Since the 4th of July Sounders 2 surged. Their 6-2-2 record in the late season is powering the chance that they can make the USL Playoffs. That surge, and the 2-1 win Friday night over the Thundercaps, are powered by similar things - home games, Darwin Jones (all 6 of his goals are in that stretch), Tyler Miller and a central midfield that encapsulates S2’s 2016 style.
Beating Vancouver puts S2 in a position where they can make the playoffs, if they can correct their road errors. Seattle’s USL team ends their season with a four-game road trip, starting Monday afternoon at Vancouver (3 PM, YouTube). They are one point out of eighth (the USL cutoff). Wins is the first tie-breaker, which is good for S2 as they do win, but when they lose they get blown out (-12 goal differential, 3 losses by 3 or more goals).
Getting Darwin Jones back healthy (he was out in the two losses during their winning streak) is huge. Jones is not a complete player, but has skills that can succeed at the USL level and maybe even as a fringe MLS player.
When he’s dribbling at a player he can take a few too many touches. His passing in traffic is not great. But Jones is hungry for the net. When they get him the ball as he runs on net great things can happen. His winner against Whitecaps 2 is exactly Darwin at his best.
S2 has more technical players, but they don’t have anyone that scores as regularly as Dar. He is the team leader with his six, despite missing two games during the winning stretch. Over the Summer something clicked. The Darwin Jones of direct play from the flank adds burst speed and a hunger to see the ball in the back of the net.
Sure, it’s repetitive, but the triad of Jordan Schweitzer, Mark O’ojong and Zach Mathers show strong composure, great vision (O’ojong assisted on Jones’ goal, Mathers served the corner that Irvin Raul Parra scored) and a bite in defense.
They can be found out of position, but generally in advanced areas where they are entering the attack. Often this is when they switch roles, and another covers. Mark is the fastest, so a break through the middle can be caught by him, or stopped by Schweitzer reading the play. That’s Jordan’s biggest strength. He reads angles that shouldn’t be visible at pitch level. It shows in his long passes and in defensive positioning.
Mathers plays as the 10, but it isn’t the ten like you see from Lodeiro. It is conventional, American and with straight-line passes that slice through a defense. More creative play needs to come from elsewhere, but Zach has a understanding of his skills and a vision to utilize them.
As the three have melded their play improved. It’s an engine room that though imperfect can right the ship (they did) and power it to finish the journey.
Already a fine shot stopper, what Miller has grown into is distribution and leadership. Last night his shot stopping was incredible. This is not the type of shot on goal that gets blocked. It should have wound up on SportsCenter.
Tyler’s comfort with distribution is best seen with how often S2 passes back to him during the run of play as they reset their shape. Both Delam and Alfaro sought out Seattle’s keeper many times. Those passes wouldn’t always be into the box. Miller would punt a long clearance or start a play with short passing. This part of his game is now strong enough that there are set-pieces that start with a pass back to the Northwestern grad.
It’s clear that Miller is the organization’s number two.
S2’s awful start dug them a huge hole, but wins like those on Friday night show that the team in the second half of the year is one that is capable of both winning and developing MLS talent.