SEATTLE — Trap games don’t get much trappier than Sunday’s. The Seattle Sounders were riding an eight match unbeaten run, hadn’t given up a goal in 400 minutes, were coming off a win over first-place Sporting Kansas City and were facing last-place Minnesota United at home, a team they’d just beaten 4-0 on the road a couple weeks ago.
On paper, it’s a game the Sounders should win virtually every time, even in a league with as much parity as MLS.
So, of course, they came moments away from not doing that.
Given the way the Sounders dominated the last 30 minutes or so, the 2-1 Sounders win was probably just. Minnesota looked very happy to go home with a point, didn’t even take a shot after the 51st minute and only attempted 19 passes in the offensive third in that time. But, the Sounders didn’t leave themselves much room to spare.
Clint Dempsey’s shot that struck the arm of a sliding Jermaine Taylor likely would have been the game’s final play if a penalty hadn’t been called. Luckily for the Sounders, though, it was and Dempsey was able to put just enough on his shot to get it past Bobby Shuttleworth, who managed to get a hand on it.
It was, by no means, the most satisfying or impressive win during this stretch of domination. It was, however, enough to stretch the unbeaten streak to nine games — tying the franchise record -- and give the Sounders 19 points in their last seven, the first time they’ve ever done that.
The run has put them atop the Western Conference, notably five points clear of FC Dallas who still has two games in hand and seven points clear of seventh place San Jose.
A failed experiment?
There might not be a player who I’ve used this space to praise more than Cristian Roldan. As far as I’m concerned, he’s in the conversation for Best XI in the league. So it almost goes without saying that I think he belongs in the Sounders starting XI no matter who is healthy and available.
He should not be starting as a left mid, though.
Matt Doyle alluded to it in his weekly column, and I can’t find much fault in his conclusion that Schmetzer basically “shoehorned” Roldan, Osvaldo Alonso and Gustav Svensson onto the field together. It’s a fine thing to try out of necessity, but when there’s a healthy Will Bruin sitting on the bench, it just doesn’t make much sense.
Roldan wasn’t particularly effective pushed wide and for my money, Svensson-Alonso is probably the weakest defensive midfield pairing of the possibilities including two of those three players.
Of course, it’s entirely possible there’s a bigger playbook Schmetzer is using, that this is part of a rotation he’s using this week with three games in eight days. Maybe we get a Roldan-Svensson pairing on Wednesday and a Roldan-Alonso duo againt Portland on Sunday. Maybe we never see this particular lineup again and that was the plan along. That would certainly help explain this one.
In any case, the energy and speed of play just improved dramatically when Bruin came in, moving Jordan Morris to left mid and Roldan to defensive mid. There was an urgency that was suddenly there, something best illustrated by the fact that 11 of the Sounders’ 21 shots came after this change. In the first 20 minutes of the second half, the Sounders had managed just two shots.
There were all sorts of mitigating factors in play — that Minnesota basically stopped attacking in the second half was a big part — but this team is almost undeniably at its best when Roldan is closer to the middle of the park.
Dempsey just keeps scoring
This was an interesting game from Dempsey. He set up the winner with a well struck volley that looked goal bound if it hadn’t found a defender’s arm; he converted the game-winning penalty (even if it wasn’t a particularly well struck shot; and he now has seven goals, as well as a couple assists, in his last six Sounders appearances. This is as effective as we’ve ever seen Dempsey, maybe even better than his scorching start to 2014 when he had eight goals in his first six appearances.
Up until the final moments, though, Dempsey’s offensive contributions were hit and miss. There were a few loose passes and some turnovers that you could definitely do without. He had taken five shots, but none of them were particularly dangerous.
But I’d hesitate to say that he was having a rough game. Although Dempsey was dropping deeper than is probably ideal, he was also doing so with some purpose. Dempsey wasn’t just frustratingly dropping to pick up the ball because he was being denied farther up the field, he was contributing to the defensive effort and kept the Sounders pressing forward. Brian Schmetzer even made sure to praise Dempsey’s defensive effort.
What we seem to be seeing is Dempsey doing his part to remind everyone that whatever role he may have with the United States national team, he still considers himself as a 90-minute player for the Sounders.
Pour one out for the shutout streak
As shutout streaks tend to be, the Sounders’ one probably overstated how good they had been defensively. Opponents had been given plenty of decent looks over the last five games, they just weren’t converting for whatever reason.
So, it wasn’t exactly a huge shock that this one ended, or even how it went down. Ethan Finlay made a pretty simple outside-in run, Joevin Jones got caught looking for a cutback that never came and the shot beat Stefan Frei with relative ease. What was more concerning were the two other golden chances the Sounders gifted Minnesota.
The first came almost directly after the Finlay goal, with Roman Torres badly misjudging a bouncing ball and allowing Abu Danladi to get in behind for a 1-v-1 chance he put just wide.
That miss by Danladi. Very poor defending. pic.twitter.com/1ARIgQodij— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) August 21, 2017
The other one was, interestingly, the only shot Minnesota took in the second half and was the combination of some awful miscommunication as well as a horrible back pass by Svensson.
Here's that Danladi miss. Pretty bad miscommunication between Svensson and Marshall. pic.twitter.com/uQIdFO1yEq— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) August 21, 2017
That 421-minute shutout streak was great and all, but if the Sounders are going to win the West, let alone compete for MLS Cup, they can’t afford errors like these.
Stat of the game
4 — The 94th minute penalty gave the Sounders two added points, and brings their total of points claimed in stoppage time to four. They had also picked up single points in ties against the Montreal Impact and Timbers (h/t @meeker253). Overall, the Sounders have claimed nine points in games they’ve trailed at some point.
Quote of the day
“I think we made it very difficult for ourselves. Obviously going down a goal is never easy, but overall we were causal at times — mentally casual. I’m not knocking us for our effort. I think the effort was there. We worked our butts off, which is great, but I think we have to be a bit more sharp.” — Frei on the self-inflicted difficulty of this match.