Midway through MLS season, Sounders now trailing rivals

VANCOUVER, B.C. — Sounders FC joined MLS two years before rivals Portland and Vancouver, and as such has maintained somewhat of a big-brother status in the region.

Instant success played a part in that standing, as well, with playoff appearances in each season, U.S. Open Cup titles and big wins in the CONCACAF Champions League — feats that can’t be claimed by the Timbers or Whitecaps.

That hierarchy is at risk this year, however, as Seattle is looking up at both rivals in the standings after a 2-0 road loss Saturday in Vancouver.

The Whitecaps have jumped into playoff position with four wins in their last five games and Portland has been one of the best teams in the league, with Sunday’s loss in Columbus just its second all season and first since early March.

The hope for the Sounders is that a full-strength lineup — a commodity not much seen this season — and perhaps some effective midseason additions will result in a complete, championship-worthy team.

Finishing was the key element missing Saturday. Defensive letdowns were another, but zero goals on 16 shots, which tied a season high for Seattle, was the major frustration.

“You look back from everybody’s end and I think you just kick yourself and say, ‘This game is all about finishing chances,’ ” said midfielder Brad Evans. “That comes from everybody. I think everybody had a chance. … It’s on nobody’s backs but ourselves.

“That’s why it’s a great sport and that’s why it’s one of the worst sports, just that feeling that you get when you come in the locker room, where you thought you did everything you could and just couldn’t put the ball in the back of the net.”

Lamar Neagle took some of the blame. He couldn’t get either of his two shots on target and hasn’t factored into a scoring play in three games since moving to outside midfielder.

“When you’re just out of form, man, it’s very frustrating,” said Neagle, a Federal Way native. “That’s what it seems like right now.”

Production hasn’t come from other key offensive figures either. Forward Eddie Johnson, last year’s leading scorer, doesn’t have a goal or assist in four games and the drought is six games for designated player Mauro Rosales, the team leader in assists the past two years.

There is responsibility to go around, as Seattle’s defense has allowed multiple goals in three of the past four games.

Both of Vancouver’s goals Saturday stemmed from long balls that could have been handled better. Kenny Miller’s opener in the fourth minute was the earliest goal the Sounders have allowed this season. Darren Mattocks’ insurance goal in the 79th minute was the second-latest conceded.

Coach Sigi Schmid accepted some responsibility for the second goal, which came moments after a defensive substitution.

“One of my beliefs always is that you don’t change your back four in a tight game,” Schmid said. “I sort of went against my own principle and we took a goal right away from that.”

Change on the grander scale in Cascadia isn’t welcome, either.


• Johnson, who came into Saturday’s game with four yellow cards, has gone three games without another caution, which qualifies him for the “Good Behavior” incentive. The forward’s yellow-card total now counts as three, meaning he is two away from an automatic one-game suspension.

• Vancouver goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who made a career-high seven saves, said Saturday was “the best game I’ve ever played, by far, hands down.”

• As expected, no Sounders were named to the MLS All-Star Game Fan XI announced Sunday. The rest of the All-Star lineup will be determined next week.