In a freewheeling second half that resulted in five goals, the Sounders wound up on the short end of a 3-2 score that severely hampers their playoff hopes before the July schedule even begins.
A joyless-looking Victor Rodriguez took little solace in his first goal since November, or the fact a Sounders attack moribund all season showed signs of finally waking up.
Any optimism by the midfielder over renewed offensive creativity, not to mention the pending debut of Peruvian striker Raul Ruidiaz, had been tempered by a 3-2 loss to the rival Portland Timbers. After all the prior week’s talk about Ruidiaz potentially solving the team’s scoring woes, it was the inability to keep the ball out of their own net Saturday that doomed the Sounders in a match they couldn’t afford to lose.
And whether it was on set-pieces, counterattacks, or one-on-one-battles, the Sounders couldn’t defend enough of them to avoid the season slipping even more further away.
“We believe we’re making progress here, but it’s hard to show that when the results are not helping us out,’’ Rodriguez said through an interpreter. “The only thing that is left for us is to keep working at it.’’
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There is increasingly little left for a 3-9-3 team that hopes to keep any realistic hope of a playoff spot from vanishing before Ruidiaz is eligible to take the field come mid-July. The Sounders trotted their $17-million acquisition on to the field pregame so a season-high crowd of 47,521 could roar its appreciation.
They’d previously announced that Nicolas Lodeiro had been extended through 2021 to give the team an attacking foundation for years to come. Throw in Rodriguez finally scoring for the first time since last year’s Western Conference final, on one of the more creative goals for the Sounders all year, the pieces are there for some improved play down the road.
But the immediate future became bleak after the Sounders engaged in a second half, offensive free-for-all for the second straight game and came away less than thrilled with the result. A wild, five-goal second half saw Larrys Mabiala score twice on headers for Portland, while Samuel Armenteros added a beauty goal off his own off a turnover to overcome Rodrgiuez’s strike and another by Chad Marshall.
Diego Valeri assisted on all three Portland goals. Lodeiro had two assists for the Sounders, who began the day 11 points out of the playoffs and are already running out of games with which to erase it. Unless they can steal a couple of their next three road games, they’d have to go on a franchise record second-half run just to have a shot at a record 10th straight postseason.
“The current state of affairs is not good,’’ Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We’ve really put ourselves in a hole.’’
And they did so even after week-long preaching from Schmetzer and his coaches about not being too focused on scoring that they forget about defending. That had been the case a week ago in a 1-1 draw against Chicago that would have been a loss if not for some tremendous goalkeeping by Stefan Frei.
But Mabiala gave the Sounders fits all afternoon off cornerkicks, causing Schmetzer to switch from having Kim-Kee-hee cover him and using Marshall for that instead. Still, he twice scored on headers against defending by both players, including a 74th minute tiebreaker to cap a flurry of goals by both teams.
Armenteros scored his goal off a turnover and a long ball put to him down the right side by Valeri. After completely undressing left back Waylon Francis, Armenteros uncorked a left-footed blast that beat backup goalkeeper Bryan Meredith to his right.
“We talked all week about being a little bit more disciplined in our attack and our approach to the game,’’ Schmetzer said. “In the second half there were passes that weren’t completed that led directly to their counterattacks. There was some unbalance in the group when we were in possession and the ball turns over. And that’s important because as you attack, you always have to make sure that you’re covered in case the ball gets turned over so that you can prevent counterattacks.’’
But they didn’t and it cost them.
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei wasn’t available for this game, having suffered a concussion in the final seconds of the Chicago match. Meredith did his best to keep things scoreless early, making a spectacular hand save off a Mabiala header in the 22nd minute with a well-timed lunge to his right.
But Meredith could do nothing about Mabiala’s opening goal in the 48th minute, or his eventual winner in the 74th.
“I think it was just a little unorganized,’’ Meredith said of the set piece defending. “I just think we need to get organized a little sooner and stay focused on the game a little bit.’’
It’s tough to focus on defending when everyone had been pointing out the team’s league-worst 11 goals in 14 matches ahead of this one. The Rodriguez goal in the 51st minute, which tied things 1-1, came off a perfect cross from Lodeiro that somehow avoided defender Alvas Powell.
Rodriguez admitted he and Lodeiro had made eye contact right before the pass, allowing Rodriguez to break for open space and head the ball home once it got to him.
“I could see him and he could see me,’’ Rodriguez said.
But they can also see the standings and that time is running out, no matter how in sync the attack might soon get.