A wise, old coach surely once told his players “the soccer gods only give a team as much as they can handle.”
This may or may not be an actual thing coaches say, but it is something the Seattle Sounders are really testing out these days. Shortly before kickoff on Sunday, it was revealed that Will Bruin had suffered a torn meniscus and would likely be out for most of July. His absence brought the number of missing potential starters for the game to seven, depending on how liberal you want to be with the language. More directly, it left the Sounders with just 17 available players, two of whom have less than 1,000 professional minutes under their belts.
Especially for the first 30 or so minutes of the second half, the Sounders looked like a team running on fumes and held together by duct tape. Still, they managed to do enough to secure another result, a 1-1 tie against a Colorado Rapids team that has quietly been one of the better teams in the Western Conference for the past year or so. Also notable was that the game was played in heat and at altitude, both of which visibly sapped the Sounders of energy.
“It was a very complicated game, we knew it was going to be difficult,” Sounders captain Cristian Roldan said. “We didn’t have the energy to press like we like to press. We had heavy legs and it was difficult to keep the press and keep attacking. With only 16 [field] players, we were still able to get a point.”
The tie also pushed the Sounders’ unbeaten run to start the season to 12 games, tied for the longest in MLS history. Although it wasn’t enough to keep them atop the Supporters’ Shield standings — Sporting KC now claims that honor due to the total-wins tiebreaker — the Sounders still find themselves in a remarkably good position, especially given the challenges they’ve faced.
This being MLS, however, the soccer gods still have a few challenges up their sleeves. After Wednesday’s game, Alex Roldan will leave the Sounders to join the El Salvador national team for the Gold Cup. Cristian Roldan is leaving even earlier and could be away longer, as he is already joining the United States national team. Depending on how their teams do, they’ll each miss between 1-5 games.
“You want to be there for your club,” Cristian admitted. “You want to give your all to your employer, the city that made you. It’s a difficult situation to be in but you don’t get opportunities like this too often. I have to show I can compete at an international level.
“I love my teammates, I want to be there for them, but I’m looking forward to the opportunity. I’ll be the Sounders’ biggest cheerleader.”
In a sense, the Roldans’ impending absences only underscores the lost opportunity that was the Rapids game. The Sounders had managed to go into halftime leading through Alex Roldan’s first-career goal. For much of that half, they had looked the better team and were a Raúl Ruidíaz shot off the crossbar away from adding another goal to their tally.
But the Rapids came into the second half a different team. Suddenly, they were pressing and creating turnovers. Their attack was coming in waves as the Sounders couldn’t seem to get out of their own end.
When Michael Barrios scored in the 58th minute, the result was slipping away fast.
To the Sounders credit, they recovered. It wasn’t really until Danny Leyva entered in the 73rd minute that the tide really changed, but the Sounders did at least get back onto equal footing from that point forward.
That in itself showed a degree of a growth from previous iterations of Brian Schmetzer’s teams. While the Sounders have always been good on their day, they’ve sometimes struggled to see out results. That’s especially true when they’ve been shorthanded.
This Sounders team seems to have that little extra something that pushes them through. While their roster is extraordinarily thin, they are making good use of the numbers they have. Previously untested youngsters like Josh Atencio, AB Cissoko and Leyva have all risen to the opportunity afforded them. Veterans discarded by other teams like Kelyn Rowe, Jimmy Medranda and Shane O’Neill have proven to be vital contributors.
It’s impossible to say where this will all end up, but the trends are positives. The Sounders are on 26 points through 12 games while giving 20 different players at least one start and at least four appearances. The Sounders are passing all the tests being thrown at them, even if not always with straight A’s. The soccer gods would probably suggest this is just making the Sounders stronger.
“The messaging within the group is next man up,” Cristian Roldan said. “It’s been like that for quite some time. We’re down to 15/16 players. Guys are going to have to step up and do their part. It’s a big opportunity for these young guys to show what they can do. We play as a team, that’s extremely important. We’ll expect big things from our kids and expect them to do the job.”