SEATTLE — Not yet for Seattle Sounders FC.
With a chance to extend their streak of making the playoffs in every season of franchise history, the Sounders were left frustrated following a scoreless draw with the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field, a game that saw midfield linchpin Osvaldo Alonso sent off.
A victory against Houston, mired in dead last in the MLS’s Western Conference, would have completed Seattle’s improbable charge from also-ran to making the postseason for the eighth straight season. However, while the Sounders dominated possession and scoring chances Wednesday, they were unable to find the goal to put themselves in the playoffs.
Seattle (13-13-6) still remains in good shape with two games remaining in the season. The point pulls Seattle, which is 7-1-4 since Brian Schmetzer took over as interim head coach, into a tie for fourth-place in the conference with Real Salt Lake — with the Sounders owning the tiebreaker based on total wins. The top six teams qualify for the playoffs, and Seattle is four points clear of seventh-place Portland.
Houston is 7-13-12.
Wednesday night was frustrating in just about every respect for the Sounders. Seattle dominated possession up to the point Alonso was red carded in the 64th minute. Even after the Sounders were down to 10 men they looked the more likely team to score. But a strong performance by Houston goalkeeper Joe Willis, combined with a lack of a cutting edge in front of goal, prevented Seattle from finding the net.
“If you’re looking at it we had 63-percent possession overall, and that was playing 25 minutes a man down,” Schmetzer said. “I think we did find some patience, I just don’t know if we were sharp enough in that final third. We had a lot of corner kicks, but we needed to get a couple more quality looks on goal.”
In addition to being unable to secure a playoff spot, the Sounders will now play at least one of their remaining two games without Alonso because of suspension. In the 64th minute Alonso and Houston’s Will Bruin got tangled away from the ball, with Bruin appearing to trip Alonso. Alonso took exception and the two confronted one other, with Alonso getting his hands on Bruin’s face. After a conversation with his linesman, referee Drew Fischer showed a yellow card to Bruin and a red card to Alonso, forcing the Sounders to play the remainder of the game with just 10 men.
It was the second straight game in which the Sounders had a player sent off, with Brad Evans being dismissed in Seattle’s 2-1 victory over Vancouver on Sunday for a similar incident.
“The team has had that conversation already in the locker room,” Schmetzer said when asked about the team’s discipline. “I will certainly have a conversation with Ozzie regarding what happened on the field. I’m very confident the team heard the message, I’m very confident Ozzie understood. He’s beat up in there because he knows he did something that didn’t help the team. We’ll solve this internally and move on.”
Seattle suffered another blow when winger Andreas Ivanschitz limped off the field in the 10th minute. It was later announced that Ivanschitz suffered a sprained right knee. It was not immediately known how long Ivanschitz will be sidelined because of the injury.
The Sounders travel to face conference-leading Dallas on Sunday, then finish up the following Sunday at home against Real Salt Lake in a game that could easily have major seeding ramifications.
The Sounders dominated possession in the first half, the ball almost exclusively staying in Houston territory. The standard sequence saw Seattle put in a cross, the Dynamo clear it, but then the Sounders winning the ball right back to start it all over again.
And yet, until the final six minutes of the half, it was Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei who had to make the better save. Frei just got fingertips to Bruin’s shot from the edge of the penalty box in the 30th minute, tipping to ball onto the post to keep it scoreless.
Then it was Willis’ turn to provide the heroics. Seattle’s Erik Friberg split the defense to put himself free on goal in the 40th minute, but Willis made a miraculous double save to deny Friberg. Four minutes later Willis palmed Nicolas Lodeiro’s free kick from 30 yards out over the crossbar, and it remained 0-0 headed into the second half.
In the second half Seattle’s Roman Torres had an open header from a corner whistle just wide. Then after Alonso’s red card the Sounders were still dangerous, with substitute Oalex Anderson twice wriggling free to get shots off from dangerous positions, only to put those shots right at Willis, and the Sounders will have to wait another day to clinch a playoff spot.
Seattle had both striker Jordan Morris (U.S.) and playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro (Uruguay) in the lineup. Both were returned early from international duty, making them available for the game. … The Sounders had neither of their regular options at left back available — Joevin Jones remains on international duty with Trinidad and Tobago while Dylan Remick was out with a concussion. Therefore, rookie central defender Tony Alfaro made his first career MLS start as a makeshift left back. … Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez (hamstring) also missed the game because of injury, while Evans sat the game out because of suspension. Therefore, veteran Herculez Gomez received a rare start at attacking right midfield.
For more on the Seattle sports scene, check out Nick Patterson’s Seattle Sidelines blog at www.heraldnet.com/tag/seattle-sidelines, or follow him on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.