The Sounders received a gift early on when a Crew midfielder was given a red card. But, playing without Nicolas Lodeiro, Seattle was held scoreless for the fifth time in seven matches.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer sat amid the smoldering ruins of one of the worst weeks in franchise history and did his best to cover for one of his veteran players.
The veteran in question is Nicolas Lodeiro, the playmaking midfielder whose presence undoubtedly would have helped his team in Saturday’s excruciating 0-0 draw with the Columbus Crew. Instead, Lodeiro was a late pregame scratch after days of back-and-forth discussions with the Sounders about a lingering foot issue he’d like completely healed so he’ll have a shot at Uruguay’s roster for the upcoming World Cup in Russia.
And minus their offensive star, the Sounders again failed to score despite playing up a man for more than 75 minutes after an early red card. Even worse, they rarely threatened at all — attempting a laughable 45 crosses, registering just a lone shot on goal and getting booed roundly at halftime and after the final whistle.
“It’s particularly frustrating, I think we’re better than that,’’ Schmetzer said. “The fact that we had to resort to pumping balls into the box from wide channels is not indicative of the play that we’re capable of.’’
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The announced crowd of 39,515 at CenturyLink Field agreed with Schmetzer and let the team have it with venom that typified the tense status of relations between the franchise and its antsy fanbase. Once inside afterward, Schmetzer did his best to deflect questions about Lodeiro’s absence.
“We were hoping he would play,’’ Schmetzer said, his tone soft and downcast. “But we decided that he wasn’t going to be able to completely play.’’
The “we’’ in that decision very much included Lodeiro, who first suffered the right midfoot sprain two months ago and missed a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal match against Chivas. Even back then, team officials privately acknowledged Lodeiro was being cautious with the injury because of his World Cup aspirations.
But that was in mid-March.
These days, the last-place Sounders sit just 1-4-2 with a brutal schedule ahead that includes a Wednesday match at Toronto and another next weekend at Portland. Including that Chivas contest, the Sounders have failed to score in six of their past eight matches and risk having their season slip away before general manager Garth Lagerwey can make some expected July additions.
In other words, the team needs all available hands on deck. Including Lodeiro, who Schmetzer can’t guarantee will play in Toronto or Portland.
Asked whether the World Cup was a factor, Schmetzer chose his words carefully and termed Lodeiro’s injury “significant’’ while in the same breath describing his availability as “day to day.’’
“The player, when he has a significant injury, it’s his call,’’ Schmetzer said. “Nico has been a very, very positive influence for us within the club. So, we’re sad that he isn’t playing, but … we’re going to continue to evaluate him and try and make good decisions for this club.’’
The answer didn’t directly address the World Cup question, which isn’t surprising given the no-win situation for the Sounders. The last thing Schmetzer or Lagerwey needs after the week they just had is a poisoning of relations with the player most responsible for their 2016 MLS Cup victory.
Schmetzer this week had emotionally defended his team against growing questions about whether the Sounders remain committed to winning. Lagerwey precipitated that fan criticism by stating in an interview — which he later apologized for and backtracked from — that the Sounders will likely no longer be among the league’s top spending clubs.
Given his lack of player additions by the May 1 closing of the spring transfer window, Lagerwey’s comments went over about as well as most of the ill-fated crosses his team attempted Saturday.
A trembling Will Bruin, barely containing his anger postgame, called the Sounders “too slow’’ and “too predictable.’’ Columbus actually had the better scoring chances even after midfielder Pedro Santos took a 15th minute red card for kicking Alex Roldan in the face.
“I think everybody in the stadium knew that we were going to get it, push it wide and try to cross it,’’ Bruin said. “You’ve got to find other ways to create chances. We just haven’t been able to do it.’’
Bruin said the Sounders need “some creativity, some flair.’’ The Crew displayed that and more on two early near misses by striker Gyasi Zardes — one of them in the 22nd minute when he was sent in alone but fired wide.
Zardes then set up Milton Valenzuela with a nifty flick in the 36th minute only to see him rifle the ball over the net.
The Sounders inserted speedy Handwalla Bwana to start the second half, then Magnus Wolff Eikrem and Henry Wingo for some desperately needed playmaking and pace.
But Columbus bunkered into a shell. Clint Dempsey had his team’s best chance in the 71st minute, but his shot from close range was deflected away by goalkeeper Zach Steffen.
“We need to create more good chances,’’ right back Kelvin Leerdam said. “We had only one good chance and that was with Clint in the second half and that’s not enough.’’
Not enough for the Sounders, or — from the sound of things — their fans. And unless more guys start showing up to play, an already long season risks getting infinitely longer in a hurry.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) May 5, 2018