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Five things we liked: Sounders v. LA Galaxy

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Sounders move back into Supporters’ Shield lead.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — Whether it qualifies as a true “rivalry” is up for debate, but the number of memorable moments and games between the Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy exceeds the number of fingers on both hands. But since 2015, when the Sounders vanquished the last Galaxy dynasty in the playoffs, the match-ups between the two these days brings more of a sense of nostalgia than burning passions.

That’s mainly due to their diverging directions. Since the Sounders ousted the Galaxy from the 2015 playoffs, they’ve won two MLS Cups and reached the finals in two more. The only honor the Galaxy have to their name in that time is one they’d rather not be associated with (the ignominious 2017 Wooden Spoon). So in the aftermath of a disappointing 2020 season, the Galaxy looked to their matchup against the Sounders on Sunday evening as a chance to establish their bona fides as a MLS Cup contender, while the Sounders sought to continue their hot start to the season, and maybe send a bit of a message about who is still top-dog in the Western Conference.

Consider that message sent.

A brace from Raul Ruidiaz and another goal from Brad Smith saw the Sounders comfortably dispatch the Galaxy in front of 7,148 fans at Lumen Field, which sends the defending Western Conference champions to the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings early in the 2021 MLS season. The Sounders don’t get much rest as the prepare to take on the Portland Timbers on the road next week, but they’ll surely spare a few moments to enjoy this one, as there was a lot to like.

Brad Smith Levels up

It’s amazing what scoring a goal can do. Brad Smith has had a bit of a rocky return to the Sounders, dealing with a six-month period where he didn’t get on the field for Bournemouth or Cardiff City before returning to Seattle. Injuries and getting reacclimatized after a half-year away saw Smith lose the form that he displayed in helping the Sounders win their second MLS Cup in 2019. The last two weeks will go a long way towards dispeling any concerns about how Smith will contribute this year.

In addition to getting himself in position to score another goal, Smith was consistently dangerous getting to the endline and sending in crosses that on another day would have resulted in a couple of assists. Earlier in the week, coach Brian Schmetzer said he was messaging Smith about being more direct, and taking the ball and attacking the defense. Smith certainly took that lesson to heart.

Kelyn Rowe shows up

Kelyn Rowe got an unexpected start when Josh Atencio was a late scratch due to a quad injury. Rowe has spent his MLS career filling in at a variety of positions on the field, and he certainly has experience in the middle of it. Still, it would be fair to call his performance today a bit of a revelation. Displaying an ability to dictate tempo with his passing, get stuck in to challenges to break up plays, and test the Galaxy defense with shots from distance, Rowe put together an all-around performance which surely pleased the Sounders faithful. Rowe also came tantalizingly close to scoring his first goal as Sounder only for his looping header that hit the crossbar and post.

The defense shuts Chicharito down and LA out

Most of the pre-game focus was on Chicharito rebounding from a 2020 season which the Mexican international described as the worst year of his life. With 5 goals in his first two games, the Sounders were acutely aware of the danger Hernandez posed, and Schmetzer said the messaging centering on not allowing him to get himself into dangerous positions. For the most part, the Sounders were successful, limiting Hernandez’s touches inside the box.

The one major chance the Sounders conceded to the Galaxy’s Designated Player was put wide by Hernandez in 52nd minute, with Nouhou able to just put the Galaxy forward off the shot. Beyond a chance in the 27th minute by Samuel Grandsir, which forced a save from Frei, the Galaxy, while able to control possession for the middle portion of the game, were not truly goal dangerous.

Subs are super

Schmetzer conceded it was a bit of a luxury to bring Nico Lodeiro off the bench, and in about 99% of other scenarios, it wouldn’t happen. Still, even with Rowe and Atencio providing quality minutes in his absence, getting the Sounders’ engine back on the field for 24 minutes for the first time this year was surely a welcome sight. Loderio was understandably a bit rusty, having not played a competitive match since MLS Cup, but his influence was hard miss and he helped the Sounders shut down the Galaxy for the final portion of the game.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Medranda’s return from injury looks to give the Sounders another option from wide position, and he tallied his first assist with an excellent cross which Ruidiaz put away to cap off the scoring. A steady 11 minutes from Danny Leyva, whose promising start to his MLS hit a speed bump in 2020 due to injury, was another bright spot in a game filled with them.

Yeimar’s starting debut

Smith’s early troubles aside, the other major talking point early this season was surely the debate over why Yeimar Gomez Andrade had appeared to lose his starting spot. Widely considered the Sounders best defender in 2020, the Colombian centerback had been relegated to coming off the bench to start the year. Schmetzer has maintained that there were no problems, and that with a three-centerback formation, there will be plenty of minutes for everyone.

In his first start, Yeimar showed he will continue to make Schmetzer’s lineup decisions difficult. Helping to secure the shutout for the Sounders, Yeimar also displayed an ability to bypass the Galaxy defense with his mid-range passing. It was a sturdy performance that may not do much the quell the debate about who should start, but that’s not a bad problem to have.