SEATTLE — Nine straight postseasons. It’s easy to take for granted when you’ve literally never known an MLS season without qualifying, but what the Seattle Sounders have done is nothing short of remarkable.
The only team to have qualified for this many consecutive postseasons was the LA Galaxy from 1996-2005. Their record of 10 straight, though, came at a time when qualifying for the playoffs was much less of an accomplishment. In each of those seasons, no fewer than two-thirds of MLS teams qualified for the postseason and in four of those seasons, 8 of 10 teams advanced.
While the playoffs still reward a degree of mediocrity, there’s no Sounders season in which more than 60 percent of teams qualified, and about 55 percent of them currently qualify. It’s also worth noting that the Sounders have never finished below fourth in the West or seventh in the Supporters’ Shield standings (although they could drop below that this year if they lose their season finale). The Galaxy were twice the final team to qualify for the playoffs (2003 and 2005).
Including their USL years, the Sounders’ playoff streak stands at 11 seasons, which I suppose is a Seattle pro sports record as the Seattle SuperSonics once had a 10-season postseason streak (h/t Steve Vogt). Going back all the way to 2002 — when Brian Schmetzer was first hired as head coach and Adrian Hanauer took ownership — the Sounders have missed the playoffs just once (in 2006, when they fell a point short).
Like each of the previous two seasons, playoff qualification did not always seem assured this year. There were times when this team simply didn’t look like it belonged in the postseason. But after their 4-0 thrashing of FC Dallas, they’ve now won their last two home games by a collective score of 7-0. We still don’t quite know how good this team is, but with a win over the Colorado Rapids next week, they’ll assure themselves a first-round bye. That seems like a fine position to be in.
Meet Nico Lodeiro, deep-lying playmaker
As has happened with remarkable regularity, the Sounders were forced into a midgame tactical adjustment. Gustav Svensson went down with a hamstring injury in the 23rd minute. Rather than make a like-for-like swap by putting in Jordy Delem, Schmetzer made the rather aggressive move of inserting Nouhou into the left back spot, pushing Joevin Jones into the midfield and sliding Nicolas Lodeiro back alongside Cristian Roldan.
The move worked wonderfully. Lodeiro suddenly found himself with tons of space as Dallas didn’t seem entirely sure what to do with him. That allowed Lodeiro more time to pick out runs and push the Sounders forward.
In the second half, Lodeiro pushed deeper into the attack, but still had a couple plays from deep that should probably have your mouth watering at the possibility of him doing this with someone like Jordan Morris making the runs.
Looking at one game — especially a game where Javier Morales spent the bulk of it in the opposite defensive midfield — is not proof the Sounders should try to make this move permanent. But if Svensson and Osvaldo Alonso are both out for a few more weeks, it seems like an option that should be at least explored.
Cristian Roldan made it possible
As much as Dallas’ personnel helped mitigate the cost of Lodeiro dropping deep, the bulk of the credit for making that move work probably should go to Cristian Roldan. Sporting a much less noticeable cast, Roldan looked far more like himself than the guy we saw a couple weeks ago in the 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union. His 92 touches were second only to Lodeiro on the day and his 80 passes were the most of anyone on the field. He also had 17 positive defensive actions, just for good measure.
But to call this a vintage Roldan performance would not be accurate. Why? Check out this action map. There may as well be a hard line across the offensive third, as Roldan didn’t record a single action from within 40 yards of goal.
On a normal day, I’d suggest that was some cause for actual concern. Roldan is so much more than just another defensive midfielder and keeping him so far away from the penalty box is robbing the Sounders of one of their most useful offensive tools.
But this was not a normal day for many reasons. For one, as improved as his left arm looks, Roldan clearly isn’t 100 percent. His range is clearly limited and he can’t cover box-to-box the way we’ve grown accustomed to him doing. With Lodeiro ranging forward more and not being nearly as positionally disciplined, that was fine. Lodeiro basically did all the running you’d normally expect Roldan and Alonso to do (pardon the hyperbole).
Assuming Roldan continues to heal at this rapid pace, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he should be fully back at some point during the postseason. Until then, let’s just hope the Sounders lock up that first-round bye and get themselves some time to get healthy before facing their next real test.
Defense so good right now
Stefan Frei will get the headlines after setting a new Sounders record with his 12th shutout of the season, but the truth he didn’t have a ton to do. It was the same story in his last shutout, against the Vancouver Whitecaps. When he says “it’s not just me” he’s not just giving lip service, the reality is that the whole defense played well in limiting Dallas to just two shots on frame.
One of those shots was sort of Frei’s fault, when he made an ill-advised pass that put Chad Marshall in an awkward spot and ultimately led to a turnover. The only other really good chance Dallas had didn’t even require Frei to do much. That’s because Kelvin Leerdam was there to bail him out, clearing a ball that looked destined to end up the back of the net.
Great pass to split the Sounders defenders, but Leerdam saves day. pic.twitter.com/UVzTBWppAy— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) October 16, 2017
Leerdam wasn’t quite as active as we’ve seen him be in the past — much to color commentator Brad Friedel’s constant chagrin — but he was very good in defense once again. Seven of the Sounders’ 12 shutouts this year have come in the 13 matches he’s started.
The best defensive performance likely belonged to Roman Torres, though. Coming off his legend-making game for Panama, Torres was more content to simply be a defender. He finished with a game-high 22 positive defensive actions, including four tackles and five clearances.
Whatever problems Torres was having early in the season are clearly behind him, and the Sounders now have what appears to be one of the best center back duos in the league.
Stat of the game
1.66 — Brian Schmetzer has now been the Sounders head coach for 47 regular-season games. In that time the Sounders have posted a points per game of 1.66, moving him back ahead of Sigi Schmid’s 1.60 while he led the team. Schmid’s PPG without his final season is 1.657. (h/t Aaron Campeau)
Quote of the game
“I told him before the game to stop carrying his arm like that (straight down by his side) and just play. And he’s a really tough kid.” - Schmetzer’s message to Roldan.