The Sounders could not score at home against Real Salt Lake, losing 1-0, and now have been blanked seven times in their first 10 matches.
They flunked Saturday’s on-field challenge, so the Sounders got a new one issued by their coach once they’d trudged dejectedly off the pitch.
Brian Schmetzer stood in the locker room and told his players, blanked for the seventh time in 10 games in a 1-0 defeat to Real Salt Lake, that they needed to take more personal accountability for “little things’’ on and off the field. Some such oversights were apparent in this loss, like Kelvin Leerdam not pushing RSL forward Sebastian Saucedo out wider before his decisive goal on a 23-yard rocket in the 61st minute.
But others aren’t always so obvious: Like whether the Sounders are mentally focused enough in carrying strong midweek training sessions over into their actual games. They’ve had a rash of injuries to key veteran players, but also have seen a number of talented — and some highly paid — individuals rendered nearly invisible in recent weeks.
“Somebody has to lead the charge, and it always starts with yourself,’’ Schmetzer told reporters afterward. “I have to look at myself and then I have to lead the coaching staff. And then Cristian (Roldan), Stef (Frei), (Clint) Dempsey, Kim (Kee-hee), (Chad) Marshall, those guys on the field, they have to lead the charge in getting themselves right first and then helping the team achieve results.’’
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Right now, July can’t come fast enough for the Sounders, sitting 2-6-2 and badly needing the reinforcements expected after the FIFA World Cup and the opening of the summer transfer window. Problem is, there are still a good half-dozen matches to go throughout June and early July before serious help arrives, and the team has been held scoreless for 216 consecutive minutes.
It didn’t help that rookie Handwalla Bwana, who scored the team’s most recent goal May 9 in Toronto, came out in the 31st minute with a right foot injury. Bwana was hobbling around on crutches postgame and will have internal imaging done on the foot to determine the extent of the damage.
Bwana’s team now hasn’t scored the past two home games, and the crowd of 39,508 again offered some booing as the final whistle sounded. Schmetzer said “the whole team, top to bottom,’’ could use a glance in the mirror both on the field and away from it.
“It’s all of the little details, it’s all of the small things,’’ he said. “What do you do in training? What do you do when you’re not in training at home? What are you doing to make yourself a better player, a good pro, on and off the field?’’
Schmetzer said it goes beyond watching game film and finding mistakes. It requires players caring enough to go to coaches after the film sessions and ask about other things they could be doing to get things right.
The Sounders entered this one missing injured forward Will Bruin and midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and with a healthy midfielder Gustav Svensson now training with Sweden ahead of next month’s World Cup. Schmetzer deployed a 4-1-4-1 formation with four attacking midfielders behind lone striker Dempsey to try to generate offense.
But once again, other than a 64th-minute header from the box by Lamar Neagle that landed atop the net, the Sounders generated few dangerous chances. Neagle’s attempt off a set piece came just minutes after Saucedo had been allowed to coast in from the left flank toward the Sounders goal, where he beat Frei with a blast to the far post that curled around his outstretched hand.
“If you can’t take care of business and punish them, then they will punish you,’’ Frei said. “I think they had maybe one or two chances and that was it. And they took care of business.’’
Frei couldn’t explain why the Sounders can’t translate strong training sessions into productive games. He agreed with Schmetzer the team needs to start “looking inside’’ and get “mentally right’’ before training resumes Tuesday ahead of next weekend’s rematch in Utah.
“It’s the little details,’’ Frei said. “It’s not just about following orders on the training pitch. It’s about nutrition. It’s about hydration. It’s about doing the extra little things because, right now, there’s no room for error. There’s no room for ‘Oh, I wish I would have done this differently or that differently.’ I think everybody needs to take it upon themselves to do everything they can to help the team get out of this funk.’’
Frei said the team can’t keep requiring a shutout in order to secure points. The Sounders kept possession of the ball only 47 percent of the time, and while Frei feels the effort is there, the thought process on the attack still needs work.
“Right now, we’re not close to scoring goals.’’
Dempsey was again ineffective and has yet to score this season. But he isn’t a natural striker and his supporting midfield cast of Magnus Wolff-Eikrem and the Roldan brothers didn’t do much to feed him the ball once Bwana left the game.
Cristian Roldan said the team needs to be more “mentally sharp’’ through 90 minutes, which was part of Schmetzer’s postgame challenge to them. “He’s asking for some creativity, some originality, some bit of brilliance. And that just wasn’t the case today.’’
And hasn’t been for much of a season that’s thus far been spent waiting for July to arrive.