When the schedule came out several months ago, it didn’t take much foresight to see that the Seattle Sounders were going to have a tough start to their season. Their first two games were on the road, and five of their first seven would be away from home.
Heading into Sunday’s road game against the LA Galaxy, the Sounders had only played really well in one game and were limping along at a pace not so different from last year’s horrid start. One way or another, Sunday’s encounter was lining up to be match that defined this early stretch.
Although the exact circumstances of how they’ve arrived where they are today would have been impossible to predict, nine points from seven games feels just about right. And after their dominant 3-0 win over the Galaxy — in which they completed an MLS record 83 percent of their passes in the attacking third — it doesn’t even feel like a stretch to say things are actually looking downright positive.
Lest you think I’m making too much of one game, consider a few things:
- Three different players have started at least two games as right back and none of them were the projected starter at the beginning of training camp.
- Four different players have started at least two games as a centerback and the two projected starters have both missed at least two games.
- Both Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro — the Sounders’ leading scorer and playmaker from last year — have struggled to find consistency.
- Despite all of this, the Sounders find themselves solidly in playoff position (fifth in the West by both points per game and total points) and with the sixth-best goal difference (+3) in the entire league.
Whatever struggles the Sounders have endured — and make no mistake, this is still a work in progress after a preseason that proved basically useless in terms of figuring anything out — it’s all still there for the taking. The Sounders now face a run of four of six at home and look like a team poised to hit its stride.
Will Bruin probably earned himself a few more starts
There was nothing particularly spectacular about the way Will Bruin played on Sunday. His afternoon consisted of just 17 total touches, no goals and no assists. But what he did do was practice some positional discipline, staying high and central and occupying the attention of the Galaxy centerbacks. It was the kind of work Nelson Valdez did for the Sounders down the stretch last year, decidedly unsexy but very useful stuff that helps teams win games.
His best moment was this play that set up the Sounders’ third goal.
Again, there’s nothing really special about this. Bruin simply checks back and puts the ball into the acres of space that has inexplicably been left open. But just as importantly, he pulls Jelle Van Damme way out of the play, leaving the Sounders with numbers as they rush toward goal.
Bruin also was very nearly involved in a fourth Sounders goal, breaking in for a 2-on-1 chance. Bruin timed his run perfectly and Dempsey delivered a wonderful pass, but Bruin opted to shoot instead of feeding Harry Shipp for an easy tap in (although the pass wouldn’t have been easy).
It was probably no coincidence that Jordan Morris had his most effective game. I’m still not convinced that it’s a good long-term tradeoff to push Morris to the wing, but this is a look that at least deserves some attention. For one, even with Morris starting out wide, he was still able to make effective touches in the middle of the park. This was his touch map a week after failing to get any touches inside the middle third of the field against Vancouver.
That includes a rather remarkable 29-for-31 passing, where the only two misses were off crosses and included three key passes. Morris also took two dangerous shots, including his second goal of the season.
Apparently Morris was wearing some significant ice wraps after the game, following his 68-minute performance. That suggests Morris is still dealing with the aftereffects of the injury that knocked him out of the recent World Cup qualifiers.
Maybe a move out to the wing, where he’s less likely to be dealing with big-bodied center backs, is exactly what he needs right now.
They’re dangerous even if they aren’t drift compatible
In my mind, there’s never really been a question as to whether or not the Sounders are better off with both Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro on the field together. The numbers are pretty clear. Still, given the team’s start and the reality that the Sounders’ two best players seem to have overlapping skillsets, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising others have been less than convinced.
Let Sunday’s performance be a reminder, though, the Sounders are near unstoppable when Lodeiro and Dempsey are on their game at the same time. Lodeiro completed 82 percent of his passes, while Dempsey only missed three of his more than 40 passes (despite being aggressive enough to have four key passes and an assist). Dempsey also managed to take eight shots, among them a goal and yet another one off the crossbar (that’s four off the woodwork this year, if you’re keeping track).
While they may seem to play vaguely similar styles, they actually do a pretty good job of staying out of each other’s way. Lodeiro tends to operate outside cutting in and Dempsey likes to drive right through the gut. Combined, it ends up looking like this.
Their ability to stay out of one another’s way is also part of why it seems like they don’t do a ton of combining, and why they had never linked up on a goal before the Galaxy game. They probably won’t ever recreate the kind of chemistry we saw with Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, but that might not be the worst thing. As great as the Clint and Oba show was, it was a two-man performance. This has the potential to be much more.
We got a lot of mileage out of likening Martins and Dempsey to jaeger pilots, in that they worked together so well. It’s entirely possible that Dempsey and Lodeiro aren’t quite drift compatible, but a pair of kaiju can still do a ton of damage to opposing defenses.
Did someone say we lacked defensive depth?
The Sounders now have two shutouts. Both of them have come when their patchwork defense is at its most patchwork-y, featuring Jordy Delem at right back and Tony Alfaro and Gustav Svensson at centerback.
Truth be told, the Galaxy should have probably scored a couple goals — Giovani Dos Santos and Jermaine Jones both had great scoring chances they failed to put on frame — and this group has been far from perfect. I’d have a hard time making an argument that this is anywhere near the ideal back four. But we’re now seven games into the season, the Sounders have only played three games with as many as three of their preferred defensive starters and they’ve allowed fewer goals than all but two Western Conference teams. Whatever problems this team may have, defensive depth doesn’t seem to be one.
Let’s also take a second to appreciate this piece of defensive work by Svensson on Romain Alessandrini.
Quote of the day
“He did, he played great. I think I just saw him running off to see her.” - Brian Schmetzer on whether or not Tony Alfaro impressed his girlfriend, who was in attendance.
Stat of the day
7 — The Sounders now have scored seven goals in their past two games at StubHub Center. In their previous 10 league games on the road against the Galaxy, they only scored five goals. Since 2013, the Galaxy have only allowed three goals in a game at home three times. The Sounders are now responsible for two of those.