Well, that was unexpected.
Which part? Every part. Though to be fair, it probably shouldn’t have been. Seattle Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer hinted at what was to come in the midweek matchup against Austin FC. The combination of 10 absent players, a formidable opponent on the weekend and three games in eight days meant that something had to give.
That something was Schmetzer’s penchant for relying on his veterans. Again, to be fair, Schmetzer has shown more willingness to give his young talent a chance to get on the field this year. Danny Leyva and Josh Atencio being the best examples of that. But Sounders fans have never seen anything like what they saw Thursday. In fact no one in MLS history had seen anything quite like that.
When the lineups were released, Schmetzer threw everyone for a loop by starting five players (and two more players who were 22 or younger with less experience than some of those teens). It was the second-youngest lineup in MLS history, and the first time anyone had given five teens a start in the same game. But what seemed like a punt turned into three points, as the Sounders used their trademark stingy defense and a worldie from their Golden Boot contender to leave Austin with what could be fairly called one of the most surprising results in franchise history.
Schmetzer time, indeed.
Schmetzer rolls the dice
Craps can be fun, if a reliably money-losing proposition. The trick — at least by Ocean’s 11 logic — is to bet big when the opportunity presents itself. And so it was Thursday evening, when coach Brian Schmetzer decided to go all-in (to mix gambling metaphors) on the youth movement and put all his chips on some promising youngsters. Sure, it was borne of necessity, but Schmetzer had to make the call. And sure, having Ruidiaz to add to proceedings late may have been like loading the dice a little, but in the world of gambling and sports, there is never a sure thing.
Reed Baker-Whiting gives Sounders a spark
Apparently, Reed Baker-Whiting has a bit of reputation as a coach’s pet, at least according to an anecdote relayed by Jon Champion and Taylor Twellman during the ESPN broadcast. After his performance on the field, few will be arguing he doesn’t belong. Baker-Whiting more than held his own, showing an ability to turn forward with the ball into space and drive towards goal, or pick out a pass to help start an attack. Already a physical presence at the age of 16, Baker-Whiting also showed he could get stuck in on a tackle and challenge in the air, though Schmetzer said there is still work to be done as he continues to grow into his body. A bit unlucky not to score early in the game, there was precious little not to like about what Baker-Whiting provided in this match. A great sign of things to come.
Atencio, Leyva give Sounders steady presence
Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva must feel like the old men now. At the ages of 19 and 18, respectively, the duo has been battling it out for places in the Sounders lineup when Schmetzer’s side is at least reasonably close to full strength. Under the current circumstances, it was all but inevitable both would start this game. And so they did, with the twist of Atencio moving back a line to play right centerback. Despite not playing as a defender since 2019, Atencio had a borderline Man of the Match performance. Rarely putting a foot wrong, Atencio cleaned up most of what came his way, and was able to get forward on occasion even from his deeper-lying position. Leyva for his part had a solid if not spectacular game, no small feat given the conditions of a hostile crowd, Texas heat and 85-minute shift in Minnesota on Sunday.
Adeniran gives Sounders new look up top
Samuel Adeniran was something of a late addition to the Tacoma Defiance, having been signed to the USL side in March of this year. He immediately stood out as an intriguing prospect, with a combination of size and footwork that would potentially do well with some grooming. His USL performances to date had been solid, though the final product has yet bear much fruit. But with the Sounders needing an emergency option at forward, Adeniran got the starting nod and gave them exactly what they needed: a big body that could occupy the centerbacks and help relieve some pressure. Adeniran did exactly that, and when on the ball also provided some threatening moments. Adeniran may not be ready for a starring role as the Sounders forward, but he at least flashed the potential that has intrigued the Sounders enough to bring him to the first team. Although his emergency call-ups have now been exhausted, don’t be surprised if we see him again with a full first-team contract.
Ruidíaz is a cheat code
There’s the cliche that you pay the superstars the big bucks for a reason: they come up big in big moments. In this match, you could distill the difference between the two teams thusly: The Sounders have a Ruidíaz and Austin FC don’t. When there is nothing going on, sometimes you need a moment of magic, and if there is one thing that Ruidíaz provides, it’s magic. Coming off the bench for a rare substitute appearance, Ruidíaz blocked a pass and pounced on the opportunity in the 67th minute and turned it into a Goal of the Year candidate, catching Austin FC goalkeeper Brad Stuver off his line with a bending, swerving 40-yard shot that stunned the 20,000+ in attendance and sent the Sounders home with a massive road victory.