On the road in Houston, the Seattle Sounders suffered their first MLS loss in nine matches on Saturday, falling to the Houston Dynamo 3-1 and ending their longest unbeaten streak of the 2011 season.
The Seattle side has been one of the hottest teams in Major League Soccer in recent weeks, strongly contending with the L.A. Galaxy for the Supporters Shield title and rising in the standings. But those hopes have diminished as the Sounders fall seven points behind the Galaxy and struggle to find a foothold in recent matches.
The worries began when the Sounders suffered an embarrassing non-MLS 7-0 defeat to the English Champions, Manchester United in front of over 67,000 home fans.
While the majority of the struggle against the powerhouse squad came as the Sounders' reserve players proved to be no match against Wayne Rooney's attacking game (the first-team Sounders actually fared pretty well), it still caused a certain level of damage to Seattle's pride as one of the best teams in American soccer.
That shock carried on into a CONCACAF Champions League match in Panama on Tuesday, as the Sounders failed to find the back of the net, and ultimately fell behind in the home-and-away series by one goal.
The Houston match makes it official: The Sounders are slumping.
The Sounders went down by two goals early on in the match, after conceding from Colin Clark and Brian Ching. But they remained hopeful in the knowledge that their last two MLS victories came after responding to early deficits to ultimately take the lead.
That trend was not to be continued, however, as Seattle's continuing goal-scoring woes held them to a single goal by Alvaro Fernandez in the 37th minute, the only goal Seattle has scored in the last three matches. Brian Ching scored his second goal in the 70th minute, sealing the Sounders' fate, and sending them home with plenty of questions left to answer.
The Sounders next face San Francisco from Panama on Tuesday in the second away leg of the aggregate series. They will have to score at least one goal to maintain their hopes at Champions League glory, and three goals if San Francisco scores in Seattle (thanks to the away goal rule).
With the trouble they've had finding the back of the net, the Sounders' hopes are beginning to appear slim. Still, if they can recapture the form they maintained before their match against Manchester United, a victory at home to win a place in the Champions League group stage may be just the inspiration they need to stop themselves from falling down the MLS standings in the weeks to come.
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