It would be silly to suggest the Seattle Sounders are in a genuine slump right now after losing two of their last three games. But this is probably the worst stretch of results they’ve endured in a season in which they’ve spent most of it leading the Supporters’ Shield race. In addition to those two losses, the Sounders are 2-2-2 in their past six overall and 2-1-3 in their last six at home, despite just two of those opponents being in playoff position.
The San Jose Earthquakes represent a good opportunity to get things heading back in the right direction.
The Quakes come into this game winless in 11 — a streak that started when the Sounders beat them in their last meeting — and they’ve not beaten the Sounders since 2015.
Here’s what we’re hoping to see:
The Sounders are not accustomed to losing at home and especially not by multiple goals. Sunday’s 3-1 loss to Sporting KC snapped a 15-game home unbeaten streak and was the first time in Brian Schmetzer’s tenure as MLS head coach that his team had lost by more than one goal at home, a span of 96 games. You have to go all the way back to 2007 to find the last time a Sounders team coached by Schmetzer in any league lost by at least two goals at what is now Lumen Field. The best way to put that loss in the rear-view mirror is to get back to winning, and the Earthquakes are a great candidate to get it started.
A Heritage of winning
We don’t talk about it much, but it’s worth noting that there is a trophy on the line. The Heritage Cup, in the words of the organizers, is not so much a “rivalry” trophy as much as it is an acknowledgment of the teams’ shared history from the NASL days. The Earthquakes, somewhat hilariously, claimed the trophy last year despite losing the season series 11-2 on aggregate and not winning any of the three meetings between the teams after the organizers decided to award it during the MLS is Back Tournament. (That the Sounders hosted their own Heritage Game last week earlier and honored Jimmy Gabriel, who also coached the Earthquakes, probably speaks to how important this particular trophy is to the organization.) More than the importance of the trophy, beating a conference opponent is always good and the Sounders have done that to great effect over the years. The Sounders are currently riding a 14-game unbeaten run against the Quakes. Let’s keep that going.
Embrace the chaos
By now you know all about how Matias Almeyda employs a man-marking system that aims, in the words of Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland, to create chaos. It can be uncomfortable to play against, even when there’s an established run of success against it. Traditionally, the Sounders have beaten this system by clever off-ball movement and feeding passes where you want your teammate to be, not where they are now. In the first meeting this year, the Sounders were forced to heavily rotate their lineup and came out in a 3-4-3. I suspect this game will be something closer to full strength. It will be fascinating to see how they match up.
Return of a Roldan
It’s a little wild to think that at this point last year, Alex Roldan had gone more than a year without starting an MLS game. Now, he’s a seasoned international whose value to a Supporters’ Shield contender is unquestioned. While Brian Schmetzer sort of joked that Roldan will need to earn his starting spot back, it’s practically guaranteed that the newly-minted El Salvador international will be back out on the right wing. Roldan was one of El Salvador’s top players in the Gold Cup, and even earned Man of the Match consideration for his defensive effort against Mexico. Based on Roldan’s trajectory over the past year, it hardly seems outlandish to suggest that his best days may still be ahead.
Make the most of it
The Sounders should be a little closer to full strength heading into this game, with the return of Alex Roldan and Will Bruin. But with Abdoulaye Cissoko likely out, that likely leaves the door open for at least one more week of “Extreme Hardship” signings on the roster. Hopefully, this is the last time the Sounders will need to take such measures, but it’s also one more opportunity for one of those players to show they deserve a first-team contract. Alex Villanueva and Obed Vargas currently seem to be the two players closest to earning the final Homegrown Player spot on the roster. It would be great if the Sounders were in a position to give them one more look.