SEATTLE — On paper, Saturday’s match between the Seattle Sounders and Vancouver Whitecaps had all the makings of a mismatch. The Sounders were coming off of a professional midweek victory over Real Salt Lake, while the Whitecaps gave up an extra-time goal at “home” to the LA Galaxy, their fifth loss in a row.
Of course, things rarely go according to the books in MLS and aside from being a rivalry match, there were a couple of quirks, including temperatures that were atypical for both teams. And with both teams coming off midweek matches, fatigue promised to play a role in the match as well.
All of which conspired to provide a match that was actually entertaining and compelling, as the Sounders took a lead at the half, gave it up in spectacular fashion and needed a goal off the bench to rescue a point, their third home tie in four matches.
Here’s a few things we noticed:
Raul Ruidiaz continues Golden Boot run
It’s hard to say where the Sounders would be had Raúl Ruidíaz been invited to Copa America, but safe to say the Sounders are glad they don’t have to find out. Ruidíaz was excellent in this game, this time making up for a scuffed early chance to get the Sounders on the board just before the half. Ruidíaz took a brief lead in the Golden Boot race (Chicharito scored two of his own to reclaim the lead later in the evening) with 9 goals and was involved in the game throughout, helping to distribute from deeper positions to give the Sounders attacking opportunities. His 9 goals through 11 games tie Clint Dempsey’s start to 2014 for the best-ever and his 51 goals in MLS competition is second only to Dempsey’s 53 on the Sounders’ all-time list.
Josh Atencio makes his return
Getting Josh Atencio back on the field was surely a welcome sight for head coach Brian Schmetzer, especially given the injury issues currently facing the Sounders. It seemed to take a little bit for Atencio to get acclimated to the speed and physicality of the match, having not started in so long. But halfway through the first half Atencio began to assert himself. He played a key role in the Sounders’ first goal, winning the ball at midfield and notching a secondary assist on the buildup. He was his usual active self throughout, completing 90% of his 30 passes.
Brad Smith has a solid day
It was an all-around solid performance for Brad Smith from his left wingback position. While the Sounders certainly welcome Smith’s goal contributions, they surely also would like to get him more involved in playing provider for the Sounders attackers. Smith did just that on the Sounders' first goal, providing a pinpoint pass for Ruidiaz to slot home. Almost as importantly, Smith was very good on defense, breaking up a number of attacks from Vancouver in one-on-one situations, as well as tracking back to help the backline.
The ‘streak’ is over
If you’re going to break a streak, you might as well do it in memorable fashion. The Sounders’ much-talked-about streak of goals conceded from the run of play was bound to end, and end it did spectacularly. For the first time this year, the backline showed some cracks, with AB Cissoko beaten for pace on a long pass that Cristian Dajome was able to settle, evade Stefan Cleveland and then slot home into an empty net. The second goal wasn’t much better, as Shane O’Neill misjudged a cross, and neither he nor Cleveland were able to clear a deflected shot from Lucas Cavallini, which trickled through the net. The 949 minutes of play without conceding run of play goals will now be resigned to an interesting bit of trivia, but it was fun while it lasted.
A healthy Jimmy Medranda has been a massive benefit to the Sounders already. Providing Schmetzer with a potential platoon option with Smith, Medranda came off the bench to show he can even play as a more advanced winger in a 4-2-3-1. His goal from the top of the penalty area was excellently taken, as he hit it first time through traffic off a headed pass from Fredy Montero. More importantly, it allowed the Sounders to continue their season-opening unbeaten run to 11 games. Medranda provided his trademark doggedness on defense and was played his role well in the frenetic finish to the game.