It’s hard not to be of two minds about the Seattle Sounders’ 1-1 draw on the road against Austin FC. On the one hand, a road point with a massively depleted squad on short rest is almost never a bad outcome. On the other, blown leads almost always stick in the craw of coaches, players and fans. And when your start to the league season has more losses than wins, opportunities to make up those dropped points should not be squandered if you can help it.
So at the end of the match — much like on Thursday’s draw in León — there was a feeling of a missed opportunity to end the first chapter of the 2022 season on a high note. After all, another short-handed road victory in Austin surely would have made a statement.
But game states are a thing, and though the Sounders controlled large portions of the match, so too did Austin put them under considerable pressure, earning their reward after going down just before the halftime whistle. Both teams had opportunities to score a boatload of goals, but their finishing shoes weren’t quite there on the day. It was an entertaining match to be sure and as the cliché goes, maybe a point for both was deserved in the end.
Super Stef (2)
One of the reasons — and maybe the primary reason — the Sounders got anything at all out of the game were the heroics of Stefan Cleveland in goal. Called in to duty with the starting Stef held out for precautionary reasons, Cleveland reminded everyone why they should be glad the free-agent market was apparently soft in the offseason. In his first start of the year, Cleveland came up with some simply outrageous saves, particularly when Austin was in the ascendancy during the match. It’s hard to understand why Cleveland couldn’t find a starting job elsewhere in MLS, but performances like this one will likely drive up his value as the year goes on.
The last two years have been frustrating for Bruin, who has struggled with injuries throughout. And when he has been healthy, he’s not quite been scoring at his historic rate. So while Bruin brought his trademark workrate and holdup play to this match, it was surely a major positive for him and the Sounders that he opened his account in his first start of the year. As coach Schmetzer said in the post-game press conference, the Sounders rely on him to score goals, so the tally should do wonders for his confidence in this early part of the season.
If nothing else the Sounders will be well-tested against high-pressing teams as they continue their quest to win Concacaf Champions League, as Austin FC pressured the Sounders early and often, much like León did on Thursday. Of course Austin doesn’t have the quality of the Liga MX side, so while they initially had some trouble dealing with the tactics, the Sounders were eventually able to figure themselves out, and after about 10 minutes, were more or less able to control the match through the end of the first half.
There is something to be said for momentum however, and Austin certainly had it for large portions of the second half, culminating with the Diego Fagundez tying goal. It, by and large, had been coming, and but for the heroics of Cleveland would have come sooner. There wasn’t much he could do about the goal however, as the Sounders eventually bowed to the onslaught.
Sounders steady the ship
Still, as shaky as the Sounders looked, they picked themselves up and showed some of their trademark resolve to close out the game and earn the point. It was a team effort to be sure, with all hands defending throughout. Schmetzer prides his team on their defending from back to front, which explains the contributions from their attacking contingent. Schmetzer had some particular praise for Leo Chu, who missed a golden chance to likely seal the game, but was continuously helping out defensively, and won his share of battles to break up Austin attacks.