There are plenty of interesting notes and stats about the Seattle Sounders’ recent three-match winning streak, but something particularly notable about the latter two is that they played much better in both matches’ second halves. Head coach Brian Schmetzer said there will be changes to the lineup he sends out away to the LA Galaxy on Saturday, but he hopes to keep the momentum going. “If you look at the last game [against San Jose], we were thoroughly out-possessed in the first half, but we were able to get into halftime and make some adjustments and then come out on top.”
The Sounders are used to completely dominating possession and number of passes, especially at home, so that such an authoritative performance came in a match in which they came second in both categories is interesting. “That hasn’t happened to us all year,” Schmetzer said. “It was a different game, a different type of game, and they were able to persevere.”
Schmetzer associates that perseverance with a “mental toughness” that his team has shown a number of times this season. Just like the Sounders of the second half of the 2016 season found “ways to win” during the most difficult of games, Schmetzer sees the current Sounders as doing the same thing despite a number of hardships. Nearly every key player was missing from one or both of the last two matches, but the Sounders took 6 points and scored 7 goals between them.
Midfielder Gustav Svensson said that the momentum of wins like that helps future matches, but it doesn’t do everything. “But the confidence is higher, it’s easier to play when you come off a couple of wins. You don’t have the knife against your throat a little bit, like you do when you lose a couple of games.” For him, the Sounders need to work on translating their form in the second half of matches into a 90-minute dominant performance. “We’ve proven that we can play good soccer, we just have to prove that we can play good soccer for 90 minutes.”
Even though Svensson doesn’t know exactly why the Sounders have played such uneven games, he chalks it up partly to the urgency that comes with being down or scoreless when the second half rolls around. But if the team can continue to keep it together enough to keep a clean sheet and take advantage of every offensive chance they get, they’ll start getting a full 90 minutes worth of success. “We just have to minimize the minutes when we’re not that good and try to be more stable, more compact as a team. Always in a game you have ups and downs. Just have to make sure the downs are as few and as short as possible.”
Going into the weekend’s away match, the Sounders not only have that confidence of a team in good form, they also travel to a team in disarray that could hand over three points on a silver platter. The only league performance between the two sides this season was a 3-0 win by the Sounders in LA in April. “That was a good memory of the early season,” said Schmetzer. “Maybe I would even say one of the few bright spots at the beginning of the year.” But just because the Sounders are in good form and have the mental edge over their opponents, Schmetzer said it’s not going to be easy to mimic. “They are a desperate team, they’re going to come out firing, they need to win some games.”
While he didn’t divulge how similar his style and tactics would be to that dominant second half performance against San Jose, Schmetzer said his game plan will lean on how much playing time Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris get in Wednesday’s Gold Cup Final for the USA. Due to both performance and necessity, the Sounders have rotated a ton of players in and out of the starting lineup, and Schmetzer thinks that competition for places is very valuable to the team’s success. Speaking on whether Nouhou will keep his left back spot after solid performances there in the last couple matches, Schmetzer said he’ll do what he does for every position. “I think it’s going to end up being healthy competition when we get everybody back, but they all have to perform.”
Svensson, another player who has impressed in a number of positions, said he welcomes competition. “Competition is good for the team, good for every player. It gets everybody to step up a little bit.” While the Swedish midfielder has probably played defensive roles the most this season, his best game so far was at his favored central midfield position against San Jose. Even though the returns of Nicolas Lodeiro and Osvaldo Alonso could push him out of the starting XI at some point, he still prefers healthy competition among his teammates. “If you want a spot you have to show it.”