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Postgame Pontifications: Fun is back

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The Sounders have shown they can grind, but now it looks like they’re having fun, too.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — Through 60 minutes or so, you could be forgiven if you felt as though you were watching a time-warped reality on Sunday that caused the Seattle Sounders to play like the team that spun, back-heeled and flicked their way to the 2014 Supporters’ Shield.

Here was nominal No. 9 Will Bruin playing playmaker — ala Obafemi Martins — by setting up Cristian Roldan for a goal less than 2 minutes in. There was, Bruin again, perfectly shaping and weighting a pass down the sideline and João Paulo, perhaps channeling Clint Dempsey, with a blind, side-footed flick that set up the second. Yes, that was Jimmy Medranda doing a pretty impressive Marco Pappa impression by twisting and turning his way through the Colorado Rapids defense ... using only his left foot (that the goal was disallowed is beside the point).

I’m not sure that João Paulo’s 70-yard run has a good 2014 equivalent — in part because no one on that team pulled off anything quite that impressive — but you could certainly see some Marshawn Lynch in it.

Like that 2014 Sounders squad, the defense in this one was a little suspect at times. If not for some excellent goalkeeping and timely defending by Xavier Arreaga, the Rapids could have made a game of it, but that only added to the fun. Lumen Field — where most of the Sounders’ most frustrating moments have come this year — was absolutely buzzing. I was absolutely buzzing.

The 3-0 halftime lead was impressive enough that the 31,425 in attendance sent the players into the halftime locker room with a standing ovation — or at least that’s what I’m choosing to interpret it as — something I’m not sure I’ve seen happen in my 11 years of covering this team.

“I would say that half was pretty darn close (to their best half of the season),” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said while recounting the three goals. “If the fans gave us a standing ovation, it’s because they appreciate good soccer and are a very smart audience, because that was a pretty darn good half of soccer.”

Although the Sounders didn’t build on that halftime advantage, it was not for a lack of trying. Medranda’s disallowed goal aside, the Sounders continued to press for a fourth. Fredy Montero had one particularly enticing look in which he created some space by cutting back an errant clearance with his first touch, only to mishit his left-footed shot. Leó Chú was in the middle of several promising attacks. Nouhou even had a glorious look at open header and surely would have brought the house down if he’d managed to score it.

The Sounders were clearly starting to feel themselves a bit, and the Rapids’ frustration seemed to be growing as well. When Lucas Esteves was shown a red card in the 61st minute, tempers predictably started to boil over.

Even up a man, the Sounders couldn’t quite continue their high-octane start and Schmetzer admitted that might have been on him. Perhaps sensing that little was to be gained by continuing to press pedal to metal, Schmetzer began subbing players shortly thereafter and the directive seemed to become, “just see it out.”

Still, those first 60 minutes were a wonderful reminder of what this team is capable of. This, let’s remember, was a game on short rest in which several key players were missing. It was also at the tail end of a stretch of 7 games in 23 days. That the Sounders closed that out with a 5-2-0 record while beating their two closest competitors in the Western Conference suggests this team may still have highs yet to reach.

It was only a couple weeks ago that there was a growing concern that the Sounders were struggling to create danger from open play. They had, after all, scored multiple goals just three times in 13 matches. After scoring at least two goals in four straight that seems far less of a worry. Those last three came on the heels of a frustrating loss in a cup final and completed the Sounders’ third nine-point “week” of the season, something they had only ever done five times from 2009-2020.

That 2014 team that finished with a franchise record 64 points and won the domestic double, by the way, didn’t have a single nine-point week.

“It shows we’re mentally strong, because it’s hard to come out of weeks like that unscathed,” Schmetzer said. “The group always believed they could win every game, and the reason for that is because the entire team was in that locker room to support each other. It’s a very tight group, they always play for each other.”

This team has shown repeatedly that they can grind out results. Now, they’re showing themselves capable of playing with flair, too. This promises to be a potent combination.