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Are Sounders now a counter-attacking team?

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Probably not, but they sure do play well when they get out in transition.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Minnesota United FC
I see you ... hatin.
Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Seven-game unbeaten streaks are pretty rare things. This is just the fifth time a Sounders team has gone this long without a loss and it’s only been bested twice (in 2011 the Sounders went nine unbeaten and they finished the 2015 regular season on an eight-game run).

What’s really remarkable about this run isn’t just the lack of losses, though. The Sounders are +10 on goal-difference during the streak, the second best goal-difference they’ve ever had during any seven-game run (in 2011 they were +11 during a late-season stretch that saw them go 5-1-1).

Despite a frustratingly slow start, the Sounders are now in position to pull even on points for the top spot in the Western Conference if they can beat first-place Sporting Kansas City at home on Saturday.

As has been pointed out, the Sounders have done all of this mostly against pretty bad teams. Of the seven teams they’ve faced, only the Portland Timbers have a positive goal-difference and the San Jose Earthquakes are the only other opponent who are currently in a playoff position. So, it’s not as if the Sounders were facing a murderer’s row of opponents.

As the old saying goes, though, you can only beat the opponents you play and the Sounders did a pretty good job of maximizing this run. Of the seven games, only the tie against Orlando City qualifies as a genuine missed opportunity. Otherwise, the Sounders got a point from the Timbers while not only playing a man down for a half, but also against a team that has been very good at home. Similarly, as bad as the Colorado Rapids and Minnesota United are overall, they were a combined 12-8-4 at home if you take out their losses to the Sounders. The D.C. United win wasn’t pretty but it was three points all the same. The Earthquakes win was every bit as convincing as you could want — especially given the Sounders’ absences — and while the LA Galaxy have been shockingly bad at home, it was their first game with a new coach who knew the Sounders pretty well.

What changed?

It’s probably more accurate to look at the last five games, rather than this entire seven-game run that started with a pair of ties. Over the last five games, the Sounders are 4-0-1 and have scored at least three goals in all four wins, something they’d failed to do in any of their previous 10.

I’d hesitate to say that the Sounders have suddenly become a counter-attacking team, but it’s hard not to notice that they’ve ceded the possession battle in three of those games. In all three of those games, the Sounders have scored at least three goals. One of the games the Sounders held the possession advantage was the 4-3 win over D.C. United — in which they had to overcome a 3-0 deficit — and the other was the scoreless tie with the LA Galaxy.

What the other games have in common is that a good deal of the Sounders’ chances came in transition. Against Minnesota, three of the Sounders goals came from counter-attacks and none of the attacking sequences were comprised of more than three passes. (The other goal was from a set piece.)

Looking at the roster, the Sounders don’t exactly look like a counter-attacking team. Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro both like having the ball at their feet and aren’t exactly fast. At the same time, four of Dempsey’s five goals during this unbeaten run have come in transition and he’s had a bunch of other good looks from this kind of open play. He’s also able to turn mundane goal-kicks into breakaways, like this:

Lodeiro, too, has shown increased production during this run of form, and two of his three assists are from counter-attacks. (This also seems like a good time to point out that Dempsey has scored 14 goals in 22 career games with Lodeiro, a strike rate of .64 per game.)

Now, imagine adding a speedy winger like Derlis Gonzalez and really let your imagine run wild.

Jordan Morris this, Jordan Morris that

While Dempsey and Lodeiro may not be perfect counter-attacking players, this style of play suits Jordan Morris’ game just about perfect. Saturday’s game was the first Sounders start he’s had in over a month, and he looked very much up for it.

Starting as a left mid, Morris started strong by putting in a left-footed cross that found Will Bruin for an uncontested look and probably should have opened the scoring. He finished off the first half with a strong left-footed shot that was saved and then appeared to score on a header, only to have it (correctly) flagged offside.

Finally, Morris ended his 10-game goal-less drought when Lodeiro put him in behind the defense (notably after he moved to forward). Morris didn’t always look comfortable with the chance, but he confidently went five-hole only to give this response:

That’s the reaction of a player who simply expects more from himself. That’s not a bad thing.

It’s not just the offense, of course

The Sounders are currently riding a 310-minute shutout streak, putting them in reach of the franchise record of 379 minutes.

The last time they conceded was when they fell behind 3-0 to DC. Shortly after that, Kelvin Leerdam entered the game and the Sounders’ defense has been practically perfect ever since.

Leerdam’s addition has obviously been huge. He gets up and down the line well, but never seems to forget that he’s still primarily a defender. His agile, physical and a pretty good passer to boot. From all appearances, this was a great signing.

It’s worth pointing out, though, that the Sounders defense has been remarkably stout whenever a first-choice right back has been on the field. In the roughly 620 minutes the Sounders have had either Brad Evans or Leerdam playing right back, they’ve outscored their opponents 15-3. The flip side is that when anyone else has been back there the Sounders have been outscored 28-21.

Sure, it’s only one position but in the Sounders’ system it’s a very important one. That’s because for all his running and effort, Lodeiro isn’t a particularly good defender. He also spends a lot of time cutting in, leaving the right back even more exposed.

Whether it’s Leerdam or Evans, as long as one of them is back there the Sounders should feel very good about their ability to post zeros. It also helps when the goalkeeper is making saves like this:

Stat of the day

10Joevin Jones picked up his 10th assist of the season, tied for the league lead just three shy of the all-time Sounders record. The only MLS player listed as a defender to have more assists in a season was Diego Gutierrez, who had 13 in 2000.

Quote of the day

“Not really. I mean, obviously I’ve played against some world-class players. So, it’s tough to compare to that just coming off the [Confederations Cup]. No, they’re good players. They keep the ball, they keep it simple. They do the simple things right all the time. So, it’s not like any single moment that wows you. They do all the simple things 100 percent.” - Minnesota defender Michael Boxall on whether the quality of Dempsey or Morris stood out