A turnover by Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei in stoppage time led to the only goal of a 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union. The Sounders saw their unbeaten streak snapped at nine and their unbeaten stretch halted at 12, one game shy of the club record.
Stefan Frei stood in a mostly silent Sounders locker room, fielding questions, owning mistakes and talking about not letting the end of a historic run lead to something far worse.
The Sounders had missed enough opportunities late in Wednesday night’s stunning 1-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union that nobody was pinning the end of a record nine-game winning streak on the goalkeeper. Indeed, the reason they’d set the new league mark in the post-shootout era and just missed tying a club record 13-game unbeaten streak had plenty to do with Frei saving them from their own mistakes.
Which made it that much tougher for all to swallow that that a Frei giveaway to Union midfielder Fafa Picault three minutes in to stoppage time led directly to the game’s only goal.
“It shows how difficult it is to keep a winning streak going,’’ Frei said. “There’s no room for error. You need to be taking care of your chances. And you have to be very, very sharp in the back. Obviously, a big mistake on my part there.’’
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Indeed, Frei, trying to clear the ball, didn’t notice a sprinting Picault charging upfield to intercept. Picault snared the ball, raced in alone and beat Frei between the legs before the shocked crowd of 39,536 at CenturyLink Field could process what was happening.
“You take a risk there,’’ Frei said. “You take risks because you’re passing the ball around closer to your own goal. I think so far we’ve done exceptionally well. This was really the first time we’ve really got bitten by it.’’
The Union actually played down a man the final minute of regulation and six minutes of stoppage time after defender Jack Elliott took a second yellow card. Nevertheless, Frei said he wasn’t that surprised to see the Union pressuring up high after the Sounders had pushed much of their team forward in search of an elusive go-ahead goal.
It had already been a long, difficult night in which the Sounders dominated the opening 20 minutes, then seemed to lose their rhythm after injuries to defender Chad Marshall and forward Raul Ruidiaz. Marshall was removed at halftime as a precaution following a blow to the head.
But the Ruidiaz injury, a right ankle sprain, is the most concerning for now given he’d knocked in five goals and helped the team win nine straight since arriving as a July transfer. There was no immediate update on how many games he’ll miss but he’s almost certainly out for Sunday’s match at the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Sounders did not look sharp on attack without him, slowing considerably until the final 15 minutes and barely surviving a 65th minute Cory Burke goal reversed on a video review that deemed him offside.
Then, in the 76th minute, Cristian Roldan and Will Bruin both missed converting a Kelvin Leerdam pass across the goalmouth. That was followed in the closing minutes of regulation by Roman Torres and Gustav Svensson both nearly converting headers off of corner kicks.
Given the flurry of late chances, no one was pointing a finger at Frei afterward.
“It wasn’t his fault by any means,’’ Roldan said. “I put this game on players like myself who can’t finish opportunities.’’
In hindsight, Roldan admitted he’d have been better off trying to tap in Leerdam’s pass with his left foot rather than attempting the deflection with his right. Instead, he whiffed on the ball completely and a startled-looking Bruin couldn’t react in time to deflect it cleanly when it got to him.
“We put Stef (Frei) in that situation,’’ Roldan said. “We’re not chasing the game if I score that goal.’’
Bruin agreed that, surprised as he was to see the ball at his feet, he also should have converted the chance. In some ways, Bruin said there’s relief that comes with a streak like this ending so the Sounders can get back to basics of what they do well.
“It was great but we also put so much pressure on ourselves to keep it going and you know it’s not going to last forever,’’ Bruin said. “Now, it’s like, it’s over, so let’s go back to the work that got us here in the first place.’’
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer was quick to remind his players of what they’d accomplished in getting here, to the cusp of the playoffs, regardless of how stunning the streak’s end was.
“We are very proud of what this team has accomplished,’’ Schmetzer said. “We put ourselves in a massive hole and we’ve climbed out of it.’’
And now, possibly without Ruidiaz for a stretch, the Sounders will have to keep moving forward so that climb will not have been in vain.