With only eight goals in their opening six games, the Sounders are facing increased questions about their attack and the bench role of natural scorer Will Bruin
It didn’t take long after a loss in Vancouver on Saturday for questions about the role of Sounders forward Will Bruin to begin surfacing. Bruin scored his second goal of the season in the 2-1 defeat after he was given 22 minutes of playing time as a late-game substitution.
The two goals scored by Bruin so far are already one more than striker Jordan Morris despite much less playing time in a bench role. That brought the questions that coach Brian Schmetzer admitted will be looked at ahead of this weekend’s contest against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
As to who might be replaced by Bruin, the easiest answer appears to be midfielder Harry Shipp. The Sounders aren’t about to relegate Nicolas Lodeiro or Clint Dempsey to a bench role and second-year forward Morris is also positioning himself for plenty of chances — just not finishing them off.
“It’s just the final product, to be honest,” Morris, who has a lone goal the team’s opening six games, said after Tuesday’s practice. “We’re rushing a little too much and we continue to feel each other out. Finding that right balance between keeping possession and looking to play the ball over the top. Things like that. But again, that will all come as the season moves on. We definitely have the players to win games.”
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In the loss to the Whitecaps, the Sounders controlled vast swaths of play — especially in the first 20 minutes. But after Dempsey hit the crossbar early and some additional close-in chances missed their target, the Sounders let the Whitecaps creep back into the game. By the second half, play was rather even and a couple of crosses led to goals on headers in the box by Fredy Montero.
Afterwards, Sounders coach Schmetzer lamented that all of the possession time in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t score.
And the Sounders have scored just once in the opening half of play all season. On four other occasions, they’ve gone in to the final 10 minutes of a game without a goal. They’ve scored four of their eight goals overall in the final 10 minutes of regulation or in extra time.
But adding to his dilema of what to do with veteran Bruin, whose bench role appears somewhat wasted on a team with scoring issues, are the skills of the guy he’d probably replace as a starter. Shipp is known largely as a possession-type player on a team that is trying to build around a possession-based attack.
Then again, as Schmetzer mentioned, possession is meaningless without the goals to go with it.
Bruin would be one of those players Morris mentioned who is capable of winning games as a natural sniper, having notched 50 goals over his first six MLS seasons in Houston before a Decmeber trade here. He scored the equalizer in extra time last month in Montreal and then added another in the dying seconds of regulation on Saturday to get the Sounders back in it.
“He’s a very good player,” Morris said. “He’s good in the box, especially in late-game situations when we’re dumping a lot of balls in the box. His movement’s good, his finishing is very good as you’ve seen and he just knows where to be. He’s in those right spots and then when he gets the opportunity he puts them away.”
Morris was asked whether, at this point, the attacking four have to be more aggressive at taking shots earlier in games. Or whether, as with Bruin’s knack for finding the back of the net, it has to result from a natural feel for the game and what’s unfolding.
“I don’t know, maybe a little of both,” Morris said. “I think that, you look at the games, and the statistics — possession, stats shots — and they’re all in our favor. It just hasn’t been falling our way.”
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei noted that three of the more recent second half goals surrendered by the team have come on crosses into the box. Frei said the Sounders must do a better job of keeping table on opposing strikers, especially in the late stages of games.
But he added that the team’s scoring woes aren’t helping.
“It puts a lot of pressure on defense when you’re struggling to score goals,” he said. “We’re taking risks in the back to try to maintain possession and build out of the back. And as much as we are able to — even up top — get a lot of possession, it’s not really resulting in anything right now. And at some point, that becomes a bit of a pressure on the defense. We’re expected to keep shutouts game in and game out. And that’s realistically, probably not going to happen.”
Frei said the team’s current 1-2-3 mark is different than the mid-season struggles of a year ago. He noted the team has played just two home games thus far, and, more importantly, has actually created enough chances to win most of the time.
“We’ve actually played quite well,” he said. “We just haven’t been able to find the back of the net as much as we’d like.”