Seattle has given up the opening goal five times this year. Each time, it’s come within the first 17 minutes. Each time it’s come from a preventable mistake. For most teams, this would be a major concern.
But the Sounders aren’t most teams. As of right now, they’re the best team in Major League Soccer, their 2-1, come from behind win over Dallas on Wednesday night reinforcing their case. Though an early penalty conceded by Brad Evans allowed their guests to take a 16th minute lead, Seattle would go on to outshoot the Toros 19-8 (9-2, on target) and hold 56 percent of the ball, ultimately taking full points after second half goals from Lamar Neagle and Kenny Cooper.
It was the same formula Seattle used this weekend against Philadelphia, where an Evans own goal gave the Union a 13th minute lead. At Chivas USA, Osvaldo Alonso took down Leandro Barrera in the fifth minute, allowing Erick Torres to score from the spot. At Dallas, Stefan Frei misjudged a bouncing ball. For whatever reason — lack of focus, bad luck, pure chance — the Sounders keep conceding these early goals, but just like tonight at CenturyLink, they find a way to come back.
Highlights of the game are above, but the more important question going forward is what this says about the current state of the Sounders. Four things:
1. You have to be very good to keep overcoming these deficits …: The more often Seattle can overcome these deficits, the more it indicates the opening goals aren’t a big deal. For most teams, given such a low scoring sport, giving up goal number one is huge. If the Sounders can consistently count on two goals a game, it’s not.
What’s more, if the Sounders attack is so much better than opposing defenses that they can “turn it on” at will, how many goals they’re capable of scoring ceases to be issue. At some point, Seattle’s just responding to its surroundings.
2. … but at some point, you’re going to run into somebody else who’s very good: This weekend we marveled at Sporting Kansas City’s ability to protect one-goal leads. Granted, Seattle has a late goal against them this year (opening day), but it was against a half-strength Sporting team. At some point, the Sounders are going to come up against a team like Sporting, one that won’t prove as forgiving as the Dallases and Chivases of the world.
Then again, maybe the Sounders already have. The good version of Toronto (not the team we see right now) fits the profile. Not only did the Reds score first and early when they visited Seattle, but they doubled their lead before halftime. Seattle eventually scored, but the early goals still came back to hurt.
That’s the other danger of giving up an early goal: What if — by lack of focus, bad luck, or pure chance — you give up a second? Or what if you give up a second against one of the league’s better teams?
It all comes back to the obvious: Giving up goals is bad. You can never just brush it off. No team takes the field being okay with conceding goals. If you’re giving up goals, you’re failing in at least one small respect.
3. It’s still early, and there’s reason to think the defense will improve: There’s a new goalkeeper. Chad Marshall’s never played with these guys before. Osvaldo Alonso may still be getting used to listening to Marshall’s directions. There’s reason to think the defense will get better, which will lead to fewer goals.
Whether that happens remains to be seen, but there’s an argument to be made that it will.
4. This isn’t that long-awaiting Goonies sequel: If this keeps up, people are going to start comparing Seattle to the 2012 Earthquakes, but the teams couldn’t be more different. Whereas the Earthquakes style (and, Frank Yallop’s adjustments) fed on teams as they became more conservative with leads, Seattle’s using their normal approach. There’s no point where they become particularly desperate or significantly change their approach or personnel. They just become more determined.
Two years later, it still isn’t clear how San Jose was so successful late in matches, but with Seattle, it couldn’t be more evident. They’re just good. Really good. The more they need a goal, the more likely they are to get it. Even a part-time panda could figure it out.