The Seattle Sounders’ matchup against Minnesota United figured to be one of their toughest of the season for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the the current state of the roster. Once again, injuries and international duty forced the Sounders to rely upon Major League Soccer’s hardship rule, allowing them to call up two players from Tacoma Defiance to help make up the numbers.
Add to that a strong opponent looking for revenge, a long road trip and sweltering conditions, and the makings for a tough day at the office for coach Brian Schmetzer’s side were all there. And though the Sounders held their own for most of the game, a late defensive breakdown cost the them the chance to leave Allianz Field with a result, falling 1-0 and putting an end to their undefeated start to the season.
The Sounders won’t have much time to dwell on this match, with another long flight to come as they take on Austin FC on Thursday. Here’s what we saw.
Kelyn Rowe puts in a shift
Kelyn Rowe might not have expected to play as prominent a role coming into this year, given what the Sounders roster was projected to look like at the beginning. Of course, the Sounders’ injury issues have since been well documented, and Rowe has found himself in the starting XI more often than not. He added right wingback to his resume Sunday, and put in a solid 90 minutes, showing he could handle the position in a pinch. Schmetzer would probably have liked Rowe to get up the field more and try to provide more service from wide areas, and he had his part to play in the goal that decided the game, but at a minimum Rowe can handle the position while Alex Roldan is away.
It’s unclear what the rewards system is in place for frequent users of the MLS hardship exemption, but by the end of next week, the Sounders may be in line for a T-shirt or 2% cash back on their next international signing. Between the Sounders out with long-term injuries (Will Bruin, Jordy Delem, Stefan Frei, Nico Lodeiro and Jordan Morris), those nursing stubborn knocks (Nouhou, Shane O’Neill), international absences (Alex and Cristian Roldan) and loans (Shandon Hopeau, Trey Muse and Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez), it appears that the Sounders will avail themselves of the rule at least twice more.
But the question has to be asked: How long is this strategy viable? Getting Tacoma Defiance players some time with the Sounders has its benefits, but it’s unclear if those are on the field with a team vying for its first Supporters’ Shield since 2014. If the short bench plays a role in the Sounders dropping points in the next two games, the questions may mount.
The kids continue to get tested
That said, at some point the Sounders were going to have to rely on their much-hyped youth movement, and a road test against a Western Conference opponent is as good a test as any — especially if your short roster leaves you little choice in the matter. Danny Leyva and Josh Atencio seem to alternate who starts with the former getting the starting nod Sunday. 18-year-old Ethan Dobbelaere also made a short cameo, playing a dangerous cross that won a corner and 22-year-old Samuel Adeniran was on the field for a smiliar spell. Including fellow Defiance callup Obed Vargas (15) and Reed Baker-Whiting (15) the average age of the outfield players on the bench for the Sounders was 18 years old.
In the season-opener, Minnesota caught the Sounders off-guard by high pressing them for most of the first half. The Sounders had trouble adapting to the tactic for the first half of the game until they were able to find a goal, and then pour it on afterwards for a 4-0 victory. In this match, Adrian Heath’s side employed a similar strategy, and while it didn’t necessary bother the Sounders as much as it did in the first matchup, it was still effective in forcing turnovers and partially nullifying their desire to play out of the back. And unlike in the first matchup, the Sounders weren’t able to find the first goal to change the game.
Austin will be interesting
The Sounders might be looking for revenge of a sort themselves, having been held to a 0-0 result at Lumen Field in May. In that match, Austin FC employed some tactics that might charitably be called cynical, but in the Sounders’ current state, they might be a bit more open, particularly playing at home on full rest. The Sounders will likely be forced into some creative lineup decisions, with Xavier Arreaga out due to yellow card accumulation. So the kids will almost certainly continue to get that baptism by fire in the Lone Star State.