Since their MLS Cup rematch on May 9, the Seattle Sounders and Toronto FC have one combined victory and a 1-6-1 record.
Throughout the first few months of the season we were all convinced the two-time MLS Cup finalists would work things out and be in contention for playoff positions when it matters in the final two months of the 2018 campaign.
However, Saturday presented the latest argument against that thought process, as Toronto blew a three-goal lead in Columbus and the Sounders failed to put a shot on goal on the road at Real Salt Lake.
We excused the poor performances of the two clubs, especially TFC, in March and April because of the Reds’ run to the Concacaf Champions League final.
Greg Vanney’s team even got a pass in the weeks following due to the long list of injuries that piled up, but this is also supposed to be the deepest team in MLS history, a term countless critics and MLS personnel tagged the Reds with.
But here we are with 10 days left before Toronto’s World Cup break and the Reds have 0.92 points per game and are only ahead of D.C. United, who it plays June 13, in the Eastern Conference standings.
That’s right. Even the Montreal Impact and their two four-game losing streaks, Chicago and its injury crisis and Philadelphia’s ability to slam the self-destruct button when things are going too well sit in front of the Reds in the East.
Saturday’s collapse against pseudo-rival Columbus was an embarrassment for the reigning champions, especially captain Michael Bradley, who invited his critics back into the conversation with a trio of goal-costing mistakes,
Bad marking of Gyasi Zardes on the Crew’s first goal, a bad turnover in the box on Alex Crognale’s 81st-minute strike and a trip of Zardes leading to Federico Higuain’s 90th-minute penalty kick flushed away any hope the Reds produced in the opening 60 minutes.
“We have to find a way to finish the game and come out of here with three points,” Bradley said. “We didn’t do a good job dealing with some plays at the end of the game, and that starts with me. The ability to handle what’s being thrown at you at the end of a game, to be able to make sure all the good things you’ve done over the course of the game count at the end.
“That’s our biggest challenge right now,” Bradley said. “Things haven’t been easy, but the mentality has to continue to keep going. That’s the only way you’ll pull yourself out of a situation like this.”
If you’re looking for positives, at least Toronto looked like the dominant attacking side it was in 2017 by scoring three goals on the road, including another stunning free kick off the boot of Sebastian Giovinco.
However, the concession of 23 league goals in 12 games and a single road point in five games is concerning.
Seattle’s situation is even more concerning, as the two-time defending Western Conference champion sits 11th in the Western Conference with eight points from 11 games. Only the Colorado Rapids, who are in the middle of a seven-game losing streak, are in worse shape than Brian Schmetzer’s side.
While Toronto is eight points back of the final playoff spot in the East, the Sounders are 12 behind sixth place in the West, and they have an extra team to climb over due to the imbalance created by LAFC’s arrival.
The Sounders are also facing a larger offensive crisis, as they’ve been shutout on eight occasions, with their only goals since the start of May coming in the 2-1 win at BMO Field on May 9.
In Saturday’s defeat to Real Salt Lake, their second in a row to Mike Petke’s side, the Sounders failed to put a shot on target.
In fact, a starting forward hasn’t put a shot on goal for the Sounders since the victory in Toronto that featured a Will Bruin goal.
“The team can’t play not to lose, they have to play to try to win games,” Schmetzer said. “There’s times when we get down into the attacking third of the field and the quality is missing. I have to try and find a way to give them the confidence to make final passes, to create something to score goals. We’re never going to win games if we can’t score.”
The Sounders have an opportunity to bounce back in Week 15 at home against D.C. before a difficult pre-World Cup break road trip to Red Bull Arena.
The good news, if there is any at the moment, is the Sounders have two games in hand on most of the teams in the top six of the West.
If Schmetzer’s side is able to recover during the 10-day layoff and fix the litany of issues facing it, the Sounders could be in position for a late-season run similar to the one that put them in MLS Cup in 2016.
Everyone who has been around MLS long enough will tell you teams can’t win the title before summer, but they can certainly lose it four months into the campaign.
The Sounders and TFC haven’t lost all hope yet given the talent on their respective rosters and whichever reinforcements come in during the summer transfer window (Here’s looking at you, Sounders), but it is concerning to see both MLS cup finalists from a year ago struggle this much over a third of the way into the season.