Seattle Sounders: 3 reasons for end-of-season slow-down

May 30, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer watches pregame warmups against the Austin FC at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
May 30, 2021; Seattle, Washington, USA; Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer watches pregame warmups against the Austin FC at Lumen Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite sitting second in the Western Conference standings, the Seattle Sounders find themselves in an unenviable position.

Just barely three weeks ago, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer and his squad held an eight-point lead over Sporting KC for the West’s top seed. Today that lead is no more, with Sporting ahead on goal differential.

That narrow race has been caused by a disastrous four-game stretch that has seen the Sounders claim a single point.

With two games remaining and the MLS playoffs fast approaching, why is Seattle seemingly crawling towards the finish line?

The Seattle Sounders are victims of bad timing

For a team that’s netted 51 goals on the season, the chances have been harder to come by of late.

Seattle had been slightly outperforming their xG all season. Currently, that number sits at 44.4. So it could be expected that regression would eventually creep into the side – particularly after some injuries up front.

Whether working in tandem or playing alone, strikers Raul Ruidíaz and Will Bruin’s influence is apparent.

With 16 goals, Ruidíaz is third in the MLS Golden Boot race, just two off NYCFC forward Valentín Castellanos. Meanwhile, Bruin has notched three goals and three assists, typically playing in a deeper position.

Unfortunately for Seattle, both are on the mend. Both Ruidíaz and Bruin have been suffering from persistent knee issues that have caused each to miss time and hindered performance. Ruidíaz aggravated his knee on international duty with Peru in early September and has been out since, and Bruin’s knee forced him off early in Seattle’s recent 3-0 loss to LAFC.

Without the pair on the pitch, together or individually, Seattle is lost in the final third. Aimlessly sending out passes without intent, attacking patterns seeming more chaotic, and possession becoming harder to keep.

During these struggles, Seattle has seen a stark decline in shots on goal. Looking at the four games that preceded this dismal stretch, Seattle put 50% of their shots on target, which has now dropped to 37%. It shouldn’t be expected that a team will always land half their shots on target, but with Seattle, the reason for the dropoff is apparent.

For Seattle to make a deep playoff run, they will need health to be on their side.

Step Back

Just as their offense has regressed, so has Seattle’s defense. Both its midfield and backline have been shredded by opposing attacks, as evident in that 3-0 demolition by LAFC last week.

The Sounders possess the league’s best defense on the season, having conceded only 31 goals, a mark they share with Nashville SC. Over their last four matches, Seattle has given up eight goals and allows teams to create more than 1xG per match for the first time this season.

Seattle’s inability to maintain possession has meant that their defense has absorbed much more pressure than earlier in the season, something its defenders have struggled to adapt with.

Fr(e)ightning Keeping

The Sounder’s defense is not totally to blame for conceding goals. Just as they have experienced more pressure and struggled to keep up with it, so has goalkeeper Stefan Frei.

For his season, the Swiss keeper has saved 73.6% of his shots. That number has been nearly halved, as he has saved just 38% of his shots over the last four games.

More egregiously, his decision-making has been poor. Sending out passes into heavy pressure areas and being caught out of position. As captain he bares extra responsibility for the teams inability to stay organized in recent weeks.

Seattle has a few issues to shore up. Only then can they realize the promise of what has been a successful regular season.