Sounders FC is losing ground while staying even.
Seattle tied its fifth straight league game Saturday night at Qwest Field, 1-1, against the Columbus Crew.
But without a victory in more than a month, the Sounders’ place in the MLS Western Conference standings has declined, as has their ranking as the fastest-starting expansion team in league history.
However, what frustrated coach Sigi Schmid was a belief that his team had become distracted by the refereeing.
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“I thought we had some chances,” said Schmid, who coached Columbus to the MLS Cup title last season. “But I was disappointed in terms of our team’s focus at times. I thought we got overly concerned about the referee and weren’t concerned enough about our play. I’m a big believer that you’ve got so much energy to expend over 90 minutes and if you expend a lot of energy dealing with the referee, you’re not going to have that energy to deal with the game. And that was the thing that we just talked about.”
They talked for quite a while.
Schmid didn’t address the media until about 25 minutes after the game – about twice his normal pace.
The result dropped Seattle (4-2-5, 17 points) to third place in the West, behind not only league-leading Chivas USA (7-1-3; 24), but now also behind Houston (5-2-3; 18), which collected a full three points with a win over Toronto earlier Saturday.
Sounders FC also fell behind the 1998 Chicago Fire, whose 6-5-0 start now ranks as the best by an MLS expansion team after 11 games.
Columbus broke through in the 12th minute, when Pat Noonan carried down the right side past Tyson Wahl and sent a cross in front of the goal area. Alejandro Moreno went low and got his head on the ball, just inches from the toe of sprawling defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado. But there was just enough space, and the header beat Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller.
“I thought they scored a very good goal,” Schmid said. “It was a good cross from Noonan. It was a good header from Moreno.”
Seattle had a chance to get even in the 31st minute when Freddie Ljungberg worked a give-and-go with Steve Zakuani and received the return ball in the left portion of the penalty area. He was brought down just a step from the end line by a Columbus defender.
A penalty was called, and Ljungberg was assigned the Sounders’ first penalty kick of the regular season. He fired it hard and low, but to the left of the goal.
Ljungberg made amends in the 73rd minute when he took a pass from Nate Jaqua at the top of the Houston penalty area, then lofted it back to Jaqua, who volleyed high and wide of Columbus keeper Andy Gruenebaum for the tying goal.
“We had an opportunity in the PK that we missed to tie the game up,” Schmid said. “We scored a good goal in the second half to tie it up. … I thought the goal was a good goal. Freddie did well because he needed to put it into space for Nate, who had a great volley.”
However, the Sounders’ frustration culminated in stoppage time when Tyrone Marshall received a red card after the assistant referee determined that Marshall had thrown a punch.
“I thought we paid too much attention to the referee tonight,” Schmid said. “I thought at times we played some very good soccer. … If we can get (our starters) on the field together more, that understanding and cohesion and the ability to play off of each other is going to continue to improve. … But I just think it’s a situation where we have to be focused as a team on the job in hand and on the next play.”
The Sounders return to action Saturday, visiting Western Conference-leading Chivas USA.