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Talking Points: Palate cleanser

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Sounders surge to top of the Western Conference.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — That’s one way to get rid of the taste of bitter defeat.

The Seattle Sounders were itching to get back on the pitch after a disappointing home loss to their hated rivals from the south last Sunday. After coming out of the MLS is Back break with 7 points from a possible nine (with 4 of those on the road), the Portland loss served as a bit of a wake-up call that in MLS, a listless performance can get punished.

So as the Sounders and San Jose Earthquakes took the field, coach Brian Schmetzer wanted to see his side raise the intensity and take it to a side mired in last place in the Western Conference.

And take it to them they did, to the tune of a historic 7-1 thumping that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated. Braces from Raul Ruidíaz and Joevin Jones, as well as goals from Jordan Morris, Kelvin Leerdam and João Paulo sent the Sounders into first place in the Western Conference. The Sounders now wait for MLS to announce the schedule for the next phase of games (rumored to be announced on Friday) as well as the make-up game versus the LA Galaxy. Without a game to play for at least the next week, the Sounders will be able to savor this performance for a little while.

Top of the West

It took three chances to get there, but the Sounders closed out their portion of this phase of the restart sitting atop the Western Conference. Considering their goal-difference is eight goals better than anyone else in the conference, it’s hard to argue they don’t belong there. Interestingly, they’ve yet to play any of the three teams (Sporting KC, Minnesota United and LA Galaxy) immediately behind them.

Morris runs wild

We’ll take about this later, but San Jose Coach Mathias Almeyda’s man-marking system relies on his players staying close to the player they are matched up against. One potential fatal flaw is when those players get beaten off the dribble. Enter Jordan Morris, who put in a masterful performance. Throughout the night he was running past defenders, turning with the ball and dribbling towards goal, making himself generally unplayable on the night. Morris opened the scoring in the 4the minute with a 60-yard drive through a San Jose defense that scarcely seemed interested into trying to stop him. His left-footed finish past Daniel Vega was composed (and further quashing that tired narrative), and set the tone — and theme — for the game.

Manless marking

Let’s be honest, San Jose isn’t a good team, and when you combine that with what seemed like a flawed game plan (or one that has been found out), you’re likely to be on the end of a crooked scoreline. When Matias Almeyda first came on the scene, his unorthodox marking system gave teams fits (the Sounders struggled with it as recently as the MLS is Back Tournament). But it appears that the book might be out on the system, with the Quakes having given up 16 goals in four games since returning from MLS is Back. Over and over, the Sounders used their speed and quality on the ball to slice and dice the Earthquakes defense. With Nicolás Lodeiro, João Paulo and Cristian Roldan applying pressure in the midfield, both Nouhou and Kelvin Leerdam had field days getting forward and attacking the Quakes’ backline when the ball turned over.

A revelation on the wing

Joevin Jones gets some grief from fans for what they perceive sometimes as somewhat passive play given his substantial skill set. That may be a bit unfair, but when you see performances like this, you may understand the frustration. Jones had what can only be described as a fantastic performance, tallying two goals and two assists from the right wing position and seemed to be in the middle of everything. Jones was active in the offensive half, using his on the ball skills to keep possession and spring attacks for his teammates. It was revelatory performance from that position, and surely gives Schmetzer some things to think about when he plans his formations.

The flea was flying

Can you call a performance workman-like when you score two goals and assist on two others? Frankly, it’s just a testament to the pure insanity of this game that Ruidiaz’s performance could possibly fall under the radar. The Peruvian international bounced back from his low-key performance against Portland to essentially put the game out of reach in the 12’, finishing a nifty combination between Joevin Jones and Nico Lodeiro. Ruidiaz turned the game into a laugher in the 33’, notching his second goal on a fantastic through-ball from Morris, splitting the Earthquakes defense and leaving the Peruvian international to slot a shot past a hapless Vega. Ruidíaz now has seven goals on the season, a league-leading five of which have come since the teams returned from MLS is Back.

Pity penalty

This may be a new one: Sounders’ centerback Xavier Arreaga is now getting called for fouls when the attackers step on his foot. The Ecuadorian was enjoying a solid performance when he stepped up to close out an attacking Tommy Thompson late in the match. Arreaga appeared to beat Thompson to the space on the field, which was confirmed when replays showed that Thompson stepped on his foot. That was apparently enough for head referee Allen Chapman to determine that Arreaga was the fouler instead of the foulee, and pointed to the spot. Chris Wondolowski converted, and spared the Earthquakes the insult of a shutout on top of injury of conceding seven goals.