SEATTLE — If I were to describe the mood at CenturyLink Field this season in one word, I’d probably say “tense.” Heading into Saturday’s Cascadia Cup match against the Vancouver Whitecaps, seven of the eight matches there had been decided by one goal or less and the only previous two-goal margin was provided on the final play of the 3-1 win over Minnesota United.
With the sun shining on a gorgeous summer afternoon, though, the mood was far more light. The 2-0 win felt almost — dare I say it? — easy.
No, it wasn’t a perfect performance. Nicolas Lodeiro scored both goals and neither were the product of some sort of budding juggernaut of an offense. The first came in the 6th minute on a well-taken penalty and he added a second on a somewhat fluky strike from distance that appeared to fool goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic in the 31st minute.
The Sounders generated some other decent chances — the best of which was a throughball from Lodeiro to Raúl Ruidíaz — but mostly looked far more interested in the shutout victory than adding a third goal.
Carl Robinson seemed only too happy to play along. The Whitecaps never really appeared interested in pressing the action and Robinson effectively waved the white flag shortly after Efrain Juarez was red-carded in the 77th minute, opting to bolster his defensive midfield by swapping Aly Ghazal for Yordy Reyna in the 81st minute.
In another season, you might even call it a rather unremarkable performance. Professional? Sure. Worth getting excited about? Hardly.
But this is, of course, no normal season. Impossibly, this was just the Sounders’ third home win of the campaign and the first time they’ve scored a shutout victory at home.
A boring win at this point is a welcome respite from the turmoil and frustrations of a season that feels one more bad result away from completely falling apart.
It would probably be unfair to pin all of the Sounders’ hopes of salvaging their season on the play of Ruidiaz. If we’re being honest, though, he’s the single biggest variable that could turn this season around.
Ruidiaz wasn’t fully unleashed on the Whitecaps, but the 29-minute appearance at least gave a glimpse of his capabilities. Ruidiaz was content to mostly seek out holes where he saw fit, stretching the back line and occasionally dropping into the midfield to help with possession. He appeared to have been given a bit more of a free role than one that was carefully knitted into the gameplan.
His best moment was in the 68th minute when he took off for a well-timed run that allowed allowed Lodeiro to split the two center backs. Ruidiaz picked up the ball with a step on Kendall Waston, fought off the defender and squeezed off a shot that would have likely settled in nicely inside the far post if not for Marinovic slapping it away at the last second.
Ruidiaz's first shot is......saved :( pic.twitter.com/baRg6gntgu— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) July 21, 2018
Lodeiro locked in
I think mainly due to injury, this has not been the standout season the Sounders needed from Lodeiro. During this four-game unbeaten streak, though, he’s been everything they could ask for.
Even putting aside his three goals in the past two games — two of them are penalties — he’s just playing with more authority. Saturday’s performance was both high volume and highly efficient, as he completed 91 percent of his 67 passes while bouncing around from one wing to the other.
All but 11 of his passes were in the offensive half and he completed 7 of 8 long balls. Of his seven incomplete passes from the run of play, five of them were put into the penalty area and one of the others was while he was in the penalty area. He also managed to squeeze off five shots and looked like he might get his first Sounders hat trick.
If this is indicative of the type of play we can expect from Lodeiro going forward, another miracle run might not be out of the question.
No Dempsey, no problem
For what might be the first time in his Sounders career, Clint Dempsey was an unused substitute. Best I can tell, that’s likely due to the Sounders having three games in nine days and simply taking this opportunity to give him some extra rest when they clearly didn’t need him.
Now does seem like a good time to share an observation from the training session I attended on Friday. Dempsey and Ruidiaz were among a group who were going through finishing drills while the starters were working on set pieces.
It was an impressive show. Ruidiaz can make the ball do things I’ve rarely ever seen. Dempsey, though, seemed to be holding his own. I don’t know just how much Dempsey has left at this point, but I would not be at all surprised to see him finish the season much stronger than he started. He seems like a player who thrives off teammates who can match his creativity and Ruidiaz looks like he might be that type of player.
The game in one gif
This seems to sum up the Whitecaps, at least.
Jake Nerwinksi has to retire because he got nutmegged by Nouhou. pic.twitter.com/sHxhJwxPbp— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) July 21, 2018
Quote of the day
“I don’t know why the keeper moved that way... whenever I shoot I think it’s going to go in, but not like that.” - Nicolas Lodeiro
One stat to the tell
1 — This was the Sounders’ first league win in Heritage White, ending an eight-game winless run in which they went 0-6-2. That comes on the heels of a 1-7-1 league-play record in the Olympic Whites. That one win in the Olympic Whites? It came against the Whitecaps.