SEATTLE – In a league that’s taking off, the Sounders seem to be slowing down.
Part of that was inevitable when forward Jordan Morris was lost to a season-ending knee injury. But regardless, the team that once struck fear in opponents with speedy talents such as Obafemi Martins and DeAndre Yedlin now appears flat-footed more often than not.
Even the Sounders themselves agree: If they’re to start scoring goals and winning games, they’ll have to pick up the pace.
“You have to have runners,” midfielder Cristian Roldan said this week. “You have to have guys that are in good pockets of space so that you can play those balls.”
Major League Soccer teams are throwing money around like never before on explosive offensive talents like recent Los Angeles Galaxy addition Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Sounders, meanwhile, are struggling to keep up as they await the signing of an impact forward or two to replace Morris and fill the offensive gaps exposed by Toronto FC in last year’s championship game.
For now, they’re making use of whatever roster speed they can find. Relatively inexperienced midfielder Henry Wingo gave the team some Champions League success coming off the bench against Chivas, his legs providing a noticeable second half lift in a game where the pace had bogged down.
The team could get some help when defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso returns from injury to make his season debut at Sporting Kansas City in 10 days. Alonso won’t supply the added attack speed the Sounders need, but could at least help slow some other teams down with his aggressive style.
“We’ve got to forget about it and move forward,” Alonso said Wednesday of the team’s 0-3 start. “Move forward and win our first game.”
But to do that, they need to score – something they’ve yet to do. And to score, they’ll need to speed things up.
Even when Morris was struggling to put the ball in the net, his sprinter’s speed was a threat and distraction for opposing defenders. More often than not, Morris would get behind them to balls and have a strong crack at the net.
His mere presence freed up other Sounders players for better scoring opportunities. That part’s been lacking this season, as witnessed in last Saturday’s first half against Montreal when the Sounders continuously tried to put balls through to striker Will Bruin, with little success.
Bruin is a bruiser with a penchant for putting himself in position to collect goals from close range. But nobody will ever accuse him of being a speed demon.
A few weeks ago in Dallas, with Bruin out with a concussion, the Sounders spent the early part of the game passing the ball back towards defender Roman Torres. The idea was to have Torres quarterback the next series by pushing the ball ahead to somebody.
But every time Torres looked up, there was nobody racing forward to take a pass. Instead, the Sounders spent most of the half booting the ball around backward and sideways while Dallas defenders seemed to press forward with little fear that anybody would beat them deep.
“For us, it’s playing forward at a quicker pace,” Roldan said of what needs to improve.
Last weekend, Roldan added, the game’s pace actually seemed to pick up for the Sounders after a red card to Kelvin Leerdam left the team a man down.
“We were playing a little bit faster because we had to,” Roldan said.
But the trick is for the Sounders to do that the entire game. The Sounders have only scored one first-half goal in seven regular season and Champions League games thus far.
The loss of Morris has been compounded by the departure of left back Joevin Jones for a German second division squad. Jones gave the Sounders an extra offensive speed threat along the left flank and a counterattacking ability that isn’t quite the same now that he’s gone.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer is well aware opponents have scouted his 4-2-3-1 attack formation and devised ways to slow it down. Toronto was the first to do it in last year’s final, and the Sounders have yet to score against an MLS side since.
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