Five minutes into the MLS Cup rematch Saturday, the Sounders’ Jordan Morris jumped and flicked a header behind him into the net, wrong-footing Toronto keeper Clint Irwin and causing the Clink to erupt in early celebration. Seconds later, assistant referee Adam Garner raised his flag to signal that Gustav Svensson was offside, nullifying the goal and sucking the air out of the stadium.
The air never came back. Seattle plodded its way to a 1-0 loss in front a crowd of 41,468.
The call against Svensson was right. While the center back did not make contact with the ball, his sliding attempt to poke it into the net qualifies as involvement with the play, and caused Irwin to hesitate.
The unproductive move was Seattle’s (2-3-4, 10 points) best bit of soccer for the afternoon. Despite another dominant performance on the stat sheet, the Sounders failed to become goal-dangerous, tallying two shots on goal from 63.5 percent of the possession. They had zero shots on goal in the MLS Cup in Toronto.
Coach Brian Schmetzer acknowledged pressure was mounting.
“There’s a lot of frustration in that locker room,” Schmetzer said. “We’re tired of the same story of extended possession and then getting a bunch of chances. That storyline is growing old very fast.”
Toronto (5-1-4, 19 points), missing four starters left behind to rest, took the lead in the 23rd minute, when Jozy Altidore muscled past center back Roman Torres inside the 18-yard box. Torres spun to recover, clipping Altidore and hauling him down while referee Jair Marrufo pointed to the spot.
Altidore didn’t disappoint, tucking the ball neatly to the right side as keeper Stefan Frei went the wrong way.
Frei shared Schmetzer’s disappointment.
“A whole lot of possession, decent chances, no goals and no points,” Frei said. “It’d be really nice for a change to start the game with a strong (effort) and go ahead. When we’re chasing the game, it’s difficult.
“A lot of heart, we played well, but we have to start rewarding ourselves with points because ultimately that’s the only thing that matters.”
Toronto knew defending the lead would be difficult. Following the goal, the Reds switched out of their usual 3-5-2 and put five at the back, keeping eight men behind the ball for the remainder of the match and waiting for opportunities to catch Seattle on the counter.
The proceedings fell into a predictable routine: The Sounders would carry the ball to the edge of the Toronto box, send a series of passes around in one of the alleyways near the sideline, then swing in a cross that would be lost in a sea of red jerseys or secured by the steady hands of Irwin.
It’s early, but Schmetzer but he can see the climb getting steeper.
“No one is in panic mode, but the reality is we know there’s no magic formula that we can, halfway through a season, turn things around,” he said. “They have to start thinking about how they can help the team win. (For the coaching staff) we have to give them the tools to be successful.”
Seattle continues to fall behind early and struggles to score goals before the final fracas, where they lead the league with seven goals scored in the final 15 minutes of play.
The Sounders proved last year that a slow start to the season can still result in end-of-season glory. But duplicating that miraculous outcome this season is unlikely, especially after such a slow, insipid effort.