come back to salvage something from the match. To end up getting nothing is bitter, and even worse — it was one of the precious 17 games at home.
Winning at home is always important and it seems like it would be especially important considering the fact that the Sounders have a likely unique advantage in the fact that they their fans make for a thunderous environment that most teams and players are not adept at playing. While people like to put this on a sort of pedestal it hasn’t yielded the anymore of an advantage the last 4 years than any other team.
The fact is that good teams win games. They win them at home and they win them on the road. The average playoff team gains an average of 35 points at home over the course of the season. This of course varies on the position in the table but overall it should be what we expect for the Sounders moving forward. So losing out on a game is disappointing but by this standard We should expect and prepare for at least two to three losses a season at home.
That doesn’t negate the fact that this loss kind of sucked and could have played out in a number of different ways. The Sounders put together some solid looks in the second half taking 7 of their 13 total shots and it generally felt like there was a chance they would push this game-level in the exact same way they did last week. We even saw a late Chad Barrett sub.
The problem is that while it felt like Seattle was in the driver’s seat, they really weren’t. In the first 23 minutes, the same time it took for Toronto to grab two goals, the Sounders took a total of four shots, the same as their opponent that found the net twice. After that the game state, that’s another way to state the score line, change from even to negative two. At this point almost every team that sits in the negative game state will have the more dominant shot ratio. It’s natural as the club that is leading will often times sit back and absorb pressure while playing counter attacks as frequently as they get the chance. This basically plays directly into Toronto FC’s forte.
You can’t just go by match statistics all the time. While it can give you a rough idea of the match itself it doesn’t provide true context like game states do. The frustrating part of the match was that for 70 minutes, to include an extra time, the Sounders weren’t able to take that dominant possession and turn it into a draw.
Once Dempsey scored the Sounders had flipped the switch and the Reds had given too much leeway that they were able to supply pressure to get the chances they needed to get a draw from the match. Unfortunately Obafemi Martins and Kenny Cooper weren’t able to finish their looks and Toronto survived and won their first ever opening season match.
The stand out moment to me was “the pass” by Marco Pappa which was sent backwards into the defensive no man’s land and gave Jermain Defoe a near 40 percent chance to score. Understanding that the number is context driven and dependent on the rest of the league in situations from that same spot and doesn’t take into account defenders or the keeper. Whatever. Defoe’s finish was good, or as the saying goes it was “clinical”. I’m really not sure what that means exactly after all these years but suffice to say it was a moment that clearly placed an exclamation point on the day. I can’t image that Pappa makes that no look pass very often. It’s tragic that he did so there.
My player of the match was hard to decide both Chad Marshall and Ozzie Alonso had standout performances. But Marshall had some share to of the blame in each of the two goals and Alonso, while being his usual bitty self, was a bit a short on actually affecting the game in the zones that mattered. Only 22 of his match high 122 touches came in either the attacking or defensive thirds. I’m not someone who believes that those are the only zones that matter but both Marshall and Lamar Neagle had as many recoveries in that zone and overall I felt like while it was good we needed more from him to win that match. So that brought us to Clint Dempsey.
Dempsey lead the club with 5 shots cumulatively worth about .551 goals from a predictability aspect, again, most on the club just beating out Obafemi Martins .448. from his 4 shots. The difference for me was that Dempsey put home a goal and Martins while having a very good chance himself, for the second week in a row, did not.
Dempsey also managed to get into the defense. He recovered three balls from the midfield zone while having 35 of 42 passes in the attacking half meet their intended target. He was clearly the point of the attack and Toronto figured this out as they fouled him a team leading 6 times. This is the part where it’s unavoidable to mention the fact that during the NBC broadcast they replayed not one but two different “cheap” tactics that could have at the worst case scenario could have earned him a red card.
Now looking at those events it’s easy to simply assume or even be a bit derogatory about it. I know I don’t like seeing one of the biggest players in MLS made to look like a dirty player. They were dirty tactics. But the fact remains since arriving in MLS he’s been the fifth most frequently fouled player in MLS (2.633 fouls per 90 minutes played) according to Squawka. Those are the fouls called. He’s been continually kicked, head hunted and targeted for his 14 matches. Guess what he learned about MLS? They are terrible officials and you can get away with nearly everything.
This is the result of that.
I’m not saying what he did was right and really it saddens me to know my son watched one of the best players in US history fall to “their” level of tactics. But the thing is that this is what he’s been shown is appropriate. Coming here from the Premier League is a big change in how games are officiated and while I don’t have the stats or numbers to convey that thought, it’s a very common belief and one that can be observed simply by turning on Premier League matches on NBC a couple of hours earlier than the start of MLS.
The problem with officiating has only gotten worse with the addition of replacement refs while the original ones are on strike. Now, this is a huge step down but it is a step down for a variety of reasons. The Sounders were rather lucky with their draw of Alan Kelly against Sporting KC, who was rather good and probably better than those he replaced. Referee Ioannis Stravrides was a bit different…or to be more correct he was worse, much worse.
I’m not going to sit here and waste time by pointing out every thing he missed or did wrong. The Sounders benefited from his mistakes just as did Toronto FC. The problem with that is that much of the game was changed by the way it was managed. Toronto FC fouled the Sounders a franchise record tying 25 times. The same amount, as you might remember, as last week against Sporting.
The bottom line is that the Sounders weren’t terrible but they had some things go against them and didn’t help themselves either. Toronto FC was equally good and while it’s easy to draw the narrative that Seattle was the better team because they had more possession or shots it’s not necessarily true. Toronto did what they needed to do to win the match.