SEATTLE — To say the Seattle Sounders came into their last match before the Gold Cup break undermanned would be something of an understatement. So depleted were the Sounders that they were “able” to take advantage of Major League Soccers so-called “hardship” rule to bring up 16-year-old Juan Alvarez for a cup of coffee with the senior side. Alvarez was unlikely to see much action unless catastrophe befell the Sounders before or during the game, but with their luck, anything was possible.
The Sounders of course had another opportunity in front them: With a win or draw, the Sounders could set a new record, starting the MLS season with 13 consecutive unbeaten. While the Sounders said the record was a motivator, more important was collecting three points against a Western Conference opponent, and move back to the top of the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings.
Thanks to goals from Kelyn Rowe — his first in a Sounders uniform — and Raul Ruidiaz — far from his first with the Sounders — Brian Schmetzer’s side finds themselves all alone atop the record books, putting together a professional 2-0 performance before 27,421 fans at Lumen Field. While the goals came relatively late in the proceedings, the Sounders are likely pretty pleased with their overall performance, creating numerous chances throughout the game, and keeping a clean sheet after conceding three goals in the last two games.
The Sounders will now get a 10-day break before heading out to take on Minnesota United. They’ll hope to get a couple of players back from injuries, and with the transfer window opening on July 8, possibly a new player or two.
Here are some things we liked from this game:
Kelyn Rowe completes homecoming
It took probably 10 years more than he would have liked but Kelyn Rowe finally opened his scoring account with his hometown Sounders. A bit of a victim of circumstance — Rowe was about a year too old to have any hope of being a Homegrown Player — and timing, Rowe didn’t get the chance to don a Sounders uniform until this year. Rowe finally got his moment tonight, getting on the end of an Alex Roldan cross to give the Sounders what turned out to be the winning margin. Rowe immediately pointed to the crest upon scoring and then seemed to just soak in the moment.
The goal aside, he had an excellent all-around game, providing workrate, timely passing and some tenacious defense throughout.
Fredy Montero pulls the strings
Playing alongside Raúl Ruidíaz in what was advertised as a 3-5-2, Montero was dynamic as a playmaker of sorts, unlocking the Dynamo defense early and often with his passing. Montero showed his intent early, slipping a beautiful through-ball to release Ruidíaz, who had his tight-angled shot denied by the crossbar. Montero's full skillset was on display, ably holding off defenders with his back to goal on goal kicks and throw-ins to retain possession for the Sounders when they needed it, setting up teammates and getting himself into dangerous scoring positions as well. Montero may not have scored, but his contribution to the team was invaluable.
Danny Leyva shows some defensive bite
Danny Leyva got the start with Josh Atencio still working his way back to full fitness after a quad injury, and the recent high school graduate showed a different side of his game. Known more for his calmness on the ball and passing. Leyva proved that he could get stuck into a challenge when needed. Leyva was very solid defensively, repeatedly breaking up attacks and winning fouls, particularly early in the game. It was a 83-minute performance that head coach Brian Schmetzer was extremely pleased with, particularly his speed of thought and ability to read plays.
Wingbacks help shut down wide play
Much has been written over the past several weeks about whether teams had exposed a flaw in the Sounders’ defense, as both the Vancouver Whitecaps and Colorado Rapids tested the backline with long balls over the top that leave defenders in one-on-one situations. The Dynamo surely tried their luck, and a 19the minute let-off aside — a near replay of the Whitecaps’ first goal — the Sounders were much improved defending in such situations. Schmetzer attributed the improvement to the work of Jimmy Medranda and Alex Roldan, who not only were more involved in the attack but were more aggressive in challenging the Dynamo’s attackers, preventing them from sending the types of passes that have given the Sounders problems. There is still work for the Sounders to do, but a clean sheet shows they are on their way to fixing the issue.
João Paulo provides some backbone
If Medranda and Roldan were instrumental in shutting down Houston from out wide, João Paulo was the man in the middle while wearing the captain’s armband for the first time. JP helped the Sounders control tempo and create opportunities in attack in addition to clogging up the center of the park defensively. JP was effective particularly late in the game before the Sounders were able to seal the game with a late Ruidíaz goal, notably in making a marauding run down the field and winning a foul to relieve pressure in the 83rd minute.
João Paulo with another monster performance. 102 touches, 80 passes, five chances created, five fouls won.— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) July 8, 2021