The last of the Sounders’ impressive streaks fell Saturday.
Seattle held a 14-game unbeaten streak against the San Jose Earthquakes. It’s the longest active run for one MLS club over another. Pick a pithy phrase — the Sounders were overdue for a loss against their Western Conference foe.
San Jose bobbled into a first-half stoppage time goal and held on defensively in the second half to collect a rare 1-0 win at Lumen Field.
The Quakes (4-7-5) haven’t defeated the Sounders since September 2015. They also haven’t managed an outright win this season since May.
“We’ve lost, what three games? It’s not like we’re going through a bad run here. Not yet,” Sounders midfielder Keyln Rowe said. “We want to make sure this (losing) doesn’t become a streak.”
With FC Dallas’ upset of Sporting Kansas City 2-1 Saturday evening, the Sounders (9-3-5) remain atop the Western Conference standings.
In the span of a month, the Sounders have dropped league records for longest stretch of not conceding a goal in the run of play (949 minutes) and most unbeaten games to open a season (13), plus their home unbeaten streak (14 games) was snapped.
But unlike when those streaks and records ended, the Sounders performed well in the opening half against San Jose.
Quakes forward Cristian Espinoza used simple dribbling to get three Sounders defenders off balance before sending a low shot through the legs of Xavier Arreaga. Seattle keeper Stefan Cleveland dived left for the save, the ball brushing underneath him and into the corner of the net in first-half stoppage time.
“On that play, we lost four duels,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Four challenges that their team was better than us. That’s what’s disappointing. Normally we’re very good at those individual duels.
“We talked to them (players) about that after the game. Going back to the basics. It’s being a team that’s hard to beat. It’s about winning your individual battles, your individual duels. We’ve struggled with that a little bit the last two games.”
Regulation time in the opening half belonged to the Sounders. The Rave Green controlled possession 63.1% of the time and outshot the Quakes 6-2.
Rowe had a standout first half in terms of helping the Sounders get in scoring position. His best chance was a service to striker Raul Ruidiaz at the mouth of goal in the 27th minute. San Jose keeper James Marcinkowski was able to tip the shot over the net.
A Ruidiaz attempt in the box in the 21st minute uncharacteristically sailed over goal. And the Peruvian had a slick pass to midfielder Reed Baker-Whiting in the box that Marcinkowski was able to save.
The Lumen Field crowd of 32,704 erupted in cheers for Baker-Whiting. The 16-year-old was visibly gutted at missing the opportunity to score his first career goal.
Marcinkowski had three saves in securing the shutout for San Jose.
In the second half, midfielder Joao Paulo had a pristine lob to forward Will Bruin. The latter knocked it wide of goal in the 85th minute for Seattle’s best chance to level.
San Jose forward Chris Wondolowski, who entered the match in the 71st minute, appeared to have the score to ice the match in the 89th minute. The goal was waived off after a VAR review showed the ball was out-of-play before the buildup to the shot.
There was eight minutes of second-half stoppage time. But even rejuvenated by the eliminated goal, the Sounders couldn’t avoid the loss.
The club also couldn’t avoid suffering another injury. Midfielder Josh Atencio felt chest pain late in the second half but played the entire game. He was medically evaluated afterward and actually had a broken rib.
“He’s a tough kid,” Schmetzer said. “Had I known he had a broken rib, of course we would’ve pulled him off for his safety.”
Bruin returned to the rotation but defender Brad Smith was unavailable for selection due to a left hamstring strain. Defender AB Cissoko, who replaced the injured Nouhou in the starting lineup, also was pulled because of tendinitis, leaving the Sounders without sufficient numbers for a game-day roster.
Teenagers Obed Vargas and Alex Villanueva were called up again from the USL side Tacoma Defiance. The midfielders signed short-term contracts under MLS’s extreme hardship rule to fill out the Sounders’ active roster.
The Sounders have another short turnaround in hosting FC Dallas at Lumen Field on Wednesday.
“In years past, this franchise has struggled midseason, and we just didn’t build up as much of a cushion,” Schmetzer said of the 32 points Seattle has collected this season despite injuries and multiple three-game weeks. “Or the expectations haven’t been built up because of our (historically slow) starts. We’ve had midseason games where we didn’t play well, and we turn on toward the end of the year — that was our storyline.
“It’s kind of flipped. We’ve have a couple of years now where we’ve come out of the gate pretty good and ended still pretty good. But the similarities between starting off well or not is the same. That middle stretch of the summer were those games that were sometimes tough to get points.”
And historically, San Jose was a given win. Not anymore.