Albert Rusnak looked like he was writing his own fairy tale. One of a crafty playmaker who scores a key goal against the team he once captain but left him open to free agency without making a single offer.
Instead, the Slovakian international was playing a role in a reoccurring nightmare. His new Sounders team has talked about concentrating for 90 minutes or even just in 15-minute intervals to close out wins only to have relapses.
Sunday was another loop of the cycle, the Sounders not sharp defensively and unable to counter with offense to lose 2-1 to Real Salt Lake at Lumen Field. RSL is on a four-game win streak against the Sounders, including an upset in the opening round of the playoffs last year.
“Time is running out and we’ve got to figure this out pretty quickly,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said.
Claret-and-Cobalt defender Andrew Brody slid in the box to direct a right-footed shot into goal for the game-winner in the 64th minute. Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan didn’t mark Brody to prevent a perfect cross from Jefferson Savarino becoming costly.
The scored silenced the majority of 33,093 in the stadium who were still celebrating an equalizer from Rusnak in the 62nd minute. The right-footed goal off an assist from Nico Lodeiro felt heroic as it floated into the net.
But RSL (10-8-7) remained the villains, closing the playoff door a little more for Seattle. The Sounders (10-13-2) are ninth in Western Conference standings, one point outside the tiebreaker scenarios. The Claret-and-Cobalt are fifth.
“This is an experienced roster,” Sounders midfielder Kelyn Rowe said of the club’s MLS-record 13 consecutive postseason berths. “We know what it takes to get into the playoffs. We’ve been in situations where it’s not in our favor and we’ve been able to find a way through. This team and this organization have found a way through every single time, so none of us wants to be on that first team that doesn’t.”
In the opening half, the Sounders defense found themselves in a precarious formation. Nouhou sat with a distant look on the goal line. Xavier Arreaga was sprawled facedown in the penalty box. Stefan Frei was atop the box watching a replay of the best and worst defending in a 30-second span.
In a four-on-one situation, Frei left his line to make a save on a right-footed Sergio Cordova attempt. But the rebound bounced to Cordova, who was patient in moving the ball around to keep Frei and Arreaga off-balanced for a right-footed shot that floated past Nouhou and Alex Roldan in the keeper’s box.
The confounding score in the 32nd minute adds to the list of frustrating defensive mishaps. Why couldn’t four players shutdown Cordova? It’ll be a tough question for the Sounders to dismiss in order to concentrate on the remainder of the MLS season.
Savarino ignited the counterattack with a through ball to Cordova. The Sounders’ defensive line was slow to catch Cordova and couldn’t close out when in position.
Real Salt Lake conceded goals within the opening 15 minutes of their previous three matches and Raul Ruidiaz appeared to make it four with a shot in the 12th minute.
Ruidiaz used quick footwork in the box to work a shot at goal that RSL keeper Zac MacMath tipped for an own goal. After the Sounders celebrated and lined up for the restart, VAR called referee Timothy Ford to review the play.
Ford disallowed the goal because Cristian Roldan was millimeters offside on a through ball from teammate Nico Lodeiro.
“We had the momentum and felt we were in control the whole time,” Sounders midfielder Danny Leyva said. “It was a bummer but we kept chasing.”
Ruidiaz was still debating the call with Ford as the teams left the field for halftime, Ford nudging the striker along after a brief conversation.
The Peruvian started his first match since the July 9 loss against Portland. Ruidiaz suffered a second hamstring injury during the match and wasn’t featured again until Aug. 2 against FC Dallas.
Schmetzer’s search for a serviceable duo to account for the loss of defensive center midfielders Joao Paulo (ACL) and Obed Vargas (back) continued Sunday. Leyva slotted along side Rusnak, who is a bright spot in his ability to play out of position in replacing Joao Paulo.
Leyva had a good showing, but the loss overrides most positives in the match. The Sounders have lost seven of their past 10 matches. They travel to play the Los Angeles Galaxy on Friday.
“I’ve been on teams that have gone six, seven, eight games without wins and you’re losing at home and it’s really down in the locker room,” Rowe said. “It’s about going back to the basics. Go to what you know and do that as best as you can. … There’s confidence in that this team has talent, this team has experience and this team is not going to give up and let the season go. We’re not anywhere near that nor will we ever be.”