Stefan Frei wove in and out of the shadows of Children’s Mercy Park for one of the better opening halves to an MLS match in his career.
The Sounders keeper dived left, popped up to dive right and popped up for another save as Sporting Kansas City played with the vigor of a playoff finale. But the home side had long been eliminated from contention when they hosted the Sounders on Sunday.
It was Seattle that needed a win to keep its season going. Perfection was once again required and once again not achieved on a sunny evening in Kansas.
William Agada, a midseason signing, used a half-turn to slip a Daniel Salloi assist past Frei’s outstretched arms in the 41st minute. The Sounders couldn’t counter, the season dissolving in a 1-0 loss.
Kansas City has had revenge on its mind since 2016 when a presumed miscall led to the Sounders bouncing K.C. from the playoffs with a 1-0 win at Lumen Field. SKC’s win Sunday ended the Sounders’ 13-year streak of earning a playoff berth — an MLS record and second to the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins (16) for longest among pro sports teams.
“It would be wrong of us to say the season was lost (Sunday); we had so many games that we somehow managed to give away and we find ourselves now in a difficult position (Sunday) at a tough place to have to get three points,” said Frei of the team dropping its 15th match of the season by one goal.
Five of those were in the past two months, the Sounders tagging each game a “must-win” but not. Cloaking the club was the CONCACAF Champions League win in May — the first regional title for an MLS team, yet not one that is good enough to at least advance to the league’s postseason.
The two-month uncertainty was painfully extended to kickoff against Kansas City (11-15-7). Minnesota lost to San Jose on Saturday and Portland lost in second-half stoppage time to Los Angeles FC in a matinee Sunday to leave two spots open in the Western Conference.
“Everybody wanted to do everything they could, but it’s kind of a little too late almost, right?” said Frei, who finished with 10 saves against SKC. “To taint such a historic positive with a historic negative is tough to swallow.”
Frei had six saves in the opening half as Kansas City outshot the Sounders 9-3. Sporting also had 56.8% possession of the ball, which should’ve been a sign the Sounders didn’t have any magic left this season.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer subbed Fredy Montero on at halftime and the club original had back-to-back opportunities in the 67th and 69th minutes to equalize that missed. He also had a VAR review for a penalty, which was ruled a goal kick.
But a draw wouldn’t have kept the season alive anyway.
“There were many mistakes,” said Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro, as translated from Spanish. “Not only the games. The game is the most visible side of the mistakes but there are others that are happening at the player level, the coaches level and the club level itself.
“It happens to be that the CONCACAF championship that we achieved was able to cover many of these mistakes. The hope is that what just happened is going to help us out in uncovering many of these things and then being able to solve them for the future of the club.”
With Seattle eliminated, Portland, Minnesota, Real Salt Lake and Vancouver will tussle on the league’s Decision Day next week for the final berths. The Sounders (12-17-4) host San Jose at Lumen Field.
As broadcast cameras zoomed in on the Sounders players’ faces at the end of the SKC match, speculation started about how the team would approach the season finale. It will be the last until the FIFA Club World Cup in February, a honor for winning the CCL title that still doesn’t have any finalized details.
“We’re definitely not gonna throw that game; coach already made it clear,” Frei said of Schmetzer’s postgame talk regarding the San Jose match. “If anybody thinks that that game is meaningless, then they’re going to be yanked off the pitch real quick and I agree.
“This team (Kansas City) that we just played was mathematically out for a while essentially and they know what they’re fighting for. They’re fighting for jobs. They’re fighting for their fans. They’re fighting for their futures, their families, their teammates — all of that. We have one game to display that, too.”
Schmetzer was without striker Raul Ruidiaz, who suffered a sprained ankle while competing with his Peru national team Tuesday. Sounders forward Jordan Morris shifted up top alone for the first time this season.
Lodeiro was back from a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation and midfielder Cristian Roldan, who underwent groin surgery, made his first start since Aug. 14 to give the Sounders another formidable looking starting lineup.
The look was deceiving. Seattle hasn’t been fierce since May. It took five months for that reality to become clear.
“It’s human nature to be hurting right now, players and coaches,” Schmetzer said. “But we’re going to try and answer the why. How did this happen? How can we do better? There needs to be some changes so we can get back to being a winning club.”