John McGrath

John McGrath: ‘Vanilla’ draw leaves a lot of room for Sounders to get much sweeter

Seattle Sounders forward Herculez Gomez licks the ball during an MLS soccer match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Sunday, July 31, 2016, in Seattle.
Seattle Sounders forward Herculez Gomez licks the ball during an MLS soccer match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, Sunday, July 31, 2016, in Seattle. The Associated Press

One game into an MLS head coaching career that promises nothing but an indefinite timetable, Brian Schmetzer was asked to describe the Sounders 1-1 draw Sunday against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

“It feels,” the interim coach answered, “like a draw. Like vanilla.”

Perhaps, but after the most tumultuous week in the seven-and-a-half year history of the franchise — a week that found the Sounders saying goodbye to their longtime coach while welcoming a dynamic new player — it was clear the vanilla had potential for a more exotic concoction.

First, the bad news: The Sounders picked up only one point in the standings when they were in position to pick up three. Inexcusably listless last week in the 3-0 defeat that assured Sigi Schmid’s departure, they dominated a quality opponent in such stat-sheet categories as total shots (18-10), shots on target (8-3), shots from inside the box (12-6) and open-play crosses (17-6).

But when the ultimate statistic reads 1-1, it has a way of neutralizing all of the positives.

“The guys played hard,” Schmetzer pointed out. “I have no complaint about their commitment to this game. But we needed to score a second goal, a third goal, a fourth goal.”

Said midfielder Cristian Roldan, who scored the first goal: “We played well. We passed. We worked hard. We defended. We had a lot of chances.

“People had their heads down because we deserved more, but sometimes that’s just the way soccer is. That’s the story of our season.”

Which brings me to the good news: The plot of the story has gotten quite thicker with the addition of Uruguayan midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, a designated player signed last week from Argentina’s Boca Juniors. Lodeiro, 27, was all over the field in his MLS debut, creating the kinds of chances for the Sounders that make their long-shot playoff bid conceivable.

“He sees passes not a lot of players do,” said Brad Evans, the Sounders’ captain. “He busted it for 90 minutes. He was saying ‘Let’s go, let’s go, keep the ball.’ A massive addition to our team.”

Especially remarkable about Lodeiro’s performance is that the whirlwind week afforded him little time to acclimate himself with his new teammates. He and striker Clint Dempsey were able to train only one day together — a challenge akin to a basketball point guard, limited to a single practice with an All-Star power forward, attempting to achieve immediate synergy.

“You saw it, he was very good,” Schmetzer said. “We just need to fine-tune to make sure that Clint and he figure out the right spacing. A couple of times we could have done a better job of ... getting Clint closer to the goal, because we’re going to need to rely on Clint to score some goals.

“But other than that little glitch, you saw his ability to cover ground at a high level, connect passes and run the team. There were a lot of positives out of that. Together, Clint leads the front line, Nicolas leads the middle and we have experienced guys in back. I was encouraged.”

As was Lodeiro, who in June came to the United States to compete for Uruguay at the Copa America Centenario. But until Sunday, he had yet to play at The Clink, where 48,458 fans — the Sounders’ largest crowd for an MLS match this season — did not seem dispirited that the team began the weekend in ninth place.

“It was beautiful,” Lodeiro said. “I had heard about the fans, and today they proved they are amazing, amazing fans.”

Aside from adjusting to an unfamiliar playing surface — “the only surprise,” he said, “was the synthetic field; I had never played on a synthetic field” — Lodeiro considered himself at home the moment he hit the, um, surface running.

“This is a good team with good players,” he said through an interpreter. “When you have a good team with good players, you feel at ease right away. It would have been better if we had won the game.”

Nobody won Sunday, nobody lost. For the better part of 90 minutes, the Sounders outplayed the visitors and still ended up with an outcome as bland as vanilla.

But there were some strawberries in a side bowl, chocolate sauce in another. There’s lots you can do with vanilla.

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