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Postgame pontifications: Brian Schmetzer deserves more credit than he’s getting

No one has been better than the Sounders head coach at closing out seasons.

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Houston Dynamo Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

There are have been plenty of occasions where Brian Schmetzer’s decisions have been questioned. I’ve certainly done that plenty; you probably have, too. There are some — even among Sounders fans — who openly question if the Sounders would be better off with a different coach.

But for a third straight season, Schmetzer finds himself leading the Sounders into the playoffs with serious hopes of reaching the MLS Cup final. Each year has posed a different type of challenge, and he’s managed to navigate them all almost flawlessly.

This year, of course, he needed to figure out how to close an 11-point gap over the season’s final 16 games. He essentially needed to turn a team who was trudging along at a pace of about .89 points per game into one that was claiming more like 2.25 just to have any sort of chance at qualifying for the post-season.

Amazingly, he far exceeded that bar. The Sounders have already claimed 39 points, will do no worse than 2.44 points per game over their final 16 matches (and could go as high as 2.63), and can still finish as high as second in the Western Conference. Some credit for that turnaround deserves to go to the acquisition of Raúl Ruidíaz, and a lot should go to the Sounders getting healthy, but Schmetzer deserves his share, too. There were numerous points where it would have been easy for players to simply turn off his messaging and focus on their offseason recuperation. They’ve already been playing for two years virtually without a break, after all.

We’ve also seen signs that there have been some locker room issues bubbling a bit beneath the surface. That Schmetzer has managed to keep them beneath the surface, while also keeping his players focused on qualifying for the postseason, might be his most impressive achievement yet.

Nico does it again

I’ve spent so much time in this space singing the praises of Nicolás Lodeiro that I was tempted to ignore his performance this week. That would have been a mistake.

Lodeiro had three assists, which tied a franchise record for assists in a game (oddly enough a record that was held by Brad Evans, who had three assists against Chivas USA in 2013). In doing so, he also claimed sole possession of the franchise records for assists in a season (15) and career assists (35), passing Mauro Rosales and Fredy Montero, respectively.

It was another masterclass performance from Lodeiro, who finished with six key passes and completed more than 85 percent of his team-high 54 pass attempts. What made this game particularly notable is that two of those assists came on corner kicks.

In their first 22 games this season, the Sounders only had scored once from a corner. In the 11 games since, they’ve scored four times.

It’s just another example of the seemingly ever-expanding ways that the Sounders are finding to beat opponents. They are not so much a counter-attacking team, not so much one that will break down opponents off the dribble, or one that will punish them on set pieces. They aren’t even led by a double-digit goal-scorer (one of only two teams who can currently say that). What they do about as good as anyone is take what defenses are giving them and have players all over the field capable of exploiting it.

The surging offense

During their current four-game winning streak, the Sounders have scored 13 goals from nine different players. They now have eight different players who have scored at least three goals, a number matched only by LAFC and Sporting KC.

But the offense has been humming along for a lot longer than that. Going back to the start of this current surge, they’ve now scored 32 goals over their past 15 matches, with 10 different players contributing to that haul.

Those 32 goals represent the best figure in the league over that span, besting the likes of Atlanta United (31), D.C. United (31), Sporting KC (30) and LAFC (26).

I know there’s still plenty of skepticism about how good this offense is, but those misgivings seem more rooted in the scars of early-season struggles than anything that has been going on recently. Those 32 goals have even been spread out reasonably well, as they’ve now scored at least two in 11 of those games. The only team that has performed better in that sense is Atlanta, with at least two goals in 12 of their last 15 games.

Stressing about defense

Just as the offense’s performance has started to turn away the doubters, it seems like the concern has shifted to the defense. This is mostly due, I think, to the late goals the Sounders have given up in each of the past three games.

In the last two, the Sounders seemingly should have been able to coast to two-goal victories only to have their opponents make it far more competitive in the game’s dying minutes than any of us would have liked.

I won’t try to excuse those late lapses, but I will offer a bit of a reminder: The Sounders defense is still second-best in the league and Sunday’s match was just the seventh time all year that Stefan Frei has allowed more than one goal in a game — still the best mark in the league.

Seattle’s defense has been particularly good during their last 15 games, with just 11 goals allowed. In addition to having the best offense during that time, the Sounders also have the best defense.

Allowing late goals to bad teams is obviously far from ideal, but it’s important to keep in mind that all four of the goals the Sounders allowed during their last three games came when they were leading by at least two goals.

The game in one gif

I missed this during the broadcast, but apparently Jordan McCrary got Chad Marshall to give us a glimpse of the “Carlton” dance he often does in the locker room.

Quote of the day

“I think it’s good to get comfortable with it, eliminate some little mistakes to maybe not have to do that and go through that. The five minutes after you score a goal or take a goal are very, very important. We scored a third goal in this game and we just have to be on top of it; we can’t really relax like we did … too much for my liking, it’s something we can avoid. Again, this is knowledge, this is experience that will possibly help us in the playoffs, so that’s a good thing.” — Stefan Frei on the potential positives of having tougher than desired endings

One stat to tell the tale

400 — Marshall recorded his 400th career MLS appearance. At the same time, he crossed the 35,000-minute barrier. In doing so, Marshall becomes just the second field player — along with Kyle Beckerman — to achieve those milestones.