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Postgame Pontifications: Nothing wrong with an ugly win

The Sounders will need to play better, but this works for now.

Maciek Gudrymowicz / Sounders FC

Let’s just get this out of the way at the beginning: The Seattle Sounders did not play particularly well on Wednesday, especially in the first half of their 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes. You can be sure that’s why head coach Brian Schmetzer effectively offered a “no comment” when he was asked about his halftime speech, likely because he was using a lot of choice words that had a few expletives thrown in.

That the Sounders still managed to get three points, especially in a stadium where they’d never won before, is perhaps the best sign yet that this season is starting to turn around.

There were some great moments. I thought Kim Kee-hee was absolutely fantastic, Raúl Ruidíaz appears to be the type of player the Sounders have needed all season, and there were enough good options on the bench that it seemed like the Sounders should have liked their chances even if they hadn’t gotten a goal relatively early in the second half.

But let’s also be honest: the Sounders are not going to make the playoffs — let alone have any hope of advancing to another MLS Cup final — playing the way they did. Against a more lethal offense, many of those turnovers deep in their own end would have resulted in far more dangerous chances than the Earthquakes created. To consistently win games against opponents who aren’t as bad as the Earthquakes or Whitecaps, the Sounders are going to need to create more genuine scoring opportunities than they did in these past two wins.

Let’s remember that the Earthquakes have won exactly two games all year, both against Minnesota United. They are currently on pace for a 20-point season, which would be the second lowest point total in MLS history (yes, that includes seasons where the league played fewer than the 34 games they play now). They’ll need to triple their win total at Avaya just to tie the record for home futility. So, yeah, they are not a good team. That the Sounders won is great, but it is not itself something to be excited about.

About Roldan as a No. 10...

For the first 30 minutes or so, the Sounders didn’t look particularly likely to take advantage of the Quakes’ awfulness. Turnovers, sloppy passing and poor movement essentially defined how the Sounders were playing.

Roldan’s action maps in first half (left) and second half (right).

One of the problems seemed to be that Cristian Roldan was having a hell of a time as a sort of “destroyer 10.” In sharp contrast to his debut in that role in last year’s 3-0 win over the Earthquakes in which he scored two goals, Roldan struggled to find the ball or make any sort of positive impact.

His action map from the first 45 minutes shows zero touches in the middle third of the pitch and just three passes in the offensive third — two backward passes and one unsuccessful cross. He also failed to get a shot off and had just two defensive actions, only one of which was in the offensive half.

I’ve been a big proponent of using Roldan in this capacity, so I certainly don’t blame Schmetzer for at least trying it. My suspicion is that with Nicolas Lodeiro roaming as much as he does, Roldan had a hard time figuring out where he needed to be and never really settled in (notably Lodeiro did not play in that Earthquakes game last year where this tactic worked so well).

To his credit, though, Schmetzer corrected the mistake at halftime and swapped Roldan with Lodeiro. In the second 45 minutes, Roldan had six positive defensive actions and completed 17 of 20 passes, including the primary assist on Ruidíaz’s goal.

No one expects the Peruvian Inquistion

For nearly 60 minutes, Ruidíaz was mostly a nonfactor. He’d completed all 21 of his passes, but only managed one shot and had three unsuccessful dribbles. Then he found the ball at his feet via an errant Danny Hoesen pass, tapped it back to Lodeiro and then sprinted toward the box in order to be in position as Roldan pushed the ball forward on the wing.

Roldan’s centering pass was not perfect — and may have even been intended for Lodeiro, who was making a very smart back-post run that kept the center backs from collapsing into the middle — but Ruidíaz did an amazing job chesting it down and then getting a rather remarkable amount of power behind the shot that easily beat goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell.

It was the Sounders’ first shot on frame in the match and easily their best scoring chance. It was also a reminder that great goal-scorers only need a few opportunities. I suspect that other aspects of Ruidíaz’s game will improve as he and his teammates get to know each other better, but it’s highly encouraging that he’s already proven capable of putting himself in dangerous positions.

Four changes, two wins

Ruidíaz was one of four changes to the Sounders’ starting lineup from the weekend. That two of the others were Osvaldo Alonso and Román Torres speak to how much Seattle’s depth has improved over the last few weeks. I suppose it’s also notable that Clint Dempsey didn’t start in either game, wasn’t even needed against the Whitecaps and did an admirable job helping the Sounders see out the win against the Earthquakes (and should have scored a goal, too).

I’ll admit that I was a bit worried when I saw that Alonso, in particular, was starting. He just hasn’t looked particularly mobile in his recent appearances and I was not super enthusiastic about how he might pair with Gustav Svensson, who’s no gazelle himself. Similarly, I was not super thrilled at the idea of Torres having to mark Chris Wondolowski as he ghosted around the park.

I won’t say that my misgivings weren’t totally unwarranted, but both were better than I had feared they’d be. Alonso completed a sterling 96.7 percent of his pass attempts, while Torres had a rather eye-popping 11 clearances.

That said, I don’t think either proved they should be starting when the team is fully fit. Alonso only had two tackles and one interception, and generally didn’t cover the kind of ground we’re used to seeing him cover. Torres also looked rather slow at times and completed just 60.7 percent of his passes, by far the worst of any of the starting outfield players. Especially early on, he seemed to struggle to communicate with Kim Kee-hee (who had some exceptional tackles, by the way) and never seemed to be in sync with right back Jordan McCrary, the Sounders’ other change from the weekend.

Still, both players are coming off injuries and haven’t been training much with the first team. Some learning curve is to be expected and there’s reason to think that they’ll get better. Either way, having veteran guys like Torres and Alonso waiting in the wings is not a bad thing.

The game in one GIF

At first glance, Harry Shipp shunning Bryan Meredith’s handshake was pretty cold and something the broadcast made note of. But it’s even better when you look at the exchange more closely, as Shipp barely acknowledges Meredith, only for Alonso to make sure his teammate isn’t totally left hanging. As suspected, it was apparently all in good fun.

Quote of the Day

“That wasn’t one of our best games. We started off very bad, missed easy passes, sloppy controls, just felt like we weren’t really focused in a way.” —Gustav Svensson, in a notably non-celebratory postgame interview.

One Stat to Tell the Tale

2 — The Sounders have now played the Earthquakes 11 times in three different stadiums on the road in the regular season. Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Sounders had just one win in San Jose/Santa Clara, and were riding an eight-game winless streak there. Notably, the Earthquakes have missed the playoffs more than they’ve made it during that time. So there was nothing Seattle should have been taking for granted prior to getting their second all-time win there.

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