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Postgame Pontifications: Nine-point road trip showcases Sounders’ depth

There were 19 different starters and six different goal-scorers during a history-making seven-day run.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

When the 2021 schedule was first released, one stretch stood out. The Seattle Sounders were to embark on a three-game road trip in mid-August that would feature games against their biggest rival, a stadium in which they hadn’t won in six years and the defending MLS Cup champions. That they were to do this over just seven days — something they’d never done, including home games or not — only promised to make it even more difficult.

If there was any three-game stretch in which you might excuse the Sounders for failing to claim any points, this would have been it. As long as they could avoid the type of calamity that might roll over into their home game against the Portland Timbers immediately following the road trip, the Sounders probably would have been OK with it. If the Sounders could average as little as a point per match — generally what you hope for on the road — that would have been considered a bonus.

Instead, they’re now heading home with nine points, back on top of the Western Conference and heading into next Sunday’s home match against the Timbers with a full head of steam. Not only was it the first time the Sounders had ever won three games in such a small span of time, but it was also the first time an MLS team had pulled off the feat. The last time an MLS team had won three away games in even an eight-day span was back in 2005 when Kansas City pulled it off.

As impressive as the first two games of the road trip were — pasting the Timbers 6-2 and then topping FC Dallas 1-0 while swapping out seven starters — Seattle may have saved their best for last.

It wasn’t that the Sounders played perfect or even particularly attractive soccer against the Crew, but they once again showed that no team seems to better understand what a given game needs while scoring two goals over the final five minutes of regulation to pull out an improbably 2-1 win.

“We’re pretty freaking happy in that locker room,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “You’re not going to play great in every game. This wasn’t one of our best performances.

“I would just go back to the character of the team, of the group, of the players in the locker room. They play with passion, with the feeling that they’ll never be out of a game, that they’re always in it, that they can come back.”

Through the first 60 or so minutes, the Sounders gave as well as they got. Behind a lineup featuring eight changes from the midweek game, including Nicolas Lodeiro starting for the first time this year, they looked the more energetic side and had a slight advantage when it came to chance creation. But the Crew seemed to grab control of the game around the hour mark and started applying some real pressure.

It came good on a corner kick in the 77th minute when Bradley Wright-Phillips found the ball at his feet and no defender nearby. The 1-0 Crew lead wasn’t so much a product of dominance, but it wasn’t exactly against the run of play, either.

Many teams probably would have simply licked their wounds at that point, secure in the knowledge that they’d already enjoyed a successful road trip.

Not the Sounders. They responded by pressing for the equalizer almost immediately. By the time Xavier Arreaga poked home Jimmy Medranda’s slightly deflected cross, the Sounders had clearly grabbed hold of the momentum. They wasted no time maximizing on it.

The Sounders won back possession from the ensuing kickoff almost immediately and then capped off an impressive 20-pass sequence when Medranda dropped it off to Will Bruin, who calmly slotted his shot inside the far post for his first goal of the year.

That all 10 outfield players touched the ball on the game-winning sequence was only fitting, as it capped off a week in which the Sounders used 19 different starters and had six different goal-scorers. Medranda, who set up both goals, came off the bench in this one, just as Bruin did. Arreaga, who turned in one of his best performances of the season against the Crew, was the only player who played all 270 minutes.

“This is the deepest team I’ve been a part of,” Bruin said. “We have a lot of quality on this roster and when we’re fully healthy, there’s going to be a handful of guys who don’t make the 11 who are going to be upset. That’s what you want, you want that competition. The depth of this team showed huge this week. When we’re healthy, we’re the deepest team in the league.”

More broadly, it can probably be argued that the health crisis of the previous month or so has served to set up this run for the Sounders. Rather than trying to force extra minutes out of his regular starters — the way the Crew did, for instance — Schmetzer was able to confidently rotate his lineup throughout the week. Over the final 15 or so minutes, the Sounders looked more fresh, more ready to run and had an easier time winning second balls.

The Sounders won’t have to play so many games in such a short period of time again this year, but they will continue to have their depth tested. A stretch like this one should only serve to build their confidence when future challenges are presented.

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