SEATTLE — No matter how you parse the numbers, the Seattle Sounders’ start has been nothing short of impressive. Their 25 points through 11 matches stand as their best-ever start, their +13 goal-difference is better than their full-season totals in every season but 2014 (+15) and 2020 (+21), and they still lead the Supporters’ Shield race by two points. They’ve done this while missing as many as five potential starters for multiple games, without even counting Jordan Morris.
I bring this all up because, once again, it’s tempting to look at the Vancouver Whitecaps’ tie in a bit of a vacuum. Yes, it was a frustrating tie. The Sounders are one of the best teams in the league with a league-best defense and they dropped two points to one of the league’s worst teams with one of the least effective attacks. The game was at home, in front of the biggest crowd of the season and the Whitecaps were coming off equally short rest. There’s really no good reason not to have won this game.
It was also part of a frustrating trend in which the Sounders have now claimed just six of a possible 12 points at home against teams outside of playoff position. But I’m still finding myself feeling OK with the result, at least as it pertains to what it says about this team.
Looking at the two goals they allowed, I think it’s fair to say that they were well on the flukey side of things. If Nouhou is in there instead of AB Cissoko — who, by the way, had another solid performance aside from that goal — I don’t think there’s any way it happens. Nouhou simply doesn’t get beaten for speed like that. I’m less critical of Stefan Cleveland’s role in the goal, but putting yourself in a position to potentially get beaten outside the penalty area is something I don’t think we’ve ever seen Stefan Frei do.
The second goal is another frustrating sequence as Shane O’Neill misjudges the cross and Cleveland again gets stuck in a bit of no-man’s land. But even after those mistakes, the goal probably should have been disallowed as it sure looks like Lucas Cavallini used his arm to help control it.
Aside from those two chances, the Whitecaps hardly generated any danger. Their only other quality chance came when Deiber Caicedo stole the ball off Alex Roldan, only for Cleveland to come up with a big save.
I’m not particularly bothered by any of those chances because they aren’t indicative of systemic failures, nor are they the sort of chances the Sounders have shown themselves prone to giving up.
When asked to judge how they looked in this game vs. the previous 10 games, I’m inclined to believe the larger sample is the one that’s more reflective of their overall ability. Even after that game, the Sounders have still allowed fewer non-penalty scoring chances than all but one other defense.
Offensively, I’m actually a little less worried now than I was at the start of the week. While I was getting a little concerned about this team’s ability to score from traditional buildup, this week we saw them two score two clinical counter-attack goals and they generated at least 1.8 xG in all three games. In this one, it was Josh Atencio’s tackle that got the attack going with Brad Smith ultimately perfectly setting up Raúl Ruidíaz for a finish.
I was equally encouraged by how the Sounders came back after allowing the two goals. This is a team that had only trailed 72 minutes and had never fallen behind at home this year. Instead of spending any time worrying about that, they immediately came back and starting creating chances. Fredy Montero had a particularly good look at an equalizer less than 10 minutes after the Sounders went behind, Jimmy Medranda’s goal came just a few minutes after that and they generated six more shots — all from inside the penalty area — after equalizing.
If there’s a silver lining in falling behind like this, it’s that the Sounders have managed to get at least a point in all three games that it’s happened and that they’re perfectly capable of scraping together a result even when things aren’t going their way.
“This still our best start in club history, still undefeated,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “What I complimented the team on after the game was they never quit. A lot of teams go down and you end up losing all the points. For us to come back ... we were fighting, we were going for all three, but I’ll do some reflection.”
If there’s one thing I think Schmetzer should consider changing after this game, it’s expanding the role of Medranda. For the second straight game, the Colombian had a massive influence on the game. After starting the previous game as a left back, he looked just as good as a left midfielder in a 4-2-3-1. I don’t necessarily think the Sounders need to change their formation, but Medranda probably deserves some more looks one way or another.