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Postgame Pontifications: Sweet relief

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There’s at least a shred of hope after the Sounders got a much-needed win.

MLS: D.C. United at Seattle Sounders FC
This is how Nicolas Lodeiro celebrated his equalizing goal. Wild stuff.
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

SEATTLE — There have been many more important goals than the one that Nicolas Lodeiro scored on Saturday. Rarely, though, has a goal ever relieved as much tension as when his 19-yard volley struck the back of the net.

The Seattle Sounders had not scored at home in franchise-worst 237 minutes. They had not scored anywhere in 363 minutes, just 20 seconds shy of setting another franchise low point. Even worse, the Sounders found themselves trailing after having given up a goal to Darren Mattocks four minutes earlier.

Up until then, the Sounders had been playing better than in previous weeks. There was actual attacking movements, some dangerous chances and enough talent to provide some hope that a goal would eventually come. But it hadn’t, not until Lodeiro struck.

The sense of relief was palpable. It was as if the entire stadium took a collective breath and exhaled at the same time. It took another 26 minutes for Magnus Wolff Eikrem to put the Sounders ahead, but Lodeiro’s strike made the winner feel almost inevitable. Everything seemed possible again, a playoff run seemed not so out of the question.

An overreaction? Sure. This was, after all, D.C. United, and beating the East’s worst team after a cross-country flight at home has to be the lowest possible bar of achievement. But it was hope, and that’s something that’s been in short supply around these parts.

Steady Shipp

As much as most of us in the stadium may have been thinking “here we go again” after Mattocks’ goal, the players didn’t seem all that worried. Harry Shipp, who hadn’t started in nearly three months, pointed out that this group of players hadn’t been on the field together all season, and many of them had barely seen the field during the last four games.

“There’s enough new guys where it’s not like that,” he said. “It was just about lifting spirits, staying positive and knowing we were going to get that goal.

“It’s more doom and gloom on the outside than it is with us. We’re professionals, just doing our jobs. You feel like your luck will even out over the course of a season, so if you put in the work, you’re going to score goals and win games. That’s what we need to start stringing together.”

Shipp is far too polite to put it this way, but to extrapolate a bit on his point, the Sounders probably wouldn’t be in this mess if this had been the group they’d been using more this year. Lodeiro was making his first start since April 29, Victor Rodriguez was starting for the first time this season and players like Osvaldo Alonso and Magnus Wolff Eikrem were available off the bench.

Even missing several key components, this was a very talented bunch. If they can keep this group healthy, playing well enough to make those summer reinforcements mean something doesn’t see so far fetched.

Nico the 8

Being that Lodeiro only trained with the Sounders once after returning from his unsuccessful attempt to make Uruguay’s World Cup team, it was somewhat surprising to see him in the starting lineup. It was even more surprising to see him slotted alongside Cristian Roldan, ostensibly as a No. 8.

But maybe it shouldn’t have been. Some of the best Sounders performances last year came with Lodeiro playing deeper, and they outscored opponents 16-1 in his six appearances there that included two playoffs wins.

Lodeiro, who admitted he’s still feeling a bit emotional over his World Cup snub, responded with easily his best performance of the season. Aside from his first goal, his 93 percent passing and 82 passes were season-highs. The broken toe that was apparently bothering him didn’t seem to be much of an issue anymore.

It is unlikely that Lodeiro will see a ton of time as a deep-lying playmaker on a team with three very good defensive midfielders, but it was a reminder of how effective he can be when has a bit more freedom to pick his spots to get forward. There is also at least one caveat to add: All of these performances have come at home and/or against bad teams. How sustainable it is as a permanent solution is very much unproven.

A new defensive leader?

Chad Marshall remains the backline’s main organizer, but Kim Kee-hee’s play of late suggests he may actually be the team’s best defender at this point. At the very least, that was the case on Saturday.

Kim was everywhere in this one, breaking up attacks, harassing players into midfield and generally looking like a player without him the Sounders would be in serious trouble right now.

After a bit of a slow start to his Sounders career as he worked himself back into fitness, Kim has consistently been a solid partner with Marshall, and the two have slowly started to improve their understanding. Kim, more often, is the one allowed to chase and take chances while Marshall does his thing cleaning up messes. Kim ended up with a rather eye-popping nine clearances to go along with three tackles and two interceptions.

At this point, it seems reasonable to assume that Roman Torres will actually need to win his job back if he’s to supplant Kim in the team’s starting lineup.

The game in one gif

The Sounders were sooooo close to looking like their old selves. This sequence that features some great passing and nearly a back-heel goal was probably the best example of how they looked better but still not quite there.

Quote of the day

“Thank god.” — Brian Schmetzer tapping into the Sounders zeitgeist

One stat to the tell the tale

7 — Clearly unlocked by some more offensive-minded teammates around him, Clint Dempsey squeezed off seven shots. That’s three more than he had in the past three games combined. Of course, he didn’t score and he hasn’t scored in a regular-season game since Sept. 27, 2017, a stretch of 11 appearances. He’s been one goal shy of tying Fredy Montero’s franchise record ever since then.