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Postgame Pontifications: Brian Schmetzer reminds us why he’s so beloved

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And it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

Kayla Mehring / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — Unlike his predecessor Sigi Schmid, Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer usually doesn’t like to give any sort of “opening statement” when he conducts his postgame press conferences.

But following Sunday’s 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes that secured the best-ever half in a MLS season, Schmetzer had a few words to say before taking questions.

Over the next few minutes, Schmetzer fought back tears several times while thanking just about everyone involved in the Sounders organization. He opened by thanking the fans, promising them that he’d do his best to change the “narrative” of slow starts. He made sure to thank players, both the guys still on the team and the likes of Clint Dempsey and Mangus Wolff Eikrem who left midseason. He even made sure to thank the media.

The closest he came to fully breaking down, though, was when he talked about his fellow coaches, who I can only imagine put in a lot of long nights trying to figure out why a team with seemingly decent talent couldn’t figure out how to score.

Toward the end of the press conference, I asked him if back in June he really thought that he’d be sitting there at the end of season talking about a team that was second in the Western Conference.

“Absolutely. This team is good,” he said. “Regardless of what some of your people might think — thank you for opening yourself up for that again — not once did the coaching staff, did the front office staff, a lot of our fans in this building give up on this team or stop believing that this team could do something special. You would be silly to count that group of players out of any situation.

“We’re going to try to change the narrative. We don’t want to put ourselves in that much of a hole. We’d rather go through a season where people are talking about the Sounders being legitimate contenders for the Shield. We’ll work on that. I’ll address that. But I would never, ever not believe in our team. I would never want to play an opponent that has won 14 of 16 games. You ask yourself why? Why have we won 14 of 16 games. There’s a lot of pundits, you guys can talk about it. I know why, I’ll let you guys figure out the reasons why.”

It’s times like this that both work against Schmetzer in terms of the national narrative and make him beloved by anyone who crosses paths with him on a regular basis. The national media probably sees a guy who’s just happy to be here, figuring out how to do just enough to not mess up a highly talented squad.

But people closer to him see it as another example of why everyone says he’s such a joy to work with. There’s the acknowledgement of others, without seeking personal credit. There’s the little references to individuals; above him and below him on the organization chart and outside the organization entirely. Schmetzer doesn’t try to impress anyone he doesn’t have to. The 56-year-old is not trying to convince anyone he’s the smartest guy in the room.

At least outwardly, he’s not trying to win over those who doubt him through anything other than demonstrating his competence. I’ll take a cue from him and just let his results speak for themselves...

No one’s better down the stretch

As Schmetzer alluded to, the Sounders officially capped off the best half in MLS history by going a rather astonishing 14-2-1. This has become the norm for Schmetzer’s teams, who are now 31-6-11 in the second halves of his three seasons (technically the first year was only 14 games due to when he was hired). That equates to a rather remarkable 2.17 points per game. If you include playoffs, his record during that time of year is 37-8-14 (2.12 ppg).

If you just look at his two full half-seasons (the equivalent of one 34-game season for you stat nerds), his record is 23-4-7. That’s 76 points. The New York Red Bulls just set a new MLS record by claiming 71 points in an actual 34-game season.

I feel pretty confident in saying that is almost certainly the best record in MLS given any of those rough parameters. I can say for certain that they had the best record in MLS over the second half of each of the past two seasons, and it’s not even really close. Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls, the next two best teams, have each claimed 66 points over the second halves of the past two seasons.

This year, the Sounders have been the best team since at least the start of July, when this remarkable run began. The Sounders have now played 19 games in that time and have gone an astonishing 15-2-2.

No one in MLS has more points, more wins or fewer losses. They’ve also allowed the fewest goals and have the best goal-difference. Their offense — a supposed weak point — is tied for the second most goals scored (that’s both by total and per game). Put another way, the Sounders have been averaging more than two goals per game for more than half the season.

I do think a big part of their success is as simple as they’ve got a talented roster that finally got healthy and added a couple key pieces. But Schmetzer deserves credit for not overthinking things, trusting his players and not letting outside forces poison the locker room. A lot of coaches have and will fail to come close to equaling that kind of success.

The addition of Ruidiaz

He’s far from the only reason for the turnaround, but it’s hard to imagine the Sounders playing as well as they have been without Raúl Ruidíaz. The Sounders forward scored his third brace since making his debut on July 21.

That brought his season goal total to 10, meaning he crossed that milestone in 14 appearances. No other Sounders player had reached that milestone in fewer than 17 appearances. It also compares favorably to the likes of Josef Martinez (12 games), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (13) and Wayne Rooney (18).

In about 1,100 minutes with Ruidíaz on the field, the Sounders scored 27 goals and conceded 11. That’s an average of 2.21 goals per 90 and .90 goals allowed per 90. Since his addition, the whole offense just works better. He stretches defenses, giving Nicolás Lodeiro more room to work, which then focuses more of the defense on the center of the park and opens up the wings for the likes of Victor Rodriguez and Cristian Roldan. It’s been glorious to watch.

As our friend ahandleforian pointed out over at American Soccer Analysis, the underlying analytics of the Sounders remain not so great. I’m not saying there’s no reason to be even a little concerned, but here’s what the bonafide stat head said:

Let me nip this in the bud. The Sounders have one of the best rosters in the league, and it’s the underlying numbers that make less sense than their place in the table.

I know I’ve been banging this drum for awhile now and I certainly realize that much of this success has come against bad opponents, but there’s a lot to like about this team no matter who they are playing.

Roldan keeps flexin’

It would be unfair to say that Roldan has flown under the radar. Schmetzer regularly sings his praises and he’s been one of the few constants on the offensive side of the ball this year.

Still, I wonder if we’ve maybe under appreciated how much he’s grown this year. The last two seasons saw him make virtual quantum leaps over the previous year. I don’t think it’s been that same relative level of advancement, but it has been significant in subtler ways.

This was the first time I think Roldan was asked to have less of a free role, where his contributions weren’t seen as basically a bonus. The Sounders needed him to be one of their offensive leaders, even if they were asking him to play out of position as a wide player.

He’s now at the point where I don’t think he looks at all out of place as an attacking wide player. His pinpoint cross to Ruidíaz was his sixth primary assist of the season and he now has nine overall. That goes along with his four goals.

Those aren’t necessarily elite numbers for a wide attacking player. They are, however, very good when you consider he’s still a massive plus on the defensive end. Among players with at least 10 combined goals and primary assists, no one can equal Roldan’s 2.4 tackles per game and there are only a handful of players who average more than his 1.0 interceptions per game (Lodeiro is one of them, FWIW).

All of that comes from a player who almost literally never takes time off; he’s one of just seven outfield players to play more than 3,000 minutes this year.

The game in one gif

Not sure what happens if a player literally loses their shirt during a game, but Jordy Delem made sure we didn’t have to find out.

Quote of the Day

When asked how important it was to him to get a bye in order to celebrate Halloween with his son, Lodeiro said this: “We always think about those things. I am happy. If it wasn’t for this second place, we’d have had to play on Thursday and I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy Halloween. Now, look, he even has the green hair already. He’s already in costume.”

One stat to tell the tale

0 — That’s the number of days the Sounders had spent in second place prior to the end of the season. The Sounders had never even finished a week as high as third. The first time they finished a week in fourth was the end of last week.