The marquee matchup of the second week of the MLS season had a little bit of the shine removed when the injury report came out earlier this week. Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer had already all but ruled out Nicolas Lodeiro and Jimmy Medranda at a Thursday press conference. Shortly before that, LAFC coach Bob Bradley revealed that Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi were questionable with injuries. And when the Sounders and LAFC added Fredy Montero and Danny Musvoski to their respective injury lists on Friday, the real question was whether the teams would be able to fill their benches.
All that aside, the Sounders likely fancied their chances of getting all three points, given the firepower they still had available. Unfortunately, a free kick goal less than a minute in had them playing catch up for most of the game.
Still the Sounders were able to peg LAFC back with an unlikely goal from Brad Smith, and grind out a valuable road point against the supposed MLS Cup favorites. And that’s never a bad thing.
Here are five things we saw:
Put the bodies on the floor
It’s the thing all the kids are doing these days: In an attempt to mitigate free-kick takers from sending grounders under defenders in the wall who jump to try and block the ball, teams have taken to using one of their defenders as a backstop. That is, laying them on the ground horizontally behind the wall. This has the benefit of allowing the wall to jump to block aerial free kicks, albeit with the downside of committing an extra defender to the wall and dropping the offside line a little deeper.
The strategy came into play when LAFC’s Edward Atuesta — a Sounders killer — lined up about 19 yards out after a sloppy foul from Xavier Arreaga. Nouhou directly asked goalkeeper Stefan Frei if he wanted his centerback to employ the strategy, but was begged off. Moments later, the Sounders were made to pay for the decision when Atuesta expertly sent a grounder past Frei to give LAFC a huge early goal.
One has to think the Sounders will be more inclined to implement the strategy in similar situations going forward.
Bruin takes a bruising
Will Bruin didn’t get on the scoresheet in this game, but he still put in an impressive shift for the Sounders. LAFC’s high-press was fairly effective against the Sounders, creating turnovers and forcing the Sounders to play long at times. With Bruin on the field, those long passes frequently found Bruin, who was able win his share of headers, lay the ball off for teammates, and draw fouls. He would finish with a rather astounding 20 duels.
On the Sounders’ goal Bruin drew two defenders, which freed up Ruidiaz to get a shot on goal that Brad Smith finished to draw the score level. Very little of Bruin’s contributions will show up in the boxscore but he was still plenty influential.
Kids keep contributing
It wasn’t necessarily a breakout performance, but midfielder Josh Atencio was steady in his second start for the Sounders, and his first on the road in a hostile environment. While Atencio got his first taste of a high-press against Minnesota, LAFC presents a different propostion and the 19-year-old was once again up to the task.
Meanwhile, Alex Roldan put in arguably a man-of-the-match performance, consistently putting in dangerous crosses from wide positions, including the cross which led to the tying goal. The wingback positions seems to suit Roldan very well.
Brad Smith an unlikely hero
Brad Smith’s start to the year in the Sounders’ new formation has been met with mixed reviews thus far. While he clearly provides the Sounders with needed width with his speed and crossing, the jury is decidedly out on whether he can be goal dangerous. After all, his only professional goal was back in the 2015-16 season with Liverpool in a FA Cup match.
Well, he has officially doubled his career tally, getting on the end of a saved header from Ruidiaz in the 58’ to help the Sounders earn a draw. While the Sounders don’t nevessarily need Smith to be the left-sided version of Kelvin Leerdam (8 goals in the 2019 and 2020 seasons), a handful of goals from Smith would go a long way towards mitigating the loss of Jordan Morris.
Sounders pass the press
It wasn’t an honor roll type performance against the LAFC press, but the Sounders get passing marks for weathering the pressure and earning a road point. And to be fair, after the first 10 or so minutes the Sounders more or less controlled the game, particularly in the second half. In fact had Ruidiaz correctly timed his header late in the game, the Sounders likely would have walked out of the Banc with all three points. As it is, collecting road points will help keep the Sounders near the top of the standings.