Aside from failing to claim three points, a shock 2-1 loss at Houston all but ended Seattle's faint hopes of the Supporters' Shield as they couldn't capitalize on a rare New England misstep against Chicago. In a season of high-level performances and record-breaking streaks, this was a rare uninspired outing for the Rave Green.
Losing is one thing – all teams lose sometimes – but the Sounders' performance was definitely surprising because it’s not often that we see them play like they did in Houston. They’ve become a team that's bigger than any single player, one that's capable of getting a result regardless of who’s playing. For large stretches of this season, they’ve had to play without key players like Nicolas Lodeiro, Nouhou, Stefan Frei, Cristian Roldan and Raul Ruidiaz – not to mention Jordan Morris. Yet somehow, they’ve kept winning consistently both home and away.
This defeat in Houston wasn’t one of those defeats that leaves you feeling unlucky and that maybe things would have gone differently had an extra bounce or two gone your way. No, this was the kind of defeat that's followed by a quick shower and a hasty departure from the locker room because you want to put it behind you as soon as possible. I have no doubts that this is what the Sounders will do – by now, they’ve already forgotten about the game and are fully focused on Colorado on Wednesday.
Knowing Brian Schmetzer how I do, he’ll allow himself some time to ask why his team put in such an uncharacteristic performance. To be clear, there's nothing to panic about or overreact to regarding this result, but the performance was still indifferent enough for us to address a few things.
Too many of the Sounders key players had off nights. You can get by when one or two guys aren’t quite themselves, but raise that number to six or seven, and even a team as good as the Sounders will struggle – which they did more and more as the game went on.
The Sounders have moved away from being a possession-based team who methodically build up through the lines – losing Lodeiro and switching to a 3-5-2 are equally responsible for this. They're now a mixture of a good passing team and a team that runs into the channels – Cristian Roldan is a master at this – and plays a bit more direct and on the counter when needed.
None of that off-the-ball running and movement was on display from the moment Houston took the lead. The attacking sequences lacked imagination, movement and urgency as it was all very predictable.
Defensively, Houston’s attacking trident ran them ragged. Darwin Quintero looked like the Darwin Quintero I played against in 2013, while Fafa Picault was exceptional once again and Maxi Urruti scored a goal for the ages. They created more chances than I can remember anyone creating against Seattle's backline – they hit the woodwork four times in the first 20 minutes of the second half – and got in behind time and again without much resistance.
Every team has an off day, the good ones make sure it doesn’t become an off week or an off month. I always say that one of the best things about the beautiful game is that it always gives you a chance at redemption and so the Sounders don’t have to wait long to put this game behind them as they head to Colorado in midweek.
That game will be tough – Colorado are very good and will be out for a small measure of revenge after the lopsided defeat they suffered in Seattle a couple of weeks ago – but every time they’ve been questioned or knocked down, the Sounders have found a way to bounce back. Great teams have very short memories and never allow a blip to become a habit, and that’s why I expect us to see the Sounders we’ve grown accustomed to when they lock horns with the Rapids.
After a nine-game winless streak that saw them go from a potential No. 1 seed to fighting for their playoff lives, the LA Galaxy not only got a massive result against an in-form Portland team, they also put in the kind of performance they’ll need to put in from here on out.
Their performance had everything – they created chances, they showed great spirit to retake the lead after being pegged back, and they doubled the number of shots the Timbers produced.
Greg Vanney isn’t going to completely fix his team’s defense between now and the playoffs but what he can hope to do – and we got a glimpse of it in this game – is make them harder to play through and around than they have been. There’s still some work to be done but there was definitely better organization in the defensive half. Anything less than that would have been exploited by a Timbers team that's been racking up goals for fun lately.
Another plus today was the Galaxy’s possession game. It was very good and allowed them to launch several attacks that put Portland under pressure, especially in the first half. Granted, Chicharito’s goal came off a mistake, and the winning goal was a penalty, but this is what it takes sometimes, and it’s what good teams do – they find ways to win games and punish the opponent's mistakes.
In recent weeks the Galaxy had been finding ways to lose games, so this was also a positive step forward at a critical time in the season.
Realistically, they can still end anywhere from fourth to ninth, which is why this win was so much more than three points. It was a confidence booster, proof that they can grind out a result against a very good team, and most importantly, they showed that they can actually defend with organization and discipline at a level they have seldom shown this season.
Arango sparks life into LAFC
LAFC are still very much on the Western Conference playoff race's outside looking in and will need help from others in order to reach the postseason. But with Arango's two goals and one assist against San Jose, plus Carlos Vela's imminent return on the horizon, they still strike me as a team that no one will want to face in the playoffs – should they get there.
RSL win brings double delight
Colorado are a very good team, but I wasn’t surprised that Real Salt Lake got the win on Saturday. They’ve managed to get the win in the next game following their previous four losses, and so seeing them bounce back from the defeat to Austin wasn’t a shock.
This win had a little more meaning to it as it not only kept their playoff destiny in their own hands, it also gave them a nice piece of silverware. I’ve always said that you should try to win any and every trophy up for grabs. Sure, they should have bigger goals than the Rocky Mountain Cup, but winning any trophy is a cause for celebration, and in this case, hopefully a stepping stone to more success in the next few weeks.
Atlanta and Orlando take big steps toward the playoffs
What a great job Gonzalo Pineda is doing in Atlanta. A 2-0 win at Toronto kept them on track for the postseason, and it was their fourth clean sheet in the last seven games. It was an open, physical, spirited and at-times-scrappy game but it’s the kind of game they’d have lost a few months ago. Nervy at times, yes, but what a huge win for a club that finally looks like they're back on track.
Last week Orlando waited until the 97th minute to take three points, and although they got an early goal this time around and were largely in control, it was still a tense affair as long as the score remained 1-0, particularly when a late penalty appeal for Cincinnati went to Video Review.
It was their first away win in 10 and since it looks like they’ll need to go on the road multiple times in the playoffs, this was the perfect time to grind out a gusty road performance.