SEATTLE — Over time, even the most interesting relationships can lose a little bit of their luster. The Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy have been doing this dance for 14 years now, and while they’re not really geographic rivals, there’s no questioning that it’s a rivalry, and has been since the moment the Sounders began their MLS journey.
And it’s tough to live up to some of the highs (2014) and lows (later in 2014) in this long-distance relationship, so it’s not surprising that after a while, that a “been-there-done-that” vibe can creep in. But the relationships that endure come up with ways to keep the spark going, through the good times and the bad. And for the Galaxy, they’d really let themselves go since the Sounders dumped them out of the playoffs in 2015.
But when they renewed acquaintances Saturday at Lumen Field, the Sounders surely noticed there was something different about Greg Vanney’s side. Particularly when the Galaxy greeted them not with a hug, but more of sucker-punch in the opening 5 minutes. That opening goal likely gave fans a bit of PTSD, given that this would hardly be the first time the Sounders have followed up their solid Concacaf Champoins League performances with an MLS dud. This time, the Sounders were up for the challenge.
Displaying some of their trademark composure and maturity, the Sounders were able to overcome the early first-half deficit and an early second-half equalizer to open their MLS account with an entertaining 3-2 victory, which sets them up for their return match at Leon on Thursday. After the match, Schmetzer said the game was a good experience for what the team will endure in Leon, so even the longest relationships can teach you something new.
One way to break out of a scoring slump is to take advantage of chances from dead-ball situations, and the Sounders certainly did that in this match. Of course, the most dangerous set-piece is from the penalty spot, and after winning the foul that set it up, Fredy Montero — after some...deliberation with Albert Rusnak — dispatched the ball from the spot with clinical precision. Jordan Morris’ goal from a corner might not win any votes for goal of the year, but as Schmetzer pointed out after the game, he was in the perfect position to take advantage of the corner, which he did. The third set-piece finish from Xavier Arreaga however was far more aesthetic, nodding home an exquisite pass from Alex Roldan on a training ground-style short corner.
When Schmetzer called the match a good experience for what they’ll endure in León on Thursday, it was a reference to the way the Galaxy put the Sounders under pressure from the start. When the Galaxy were rewarded for the endeavor in the opening minutes, the Sounders had to figure out a way to deal with the onslaught from behind. That they were able to equalize relatively early in the match surely helped, but that didn’t relieve the pressure much and it showed in the post-game status, with the Galaxy holding close to a 2-1 advantage in possession and shots. Sometimes possession stats can be misleading, particularly when a team is passing the ball around their defensive half of the field. In this case, it certainly wasn’t.
Speaking of lessons, the Sounders got some early work in closing out a lead, which they did expertly in Saturday’s match. Few things are more demoralizing than giving up a lead late (the New England Revolution got a taste of that Saturday), but the Sounders had no such issues in this one, navigating the 5 minutes of extra time with aplomb. Will Bruin, in his first action this year, was instrumental with his holdup play drawing some timely fouls and throw-ins deep in the Galaxy defensive half of the field.
Building on CCL victory
One thing the Sounders felt was important was building off their CCL performances. To this point, there was some narrative that spoke to the Sounders being two teams, given their inability to match their international and domestic forms. While that may be a bit unfair given injuries, fatigue and the timing of matches the fact is that an 0-2 MLS start left a lot of people wondering. While a singular home win may not change that narrative overnight, it will surely ease a lot of nerves.
Support from the flanks
One of the questions coming from change back to a 4-2-3-1 from the three-man backline was how their defensive backs would adjust to the formation. Last year, Alex Roldan in particular was able to provide width and supply service, particularly with three center backs providing cover. With more defensive responsibilities, the Sounders not at full strength and new players being integrated, it’s been a bit of a challenge. In this match,8 however, Roldan did an expert job picking his spots, and showed his quality on the service on the third goal. While Nouhou didn’t have an assist, his defensive contributions were solid as always, yellow card aside.