Disjointed defending and errant passes are what you’d expect a youthful lineup to commit in a soccer match. Yet, when the Sounders returned some veterans to their starting formation after a midweek game featuring five teenagers, careless errors littered play Sunday.
Sporting Kansas City took advantage, defeating the Sounders FC 3-1 at Lumen Field. Seattle (9-2-5) still edges Kansas City (9-3-3) in the MLS Western Conference standings. But the Sounders are a point behind the New England Revolution in the league’s Supporters’ Shield race.
“It’s just hard sometimes to get back up on the horse and provide another inspired performance. I thought we were lacking that a little bit. That little bit of inspiration,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Plus, there were some performances that weren’t up to their standards by senior players, by some younger players. It just wasn’t up to the standard.”
Sounders midfielder Danny Leyva was shown a yellow card in the 29th minute that set up SKC’s opening score. Kansas City forward Johnny Russell was able to curl the free kick around Seattle’s defensive wall for the goal in the 31st minute.
SKC’s front line of Khiry Shelton and Gadi Kinda toyed with the Sounders to get the second goal of the match. Kinda deflected a Kelyn Rowe pass with his leg, and with the Sounders defense out of position because of an earlier corner kick, Kinda and Shelton were able to make a fast break for goal with striker Daniel Salloi tailing them.
Rowe, Leyva and Reed Baker-Whiting attempted to defend the play, but Kinda was able to tap a pass to Salloi, who had defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade beat to finish a right-footed score in the 42nd minute.
Salloi raced to the sideline with his hands cupping his ears, wanting to hear cheers from the Lumen Field crowd. Most stood in disbelief, not uttering a sound.
Seattle forward Fredy Montero gave the 32,790 in attendance some hope with a score early in the second half. He whipped a loose ball into goal in the 51st minute. Montero’s score is his third of the season and pushed his club record to 50 all-time MLS regular-season goals.
But instead of the Sounders finding an equalizer, SKC midfielder Cameron Duke crafted the third score for the visitors. Duke was substituted into match in the 70th minute and slipped behind Sounders center back Xavier Arreaga in the box, finding plenty of space to scissor kick a long service from Graham Zusi into goal in the 72nd minute.
Arreaga wanted an offside call but that was clearly wishful thinking.
“They did a really good job of holding the ball and moving the ball from side to side,” said Montero, who turns 35 on Monday. “That was frustrating on my side because as a striker, you always want to keep possession of the ball. The clock kept moving and, unfortunately, it was a mistake when they scored the third goal. It was too bad for us to react after being 3-1 down.”
SKC amped up the celebration in the locker room after their win. The cheers were so loud, they could not only be heard in the Sounders’ locker room but also in the postgame interview room.
“It’s a tough way to fall, hearing them celebrate,” Sounders defender Shane O’Neill said. “They’re a good team. They’re a measuring-stick team. We’ve got to bounce back.”
Seattle’s starting lineup had a significant uptick in experience after featuring five teenagers for the 1-0 win against Austin FC on Thursday. Homegrown midfielders Leyva (18) and Josh Atencio (19) remained in the lineup, but the latter moved up a line with the return of veteran Arreaga. The Ecuadorian served a one-match suspension for yellow-card accumulation.
Keeper Stefan Cleveland returned to play in goal for the Sounders. He’s been the mainstay replacement for Stefan Frei, who suffered a knee injury in May and developed a blood clot.
O’Neill was on the bench for the first time since July 4. He suffered from a hip flexor injury and was able to enter Sunday’s match in the 64th minute.
Schmetzer dismissed notions the club may have suffered another injury when defender AB Cissoko was pulled for Baker-Whiting in the 34th minute. Cissoko had tendinitis but isn’t expected to miss any matches.
SKC was without coach Peter Vermes and two unidentified players due to health and safety protocols. Vermes stated during a videoconference call with media Friday that he tested positive for COVID-19 and had mild symptoms despite being vaccinated.
Montero nearly had the shot of the night in the 25th minute. On a play that started with a free kick, Montero used a bicycle kick in an attempt to put a rebound in the net. Sporting KC keeper Tim Melia had an equally acrobatic save.
That’s where the veteran savvy ended.
“It’s pretty obvious what teams are trying to do to us. They keep guys high and wide and try to switch the ball really fast,” O’Neill said. “Now it’s about us really making sure that the press is good and keeping teams hemmed in. That’s how we counteract that. “
SKC and Seattle haven’t played each other since August 2019. MLS regionalized its games when it returned to play amid the pandemic last year, the Sounders not traveling farther than Colorado.
The Sounders host San Jose at Lumen Field on Saturday.
“The guys are mentally tired, you could see that in the game,” Schmetzer said of giving the team a two-day rest. “We need to give them a little bit of a break. Is it a complete reset? Is it just a little rest? Do we just need to refocus? Do we just write it off as a bad performance? It’s probably a combination of all of those things.”