Coming into Wednesday night’s match in San Jose, the Seattle Sounders surely cast a wary eye on what could accurately be described as a trap game. To be sure, San Jose is far from a pushover, but there is a reason they are currently on the outside of the playoff picture: There is a Good San Jose, and a Bad San Jose. Good San Jose can frustrate teams with their tactics, and they have enough talent to beat any team on their day, as the Sounders lamentably found out in their 1-0 home defeat on July 31. Bad San Jose? Well, they can implode with best of them.
Wednesday’s 3-1 victory saw more of the Bad San Jose than good, though the Sounders would say they deserve quite a bit more credit than that, and they’d have a good argument. Multiple players turned in quality performances, and the opening 50 or so minutes were arguably the best the Sounders have looked all year. When Cristian Roldan slotted home the third goal, it looked like the Sounders could turn in a repeat of the infamous 7-1 drubbing from last year.
However, an unfortunate own-goal minutes later mostly put thoughts of a rout on ice, and the Sounders had to settle merely for a professional closing out of the game, managing the last 30 minutes or so with some stout defense and opportunistic forays forward that didn’t quite come off. Still, it was more than a solid performance, tying a record for road wins in a season at nine, with plenty of opportunities left to break double digits. For now, the Sounders will try to finish off this 7-game/23-day stretch with a win against another dangerous opponent in the Colorado Rapids Sunday night at Lumen Field.
Ruidíaz breaks his mini-drought
While nobody was truly worried, the whispers had started about a possible dip in form for star striker Raúl Ruidíaz. To be sure, the down-tick in scoring for Raúl Ruidíaz involved a memorable goal in the Leagues Cup semifinal against Santos Laguna two weeks ago, but the Peruvian striker hadn’t bagged an MLS goal since his substitute smash-and-grab against FC Dallas on Aug. 18. So it was surely no small bit of relief for all involved when Ruidíaz found the back of the net in the 25th minute against San Jose, and followed it up with a clinical penalty kick just before halftime.
Unfortunately, Ruidíaz came off at halftime for what was deemed “precautionary” reasons with an undisclosed knock. (Although the broadcasters described it as a hamstring injury, Brian Schmetzer downplayed that diagnosis after the game.) Ruidíaz is set to depart for international duty after the Colorado Rapids match, so fans will have to wait until the weekend to find out whether he joins Peru for their World Cup Qualifying campaign.
There were more shouts than whispers about the reasons for Léo Chú’s limited action thus far. Both Schmetzer and General Manager Garth Lagerwey had repeatedly urged caution about expecting too much from the “Young Money” signing, but shiny toys being what they are, everyone wants to unwrap them and take them for a spin. After Wednesday’s performance, fans will likely want to see a lot more. While Chú’s cameo in the Leagues Cup was nice, this was something more. Chú provided a vertical threat from an attacking position that the Sounders have missed since Jordan Morris went on loan, and then went out to an ACL tear. Chú was involved in the third goal, and likely would have drawn a penalty had Cristian Roldan not converted his shot after a fine pass from Jimmy Medranda. Perhaps most promising was his commitment to his defensive responsibilities, and while nobody will confuse him for prime Ozzie Alonso, being in the right position and making the effort will go a long way, particularly for a young attacking player. Schmetzer has said that they’re still trying to figure out how to incorporate Chú into their system, but maybe they’ll need to make some tweaks to the system to accommodate Chú as well.
Danny Leyva finds his groove (with honorable mention to Josh Atencio)
Paring two teenagers in the defensive midfield can mean a lot of growing pains. As Danny Leyva said post-game: It’s not the academy anymore. In the match against Real Salt Lake, the pair weren’t overrun per se, but there were definite struggles controlling the midfield. There were no such issues here, as Atencio and Leyva as a pairing had a vastly improved performance — particularly Leyva, who went the entire match and was a calming presence on the ball with his passing. Importantly, Leyva was more aggressive on defense and held his own physically with San Jose’s often chaotic and aggressive style. It’s important to remember that both are still teenagers — with Leyva having just registered to vote — so they still have a lot of growing to do, both physically and mentally. But what a ride it’s been so far.
Some days it doesn’t pay to scoreboard watch. Setting aside the New England Revolution — who have all but wrapped up the Supporters’ Shield — most of the results in MLS Wednesday went against the Sounders, with Colorado, Sporting Kansas City and Portland picking up victories. So even with a victory on the road against Kansas City, Schmetzer said the message to the team was not to waste that result with a poor display in San Jose. The Sounders took that message to heart, turning in a professional performance to again take top spot in the Western Conference, and set themselves up to finish off the grueling late summer run. A good result on Sunday means top spot going into the international break, as well as taking points away from a rival. As they say, it’s all to play for.
“Nouhou is back”
Long-term injuries are always tough. And it can take more than one game for a player to feel like themselves again. Concerns about re-injury aside, getting fitness and timing back is always a consideration. So perhaps it was always unfair to expect Nouhou to step right back in after a three-month break and return to his all-star level. In any case, whatever issues Nouhou was dealing with he he returned to the play appear to be behind him, because he was back to his entertaining, lockdown ways Wednesday night. Not letting any of the San Jose attackers past him, Nouhou was dominant in defense the entire night, and displayed his typical penchant for the dramatic, with an over the top windmill-like pratfall to earn a foul late to help close out the game. As Schmetzer said after the match: “Nouhou is back.”