There are ample reasons to be skeptical of just how “real” the Seattle Sounders’ turnaround has been. The first five games of what is now a six-match unbeaten run have either been against objectively bad teams or involved the Sounders not playing particularly well.
That changed, at least somewhat, on Sunday when the Sounders beat New York City FC 3-1, although that game also deserves some caveats.
Let’s start with the positives. NYCFC came into the match leading the league in points per game and are a strong contender to win the Supporters’ Shield. While xG suggests NYCFC had the far better chances, after re-watching the game I at least feel comfortable in saying the Sounders held their own. I’m also inclined to believe xG may have undervalued some of the Sounders’ chances and overvalued some of NYCFC’s, especially considering all three Sounders goals came on clean looks while most of NYCFC’s close-range shots were well contested.
Whatever you think of the quality of looks the Sounders got, NYCFC came into the match with four consecutive shutout victories and had not allowed a goal in more than 430 minutes by the time Cristian Roldan beat Sean Johnson for the match’s first goal. Let’s also remember that the Sounders had only scored three goals in a match one other time this year, and that was more than three months ago. Given the Seattle’s offensive struggles, scoring three goals against anyone is at the very least an encouraging development.
About those caveats...
As good of a win as that was — in fact, it’s the first time this year that the Sounders have beaten a team over .500 or occupying a playoff position — it was not anywhere near a perfect performance.
Roldan, normally one of the team’s cheerleaders, was one of the sobering post-game voices.
“The incredible thing about this one is that we aren’t playing well,” he said. “We are grinding out games; we are winning these games because we are playing good defense and scoring one or two goals.”
Roldan noted that the first 30 minutes of the match were particularly poor. The Sounders were pinned in their own end for much of that time, almost looking like the road team as NYCFC built an 8-2 advantage in shots. It might be tempting to chalk up the slow start to Seattle having played in San Jose on Wednesday, but NYCFC was coming off a road game in Orlando on Thursday. Chances are, they didn’t even have a proper day of training between the matches once travel and regeneration time were factored in. (The broadcast shared a stat that said 37 games had been played in MLS history featuring at least one team that made a cross-country trip following a midweek game. Just two of them had emerged victorious.)
The positive, of course, is that it’s not at all hard to imagine the Sounders failing to get full points from a game like this earlier in the year. In fact, it’s a scenario not all that different from the one facing the Chicago Fire, who outplayed the Sounders and were a bit unlucky to only a get a point. There have been ample signs over the past few games that the Sounders are on a legitimately upward trajectory despite having plenty of room to improve.
“That’s the scary part,” Roldan continued. “You think about six unbeaten and then if we start playing like we are supposed to, we [could] go on a really long run.”
Roldan the Finisher
I remain skeptical that the Sounders are best served by having Roldan in the attacking band, but full credit to him for making it work. My suspicion is that this was his most effective attacking performance of the season, and not just because he scored his second goal of the season.
Unlike some of his previous performances when asked to be more of an offensive contributor, most of Roldan’s actions were in the attacking half. His understanding of Kelvin Leerdam’s tendencies also seemed to help the fullback have one of his better offensive games, and he did it without sacrificing the defensive game plan. Roldan managed to stay active defensively, making three tackles, two interceptions, eight recoveries and three clearances.
But let’s face it — the goal was the highlight of his afternoon. Roldan has proven himself a reasonably good goal scorer over the years, mostly due to surprising prowess on set pieces. This goal was a reminder that he’s got some pretty good attacking instincts, too.
Taking a slightly deflected pass, his first touch took him away from the defense and toward goal. His shot came off his next touch and had enough on it from a somewhat tight angle that goalkeeper Sean Johnson couldn’t keep it out despite getting a hand on it.
It wasn’t necessarily a spectacular goal, but it was an example of Roldan’s expanding skill-set.
I don’t think anyone will try to convince you that the Sounders’ recent run of form is entirely attributable to the play of Harry Shipp, but I feel compelled to mention him again because, well, he played great and the Sounders are now 5-0-2 in his last seven starts. Toss in his two substitute appearances during that time and he’s scored two goals and picked up two assists during the run, as well.
His performance against NYCFC may have been his best in a Sounders uniform. His goal was obviously well taken and showed some impressive confidence in effectively waving off Lodeiro as he moved into shooting position, but his secondary assist on Svensson’s goal was more indicative of the type of play he’s showcased recently.
On that play, Shipp’s selfless run into the box is what forced the defense to collapse, drawing defenders and creating the space that Svensson needed to blast his shot from 30 yards out.
Even apart from that, Shipp was similarly outstanding compared to his previous appearances. He was credited with completing 47 of his 50 passes, provided two key passes and probably should have won a penalty on his shot that appeared to strike Alexander Callens in the arm.
He seems almost destined to get reduced playing time as the Sounders get closer to full health and added a couple more pieces to the roster, but I think he’s at least won over a coaching staff that seemed reluctant to use him earlier on.
The game in one gif
Who doesn’t love a center back ranging forward and finishing a run as Kim Kee-hee did here? I’m sure Djimi Traore was smiling.
Impressive sequence from Seattle. Kim Kee-hee marauding forward! pic.twitter.com/lPsg6IMiNE— Sounder At Heart (@sounderatheart) July 29, 2018
Quote of the Day
“I’m alright, just an old guy, you know. Hair’s goin’. But, still pluggin’ along, you know. It was pretty hot today, so I’m gonna have a couple Coronas when I get home and probably watch some TV.” — Chad Marshall, when asked how he was feeling post-game
One stat to the tell the tale
5 — Heading into Seattle’s game at Atlanta United, they had just one player with more than one goal this year. Four games later, the Sounders now have five players with at least two goals — Nicolas Lodeiro, Svensson, Roldan and Harry Shipp have joined the club. The Sounders have also gotten goals from five different players during this three-game winning streak.