Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei, defender Chad Marshall and other veterans were furious about a late goal allowed in an otherwise solid blowout of Houston last Monday. And they let coach Brian Schmetzer and some teammates hear all about it as they gear for their final stretch of games.
Winning angry is apparently the latest thing the Sounders are dabbling in as they attempt to run the table at season’s end and maximize their playoff positioning.
Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei and other veteran players, Chad Marshall among them, weren’t happy Monday with merely blowing out the Houston Dynamo. They were downright furious at giving up an 87th-minute goal that cost them a shutout in the 4-1 win and let their coach and plenty of others know it as they raged off the field.
By Friday, Frei had cooled off considerably, bolstered by a couple of rest days courtesy of the international break, yet he made a point of repeating that he wasn’t pleased about the game’s ending. The Sounders had substituted youngsters Handwalla Bwana, Alex Roldan and Henry Wingo into the game within a 10-minute span fairly late — wanting to keep the team fresh for two games in four days next week — and the Dynamo were able to freewheel over multiple stretches before an uncovered DaMarcus Beasley scored.
“I think we were a little ticked off by the fact that we got scored on at the end,’’ Frei said. “I know I was. And I think that’s good. We want to strive for perfection.’’
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Frei is accurate about his Sounders needing to be perfect the rest of the way if they want a shot at a first-round playoff bye or at least a home game. With three matches to go, a win Wednesday at Orlando City clinches a 10th consecutive playoff appearance by the Sounders, while a loss or tie by the L.A. Galaxy and Vancouver the rest of the way does the same.
But with only three points separating the fifth-place Sounders from No. 2 Sporting Kansas City in the Western Conference heading into Friday, there’s more up for grabs. And winning out against an Orlando side in disarray, the same Dynamo squad they just throttled and a San Jose team with Major League Soccer’s worst record guarantees them finishing no lower than fourth and an opening knockout-round home date.
Still, merely beating up on MLS dregs risks inflating the team’s sense of how good they really are. Hence, the quest for perfection and players letting Schmetzer know postgame that a flurry of late-game substitutions could have been handled better.
“You can’t be satisfied,’’ Frei said. “It’s a game that you have to see out with a shutout, because we know that can be the difference in the playoffs, right?’’
Indeed, the Sounders a year ago rode a record shutout streak through their final six regular-season games and four playoff contests to reach a second consecutive MLS Cup final. Two years ago, they allowed only three goals in six postseason games and won their first and only championship.
Frei said he and some others shared their late-game frustrations with younger teammates in “a nuanced way,’’ so it didn’t ruin the mood following an otherwise strong performance. Schmetzer noted to reporters after Monday’s contest that his players were upset and took full responsibility for how the late subs were handled.
“We were talking about getting these guys ready for Orlando and getting them some minutes, getting them a feel for the game,’’ Schmetzer said. “But the integrity of this game, when you make the three subs with the three young guys, it took a little bit out of it. That’s a decision we made on the bench and it cost us in that one moment.’’
Schmetzer said he could have done a better job of preparing his younger players mentally and tactically before sending them on so closely together. He termed the Houston goal “soft’’ and said it was due to players being out of position.
“Stef deserves better than that,’’ he said of Frei. “We want to make sure that he continues to have a statistically good season. We want to take pride in our defending and make sure that we don’t give up soft goals. So, yeah, absolutely. There was some frustration there among some of the senior guys.’’
Frei is a front-runner for MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors, and stats will play a huge part in that. His 30 goals allowed are tied for the fewest by any keeper, and he’s on-track to become the fifth netminder in MLS history to finish with 100 saves, a 1.00 goals against average and a 75 percent save percentage.
Frei said his main concern is that the Sounders don’t get sloppy down the stretch.
“It’s an overall team mentality that we maybe just let it slip away from us a little bit and let them play,’’ Frei said of the shutout-snapping Houston goal.
Frei insisted he wasn’t pointing a finger only at young players — noting that Bwana had made some nice attacking moves to assist on a Victor Rodriguez goal right after coming on. He added that all players — himself included — have to make sure they’re “on the same page’’ with the right mindset going forward.
“Being content is dangerous.,’’ he added.
It has been for this streaky team before. So, for the time being, they’ll try to keep winning angry and hope it pays off.