It’s pretty amazing when a team has a goal of the week candidate, extends their season-opening unbeaten run to five games, tops the Supporters’ Shield standings by four points, and none of those things being the biggest talking point afterward. All you have to do is lose two players to injuries and have a midfielder-turned-wingback make three saves as an emergency goalkeeper to preserve a 1-0 victory for your 10-man side.
Just another Wednesday in Major League Soccer.
On the road against a San Jose side off to almost as hot of a start (9 points in four games) and rolling out a first-choice lineup, head coach Brian Schmetzer rotated his squad and formation. The Sounders were deployed in a 3-4-3 set and started two teenagers in Danny Leyva and Ethan Dobbelaere. Neither was particularly influential in the game, but nor did they look particularly out of place. Fortunately for the Sounders, they displayed their typical fight and grittiness, and a moment of magic from Cristian Roldan set them up to come home with three valuable road points as stoppage time approached.
And then all hell broke loose.
The last five minutes of the match all but rendered the previous 90 a distant memory when Stefan Frei went down with a still-undetermined injury after colliding with centerback Shane O’Neill. It didn’t look good, and Sounders fans will hope for the best as he returns to Seattle to get an official diagnosis. In the meantime, the Sounders will prepare for yet another grueling test on the weekend, while fans can savor a massive road win against a strong opponent.
Here are five things we like:
Alex Roldan straps on the gloves
Fans are beginning to run out of superlatives to describe Roldan’s ascent from 2019 trialist to starting wingback on a championship contender. Let’s add one more, as Roldan stepped between the pipes in the closing minutes to preserve the Sounders’ shutout. Having admitted in his postgame interview that he hadn’t played goalkeeper since at least his youth days, Roldan was called upon to make three saves (and take one nasty hit) as San Jose ramped up the pressure in a desperate attempt to get a game-tying goal. For the other 93 minutes of the game, Roldan was a steady, if not dynamic presence at his normal position.
Cristian Roldan bags a banger
Were it not for his brother’s heroics, Cristian would surely have been the unquestioned man of the match. In addition to scoring a banger of a goal to give the Sounders a lead they would never relinquish, Cristian had a fantastic match, helping the Sounders transition into attack and breaking up plays. He perhaps had the most important influence on the game in stoppage time, when he essentially drafted his brother into goalkeeper duty when Frei went down with a lower leg injury. Roldan sometimes is underlooked and underrated, given the Sounders' other stars and the fact he doesn’t get double-digit goals or assists, but for Sounders fans, he’s never been more valuable.
Nouhou’s move to left back
Nouhou got a chance to play a bit more advanced in the 3-4-3 formation, and while nobody will ever mistake him for an attacking winger, he provided quite a bit offensively, especially early in the game. Nouhou probably deserved an assist on an early cross to Raul Ruidiaz that resulted in an uncharacteristically tame shot. He was also involved in the game-winning goal, sending in a cross that was mishandled by the Quakes goalkeeper, before finding its way to Roldan who finished with style. Defensively, Nouhou was steady as ever, showing that wherever you put him on the field, you can expect him to perform.
Stefan Frei coming up big
Forgetting about the last five minutes of the game, Frei once again had an excellent match. Goalkeepers are usually called upon to make one save that they shouldn’t, and it’s the great ones who can do it. Frei did just that in the 37the minute, getting down to push a shot from Cade Cowell wide that was destined for the back of the next. It’s of course a shame the last five minutes happened because that’s all anyone will (rightly) talk about, but Frei once again played his part in preserving another shutout, and extending the Sounders’ streak of not allowing a goal from open play. Get will soon.
Up for the fight
Schmetzer was in a mood after the game. Partially due to the injures sustained to key players, but also for how the Sounders persevered in spite of them. A favorite mantra of Schmetzer’s is that his teams always fight and never give up, even when the odds are against them. Looking at the lineup, one could be forgiven for thinking the Sounders were undermanned, especially on the road against a tough opponent. But the Sounders found a way to get the job done. After the game, Schmetzer said that he had already messaged the team about the next game, wherein a hungry LAFC will come to Lumen field looking to take advantage of a tired and wounded side. There are those who won’t think they can win, Schmetzer said, and they’ll just to prove them wrong. More often than not, they do.