Osvaldo Alonso picked up a second-half red card in Wednesday’s 0-0 tie for Sounders FC (13-13-6).
The Sounders haven’t made it easy on themselves in 2016.
They’ve squandered many a goal-scoring opportunity and dug an early-season hole halfway to China. They’ve dealt with wave upon wave of fresh adversity, some self-inflicted and some not.
So of course, needing only a home win against a last-place team to clinch a postseason berth, they were instead held to a scoreless draw by the Houston Dynamo. Osvaldo Alonso’s 64th-minute red card proved the defining moment, as a Wednesday night crowd of 39,772 filed out of CenturyLink Field with expectations unfulfilled.
Sounders FC @ Dallas, 4 p.m., JOEtv
Of course this year, of all years, is going to come down to the bitter end.
Most Read Sports Stories
- Former Sonics coach Nate McMillan had great success in Seattle. What he's doing now with Atlanta might be his finest work yet.
- Mariners notebook: It's looking like a sore wrist is coming back to haunt Ty France
- 'It's a sticky situation': Mariners pitchers weigh in on MLB rule change on foreign substances
- You've got to hand it to the Mariners, they really know how to enjoy close games
- Seahawks can have full capacity crowds at Lumen Field this season, team announces
Seattle (13-13-6) still has a four-point buffer between it and seventh-place Portland. But with a trip to first-place Dallas on tap this Sunday, should the Timbers and Sporting Kansas City keep the pressure on, this final week-and-a-half of the regular season could get very nervous indeed.
Some of the adversity dogging the Sounders has been created by forces well outside of their control. Star forward Clint Dempsey’s indefinite leave of absence with an irregular heartbeat, for example, still hovers over this team.
Last Sunday in Vancouver, midfielder Alvaro Fernandez pulled his hamstring less than 10 minutes into the match. On Wednesday night, it was Andreas Ivanschitz hobbling off with a strained right knee with less than a quarter of an hour gone, pulling his jersey over his anguished face.
Seattle’s depth was already being tested to the point that Tony Alfaro was forced to make his first career MLS start out of position. The rookie out of Cal State Dominguez Hills played ably at left back with Joevin Jones and Oniel Fisher both away at international duty, Brad Evans suspended and Dylan Remick out with a concussion.
When interim head coach Brian Schmetzer replaced Alfaro with winger Oalex Anderson as an additional goal threat in the dying minutes of the game, midfielder Cristian Roldan was forced to play left back, of all things.
“(It’s) not only injury, but suspension,” Sounders forward Herculez Gomez said. “Soldiers are going down right now. It’s not a fun thing to see. You’re here day in and day out with these guys. You know how much they put in. It’s frustrating when a teammate, a family member, goes down.”
And yet for a second straight match, a veteran was to blame for putting his teammates in a tough spot.
Against the Whitecaps, it was Evans getting sent off shortly after scoring the game-winning goal for head-butting the air in the direction of an opponent.
Alonso’s red card in the 64th minute of Wednesday’s match was much more clear-cut. Maybe Will Bruin should have been sent off, too, after the pair of them tussled, but Alonso clearly grabbed the Dynamo forward’s face and neck.
“The frustration is the same that I had with Brad,” Schmetzer said. “They work too hard. You have to understand that Ozzie has always had a fiery temperament from day one. Now I’m not making excuses for the kid, but the fact of the matter is, he’s given us everything since I’ve taken over.
“What I want from him, what I want from Brad, what I want from the rest of the team is to make sure this stops because we can’t afford to shoot ourselves in the foot anymore. And I think they understand that. Ozzie’s not happy, and the team is frustrated, so we’re going to learn from this.”
Houston, despite what its paltry record may convey, does not make it easy on opponents. Dynamo soccer is unapologetically brutish — the visitors tallied 11 fouls in the first half to Seattle’s two, while sharing less than 30 percent of the possession — a hardened shell that can be tough to crack.
Erik Friberg came closest, forcing Houston ‘keeper Joe Willis into an incredible double save late in the first half, but otherwise, the Sounders’ attack lacked its recent sharpness.
It doesn’t get any easier from here. The Sounders must either win on the road at the Supporters’ Shield favorites or get some help — otherwise, their fate will hang in the balance heading into the regular-season finale next Sunday against Salt Lake at CenturyLink.
“We have gone on such a tremendous run,” Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said, “but this was an opportunity for us to reward all our hard work.
“I think we kind of blew that chance.”