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Sounders show their possessive side

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The end result wasn’t there, but the Sounders created plenty of scoring opportunities.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

For just a moment, let’s take a step back from the details that made the Seattle Sounders’ 1-1 tie with the Vancouver Whitecaps somewhat disappointing and consider the following:

  • The Sounders got a point on the road against a likely playoff team, while resting several starters
  • They dominated possession (66 percent) and tied a season high for shots (25)
  • Victor Rodriguez made his long-awaited debut and put on a dazzling performance in which he drew a penalty, nearly scored a spectacular free kick and generally looked very comfortable interacting with the other attacking pieces
  • Aside from a few moments, the defense was as good as we’ve seen them all year
  • The Sounders ran their unbeaten streak to a franchise-record 10 games, five of which have come on the road (two wins and three draws)

Given all this, why is there a sense of disappointment about this game? As well as the Sounders played, they still only got a single point from a game they led late when given a man advantage for the final 30 minutes. They created numerous chances to not only grab an insurance goal but to get a winner and ended up failing to score a goal from the run of play. Instead of a win that not only made clinching the Cascadia Cup on Sunday possible, but would have given them a solid cushion in the Western Conference standings, they were forced to settle for a tie that leaves both situations more precarious.

Similar to the recent scoreless tie against the LA Galaxy, the Sounders go home with the understandable sense that they failed to maximize their opportunity.

This may feel more like two dropped points than one gained, but we shouldn’t be freaking out over the Sounders “only” getting 22 points in their last 10, either.

Possession with purpose

It’s become a well-worn criticism of the Sounders that the percentage of possession seems to have an inverse relationship with how dangerous they are offensively. While it’s true some of their best performances have come when they’ve been more of a counter-attacking team, the Sounders looked as dangerous as they have all year while dominating possession.

That’s because the Sounders weren’t just dinking the ball around the backline, they were pushing the action. About 32 percent of the Sounders’ 548 passes were in the offensive third and 72 percent were in the attacking half.

The Sounders also did a great job of winning second balls — making 13 recoveries and two interceptions in the offensive half — which allowed them to extend possession further.

This translated into 25 shots — tying the season high they set in the 3-3 tie with the New England Revolution — and forced David Ousted into seven saves. Looking at the shot map, it’s hard to accept that they only scored one goal, as 17 were from inside 18 yards.

Among the misses were two from near point-blank range. One was from Jordan Morris, who had a gorgeous look after a clever pass from Chad Marshall that hit off the crossbar.

There was also the Aaron Kovar chance that came just before the final whistle. After making a strong cutback to open up space, Kovar had a decent look at the goal but an even better passing window to the unmarked Clint Dempsey. Kovar, unfortunately, elected to shoot.

It was no wonder that Kovar looked almost inconsolable after the final whistle.

Kovar’s so close

Like the Sounders, Kovar should be at least a little encouraged by his performance. The stat line was nothing impressive. He had one shot that was blocked, only completed 2 of his 6 passes from the run of play and had a corner kick that goes in the books as incomplete.

Look at the film, though, and a different story emerges. On the final play, for instance, ignore that he missed an open Dempsey and look at what he did before that. His first touch on a long pass is perfect, setting himself up wonderfully and having enough control to evade the oncoming attacker. There was a similar play earlier in the game where he controlled a long pass almost effortlessly and set himself up for another dangerous cross.

Kovar is still very much an unfinished product, but you can see the skill that’s already developed. Sure, he had twice as may incomplete passes and successful ones, but virtually all his passes were headed toward goal and forced the defense to react. He also came inches away from a couple assists.

None of that is to suggest that Kovar proved he needs a bigger role than he’s been getting, just that you can see why the Sounders keep giving him opportunities. He’s very close to breaking through.

Speaking of breaking through...

Like Nicolas Lodeiro’s debut against the LA Galaxy last year, Rodriguez picked up neither a goal nor an assist but turned in a very impressive debut. The La Liga veteran looked as though he’d been playing with the other Sounders attackers for months, not weeks, and showed off some quality work both in the run of play and on set pieces.

Although Lodeiro started this game in the middle, you can see how Rodriguez can provide a near perfect mirror-image complement as a right-sided player. Although not exactly hugging the sideline, he clearly prefers to cut in on his right and is very comfortable with quick exchanges.

He also gives the Sounders a sold right-footed option on set pieces as he showed with his nearly perfect strike.

Rodriguez seemed to have a particularly positive effect on Lodeiro, who had one of his best games as a Sounder. Lodeiro completed 93 percent of his 69 passes, was credited with an astounding eight key passes and scored his first goal in nearly four months (albeit on a penalty).

I, for one, am very excited to see what an attacking band of Lodeiro-Dempsey-Rodriguez plays like for a full 90 minutes. Add in Morris pushing the backline with his speed and my mouth is just about watering.

The only thing left to do now is to come up with a suitable nickname. V-Rod has been tossed around and someone suggested Wee-Rod (he’s very small) on Twitter. The name I find most compelling, though, is V8. The only downside is Timbers fans apparently call Diego Valeri “DV8.” Please weigh in with your preference.

Defense holds strong

As is apparently the theme this week, the defensive performance should be viewed through a different context than simply the scoreline and a few questionable moments. Let’s get those moments out of the way, though. Alphonso Davies absolutely skinned Chad Marshall and set up Fredy Montero for far too easy of a finish. Stefan Frei also came very close to giving away a goal when he passed it directly to Montero, only to make a very nice recovery save.

The rest of the time, however, the defense was outstanding. At several points in the broadcast the notoriously hard to please Kasey Keller was just about raving at the unit’s effectiveness.

Consider for a moment that this wasn’t just a road game against a playoff-caliber opponent. The Sounders also limited the Whitecaps to just two shots on frame, only one of which came from inside the penalty area. They also allowed the Whitecaps to complete just 45 passes in the attacking third and kept them to just 57 percent passing in their attacking half. They did this without their first choice center back or left back, while the Whitecaps essentially put out their top attacking group.

Nouhou, perhaps unsurprisingly, again showed that he’s ready for a bigger role, attacking effectively and rendering Costa Rica international Christian Bolanos almost entirely ineffective.

The defense has to find a way to eliminate the little mistakes that can lead to big moments, but overall we should be feeling good about how the back 5 performed.

Stat of the game

20 — The Sounders now have 20 points in their past eight matches, the first time they’ve ever accomplished that. The only better 10-game run they’ve had than the one they’re on now was a stretch in 2014 when they went 8-1-1 on their way to winning the Supporters’ Shield.

Quote of the game

“We dropped two points. It’s a game where we should’ve gotten all three points out of. It’s just the final touch, final pass, final cross. It wasn’t happening tonight.” - Will Bruin