For the first time in about five weeks, the Seattle Sounders gave us a performance that we can reasonably call encouraging. Sure, there’s room to be disappointed. I think most of would probably share in head coach Brian Schmetzer’s frustrations that the Sounders only claimed a single point after going ahead on a 73rd minute goal, but things were getting pretty bad and going into the match this did not seem the week where they were likely to turn it around.
Let’s review: The Sounders were without Clint Dempsey and Kelvin Leerdam, both of whom were suspended. Schmetzer decided to start Handwalla Bwana and Alex Roldan as his wide midfielders, and there were two more players with barely more than a year of MLS-level experience starting at left and right back. The Sounders were playing at Children’s Mercy Park, a place they hadn’t gotten a result since 2013 and hadn’t scored more than a single goal since 2011. Oh, and Sporting KC came into the game as the top team in the Western Conference (4-1-1) while the Sounders were the only remaining team in the league without a single point or even a goal.
The deck was definitely stacked against the boys in rave green.
But even before Will Bruin’s equalizer on the final play of the first half, the Sounders were actually hanging in there. KC’s only goal was from a penalty and Khiry Shelton had a point-blank chance that Stefan Frei managed to save, but they didn’t generate much otherwise. The Sounders were mostly keeping the game in front of them, looking for chances when they presented themselves, and biding their time.
Seemingly lifted by Bruin’s goal, the Sounders were the better team for large chunks of the second half and even managed to overcome a potential go-ahead penalty being overturned when Cristian Roldan expertly finished a counter-attack with a 20-yard blast.
American Soccer Analysis had KC with a slight 1.72-1.67 xG advantage, which suggests it was at the very least a fair result for the Sounders.
The point aside, this was a result the Sounders could actually build on. Having Cristian Roldan pushed high into the attack provided some needed energy, Nicolas Lodeiro was again looking like a player capable of conducting a match, Will Bruin managed to be dangerous, and the defensive midfield was as solid as ever. Time will tell if it truly proves to be a turning point, but we can finally at least hope.
All Hail El Corazon
Being that he’s been effectively out for the better part of six months, it’s sometimes tempting to think Osvaldo Alonso’s value to this team has diminished. He gave us a wonderful reminder of how important he can be with his 22-minute season debut.
Despite the relatively short run-out, Alonso still managed seven defensive actions — more than Sporting KC defensive midfielder Roger Espinoza had in 90 minutes — and he went 24-for-25 passing.
There was also something less quantifiable about his performance. The Sounders just seemed to be more in control. The transition from defense to offense was smooth and the counter-attack seemed to have more bite.
I can’t tell you exactly how the Sounders are going to line up once Alonso is fully fit, but it sure looks like he belongs somewhere in the starting lineup.
The Broldan connection
Expectations were high for Roldans this year. Many of us consider Cristian to be among the best central midfielders in the league and this seemed the year he was going to prove it to the rest of the league. Alex looked strong in preseason and seemed poised to play a significant role this year.
While Alex has seen a fair amount of playing time, he hasn’t exactly stood out in any games, and Cristian has often struggled to assert himself like he did when he was at his best last year.
This week was a reminder that both have very promising futures. Alex didn’t necessarily do anything spectacular, but he kept good spacing and occupied the defense enough to allow Nouhou gobs of space to attack into. He also had 11 positive defensive actions (including nine recoveries) and completed 83 percent of his passes. Oh, and his pass to Bruin helped set up Cristian’s go-ahead goal, for which he was given his first MLS assist.
Cristian, meanwhile, was an absolute beast. Playing the first 68 minutes as a defensive midfielder, he logged 13 positive defensive actions — more than any other midfielder up to that point — and then had four more after moving up the ostensibly finish out the game as a No. 10. Of course, he also scored his first goal of the season.
If all goes according to plan, the Roldan brothers won’t get too many more chances to start together this year, but it was good to see them both rise to the occasion.
Nouhou on the other hand...
I don’t want to drag the guy too much, but it’s hard to overstate how bad Nouhou looked this week as Johnny Russell had a field day. Nouhou was burned for three lost tackles, gave up the penalty that allowed KC to take the early lead, badly misjudged a header that easily could have resulted in another goal, and — most frustratingly — appeared to be jogging while Graham Zusi raced past him for the late equalizer.
It should be said that Nouhou looked pretty decent going forward, but hardly good enough to justify his play on the other end.
His willingness to join the attack also led to his most notorious moment. After making a run from deep in the defensive end only to fire a shot from about 20 yards out well over the crossbar, Nouhou found himself having to defend on the other end. We know how it turned out.
Goal!— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) April 15, 2018
Sporting Kansas City: 2
Seattle: 2 pic.twitter.com/jywLuxKtlg
While it’s frustrating enough to see Nouhou never break out of a casual jog to catch up to Zusi, it’s even more ridiculous when you realize that nearly 15 seconds had transpired between his shot and Jimmy Medranda’s pass. In other words, there was plenty of time for Nouhou to recover from his run and get back into position.
It has also been speculated that Nouhou seemed to be carrying some sort of knock, presumably the one he suffered around the 11th minute. Until this sequence, though, he hadn’t really shown any outward signs that he was struggling. More relevantly, if he wasn’t feeling fully fit he needs to be smart enough not to make the run that pushed him so far into the offensive zone.
There’s no doubt that Nouhou has a ton of promise, but this might have been his worst game in a Sounders shirt, and I’m including his time with S2. We can only hope he learns from it.
The game in a gif
Welcome back El Corazon.
Welcome back, Ozzie!— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) April 15, 2018
1-1 | #SKCvSEA pic.twitter.com/J2OZgK4lwP
Quote of the day
“I’m not happy. We should have won the game. But that’s how MLS is. ... I thought that we put enough into the game that we could have come out with the full three points.” - Brian Schmetzer
One stat to tell the tale
69 — The Sounders outdueled Sporting KC 69-52. The last time the Sounders won as many as 60 duels in a road game was their 4-0 win over Minnesota United back on Aug. 5, 2017, and it’s the first time they’ve won the duels battle on the road since the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals.