Well, that was a strange night.
Going into their match against the goal-starved, seemingly fan-less Chivas USA, the Sounders were poised to become the first 50-point team in MLS. In fact, it looked to be a rout, given that Chivas hadn’t scored in six matches and would be playing without Cubo Torres, out on a red card suspension.
It was a rout, of sorts. And then it wasn’t.
The Sounders racked up four first half goals, before playing a forgettable second 45 minutes and winning 4-2, in front of an announced crowd of barely more than 4,000, most of whom must have been covered by tarps.
So let’s look at this performance in two halves, since it felt like we saw two different teams.
MANIC FIRST HALF
It didn’t take the Sounders long to get on the board, with the first goal coming on a beautiful set piece – Brad Evans to Chad Marshall’s glorious skull to a wide open, unmarked Obafemi Martins right in front the goal. Say it with me: Poor Dan Kennedy.
Minutes later, Oba again – Kennedy sprints out to mark Lamar Neagle rushing toward goal. Neagle drops a simple ball off for Martins. Again: Poor Dan Kennedy.
This means it’s gonna be a rout, right? Of course. Of course it’s gonna be a rout. A feeling reinforced by two goals late in the half by the resurgent Andy Rose, who’s been making a serious case for the starting 11, or at least a substantial reserve role.
Five shots on goal, leading to four balls in the net. That’s a rout. Definitely.
DEPRESSIVE SECOND HALF
It’s true in basketball, football, soccer, name a sport – when you pull ahead by a wide margin, don’t take your foot off the gas. Keep doing what got you the lead in the first place.
Despite claims that everyone wanted to score goals, the Sounders seemed more conservative out of the gate in the second half.
Sure enough, the offensive opportunities vanished, and Chivas was able to make the game interesting by capitalizing on some defensive lapses. Lapses that likely never would have occurred had the team kept the throttle open.
Chivas was even able to claw their way back into the match, at least superficially, with a header from Marco Delgado, who was left to sneak into the box relatively unscathed by Neagle. Delgado knocked it past Frei, who more and more resembles 2013 Michael Gspurning – a player who more often than not is perfectly solid and capable of strings of shutouts, but who’s also capable of moments of deep, deep sleep at inopportune times.
The second goal also came on a mental blunder – this time from Zach Scott. His needless hack job in the box led to a PK for Ryan Finley, his first goal of the season. I swear, Scott can play well for stretches, but once a game he’s gonna do something profoundly stupid. This game was no exception.
In a salary-capped league, a GM has to make some tough choices. The Sounders are built to score. Their offense is nearly flawless. But that doesn’t mean they’re not a flawless team.
If you want to nitpick, look at the defense and ask: Is Zach Scott a starting center back on a playoff contender? If you’re a Sounders fan, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope the answer is yes, because it’s either him, the even shakier Jalil Anibaba or the perhaps-already-retired Djimi Traore. Those are your choices.
As the listless second half dragged on, I started to wonder: What happened to Sigi Schmid’s claim that Clint Dempsey needed a rest? Wouldn’t a 4-0 halftime lead have been a perfect opportunity to pull Deuce, especially giving that the next game’s nine days away? That’s some quality risk-free leisure time.
Alas, Oba was subbed off first, leaving Dempsey in to try to get on the board. I have to admit, the least enjoyable version of Dempsey is the one who’s heads-down trying to score, score, score. It’s also the version of Dempsey who doesn’t seem to have as much success doing exactly that.
The second half sucked, yeah. But whatever. The first half was incredible.
The Sounders still won and it wasn’t really close. Everyone stayed healthy. The team became the first to move past 50 points, sitting atop the league ahead of DC United and the LA Galaxy.
Those are all good things.
What remains is to fine-tune the mental mistakes that plagued them in the second half. Get prepped for meaningful games against real opponents. Because the Galaxy ain’t Chivas. RSL ain’t gonna let you rack up four in a half.
The stretch run to the Supporters’ Shield is under way, and the playoffs await.
Let’s hope the Sounders play more like they did in the first half against Chivas, because if they do, everything will be fine.
(image courtesy of Chris Carlson/AP)