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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Commentary: Sounders were doomed in semifinal with same scoring issue they had most of the season

Seattle Sounders FC defender Jackson Ragen collides with Los Angeles FC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau on a corner kick during the second half Sunday.  (Jennifer Buchanan / Seattle Times)
By Matt Calkins Seattle Times

SEATTLE – Whether the Sounders were going to lose Sunday evening was a 50-50 proposition. They had a nearly identical record to that of Los Angeles FC and held their own with the club in their two meetings this year.

But if the Sounders were going to lose Sunday evening, the manner in which it happened was a touch too predictable.

All season long, the second-seeded Sounders had been a fortress on the defensive end, holding opponents to an MLS-low 32 goals over 34 games. It was that other part of the game that has plagued them – just as it plagued them in their final match of the season.

The Sounders’ quest to hoist another MLS Cup ended via a 1-0 defeat to third-seeded LAFC in the Western Conference semifinals. The “D” that kept them near the top of the standings all season was formidable, but received little help from the attack.

This wasn’t quite typical of the Sounders’ season – as they did manage to go 14-9-11. But in doing so, they scored 41 goals – the fourth-fewest among 18 MLS playoff teams.

The elimination caps a solid, if still unsatisfying 2023, in which Seattle bounced back from finishing 11th of 14 conference teams the year before. But when a shutout is what shuts the door on your season, that can be a little harder to stomach.

Especially when the opportunities were there.

“It sucks,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “Losing like this certainly hurts. The opportunity was there to have another home game. Right now the guys are hurting and even some of the coaching staff, some of us old guys are hurting, too.”

The Sounders dominated the run of play Sunday, holding possession of the ball for 69.2% of the game. Their 16 shots to the Black and Gold’s seven was equally notable, as was the eight shots on goal to LAFC’s two.

The ball did find the back of the net for Seattle toward the end of the game, but not before Raul Ruidiaz was called for a handball. And a second-half tripping of Cristian Roldan just outside the penalty area ignited boos from the Lumen Field crowd when LAFC’s Giorgio Chiellini was not called for a foul.

Those boos, aimed directly at the officials, continued after the game.

But frustrating as some of the calls – or non-calls – may have been Sunday, the problem was the Sounders’ inability to get the ball past the goalkeeper.

That reality meant that one defensive mistake was all LAFC needed, as MLS leading scorer Denis Bouanga took advantage of a breakdown in the 30th minute to give his team the one-goal lead.

The Sounders, remember, are a team that has been to the MLS Cup four times since 2016, so a short-lived playoff run doesn’t seem like something to celebrate.

“I feel like the team deserves a little better, and also the fans,” said Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro, who won two titles in Seattle and played his last MLS game. “I”m really sad. But that’s life.”

It was clear after the game that Schmetzer was still processing Sunday’s result. He said that it won’t be long until he and general manager Craig Waibel go over the roster to see how the team can improve, but first will need “a couple glasses of red wine” to figure out what went wrong against LAFC.

To the naked eye, however, it seemed as if the issue was the same one that’s burdened Seattle throughout the year – opportunities not turning into goals.

Finishing good chances has been a story throughout the season, what do you think about that culminating in this game? Schmetzer was asked after the game.

“I think that was a storyline throughout the summer. Certainly we were snakebit tonight,” Schmetzer said. “It will be something that Craig and I discuss. We’ll try to figure out ways, we’ll look at the roster and the coaching staff will go to work right away. I know those guys are upset.”

Schmetzer added that, in some ways, this season did feel like a failure. But he added that he was proud of the way his team changed the way they played this season when it needed to adapt.

“We were pretty close to doing something pretty special,” he said. “At the end it’s pro sports and it comes back to making plays.”

And Sunday, just one play might have been enough.