There’s no such thing as a must-win game to start the season. The Seattle Sounders, however, found themselves in pretty close to one on Sunday.
This was obviously not a mathematical situation, and in the locker room I seriously doubt there was anything like that level of consequence given to the first league match of the season.
Coming off what was arguably the most disappointing result in franchise history on Thursday, Sounders fans were in desperate need of positivity. A win wasn’t literally needed to keep the season from falling apart in any sort of real sense, but things were starting to look pretty bleak in the comments section around these parts.
In that sense, Jordan Morris’ stoppage-time winner should at least serve to quiet some of the loudest concerns. The goal gave the Sounders some undeniable positivity and helped them put the disappointment of earlier in the week behind them.
“We needed to step up and I think we did that,” Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam said in the postgame locker room. “Especially after Thursday, people were talking about us in a negative way. That’s why the win was so important. It’s a good win for us.”
Perhaps more encouraging than the result itself was how the Sounders got it. Even though the scoreline was as close as could be, the Sounders quietly had a very impressive offensive performance, at least when it came to chance creation.
Depending on which xG metric you put the most value in, the Sounders created enough chances to have easily scored at least another goal or two. According to American Soccer Analysis’ metrics, the Sounders posted an xG of 2.98, which ranks as their sixth-best performance since at least 2011 (when ASA first started calculating xG). You’d have to go back to 2016 to find the last game where the Sounders posted a better xG.
Jordan Morris accounted for 1.4 xG+xA all by himself, and that doesn’t even include the pass that set up Cristian Roldan’s goal that was disallowed by VAR or the pass he made to put Leerdam through on the chance that ended with a Raúl Ruidíaz miss in front of goal. Roldan, who assisted on both of Morris’ goals, ended the week with the top xA in all of MLS, which seems to bode well for his move into a more offensive role this season. I also found it encouraging that Miguel Ibarra was effective enough to get himself into spots where he could pile up 1.3 xG. It was obviously frustrating that he didn’t finish at least one of those chances, but considering he was a player the Sounders signed almost as an afterthought, he could be someone who puts up some sneaky good numbers.
Rather than struggling without midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro — who led the Sounders in xG+xA last season — this looks like a team that has upgraded its attacking depth to the point that missing one or two key cogs might not be the end of the world.
But the defense
Even though most of the xG models agreed that the Fire didn’t create much in terms of dangerous chances — most had the Fire right around 0.5 xG — anyone who watched the match was understandably a bit worried. The Fire had two goals disallowed for offside — correctly, it should be said — and their one goal came from a rather simple play.
“I’m not happy because we conceded a goal,” Leerdam said. “We weren’t on the same page. They got in behind us. We need to be more focused in those situations. We’ve done this drill so many times in the preseason and we didn’t do it. It’s not good for Stef [Frei]. It means a lot to him [to get the shutout]. This was an error from us as a defense because that’s what we practice on.”
Still, there are some caveats that should probably be pointed out. The big one is that the Sounders were once again without Yeimar Gómez Andrade, who only returned to the team a day prior to the game after finalizing his visa situation. It’s reasonable to expect the defense to settle in once there’s some consistency at centerback.
Similarly, the Sounders have yet to get Gustav Svensson onto the pitch for any of their three competitive matches. Svensson was one of the top defensive midfielders in the league a year ago and hardly anyone is better at breaking up opposing attacks than the Swede. Add those two to the defense and some improvement is to be expected.
Even without them, Frei was only really asked to make one difficult save all afternoon, when Elliot Collier was able to get inside Leerdam. But Collier’s shot toward the far post was pushed away by Frei and the Sounders escaped.
Otherwise, I thought Xavier Arreaga and Shane O’Neill had more promising moments than discouraging ones. Both showed off some impressive mobility and were aggressive in cutting out passes. Both were credited with three interceptions and Arreaga completed 87 percent of his team-high 85 passes.
What we can say about this team
Through three competitive games, I don’t think I’ve seen anything to dissuade me from the belief that the Sounders should be very good. It’s obviously deeply disappointing that they went out of Concacaf Champions League without making a peep, and it’s at least somewhat concerning that neither Lodeiro nor Svensson have suited up yet, but there’s plenty of talent on the squad. It’s also encouraging that last year’s MLS Cup doesn’t seem to have sapped the Sounders of their ability to push late into games. Morris’ 93rd-minute winner marked the fifth time in the past 22 games that Seattle has grabbed a game-winner in the 89th minute or later. It’s also the seventh time in that span that they’ve scored at least that late.
When Brian Schmetzer talks about this being “a team that never quits” I suspect that’s exactly what he’s talking about.