There’s a saying in baseball circles that every team essentially wins 50 games and loses 50 games and that the success or failure of a season is defined by the other 62. I’ve never heard it put quite this way in MLS, but it’s equally true that every team is going to win six, lose six and tie six, and that success or failure will be defined by the other 16 games.
Saturday’s road game against the LA Galaxy felt a lot like one of those other 16. That the Seattle Sounders managed to win it 2-1 — and are now 3-0-1 through four road games — seems to be a pretty good indication of how this season is going.
That the Sounders earned their first come-from-behind victory of the season while looking neither particularly lucky nor dominant at any point was particularly fitting. The Sounders were out-possessed 60-40 and failed to generate much consistent danger from open play, but still managed to win the shots battle, 11-6, and claim the xG advantage, 2.1-1.4, despite giving up another penalty.
The Sounders rolled out a lineup missing no fewer than five potential starters — Nouhou was the latest starter to go down — and yet never seemed remotely overwhelmed. AB Cissoko, the MLS debutant who replaced Nouhou in the lineup, was solid if unspectacular, Kelyn Rowe turned in another highly competent performance in the central midfield and Stefan Cleveland continued to do a pretty good Stefan Frei impersonation in goal.
In short, the Sounders keep finding ways to get results even if they aren’t at their best.
“The team obviously has mental toughness,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “It’s a word that everybody uses. But this team has it.”
The Sounders also rediscovered something that had been missing in the two games immediately preceding the international break: timely goals. The first one came off a corner kick, with João Paulo serving in a perfect outswinger that Yeimar Gomez Andrade powered into the net. Shortly after halftime, the Sounders used another dead-ball situation — a throw-in deep in the offensive third — to generate some chaos, resulting in Raúl Ruidíaz pouncing a free rebound and scoring his league-leading seventh goal of the season.
What was remarkable is how little danger the Galaxy managed to put the Sounders under after that goal. Javier Hernandez had a couple reasonably good looks, but he hit one half-chance off the outside of the woodwork and then was stoned by Cleveland on a close-range shot that was flagged offside (perhaps incorrectly).
If there’s one area that should cause some mild concern it’s that the Sounders have now gone three games without scoring an open-play goal of their own, and they’ve only scored two goals in their past six games through any kind of sustained buildup.
That probably hasn’t led to the most attractive soccer, nor does it seem to be the most sustainable way to go through a season, but the Sounders have still managed to go 4-0-2 in those games while outscoring their opponents 8-3, which underscores how efficient they’ve become at finding new ways to win games.
This is not a group waiting idly by until the cavalry shows up. They’re more than making it work with whoever is available, which does have its own kind of sustainability baked in.
“The mentality within the group is fantastic,” Cristian Roldan said during the broadcast. “We’re missing a lot of guys, guys who can change the game for us, especially in the offensive third. To start the way we have is fantastic. The chemistry and culture within the group is what you’re seeing on the field. We’re excited and hopefully we can continue this run.”