SEATTLE — Even with a makeshift backline and Clint Dempsey starting on the bench, the Seattle Sounders probably went to bed following Friday’s game feeling as though they dropped two points rather than won one. The reasons aren’t difficult to suss out.
Putting aside the optics of the reigning MLS Cup champions facing an expansion team in their fourth-ever game at home, the Sounders were simply better equipped to win this one. Atlanta was missing their leading scorer and their next best offensive player was limited to reserve duty. The Sounders have plenty of experience coming out of an international break and Atlanta’s depth had never been tested.
For the most part, the run of play went about how you’d expect. Aside from a few spells of dominant possession for an Atlanta team used to dominating the ball, the Sounders were mostly dictating the pace and on the front foot. This generated a fair amount of possession, 13 shots and several quality scoring chances, but they were only able to force Alec Kann into a single save. On a different night, maybe Cristian Roldan’s close-range chested shot is a on frame or Clint Dempsey’s open header is just another inch to left and the Sounders win this one easily.
Instead, the Sounders will head on the road for three more games with five points through their first four games. That’s not an ideal position to be in, but far from disaster.
Let’s talk about our boy Cristian
Tell me if this sounds familiar: We start the week believing Cristian Roldan is one of the most promising young midfielders in the league and then he goes out and has a game that somehow resets our expectations even higher. This may have been one of those games.
There was no singular moment where Roldan blew you away with some game-defining play, but as usual just a collection of highly competent and better-than-expected moments. Roldan registered a game-high five tackles, completed 82 percent of his passes, was a little unlucky not to draw a potential-game changing penalty and even led the Sounders with three shots. Oh, and just for good measure he slid over to right back for the final 10 minutes to allow the Sounders to get another attacking player on the field and made a point-saving block.
Predictably, Roldan’s performance again elicited some significant praise from head coach Brian Schmetzer (who’s threatening to displace our very own queenofcascadia as president of his fan club).
“The kid shows that his desire to win is always there, his ability to power through things — even when you think he’s tired he still chases guys down,” Schmetzer said during the postgame press conference. “Again, the kid has a really, really bright future. In my mind people above my pay grade should should be watching the kid because he’s tremendous.”
You hear that Bruce?
Being able to bring Clint Dempsey off the bench with the score tied almost seems a little unfair. His second touch of the game was a header that badly beat Kann and was only an inch or so from giving the Sounders their first goal, and maybe would have opened up the game enough to grab a few more. He also sprinkled in some flare — both useful and egregious — with the best moment coming on a backheel to set up an overlapping Roldan for what could have been a game-winning assist.
It’s been wondered by some if the Sounders weren’t better off without Dempsey, being as they won a MLS Cup that way. It’s a mildly ridiculous premise — even if there’s some anecdotal evidence — that is quickly being dispelled with each outstanding performance he puts in. In this one, Dempsey completed 18 of 20 passes, came closer to scoring than any teammate and generally provided a dramatically improved sense of urgency. That this was still just his sixth competitive suggests he’s still not entirely at his best, which should be both encouraging to Sounders fans and frightening to everyone else.
S2 pays off
We can talk all we want about how S2 represents a host of missed opportunities and failed promises, at least off the field. But Friday’s game was a wonderful reminder of the USL team’s primary purpose: Getting players ready for the First Team.
Jordy Delem, who got the surprise start at right back, was the best example of this. But let’s not forget that Alfaro spent significant time there as well last year. Neither were remotely perfect — Delem repeatedly got sucked into the middle of the field and forced Alvaro Fernandez to do a lot of the wide defending — but both looked comfortable and composed for the most part.
There’s simply no way either of them are capable of performing at that level without the 39 appearances they had between them at S2 last year.
Quote of the day
“I thought we played well in the first half, but in the second half, Seattle kind of dominated us, with the exception of a couple counterattacks. They were the better team in the second half.” - Atlanta United head coach Tata Martino
Stat of the Day
13 — It’s now been 13 games since the Sounders last lost at CenturyLink Field. All but one of those games came after Schmetzer was named head coach.