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Taking stock of the Sounders through 10 games

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The four-game winless run is less than ideal, but the big picture isn’t too bad.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Minnesota United FC Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a rough week in which the Seattle Sounders claimed just two points in three games despite playing twice at home, there was a growing sense of unease around the club. While the result against Minnesota United probably won’t suddenly make any restless sleepers slumber through the night, I think we at least saw how much it helps to get a few key contributors back into the lineup.

Neither Chad Marshall nor Víctor Rodríguez were at their very best in this game, but just having them on the field seemed to help bring a degree of order to the Sounders on both sides of the ball. Similarly, just having Will Bruin and Raúl Ruidíaz available off the bench gave the Sounders some punch off the bench they had lacked previously.

Unfortunately, none of that was enough to halt the Sounders’ winless run that has now stretched to four matches. Interestingly enough, that’s as long as any winless run they had last year — when they claimed just one point in their first four games.

Unlike last year’s opening four matches, though, this one comes with a larger sample to compare against. If you zoom out a bit to look at the season as a whole, the Sounders find themselves in pretty decent position.

At 5-1-4, they sit fifth in the league in points (19), points per game (1.9) and goal-difference (+6). They’re fourth in the Western Conference — which would mean they host a playoff game if the postseason started today — and five points shy of Supporters’ Shield-leading LAFC with a game in hand. They’re also fourth in goals scored (19) and eighth in goals allowed (13).

Almost no matter how you slice the data, there’s no obvious cause for concern.

Going four games without a win is frustrating and there’s a definite sense that the Sounders should have been able to claim more than three points, but I’m still inclined to see the recent run as more of a blip. The Sounders may not be the juggernaut they were looking like three games into the season, but this is still a team that has gone 21-6-7 over its past 34 regular-season matches. If this proves to be the ebb in their form, they’ll be more than fine.

The positives

The final result aside, there were plenty of things to be encouraged by in this game. The big one is that if not for three shots off the woodwork, the Sounders would have gone home with all three points and rightly felt pretty good about themselves.

More specifically, I think they got another piece of solid evidence that their depth pieces are perfectly sufficient. Jordy Delem followed up his strong performance against LAFC with another capable outing while ostensibly matched against two very good Minnesota midfielders. Saad Abdul-Salaam, I think, came into this game with a bit more doubt surrounding him. Abdul-Salaam had not looked particularly good with the Tacoma Defiance and it wasn’t even entirely clear that he was the No. 2 right back. But he quietly had a perfectly solid performance, completing 91 percent of his passes, won three aerial duels and chipped in with six recoveries.

At the same time, I think both players highlighted what the starters at their respective positions offer that they don’t. Delem may actually have superior range, but Gustav Svensson’s ability to change the point of attack was sorely missed in a game like this. Perhaps more as a result of instructions, Abdul-Salaam was noticeably less aggressive in joining the attack than Kelvin Leerdam.

Leerdam should be back for Saturday’s home game against the Houston Dynamo, but this performance should give the Sounders some peace of mind knowing that his backup isn’t as big of a dropoff as it seemed. While Delem may be getting a bit longer of a runout, I suspect having Ruidiaz back in the lineup should mitigate some of the dropoff in the attacking phase.

A happy reunion?

Osvaldo Alonso’s interview with The Athletic makes it clear that he left Seattle with some hard feelings mostly because of what he deemed to be a contract offer that “wasn’t good.” Despite admitting that he’d need to conscious effort to not let his emotions overtake him, Alonso played a match that was notable in part because it was so normal.

Alonso played more of a metronomic midfielder than destroyer, completing 49 of 50 passes and setting up a couple shots, but won just 1 of 4 tackles and had a perfectly pedestrian eight positive defensive actions.

If anything, the match will be remembered for the way he interacted with coaches and teammates afterward. Sharing hugs and handshakes with everyone from well-known friends like Román Torres to less obvious types like Will Bruin.

What we saw was a player who still has some positives to offer a MLS team, but not one who seemed dead-set on proving to his former team that they erred by letting him leave.

What’s elite?

I think we can still say the Sounders are a better team when Chad Marshall plays than when he doesn’t, but we may need to accept that his days of being one of the league’s best defenders every week are past us. Marshall was not bad in this game, but he again had a pretty quiet overall performance.

It should be said that Marshall has never been a player who piles up defensive stats. That’s a product of strong positional defense and offenses mostly choosing to attack the other side of the field. But there are little areas where we’re seeing him not quite as aggressive as he used to be. The most obvious may be how he plays the passing lanes.

Marshall has averaged 3.1 interceptions per match since 2013 and he’s only once averaged fewer than 2.4 in a season (when he averaged 1.8 in 2017). Marshall is currently averaging just 1.0 interceptions per match. Perhaps of bigger concern is that it’s starting to look as though he’s going to perpetually be deemed week-to-week with this knee issue.

The good news is that Román Torres continues to offer the Sounders a solid third option at center back, so there shouldn’t be a huge dropoff if Marshall needs a week off here and there. I’m just starting to think that finding another centerback may be the Sounders’ biggest summer priority, if not for this year than for the relatively for the near future.