The stage was set for a memorable evening. It was the first home game of the 2017 season and a record crowd was there to see the MLS Cup championship banner being unveiled. Energy was going to be high.
The Sounders were playing a New York Red Bulls team that was more than capable of ruining the evening. New York came in riding an 18-game unbeaten record that dated back to July of last year and had won each of their first two games this year. They also play a pressing style that has given the Sounders problems in the past.
Up until about 60 minutes in, the Sounders seemed to be falling into this exact trap, failing to capitalize. Seattle had dominated the chances up until then, but found themselves tied 1-1 with their only goal coming via a penalty kick.
The Sounders persevered though, and winning by a relatively comfortable 3-1 margin was just another example of how they’ve matured over the past year or so, in the exact kind of game they once struggled to win. Now they’ve figured out how to get deserved results in games they play well in.
Joevin Jones continues to shine
Watching Jones rampage up and down the sideline against the Red Bulls, it’s easy to forget that it was only about six months ago that many of us were wondering if he’d ever figure out how to translate his obvious talent into production.
After being credited with a pair of assists on Sunday, Jones now has seven in 22 games under Brian Schmetzer (including playoffs). To put that in perspective, no fullback in MLS had more than six assists in all of 2016. You have to go back to 2014 to find the last time a defender notched as many as seven assists in a season, and between 2007 and 2016, only one player listed primarily as a defender had more than seven assists in a season (Sheanon Williams had eight in 2013).
Some of Jones’ production can be chalked up to teams playing narrow and sort of daring the Sounders to beat them from wide spots. This unfairly maligns Jones, who has also shown a penchant for beating players off the dribble and is growing increasingly aggressive with forays into the box. Jones was credited with four successful dribbles against the Red Bulls, using them most often to break lines of pressure but also to destroy Sal Zizzo on the Sounders’ second goal.
Move by Joevin Jones:— Susie Rantz (@SusieRants) March 20, 2017
Hair by Joevin Jones: pic.twitter.com/1hOxFYtly0
At some point, teams will start defending Jones differently and he’s going to have less room to roam, but right now it looks like we have to seriously consider him the best fullback in the league.
Some love for the Swede
The Red Bulls’ lone goal came on a cross to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who managed to get goal side on Gustav Svensson. The immediate reaction was to blame Svensson for losing out to Wright-Phillips.
As often happens, though, the replay told a slightly different story. Not only did Svensson have eyes on Wright-Phillips — who, let’s remember, has scored 68 goals in the last three seasons — but he closed him down fast enough to deflect the shot. As it was, Wright-Phillips hit his header while moving away from the goal and it looks like it hit both the crossbar and the post before going in. Which is a long way of saying Svensson’s defending wasn’t that bad on the play. Sometimes, good players just make good plays, and that’s what Wright-Phillips did.
Otherwise, Svensson was pretty close to flawless. He always seemed to be in the right position — I’m not sure if he went to ground once — and his passing was a near perfect mixture of aggressive and conservative, going long when it was there but otherwise more than happy to keep it simple. He also had a couple mouth-watering switches, both about 50-70 yards long.
I think Torres is still the clear starter, but having a player like Svensson ready to come off the bench is a massive advantage, especially when you consider he has now shown the ability to capably play three different positions.
Speaking of versatility...
By now, no one is surprised when Cristian Roldan turns in a particularly solid performance. But even by the increased expectations he’s built for himself, Roldan put together an impressive game against what is considered one of the better midfields in MLS. Roldan only completed 69 percent of his passes, but that was more a product of him trying to get passes over the top of the defense (which has the added benefit of keeping them honest). He also filled up the chalkboard with 20 positive defensive actions (the two red triangles are lost tackles).
As if that weren’t enough, Roldan effortlessly slid over to right back when Oniel Fisher was forced off the field with a hamstring injury. Fully half of his positive defensive actions came after the move (in just 35 minutes). His signature play came in the 88th minute when he effortlessly took the ball from Sacha Kljestan to kill a counter attack.
Having players like this allows managers to do so many different things. In this case, it gave Schmetzer the ability to make an aggressive substitution with the game tied. It was Alvaro Fernandez, instead of Tony Alfaro, who entered, and the Sounders would go on to score two more goals to secure the win and the Red Bulls never really had a chance to build up their attack.
If Oniel Fisher is, indeed, out, it seems entirely possible that the Sounders could shift Roldan to right back and move Svensson into the midfield. Or they could keep Roldan in the midfield and move Svensson out wide. Options!
Mr. Morris overrules Dr. Morris
You probably noticed Jordan Morris hobbling around late in the first half. Apparently, he had hurt his ankle. At halftime, the team’s doctor — Jordan’s dad, in case you’d forgotten — supposedly wanted Morris to be pulled. The forward said he wanted to play and Schmetzer sided with his player.
“Jordan and I together have a little more power than his dad,” Schmetzer joked during the postgame press conference.
The decision turned out to be a good one. After failing to finish a couple of good chances in the first half, Morris came good on the winning goal, pounding in a header off of a feed from Nicolas Lodeiro. It was his first goal of the season.
“Maybe that’s just the kid pushing back to the parent,” Schmetzer said. “We left him out there and I’m glad we did because I think for him to score a goal, did him a world of good. He deserved one because, let’s be honest, he didn’t score some of the earlier chances but as long as he’s creating those chances, it’s good for the Seattle Sounders.
“Even if he doesn’t make them, it puts pressure on the opposing team and eventually they are going to break.”
Quote of the Week
“I think he is the best left back in the MLS, I’m just going to go ahead and say that. I think he’s that good. ... It’s crazy how good he is, how technically sound he is and how fast he is and that’s what makes him a good player.” - Roldan on Jones
Stat of the Week
12 — The Sounders have gone 9-0-3 in their last 12 at home, all but one of those games was with Schmetzer as head coach. That also includes nine regular-season games, which officially ranks as the second longest home unbeaten streak in the team’s MLS history.