SEATTLE — For most of the match, the Seattle Sounders created numerous scoring chances. Raúl Ruidíaz, in particular, found himself with several golden opportunities, hitting one early chance off the inside of the post and narrowly missing another close-range shot from a Jimmy Medranda cross that went just inches wide.
But as time ticked down on the final match before a mini-Gold Cup break, the Sounders found themselves clinging to a 1-0 lead.
Suddenly, an opening emerged. Fredy Montero expertly put a ball into space for Brad Smith, who whipped in a cross with his first touch. Ruidíaz didn’t miss this time, redirecting the ball past the helpless goalkeeper for his league-leading 10th goal of the season.
The biggest crowd in well over a year erupted in cheer, sounding very much like those pre-pandemic days; Ruidíaz literally sashayed along the endline; and Brian Schmetzer splashed a satisfied smile, seemingly soaking in the atmosphere and maybe, just maybe, giving himself a chance to relish in another in a long line of achievements as Sounders head coach.
“It was very important for the team to play well, that’s probably what I would say,” Schmetzer said during his postgame media conference. “It’s an impressive, you know, mini-record — I am proud that we accomplished that. But tonight, I just wanted the team to perform well.
“We all know that at some point the streak is going to end, I am just happy it didn’t end tonight in front of a loud crowd. I thought it was great, I loved it. I thought it was a great evening.”
Not only have the Sounders set an MLS record for longest unbeaten streak to start a season at 13 games, but they did so in style. While the second goal came a bit later than Schmetzer admittedly would have preferred, the 2-0 scoreline was fitting. After a string of games in which the Sounders had left points on the table against inferior opponents, the win allowed the Sounders to head into this break with a little bit of breathing room at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings. At 29 points through 13 games, they’re only point off LAFC’s pace in their record-setting 2019 campaign.
Much has been said about this unbeaten record and how the Sounders have managed to overcome a sometimes comical list of absences in order to achieve it. Before this game, Shane O’Neill was added to the list of injured players just as Xavier Arreaga returned to duty.
O’Neill joined a list of six players who started at least one game who were listed as out for this one. That list doesn’t even include Nicolás Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, and maybe even understates the degree to which injuries and international absences have combined to make putting out a consistent lineup virtually impossible this year.
When the Sounders return from their 11-day hiatus to visit Minnesota United on July 18, they’ll need to add Alex Roldan to that list, as he will still be with El Salvador at the Gold Cup. Roldan, at least, went out in style, turning in one of his best all-around performances of the year with four tackles, 17 pressures and two interceptions to go along with his third assist of the season.
“I think contributing to today’s win is something that I’ll be glad that I stayed,” Roldan said. “It’s always difficult too, when there are fewer players and you’re shorthanded, and so I think staying back and helping the team to this win obviously for a small piece of history is important as well.”
Kelyn Rowe, who finished off Roldan’s assist, quipped, “I’m glad you stayed, buddy.”
Normally, adding Roldan to such a lengthy list of absences would be cause for some serious concern. Somehow, the Sounders have managed to flip that narrative.
At the start of the year, just about everyone took for granted that the Sounders were only as good as Lodeiro was effective. That narrative has been destroyed. For the early part of the season, it was presumed that Nouhou’s emergence as a standout centerback was key to the Sounders’ new formation. They’ve now gone 3-0-2 in the five games he’s been out. This game was played without Cristian Roldan, an early dark-horse candidate for MVP among those who pride themselves in paying particularly close attention to games. The Sounders promptly manhandled a team that started the night in a playoff position.
There surely is a limit to how thin this roster can get before results are seriously impacted. But there’s also a growing sense that Schmetzer and his team of coaches have built something truly special, and that the mantra of “next man up” isn’t just an empty slogan. When that first loss inevitably comes — and it’s not hard to imagine that, with five games in 18 days after this break — there’s every reason to believe this team will be able to collect itself in short order and get back to work.
In the meantime, Schmetzer deserves to smile.