The result did little for either team, with both San Jose (7-8-12) and Seattle (9-13-5) having fallen another rung in the West before the ball even kicked off. Seattle is six points out of the playoff spots with seven matches remaining.
SAN JOSE, Calif. – Sounders right back Tyrone Mears took his eye off the ball for half a second.
Mears probably didn’t even lose focus for that long as he glanced away from the arc of the falling ball to steal a glance at onrushing Earthquakes defender Jordan Stewart.
That’s all it took.
That’s all it took to throw Mears off, to allow Stewart to rush into space and to give him time to pick out Chris Wondolowski. That’s all it took for the Sounders to lose more ground in the Western Conference playoff race.
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Seattle midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro salvaged a draw with his 80th-minute free kick, his strike leading the Sounders to a come-from-behind 1-1 tie with the Earthquakes on Saturday at Avaya Stadium.
But given results elsewhere, the Sounders really could have used more than a point.
The result did little for either team, with both San Jose (7-8-12) and Seattle (9-13-5) having fallen another rung in the West before the ball even kicked off.
Vancouver’s surprise win at Columbus dropped the Earthquakes into eighth place and the Sounders into ninth. Portland’s 1-0 home victory over Salt Lake was even more problematic and leaves Seattle six points out of the playoff spots with seven matches remaining.
“It wasn’t a loss, but it wasn’t a win, either,” interim Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said afterward. “It’s better than a loss, but it’s certainly not what we were looking for.”
The Sounders missed their captain, Brad Evans, who didn’t make the trip, having experienced lower back pain earlier this week in practice. Had he been healthy — and with Roman Torres recovered from his ACL injury enough to play a full 90-minute shift – there’s a fairly decent chance that Evans would have started at right back.
Instead, it was to Mears that a fateful ball fell out of the clear night sky, and Mears who took a momentary and costly glance away from it.
“Looking back at it now, maybe I could have chested it,” Mears said. “Maybe I could have played it safe and headed it.”
Instead, his attempted clearance hit Stewart in stride further downfield. Stewart galloped into now-vacated space on the wing, picked out Wondolowski with a pinpoint pass and the veteran forward converted for his 10th career goal against the Sounders.
“I’ve played a lot of games and I’ve been in this position before,” Mears said. “When you make a mistake, everybody looks at you. But the team responded well, and I tried to pick my head up, tried to carry on playing and do what I can.”
A sense of impending doom set in around the halfway mark of the second half.
Playing from behind, on the road, against a Dominic Kinnear team is a tough proposition, even when one isn’t in desperate need of all three points. The Earthquakes sat deeper, formed themselves into a black-and-blue, collective shield.
Lodeiro came to the rescue once again. For the second time in three games, the Uruguayan playmaker saved the Sounders from defeat with a late goal.
“But the most important thing today was to win,” Lodeiro said through an interpreter. “We have to continue working, or we’re not going to have any more chances.”
A loss might have very well spelled the end of Seattle’s status as a playoff hopeful, given that it’d have simultaneously boosted another postseason contender. The result still isn’t ideal for Seattle.
The Sounders have seven games left in which to follow Mears’ example and pick their collective heads up.
The margin for error is now so thin that at this point, all it could take is another split-second lapse in concentration, and any lingering playoff hopes will be snapped for good.