Survival mode was apparent from a simple glance at the Sounders players. No matter how it looks, they were determined to get a positive result.
The problem Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was Atlanta United was playing with the same desperation. Frantically looking for a game-winner, Atlanta defender Andrew Gutman sent a long-distance wish at goal that was granted in the waning minute of second-half stoppage time.
Gutman’s golazo gave Atlanta its first win against Seattle, 2-1. The victory before an announced crowd of 68,586 was also former Sounders assistant coach Gonzo Pineda’s first in the inaugural meeting against mentor Brian Schmetzer. Saturday’s result moved ATLUTD (7-9-7) within two points of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
“I didn’t even believe it when I scored it,” Gutman told reporters. “I don’t have that skill set, so don’t expect it again.”
Sounders right back Alex Roldan was the closest player able to defend Gutman’s attempt. But any critique is like questioning a player for not pressuring Shaq from behind the arc.
“I would rather hold my ground ‘til the last moment I could possibly hold my ground and then push forward,” said Roldan, who was also guarding against Gutman slipping a pass to Edwin Mosquera inside the box. “You’ve got to give him credit for a shot that’s 25, 30 yards out. I maybe could’ve stepped earlier but that opens up a gap in the back line. Where we need to look at that play, improve on that play is what we could’ve done before that moment and correct those things.”
As the second half began, it didn’t look like Seattle would find itself returning home with a fourth consecutive road loss. Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan found the ball at his foot in the box and didn’t stop playing it until he powered a shot into goal for the equalizer in the 68th minute.
Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro helped organize the play with a soft through ball to Nouhou. The defender looked to feed it to Raul Ruidiaz, who subbed on in the 55th minute, but it was blocked. Roldan’s first attempt was blocked by Atlanta midfielder Franco Ibarra. Roldan shuffled to regain possession and landed a right-footed shot in the net.
The Sounders had control of the match after the break, which made the late goal devastating. With the loss, Seattle (10-12-2) dropped to eighth place, below the line to make the playoffs in the Western Conference.
The team is tied with the 2013 roster for third-most losses in a season. The club record is 14 in 2016 when Seattle won their first MLS Cup.
“There’s not a lot of things I can say that’s going too make them feel any better,” Schmetzer said of messaging to the team. “When Raul came on, the team looked dangerous. … There’s a couple of positives that we’re going to try and take from the game, but right now it’s a pretty disappointed group and it’ll be a long trip home.”
Pineda’s first full season with Atlanta has been marred by player injuries and included another Saturday. ATLUTD midfielder Matheus Rossetto was taken off the field on a stretcher in first-half stoppage time after suffering an apparent ankle injury. Pineda had to make a starting lineup change due to an injury, replacing defender George Campbell with defender Aiden McFadden.
Atlanta’s circumstances didn’t stop them from piecing together a sequence to get an early goal. Forward Luiz Araujo chased a long through ball from defender Caleb Wiley, luring Sounders center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade out-of-bounds at the end line. Araujo cut the ball through a crowded box back to forward Ronaldo Cisneros.
Unmarked, Cisneros sliced a low, left-footed shot through the legs of Nouhou and past keeper Stefan Frei for the goal in the 23rd minute. With Atlanta striker Josef Martínez wedged between the Sounders players in the keeper’s box, many thought the play would be ruled offside but it wasn’t even flagged by VAR to be reviewed.
Marcelino Moreno subbed on for Rossetto and nearly had a goal of his own in stoppage time to close out the half. The midfielder had the assist on Gutman’s goal.
“Playing from behind has been a pattern for us,” Cristian Roldan said. “Trying to push guys forward and not being able to breakdown the opponent. We try to step it up once we concede a goal and that shouldn’t be the case. … That’s why this is frustrating because we feel like we’ve been playing well in those moments.”
In seeking consistency, Schmetzer only made one starting lineup change from the rotation that pulled off a 1-0 win Tuesday against FC Dallas at Lumen Field. But it wasn’t to slot in Ruidiaz up top. Instead, veteran Will Bruin received the nod over Fredy Montero.
Schmetzer did shift the roles in putting forward Leo Chu on the left wing and Jordan Morris on the right. Chu had a good outing against Dallas, but Schmetzer is still searching for how to utilize the young Brazilian’s talents.
Ruidiaz returned Tuesday from a second hamstring injury that kept him out of the rotation since the July 9 loss against Portland.
There’s a week off from league play to showcase the MLS All-Star Game against Liga MX All-Stars on Wednesday in Minnesota. Ruidiaz and Morris will represent the Sounders. The Peruvian was voted in while Morris, a Mercer Island native, was selected by coaches.
“I have confidence in the team,” Schmetzer said. “They’ve played in many difficult situations. We’ll get through it.”