SEATTLE — No. 8 wasn’t pretty — as so few of the seven preceding it have been — but it may have been the most important. By beating Sporting Kansas City 3-1 on Saturday, the Seattle Sounders not only set a new single-season, post-shootout record for longest win streak, but they once again showed that they can hang with any team in the Western Conference.
The statistics weren’t particularly flattering — the Sounders were outshot 19-9, out-dueled 55-45 and out-possessed 61-40 — yet the match never seemed to be careening out of control once they recovered from Diego Rubio’s 2nd minute goal.
The Sounders were able to answer through Raúl Ruidíaz just 10 minutes later and then effectively closed out the match with a pair of goals early in the second half. The only negative was a VAR-issued red card to Chad Marshall that the team expressed optimism about getting overturned.
The match could not have started worse than it did for the Sounders, as Sporting KC immediately started pressing and applying pressure. That resulted in a 2nd minute goal — the second fastest goal the Sounders had ever allowed at home — through Diego Rubio after he pounced on a deflected clearance from Brad Smith.
It only took 10 minutes for the Sounders to recover, though. Smith took a pass from Osvaldo Alonso near midfield and was off to the races after Graham Zusi whiffed on his attempt to intercept it. Smith sent in a perfectly curling ball to Ruidíaz that he only needed to touch in order to score.
Sporting KC’s best chance to retake the lead came in the 40th minute when center back Ike Opara charged through the center of the Sounders defense and found himself one-on-one with goalkeeper Stefan Frei. Frei didn’t get a lot of Opara’s shot, but he was able to get enough to deflect the shot just wide.
The Sounders started the second half far better than they did the first, and took the lead in the 52nd minute when Harry Shipp sent in a cross that deflected off Zusi and nestled inside the far post.
Just a few minutes later, Smith sent in a cross that hit Opara’s arm. Lodeiro stepped up and rolled the ball past Tim Melia. It was Lodeiro’s fourth penalty of the year and his team-leading seventh-goal of the season.
The game seemed to be in Seattle’s hands by the time Marshall was sent off for what at first seemed like a rather innocuous tackle — it wasn’t even called a foul in real time. But after several minutes of review, referee Baldomero Toledo was convinced to take a look himself and replays convinced him to show the card.
Sporting KC responded with a flurry of chances — seven of their shots came after the 81st minute red card — but none were particularly clear cut.
Eight isn’t enough
- As great as this win is, the reality is that the Sounders are still fighting for their playoff lives. Depending on what happens in the RSL and Timbers matches later in the day, there’s a chance the Sounders could still finish the weekend in the sixth playoff spot. They deserve to enjoy their bye week, but their work is far from over.
- Even if you’re inclined to take their playoff qualification for granted, the reality is that just getting in should not be considered sufficient. They are now only four points behind Sporting KC in second — which would bring a first-round bye. At the very least, the Sounders need to set their targets on finishing in the top 4 in order to assure themselves a home game in the Knock Out Round.
Making your own breaks
- Throughout the slow start, the Sounders insisted they were doing all the right things to win ... except winning. Training sessions were good, they were proving “hard to beat” and doing their best to grind out results. That they weren’t getting results was a product of bad luck ... at least that’s what they’d often say publicly. The advanced analytics don’t reveal anything obvious to explain the turnaround, but the difference is there in the details if you look.
- Stefan Frei said it best when asked to identify what had changed during the streak when he said, “The answer lies in when we were struggling, the work we put in during that time. It’s keep on trucking away and putting in hard work on the training ground. It was knowing that when results started going our way that we’d get some confidence and being able to take that confidence a long way.”
- That this was the Sounders’ third straight game where the benefited from an own-goal and the fourth time during this unbeaten run that they’d won a penalty should not be considered marks against them. Rather, it should be proof that the Sounders are making their own luck, forcing defenses to react and taking their chances.
Marshall’s red card
- During the several minutes on review, most of us in the press box weren’t sure what was even being examined. Although Johnny Russell was claiming he’d been hurt, it was not remotely obvious that Marshall had done anything particular egregious. The Seattle Times’ Geoff Baker was the assigned pool reporter and he did talk to the entire referee crew. Although replays we saw on the broadcast didn’t seem to show anything definitive, Baker insisted that what the referees showed him was more conclusive. Will be interested to see how this plays out.
2 — Rubio (Fernandes)
12 — Ruidiaz (Smith, Alonso)
52 — Zusi (own goal)
56 — Lodeiro
Sounders (4-2-3-1): Frei; Smith, Marshall, Kim, Leerdam; Svensson, Alonso; Shipp, Lodeiro, Roldan; Ruidiaz
Sporting KC (4-3-3): Melia; Sinovic, Besler, Opara, Zusi; Gutierrez, Sanchez, Espinoza; Salloi, Rubio, Fernandes.
Sounders man of match
This poll is closed