SEATTLE – Playing down a man for the final 30 minutes, the Seattle Sounders were literally seconds away from salvaging a point.
But, as the saying goes, players must play to the final whistle.
The Sounders essentially allowed Justin Meram a free look at the goal on the game’s final play, giving the Columbus Crew a 2-1 win on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
“Mentally we just sort of turned off for a few seconds, whether the ref distracted people or not – that’s up to interpretation – but we still have to be mentally focused all the way through the game and we weren’t,” Sounders defender Dylan Remick said. “We weren’t as mentally focused on that final play and it bit us.”
The deciding sequence of events started when the Crew won a corner in the 94th minute. Federico Higuain swung it in and Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei was unable to clear it. The ball fell to Bernardo Añor, who got a clean look at a shot from about eight yards out.
The Sounders appeared to have avoided disaster, though, when Añor’s shot was cleared off the line by Osvaldo Alonso. The Crew immediately appealed for a handball, but in the confusion they were able to quickly take a short corner and Higuain found Meram completely unmarked on the edge of the penalty area. Meram took one touch and curled his shot inside the near post.
“From what I saw, the ref was talking to a group of players,” Sounders full back DeAndre Yedlin told MLSsoccer.com about the final play. “It’s partly on the ref because he’s got to make sure he’s not distracting us players but it’s partly on us because we have to make sure we’re not distracted by him.
"It goes both ways. You never like to blame a game on a ref and I’m not going to right now because we had plenty of opportunities to finish that game before we went down to 10.”
As if the confusion over the final play wasn’t frustrating enough, the Sounders also felt particularly hard done by the red card and penalty against Djimi Traoré that effectively turned the match on its head.
With the Sounders leading 1-0 and repeatedly knocking on the door for another, Añor was able to flick a header onto Dominic Oduro in the 58th minute. Traoré made a lunge from behind and clipped Oduro, who was still able to get a shot off that Frei saved with his face.
“There’s contact obviously,” Frei said. “He beat our defender, he’s got goal-side on Djimi and Djimi is going to try to do whatever. In the end, [referee Allen Chapman] lets the play go on and [Oduro] gets a clear shot off. He blasts it off my face and then [Chapman] decides to go back and give the PK.
"In my opinion, he gives him two chances. Either he bangs the first one in or be bangs the PK in. He gave him two for one. I don’t understand it, but we have to live with it, move on and learn from our mistakes.”
The miscues weren’t just defensive. The Sounders were also willing to acknowledge their situation was at least partly of their own making, as they could have put the match away before the red card by finishing just one more of the numerous scoring opportunities they created.
"It's definitely going to be on my mind all night and all tomorrow,” said Seattle forward Lamar Neagle, who had three shots saved in the first half. “It's one of those things that, like I said if I put some of those chances away, I had plenty, then it's a completely different story.
"The game is deflated, they're out of it, they're away from home and we're up two, three goals. Yeah it's frustrating thinking about it."