They can’t all be classics, but they count for three points all the same.
As the Seattle Sounders prepared for their matchup against FC Dallas in heat of Texas, goalkeeper Spencer Richey — seemingly designated for midweek duties in the Lone Star State — said head coach Brian Schmetzer told the players it likely wasn’t going to be the prettiest match. Coming off of an emotional 6-2 road demolition of their hated rivals, there were a couple of things that portended a grind of a match. Inferno-like conditions aside, the Sounders were coming in with only two full days of rest and a 1,700-mile flight.
Schmetzer had also previously hinted at sending out a rotated squad, and rotate he did, making seven changes from Sunday’s match.
But all of the rotation provided a silver lining, in that the firepower on the bench rivaled the military might of several small countries. And Schmetzer used that wealth of attacking talent to his benefit, subbing on Joāo Paulo, Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz after halftime, the latter paying immediate dividends with yet another goalzo, to hand the Sounders their sixth road win.
The victory, along with some dropped home points from Sporting Kansas City, allowed the Sounders to jump to the top of the Western Confernece, and at least stay within touching distance of Supporters’ Shield-leading New England Revolution, who are running away with the Eastern Conference lead.
The Sounders will get a crack at an Eastern conference foe Saturday, and will try to cap the week with an impressive 9 points, which would all but erase the bad taste of a one-point homestand.
The goalkeeping depth is ridiculous
It would be a more than stretch to call Spencer Richey a “find.” After all, he grew up in the Sounders’ backyard, playing at Crossfire before matriculating to the University of Washington and working extensively with Tommy Dutra as a youth. Even then, he didn’t stray too far, being drafted by the Vancouver Whitecaps before spending some time with FC Cincinnati and finally winding his way back to his hometown. What a luxury, then, to have an experienced MLS keeper as your third-choice as Stefan Frei prepares to make his return. Getting Stefan Cleveland a day off and keeping a clean sheet, Richey was a steady presence in the back, making the saves he needed to, and while there were a couple of nervy passes that nearly got the Sounders into trouble, Richey was more than up to the task in helping preserve the shutout. He’s now the third Sounders goalkeeper with at least two shutouts this year, which certainly lends credence to Garth Lagerwey’s recent assertion that “We literally have the deepest goalkeeping group in MLS history.”
Raúl Ruidíaz is cheat code
“Raúl Ruidíaz: Super sub” isn’t something that is likely to catch on long-term. But in an MLS season with significant fixture congestion, there will be more games where the Sounders MVP candidate comes off the bench. It’s surely a comforting thought that even with limited time and limited touches — Ruidiaz had only nine throughout the game — the Sounders striker can come on to the pitch and make an instant impact. Really instant. Just 20 second after coming into the match, he took a pass from fellow substitute Nicolas Lodeiro and fired off a shot. When that was blocked, Ruidíaz decided the path of least resistance to goal was to feather a looping shot over Jimmy Maurer, who must have wondered what he’d done to deserve such treatment. The answer of course is, the same thing as every other goalkeeper: he was there.
Sounders escape the deja voodoo
There were a few striking similarities between the Sounders’ 1-1 draw against Dallas and Wednesday’s match. Like the earlier encounter, the Sounders were under the gun for most of the second half. Conceding much of the possession and nearly all of the chances after Ruidiaz’s golazo, it looked entirely possible the Sounders would meet the same fate as they did in Seattle exactly two weeks ago, when Dallas pulled found an extra-time equalizer. That said, there were a couple of key differences this time around. The Sounders were much more adept at killing off the game in extra time, drawing some timely fouls and running clock in Dallas’ half of the field. Just as helpful, Dallas was profligate in front of goal, failing to put golden chances directly on frame, or wildly missing the mark, letting the Sounders off the hook.
Backline bends, but doesn’t break
That’s not to say Dallas was totally impotent in front of goal. Some of Dallas’ poor marksmanship should be credited to the Sounders’ defense, particularly in light of a makeshift backline that featured Kelyn Rowe at wingback and AB Cissoko manning the left centerback position, spelling the usual starters. Along with the aforementioned performance of Richey, the Sounders put on a heroic defending display, charging down Dallas shots, and providing cover for each other when Dallas got their teammates out of position. It was especially impressive given the rotation with a group that don’t typically play with one another, though Schmetzer might argue that the entire year has been a rotated squad, and that would be fair enough.
It would be remiss not to note the Sounders’ record on the road (6-1-2), which is tops in MLS as they head into the final road match of this three-game set Saturday against Columbus. The Sounders should be up for that game for reasons that are obvious, but a potential 9-point roadtrip would surely erase any bad feelings about the recent home struggles, and set them up nicely for the business end of the season. Why the Sounders have been so good on the road wasn’t something that Schmetzer could exactly pinpoint, except to say that the team has always had a winning mentality, and that means they go into every game thinking they can win. That you don’t always come through in the end is almost beside the point, and the winning mentality can sometimes get you over the line where other teams fall short.