SEATTLE — One of the hallmarks of good teams is that they figure out ways to get points even when they aren’t at their best. The Seattle Sounders, who came into the match riding a nine-game winless run in MLS play, were not at their best on Saturday against the LA Galaxy, a team riding high on back-to-back wins to open the season.
That the Sounders still managed to claim all three points with a 3-2 victory would seem to be a sign that concerns over a sudden drop-off were probably a bit alarmist.
Asked if the win was any sort of relief, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer effectively suggested that any concerns on the outside hadn't really made their way into the locker room.
“It was more for you guys, to stop the narrative that we can’t win MLS games,” Schmetzer joked. “It was certainly a big game because we wanted to continue to build on the early parts of this year. But look, had we drawn 2-2, would we have been hit with a gut punch that we can’t recover from? No, the team’s too experienced for that.”
The result may have not been particularly important, but it was still a good stress test, Schmetzer said. The Sounders can thank the Galaxy for that.
True to their divergent league form, the Galaxy dominated large stretches of the match and finished with nearly twice as much possession and shots. But when Javier Hernandez opened the scoring on a well-worked — and poorly defended — goal in the 5th minute, there was no sense of panic. The Sounders stayed true to their game-plan, looked for counter opportunities and found the equalizer relatively quickly through a set-piece. They even managed to go into halftime leading — thanks to an expertly drawn and converted penalty by Fredy Montero — for the first time since last October.
When Douglas Costa tied it up on a free kick that deflected off the Sounders’ wall, it was more of the same. No panic, no dramatic change, just calmly going about their business and looking for openings. When Xavier Arreaga put away Alex Roldán’s pin-perfect cross, it simply felt like a team who understood the task and how to accomplish it.
“It was a good training session for we’re going to face in León, because the Galaxy at times were all over us,” Schmetzer added. “We had to defend for our lives. We had to gut out nervy moments. We’ll use this film as kind of a learning lesson for our next opponent, our next match away.”
There were plenty of moments where it would have made sense for the Sounders to crumble a bit. Aside from both Galaxy goals coming at inopportune times, there was also a bit of drama around the Sounders’ penalty.
Almost as soon as referee Allen Chapman pointed to the spot, Albert Rusnák looked determined to take the penalty. His first move was to go to Fredy Montero to discuss it. Although Rusnák ended up with the ball in his hands, whatever he told Montero apparently wasn’t very convincing. Montero, who had won the penalty after an impressive bit of juggling, was still insistent on taking it and ultimately won out.
“What happened with Albert, I mean, it’s soccer,” Montero explained afterward. “He wanted to score, he wanted to kick the PK, but at the same time, the responsibility. I scored the last PK in the previous match. So I believed that I had the confidence to take this one, especially when the game was still 1-1.
“That’s it. It stays there, we are professionals and I love Albert, he is a great guy and I believe that he’s going to have many chances to score. So for now we move on.”
That Montero converted — his 11th straight dating back to 2017 — surely went a long way to smoothing it over. But it still feels telling that Schmetzer didn’t seem concerned and speaks to the way he manages the team.
While there have been times that the Sounders assigned penalty-taking duties before the game, Schmetzer seems more inclined to let players work it out amongst themselves. Sure, that has the potential to lead to awkward situations like we saw on Saturday, but it also speaks to the trust Schmetzer has in his veteran-heavy team and his ability to understand what his team needs in a given moment.
“We have so many weapons and so many options, it’s not an issue for me,” Schmetzer said. “If I have to step in I will, but we have a really talented team as far as set-pieces are concerned and we have to use that in games like today.”