An undercurrent of worry streamed through the Sounders FC locker room Sunday.
Yes, Seattle collected a 4-2 win against the New York Red Bulls at CenturyLink Field. But it was another match where the Sounders built a lead only to watch it dissolve, and they needed a late scramble to regain an edge.
“It’s very concerning,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “In the first 15 minutes of the second half, we needed to control the tempo of the game. Some of our possessions that we lost, we were afraid to play. … You can’t always blame the defenders for giving up the goals, you’ve got to spread the responsibility to both sides of the ball.”
After Seattle (14-9-7) let New York rally from a 2-0 deficit to tie the score, an own goal from New York midfielder Sean Davis in the 83rd minute gave Seattle the go-ahead score. Midfielder Nico Lodeiro capped the match by smashing a left-footed score into the back of the net in second-half stoppage time.
The Sounders moved into second place in the MLS Western Conference standings with four games remaining in the season. If they can maintain that position, it would give them home-field advantage through the conference semifinals.
Seattle flexed its scoring talent early with a goal from Jordan Morris in the second minute of the game. The forward then displayed his hustle in getting in position for the Sounders’ second goal in the 23rd minute.
Morris, who missed last season due to injury, sprinted downfield and then dove to connect his head with a cross from teammate Cristian Roldan. Morris skillfully whipped his head to pinpoint the pass to Lodeiro, who knocked the ball into the net.
But the concerning trend continued as Seattle couldn’t retain control of the game. The Sounders allowed a goal off a header from Red Bulls defender Aaron Long in the 27th minute and the equalizer in the 67th minute on a near identical play – a floating cross sent to the mouth of the goal – from midfielder Kaku.
New York (12-13-5) was able to get an edge in duels won (51.3%) along with getting three shots on target in the second half.
Seattle faced similar situations in a 4-3 win against the Los Angeles Galaxy at home earlier this month and a 3-3 draw against New England in August.
“It’s something we need to focus on,” Morris said. “How we can be better at trying to close out games or when we go up 2-nil, staying on the front foot. That’s going to be a big focus for us.”
“I want the team to be able to at 2-0 dictate tempo of the game to limit your opponent’s chances,” Schmetzer said. “This team is good enough to score three, four goals a game. We have the talent. So, we’ve got to find a balance in there.”
It was Schmetzer’s first opportunity to utilize a mostly healthy roster since May after dealing with international team call-ups and injuries. Yet, he still played Morris on the left wing and Roldan on the right for a third game.
The pair has great chemistry, but Schmetzer substituted preferred left winger Victor Rodriguez in the 66th minute. Rodriguez has been out since July 6 with a hamstring injury.
Schmetzer intimated Morris could move back to the right flank as Rodriguez is eased back into the starting lineup heading into the postseason. Seattle hosts FC Dallas on Wednesday and Rodriguez is likely to get the call to start.
“I’m really happy to be back,” said Rodriguez, who played a part in causing New York’s own goal. “I’m really happy to help my team and I want to say thank-you for my teammates and all the fans for their support.”