SEATTLE — Following the Seattle Sounders’ 5-0 win over Motagua a couple weeks ago, I declared it a sort of palate cleanser for the season. If we accept that analogy, I think Tuesday’s 3-0 dismantling of Club León can be considered something more akin to an appetizer in what promises to be a gourmet, multi-course meal.
The Sounders showed off a lot of the ingredients that make this season a potentially special entree. Despite missing Nicolás Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidíaz — their two most productive and decorated players — the Sounders were the better team virtually from whistle to whistle. Even when they were ceding possession, it was very clearly done with a purpose. The Sounders exploited León’s high line and compressed midfield repeatedly, connecting short passes before springing runners in transition.
We saw teases of what was to come early. Jordan Morris and Albert Rusnák were both very close to getting in on goal after line-breaking passes, but some excellent goalkeeping kept them from breaking through. After Cristian Roldan used some clever body positioning to draw a penalty and Fredy Montero coolly converted the chance, the gaps got even easier to exploit.
Montero’s goal that made it 2-0 was the product of some intricate passing near midfield that opened up space on the wing, allowing Roldan to run onto a ball and send it in first time.
Quality stuff all around but how about the pass and move of Rusnak? pic.twitter.com/wFG1KTNY55— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) March 9, 2022
The floodgates really opened in the second half as León looked completely befuddled at what to do with the Sounders’ willingness to constantly make vertical runs from deep in their own end. The best example again featured Roldan, who not only factored heavily on all three goals but also had five key passes, none of them better than this one that set up Morris for a golden opportunity.
You obviously want to see Morris finish this but it’s a great sequence and love Roldan continuing his run. pic.twitter.com/krTYykIstF— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) March 9, 2022
Roldan was very clearly the star of this game, but there were so many positive performances that it’s easy to remember why this season felt so promising. Accuse Morris of being wasteful if you must, but let’s also acknowledge that León had no idea how to defend him and put to bed any notion he’s lost a step; Montero looked every bit like the decorated international scorer he is; even though Albert Rusnák didn’t get on the scoresheet, he was constantly popping up in dangerous spots and had important touches on several of the Sounders’ best chances; João Paulo was, again, the do-everything midfielder who was the Sounders team MVP a year ago; Obed Vargas took another massive step forward on his developmental path and constantly seemed to be exactly where he was needed; and the defense was so good that León was limited to just one mildly dangerous look despite having the ball about 70% of the time.
“We knew if we could kind of let them come a little bit and defend really well as a team, which we did, that there’d be space to transition,” Morris said in the postgame press conference. “I thought we did a really, really good job of that. On another day, we probably could’ve had a couple more goals. So it was great. We just have to keep going.”
It’s tempting to focus on those “couple more goals” but I think it’s maybe missing the bigger picture. That the Sounders were so often in positions to score those goals should be considered far more important. Since the end of last year, they’ve struggled to regularly get into dangerous positions. This was a reminder that contrary to the prevailing narrative, they aren’t entirely dependent on the likes of Lodeiro or Ruidíaz to both set up and finish those chances. Even without them, this team has plenty of skill, speed and guile to turn one of Mexico’s best teams — in addition to winning Leagues Cup last year, they made it to the Liguilla finals and are third in the Liga MX table this season — into traffic cones.
Of course, the job is still only half done. For this to truly matter, the Sounders must go to León — a city that’s at a higher elevation than anywhere in MLS — and not fall apart, a fate that’s all too familiar in this tournament. Beyond that, the Sounders also have to eventually turn this into league success as well.
In the meantime, however, it’s worth savoring this one. The Sounders now have outscored their CCL opponents 8-0 in three games. Whether or not they can carry this form into league play remains to be seen, but on this night the Sounders showed they have the makings of something special.