Thursday’s 1-0 win over Sporting KC wasn’t pretty for the Seattle Sounders. They were on the back foot for the first 15 minutes as KC’s 4-1-4-1 formation isolated the Sounders defensive midfield and aggressively attacked the centerbacks, creating turnovers and attacks again and again. For the Sounders’ part, they weathered the Sporting KC blitzkreig on the back of Stefan Frei.
For KC, their initial tactical setup was focused on high intensity pressing high up the field that, once bypassed, left them with little defensive focus. Once the high-pressing subsided, the Sounders went toe-to-toe for the final 75 minutes of the game, content to play out a deeply flawed game to the bitter end.
The Sporting KC attacks on goal were continually thwarted by Frei or their own inept shooting, while the Sounders’ attempts to get into the final third easily were matched by a stonewall performance from Sonny Mustivar. Fortunately, Sporting KC’s physicality created numerous dangerous dead ball plays for the Sounders.
At the end of the game, however, the only thing that really mattered was a 6-second sequence from Nelson Valdez. The Paraguayan striker has had a frustrating season, but it is fitting that his first goal of the season should come at the death of the game and from a sequence where he perfectly executed all those little things that make him the workhorse he is.
The sequence starts with an attack down the right side that sees Tyrone Mears send in one of his now trademark horrific crosses. Valdez, for his part, is matched up with Matt Besler, and he’s making a near post run that’s perfectly covered. From that run, Valdez isn’t going to be able to generate much with Besler between him and the goal, but it breaks the Sporting KC backline, creating free space at the top of the box as Mustivar drops deep to cover Besler’s absence.
The poor cross from Mears and Valdez’s run creates a situation where Besler has to make a long run to clear the ball. It’s an atrocious clearance that further breaks the Sporting defensive line, this time leaving space goal side in an extremely dangerous situation given it delivers the ball to the feet of Joevin Jones.
With Mustivar stepping into midfield and Besler recovering, Valdez neatly slides into the hole on the backside of the opposition defense. As Jones beats Graham Zusi on the dribble, the Paraguayan shifts under Besler and holds him off. The act of inserting himself goal side and near post takes Besler completely out of the play. It’s now Kevin Ellis against Jordan Morris and Nelson Valdez in a 2v1.
A 2-v-1 3-yards from goal is a striker’s dream and Valdez makes Sporting KC and Besler pay. It was a six-second near perfect exploitation of poor defending, and highlights Valdez doing all the little things right, and this time coming away with a goal he, and we’ll, probably never forget.