Two errors cost the Sounders FC a match filled with highlights.
Rave Green center back Xavier Arreaga botched two defending plays that led to splashy scores by the Chicago Fire FC on Tuesday. Enough for a 2-1 win in Chicago’s first match since Major League Soccer shut down its season March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Seattle (0-1-1) drops out of the lead in Group B of the MLS is Back Tournament at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex, located southwest of Orlando in Florida. The top two clubs in the four-team pool automatically qualify for the Round of 16 knockout stage of the league’s 24-team event.
The Sounders play their final group-stage match against Vancouver Whitecaps FC on July 19. Seattle’s Cascadia rival plays its tournament opener Wednesday.
As Seattle spends the next five days resting and preparing for Vancouver, it will also likely be hoping for worst-case scenarios to compensate for its one point in Group B standings. Vancouver and the San Jose Earthquakes, which Seattle played to a scoreless draw on Friday, need to lose and/or also have scoreless draws to keep the Sounders in the running to advance.
Even then, the outcome against Vancouver is clear.
“We have to get a win to have any chance of going through,” Sounders forward Jordan Morris said via a videoconference call provided by MLS. “That’s our mentality for the next game. We’ll have a little bit more rest, which will be good. Vancouver is a team we’re familiar with, so we’re going to have to come out and do everything we can to get a win.”
The club also has to take Tuesday’s result as a harsh lesson.
In particular, Arreaga.
“(Xavi) was frustrated with himself on some moments, but everyone makes mistakes,” Morris said of his teammate via the videoconference call. “We’re a very close, collective team, and we don’t let our mistakes define us. As a player, as an individual, as a team, we’ve got to just move forward.”
In the 52nd minute of Tuesday morning’s match, Arreaga stumbled to the field in attempt to defend a deep pass to Fire defender Robert Beric, a league newcomer. The veteran of European play broke away quickly enough to keep Sounders defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade from getting an angle for a block, Beric slicing a shot past keeper Stefan Frei for the score. Chicago youngster Mauricio Pineda had the assist.
Later, Arreaga left Pineda unmarked in defending a corner kick, the Homegrown Player able to hop up to redirect the ball’s bounce into the net in the 84th minute. It was Pineda’s first MLS goal.
“The second goal certainly was an issue,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said via videoconference call of Arreaga’s positioning. “He misses his mark, but the ball goes inside of our 6-yard box, on the floor, all the way over to the back post. So, I have to accept responsibility for that. Defending on corner kicks, on set pieces has to be better. … I thought the back four was playing extremely well up until that moment (first goal). Goals change things.”
Schmetzer made multiple lineup changes due to just three days spanning Seattle’s two group-stage games. Morris and defender Jordy Delem didn’t get the start, Schmetzer shifting Cristian Roldan to center midfield alongside Gustav Svensson and putting newcomers Shandon Hopeau and Miguel Ibarra on the wings.
Morris also didn’t start the March 1 match against Chicago for precautionary reasons in a week where Seattle played twice in a four-day span. The forward burst onto the field after the break, scoring in the 62nd minute for the equalizer and in second-half stoppage time for a 2-1 win in the season opener at CenturyLink Field.
The Mercer Island native appeared ready to do the same Tuesday despite oppressive heat and humidity. He set up midfielder Handwalla Bwana in the box off a through ball by Arreaga for the equalizer in the 77th minute.
Hopeau, 21, is a Homegrown player who signed a contract with the first team in June. His first MLS start Tuesday came after five seasons with the Seattle Academy and Tacoma Defiance, the club’s USL team.
The Hawaiian native had one of Seattle’s two chances in the opening half. The play was set up by Raul Ruidiaz, but Hopeau’s right-footed shot powered past the front of the net.
Ruidiaz, the team’s striker, had just one attempt of his own and the Sounders were outshot 10-7 overall in the match. Seattle could only create fancy passes and near-chances despite its 60.6 percent possession of the ball overall.
The Rave Green has just one goal in the tournament, scoring one point after the tie with San Jose Friday.
“It’s not good,” Schmetzer said via videoconference call of the team’s standing.