You know when you wake up with a scratch in your throat, and your first thought is, “Crap, I hope I’m not getting sick”?
That’s the Sounders’ 1-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. It’s a scratch. It could be nothing. Or it could be a symptom of something worse.
So which is it?
On the surface, it’s easy to make a case for the latter.
First, you could say that the entire defense hinges on Chad Marshall, who missed his second game with back spasms after a minor car accident. To no small degree, he steadies the defense – winning every header, cleaning up mistakes, lending an air of calm to the proceedings.
With Marshall gone, the center of the back line becomes Zach Scott and Jalil Anibaba, both of whom are great role players, but together make for an erratic starting pair.
I like both players, honestly. But they’re not anchors. Anibaba is prone to mental lapses that find him wandering where he shouldn’t. Chad Marshall can cover this. Zach Scott doesn’t have a defining skill, other than guts. Chad Marshall does. It’s his head. You put either of them next to Marshall, you’re golden.
That wasn’t the case when the Earthquakes scored the games only goal in the 42nd minute, a play that saw Chris Wondolowski send a sweet ball to Yannick Djaló – Anibaba was nowhere to be found, Djaló beat Scott and Stefan Frei was left out to dry.
Second, over the last five games, the offense has stalled – five goals, and none over the last two matches. Even the two-goal win against Portland had signs of worry, until Obafemi Martins arrived in the second half to kickstart things.
Is the offense broken? Well, against the Quakes it looked that way. The first half was certainly energetic – and it led to some chances. All of which were aimed squarely at San Jose goalkeeper Jon Busch.
As the game went on, it seemed to stall – the Sounders never seemed like a threat, even when Clint Dempsey was attempting a bike, because why not at that point?
Kenny Cooper coming on for Marco Pappa helped a bit, but it still didn’t lead to any goals. Nor did bringing on Chad Barrett for Leo Gonzalez and moving to a three-man back line.
That’s the cynical case – the Sounders have a shaky defense that collapses without Chad Marshall, and their offense is streaky and doesn’t always give the team the margin of error it needs to cover the goals they give up.
I don’t buy that case – yet. This is still just a scratchy throat.
The big reason to believe that: No offense with Obafemi Martins, Clint Dempsey, Marco Pappa and Lamar Neagle (dinged up and not in the 18 for this match) is gonna go scoreless for very long.
That’s to say nothing of DeAndre Yedlin and Brad Evans, who are both still recovering from the World Cup and injury, respectively.
The Sounders will score. Even considering the recent drought, the team still sits third in MLS in shots on goal. They’re second overall in scoring. The offense will be fine.
The defense … yeah, Marshall’s back is a worry. But let’s assume he’s OK. If that’s the case, and Djimi Traore gets back into game shape, the center of the defense is as good as you could want.
Even without Marshall, though, it’s not like Seattle gave up a ton of goals to the worst team in the league. It was one. One goal.
Did the three given up to the Galaxy sting? Oh yeah. But the Galaxy are damn good, and even a stingy defense can yield three goals against them.
For now, I’m going to assume that Chad Marshall will return. That the Oba-Deuce partnership is still the best in MLS. That the Sounders will score and prevent opponents from scoring.
For now, it’s a scratch. Freaking out about a team’s first two-game losing streak in August is not allowed. Not yet.
If this weekend’s match against the Houston Dynamo is plagued with the same issues – then we’re allowed to worry.
(image courtesy of The Associated Press)