SEATTLE — Sometimes the best team doesn’t win, and sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
The Seattle Sounders could have called both sides of that coin at different points in Wednesday’s match against Real Salt Lake. It would be fair to say that the Sounders played well throughout the game, and were unlucky not to have put the game away by halftime. That said, as the game inched towards extra time, the Sounders were facing another disappointing home draw after they conceded a penalty in the 78th minute.
However, the penalty gods were in a benevolent mood on this summer evening, and when referee Ted Unkel whistled Anderson Julio for a handball in the penalty box, the Sounders eagerly took the gift. After a cheeky Paneka from Raul Ruidiaz, Brian Schmetzer’s side killed off the rest of the game, and reestablished their lead atop the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings.
Jimmy Medranda breaks out
It’s easy to forget that Brian Schmetzer and Garth Lagerwey were high on Medranda when the Sounders brought him in at the trade deadline last October. Medranda never really got untracked last year, as he was still dealing with some injury issues that derailed parts of the previous two seasons, and he further dealt with some lingering problems to start the 2021 season. But he gave Sounders fans a glimpse of what he could bring with an assist in 3-0 victory against the LA Galaxy in May. Tonight, he proved to be a revelation in the left wingback position. Providing flair, creativity and defensive workrate —Schmetzer credited Medranda’s tackle with setting up the first goal — Medranda’s skills were on full display and if he’s past his injury issues, will likely see as many minutes as he can handle this summer.
Ruidíaz comes good
The Raúl Ruidíaz Revenge Tour continued Wednesday, though it’s fair to say there were a few fits and starts at this latest stop. Particularly in the first half, Ruidíaz was set up with a number of half-chances, and even better. A delicious pass from Medranda in the 29th minute sent Ruidíaz through on goal, and after rounding David Ochoa, took an extra touch and lost his opportunity. Still, as Schmetzer said after the match, big-time players make big-time plays and chipping Ochoa from the penalty spot with three points on the line certainly qualifies.
Cristian Roldan by his own admission will likely never get the personal accolades befitting someone with his accomplishments, but that just leaves it to Sounders fans to appreciate him all the more. Playing again in an advanced position, Roldan had one of his typical all-around games, combining well with his brother Alex in attack, and taking on RSL defenders with his trademark doggedness. In the 58th minute, Roldan was involved in the buildup and the finish to the goal, as he laid off a perfect pass from Ruidíaz to Bruin, who had the initial shot saved. Roldan was quick to pounce on the rebound to give the Sounders the lead.
Someday his goal will come
Will Bruin must be feeling snakebitten at this point. It would be very harsh to say that Bruin didn’t impact the game, even though he still hasn’t gotten on the score sheet. Bruin was everywhere, holding up long balls, tracking back and helping initiate attacks from deeper positions. He was of course involved in the first goal, though not in the way he would have liked as his close-range shot was saved by Ochoa. For a forward accustomed to double-digit scoring seasons, this drought must be especially tough on him. But his contributions have not gone unnoticed by fans or his teammates.
The Sounders’ streak of not conceding goals from the run of play continues, having now gone 10 games to start the year without giving up such a score. No MLS team on record has gone longer without allowing such a goal (albeit with records only going back to 2010). Of course, there are myriad ways to otherwise give up goals, and the Sounders, unfortunately, find themselves giving up more than they’d like. To be fair, there are arguments to be made that the penalties they’ve conceded have been soft, but the calls have been made. While the penalty conceded in the Galaxy showed the art of the pratfall in all its glory, tonight’s penalty was a bit harder to gloss over, if for no other reason than goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland was second to the ball, and thus gave referee Ted Unkel the chance to make a decision. It’s tough to criticize a team that’s given up only 5 goals in 10 games, but in a one-score game, penalties can cost points. The Sounders have now conceded four penalties — three of them successful. If they continue conceding at this rate they’d give up 14 in a season. The most penalties an MLS team has ever conceded in a year is 13 — 2019 TFC — only a handful have given up as many as 10 and the Sounders have never given up more than eight.