Writing about the Seattle Sounders’ road successes last year became a bit of old hat. After all, for much of the year, the Sounders were road warriors the likes of which had rarely been seen in Major League Soccer. Of course, one should never take wins on the road for granted, and by the end the of the season, the Sounders’ great road adventure ran out of gas, as they went winless in their last four away from Lumen.
Even still, while opening up with a loss and a draw in the 2022 regu season is hardly a cause for alarm, paring that with an opening day home defeat raised the alert level somewhere between “raised eyebrow” and “dog-sitting in room engulfed by flames.”
Of course, four games into the season, the situation is far from dire. But better to announce your presence before the party is over, and a trip to Minnesota — where the Sounders have historically been able to get results — seemed like a prime opportunity to officially announce their intentions in the league season.
Not that Minnesota United were aiming to make things easy for the Sounders. Now in their sixth year, the Loons are well-established as at least a competent team. But they’ve never really been able to measure up to the Sounders, as evidenced by their 1-8-1 record against Brian Schmetzer’s side. Whether they’re truly over the 2020 Western Conference Final collapse is something only Adrian Heath could probably answer, but they’re off to a 2-0-2 record in MLS play, which is surely a record the Sounders would have taken.
Though after the Sounders' 2-1 victory at Allianz Field, perhaps they’re happy right where they are. Indeed for much of the 95+ minutes Saturday, the Sounders were playing some of the best soccer of this year. The 2-0 lead after 50 minutes was more than deserved, and yet less than they could have had.
It almost came back to bite them in the last frantic 15 minutes thanks to an ill-timed challenge, that gave the Loons a lifeline from the penalty spot. The Sounders managed to hold on, just. And with their road account opened officially and the slow start to the MLS season is mostly in the rearview, they can set their sights on Wednesday’s date with NYCFC in Champions League.
João Paulo loves playing Minnesota
Another match against the Loons, another João Paulo banger. The Sounders’ 2021 MVP isn’t specifically relied upon to provide the scoring for the squad, but Minnesota more than any team knows that when called upon, he can deliver with the best of them. Scoring his third goal against Minnesota in his relatively short tenure with the Sounders, JP appears to enjoy a certain degree of difficulty with his tallies. While his goal Saturday won’t match the goal-of-the-year candidate from last year, the technique was nonetheless top shelf, as was his play generally as part of the midfield trio that overwhelmed Minnesota for much of the game.
75 minutes of mastery
The opening few minutes aside, The first three-quarters of the match was about as comprehensive as it gets. Really only threatened on the counterattack, the Sounders had nearly 60% of the possession and were far more dangerous from the run of play. The Sounders have their midfield to thank, particularly in the first half as João Paulo, Albert Rusnak and Nico Lodeiro bossed the center of the park. Lodeiro was influential if not spectacular, and Rusnak had arguably his best half from a deeper-lying position as a facilitator.
15 minutes of mayhem
Goals change games, as Schmetzer is fond of saying. Still, one wonders if he saw the penalty converted by Emanual Reynoso turning the game on its head to the degree it did. With the Sounders in cruise control, a poor challenge by Jackson Ragen — up to that point having another solid game — gave the Loons a lifeline, and what followed was an onslaught that the Sounders nearly succumbed to, but for a lack of composure by Minnesota in front of goal. Truthfully, while it would have been slightly cruel for the Sounders to surrender the two points on the balance of play, had Minnesota found the equalizer, it would have been hard to complain.
Nearly fully armed and operational
One of the biggest regrets from the 2021 season was that there was no point where the Sounders were truly healthy. It was seemingly one thing after another — injuries, international absences — that kept the Sounders from being the best version of themselves. So while the early season issues to start 2022 have been similarly frustrating, the lineup card for Saturday’s match more than a little enticing, with the likes of Ruidíaz and Lodeiro available with the latter getting the start. It’s all so tantalizingly close, and after the match Schmetzer did little to quell the excitement of a full-strength Sounders squad. “The reins are off,” Schmetzer said.
Just in time for NYCFC
With the Sounders in a more comfortable place in MLS, they can now set their sights on a chance at history. While the Sounders have had some success in Champions League, they’ve yet to experience a finals appearance. Wednesday, they’ll face defending MLS champions NYCFC, who are off to a sputtering start in leage play themselves. The Sounders know the importance of taking care of business at home when it’s the opening fixture. With Lodeiro and Ruidiaz seemingly in line to start, and the international contingent back in the fold and contributing, might Wednesday be the first time the Sounders have all of their DPs on the field, fit and healthy? Stay tuned.