Welcome to the Day-After Report, a soon-to-be regular feature where I’ll break down Sounders matches with the benefit of a day’s hindsight.
Today, I’m going to go running blog on Seattle’s second straight loss, a 1-0 defeat to San Jose at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday night.
Plug your nose and let’s dive right in.
1st minute – No Chad Marshall in defense but Brad Evans returns in the midfield for Seattle. Leo Gonzalez replaces Dylan Remick at left back as the lone change to the defense after Monday’s 3-0 defeat to Los Angeles.
Sounders in all green, ‘Quakes going with their disorienting red alternates. It fits with the occasion of a stadium unveiling, I suppose, and the crowd does like lively.
4th minute – The energy has been reflected on the field so far. Plenty of space in the midfield and both teams are charging into it without hesitation. Chris Wondolowski sparks a San Jose attack with a cross-field pass and Yannick Djalo pulls a long shot just wide. Some strong foreshadowing there.
9th minute – All Sounders right now. Marco Pappa and Gonzalo Pineda are pulling the strings and DeAndre Yedlin nearly just crashed onto a low cross from the former.
Seattle, crucially, is looking for those incisive runs behind the San Jose back line.
15th minute – That’s already beginning to change as the Earthquakes retreat into a more defensive shell. The early burst of energy gone, the match is setting into a rhythm. San Jose nearly crafts an opening goal on a quick break.
20th minute – Pass, pass, pass. Sounders probing the edges of the San Jose defense, but they’re not finding much space in the final third. Those passing lanes are tightening up.
29th minute – The rust of Evans’ two-game absence with a ligament injury showed itself early on, when a miscommunication sent a phantom one-two pass over the sideline. This time, he leads a two-on-one with Martins only for a through ball to glance off Jason Hernandez’ trailing leg.
The Seattle attack has felt a split-second and a final ball off all evening. It hasn’t looked itself since the World Cup.
35th minute – Pass, pass, pass. San Jose looking to pounce on mistakes.
41st minute — GOAL EARTHQUAKES. Oh, what a ball from Wondolowski. Jalil Anibaba gets caught pressing high, Wondolowski creates some space and lofts in an over-the-top chip. Djalo wins the footrace with Scott and goalkeeper Stefan Frei gets caught in no-man’s land.
A momentary loss of shape and the Sounders are a goal down.
45th minute – Some off-the-ball feistiness. Frustration is already beginning to set in.
HALFTIME – Much better for Seattle than the first half against the Galaxy. But that 55 percent edge in possession hasn’t produced many meaningful chances.
52nd minute – Pappa fires off a snap shot from the edge of the box but it’s knocked down. He’s been quiet since that frantic opening stretch, and that’s been a theme of Seattle’s week: Struggling to keep its attackers consistently involved.
58th minute – Hands-off refereeing is benefitting the home side. Dempsey is cut down from behind without a whistle, leading to another quick ‘Quake break.
61st minute – San Jose goes throwback with a direct long ball: A goal kick is flicked onto Wondolowski, who plays in Djalo, whose chip kisses off the crossbar. For most of this match, though, the Earthquakes have built off the interplay of those two strikers. They look far from a team buried in the Western Conference basement.
62nd minute – Djalo is taken off as an injury substitute after contact with Yedlin. It’s a shame, too – he’s been the most influential non-Wondo player on the field so far.
73rd minute – This has been the best stretch of the game for Seattle. Substitute Kenny Cooper has a free header turned over the bar, Dempsey flashes a bicycle kick over the top. But the urgency feels belated.
Yedlin shrugs his shoulders at the lack of options in the box during a run up the right flank. The rhythm is still a work-in-progress.
84th minute – I heard multiple calls for San Jose ‘keeper Jon Busch for man of the match after his eight saves. But Wondolowski just had the most vital one yet, clearing Chad Barrett’s bullet header off the line.
90th minute – Evans has gotten better as the match progressed — most of the Sounders have, really. The more familiar this unit gets, the more fluent the attack is likely to become. But that doesn’t change the fact that first-place Seattle is currently losing stoppage time to last-place San Jose.
94th minute — Dempsey claims a promising, last-minute free kick and fires it into the wall. It’s hard to fault his effort tonight – he’s launched himself at the ‘Quakes back line throughout the second half, seemingly trying to yank Seattle back into the match himself.
But going all lone wolf has its drawbacks, too.
FULL TIME – That’s it – two straight losses for the Sounders and their lead atop the Western Conference has shrank to just a pair of points.
It’s hard to single out any particularly poor individual performances, though a lack of discipline at the back did lead to the goal.
The lack of urgency until the final 20 minutes was notable, as was the collective shrug of shoulders after the match. The MLS campaign is a long one, after all.
“The season is so long,” Evans had said Thursday after practice. “My wife told me this last night: ‘It’s easy for football teams to play 16 games and that’s it for the season. You can get on a good run.’ Our season is so long that it’s so difficult to really get on a run for the whole season.
“We deal with the losses as little blips.”
A few more, though, and they become something far more significant than that.
By the numbers: 9. The number of corners Seattle earned on Saturday night. Chad Marshall’s absence has been felt most acutely on the back line. But his aerial threat in the box has also been missed.
In their own words: “I didn’t play a 90 minute game in Brazil, so getting back to full-game fitness has been a little tough. I haven’t really had much of a break, so that’s been tough, but I’m young so it should come along soon” – Sounders left back DeAndre Yedlin.
Looking ahead: Houston Dynamo at Sounders, next Sunday at 7:30 p.m. on ESPN2. The MLS All-Star is Wednesday night at Providence Park in Portland at 6:30 p.m., also on ESPN2.