SEATTLE — Raise your hand if you saw that one coming. Now, put it down you filthy liars. Even the most enthusiastic Sounders fans surely didn’t see a third straight three-goal outburst, especially in a game without Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro.
That’s, of course, exactly what the Seattle Sounders did against the San Jose Earthquakes, registering a 3-0 win that put them just as close to first place in the Western Conference (four points behind FC Dallas) as they are to seventh place (four points ahead of San Jose).
The key component in this one was Cristian Roldan, who is suddenly looking to be quite the offensive force. The nominal defensive midfielder was moved into the No. 10 role and responded with a pair of goals and came the width of the goal post from bagging his first career hat trick. That third one would have been a beauty, too, and it would have completed the first “perfect” hat trick in Sounders history.
Such a good pass by Svensson too. pic.twitter.com/n8iT02efxA— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) July 24, 2017
He also had a couple key passes and should have had at least one assist, setting up Joevin Jones for what should have been a relatively easy finish in the first half.
Roldan now has three goals in his past two and five goals in his past eight. If you go back 34 games (the length of a season), he’s got eight goals and two assists in that time. He’s done that while spending time as a defensive midfielder, on both wings, as a right back and, most recently, as a No. 10. It’s an impressive display, especially when you consider the variety of ways he’s finding goals. We already knew he was sneaky on set pieces and balls into the box, but we’re also finding that he can be deadly in space when he’s on the break.
Chances are, he’ll quietly move back into the defensive midfield once Dempsey and Lodeiro are both fully back (maybe not until the Minnesota United match in a couple weeks). But each week, Roldan seems to peel back another layer of the onion that is his potential. And each week, seemingly, we see some new talent that hadn’t previously been fully exposed.
Let’s not forget, he’s just turned 22! We’re only now starting to get a sense of what kind of player he could turn into, and he’s already surpassed what most expected from him. Considering his age, salary and positional flexibility, he might be a Top 5 asset in all of MLS. These are exciting times, indeed.
About that offensive outburst...
The Sounders scored three goals for the third straight time, and now have 11 in their past four. Although they had twice scored 12 in four games (in 2011 and 2014), they had never before scored at least three in three straight.
You may remember that those 2011 and 2014 teams were veritable offensive juggernauts, scoring 56 and 65 goals, respectively. This year’s Sounders squad has, well, not been that. Prior to this recent run of goal-scoring, the Sounders had only scored 20 goals in 17 games and had only scored six in their previous nine, failing to score more than one goal in any of those games.
Now, they are on pace to score 52 goals, which would be the third most in franchise history. That’s despite Dempsey’s slow start, Morris contributing just two goals so far and Lodeiro having not scored in nearly three months. The Sounders have gotten goals from 11 different players, two more than they had during that 65-goal season in 2014.
This team is sneaky deep
There are times when this roster seems criminally thin. Like, when they have to play a game with four outfield players available off the bench, as they did for the Rapids match.
But that’s more a result of a confluence of events, namely international call-ups and injuries. Even with all that, the Sounders just got through a three-match stretch with multiple players out during the Gold Cup that saw them claim 9 of 9 points.
Quite unlike 2015 Gold Cup, when Sounders went 1-3 without Brad, Pappa, Dempsey & Fre9 (inj).— Frank MacDonald (@frankmSounders) July 24, 2017
When there’s a slightly more “normal” situation, as there was on Sunday, we see the depth shown a different light. Even without four virtually automatic starters, the Sounders were able to put out a lineup that would match up well with most of the league. I won’t try to convince you that it’s a lineup that would contend for a Supporters’ Shield or I’d want starting a MLS Cup final, but for a random game against a playoff contender it was more than sufficient.
This transfer window has so far been underwhelming, adding just one body to a roster that easily had room for three. The front office does deserve some credit for adding what looks to be one of the top fullbacks in the league, and building a roster in a way that allowed players like Nouhou and Jordy Delem to develop into useful pieces.
As we sit here today, the Sounders aren’t in desperate need of anything. When fully healthy, veterans like Brad Evans, Gustav Svensson and Harry Shipp are likely coming off the bench. Promising youngsters like Aaron Kovar, Nouhou and Delem are in the same boat. Some of these guys are going to be fighting for spots in the 18, and the competition is only going to get more fierce if the Sounders make another signing or two.
These are good problems to have, to be sure.
Speaking of youngsters
Fairly overlooked in Roldan’s starring performance and the impressive starting debut of Kelvin Leerdam was the play of a couple S2 products, Delem and Nouhou.
Delem has been fairly maligned this year, largely because of his largely ineffective stints at right back. But, deployed in his more natural position as a defensive midfielder, he looked for more comfortable and competent. I don’t think any of the three defensive midfielders ahead of him on the depth chart are in any kind of danger, but having a player coaches can confidently plug into the midfield as a stopgap is a nice asset to have.
Nouhou’s potential is much higher, and with each game the risks of giving him minutes seem to get smaller. His progression this year has been amazing, and while he rarely chooses the simple play, it’s remarkable how rarely he gets himself into genuine trouble. Watching his long, powerful strides just gobble up yardage is a sight to behold and he’s showing off some improved crossing, too.
- Leerdam got a goal and an assist in his starting debut, quite possibly the best such performance in Sounders history. What has everyone talking, though, was his long throws, a skill he only added to his arsenal last year. As Roldan said, having a player who can do that basically turns every throw inside 25 yards into a set piece.
- Evans’ preference may be to remain at right back, but he reminded everyone he’s a very competent right mid as well. Whatever Evans lacks in flash, he makes up for with positioning and reading the game. It’s not remotely difficult to imagine him getting minutes at a variety of positions, and I suspect he’d much rather be playing than sitting on the bench.
- As good as the offense has been recently, it was good to see the defense get that shutout. They’d gone through a bit of a rough patch, allowing at least a goal in five straight, averaging 2.0 goals against during that time.
- The Sounders moved over .500 for the first time since the final day of the regular season in 2015, a span of 44 games. Prior to that, the longest they’d spent between games over .500 was 15 games in 2010.
Stat of the day
10 — The Sounders are currently 10 points out of the Supporters’ Shield race. That’s not exactly close, but consider this:
Last season, the Sounders were 11 points out of 4th place in the West on July 24. They finished 4th.— Randy ⭐☭Ⓐ (@meeker253) July 24, 2017
Quote of the Day
“No [I haven’t seen the replay]. I don’t want to see it. Joevin was shaking his head at me I’ve already apologized to him like six times on the field and off the field so I hope he’s not too mad at me tomorrow.” - Roldan, on if he’d seen replays of the shot he hit off the post but had an open Jones on his left