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Five thoughts on Sounders taking a bite out of NYCFC

Sounders are in strong position after first-leg win.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

A semifinal is a funny thing. Making it to the final four of any tournament is certainly an accomplishment, from the heaviest favorite to the most unlikely Cinderella. But making it to the penultimate phase of any competition only puts falling short of the final into sharper relief. If nobody remembers the runners-up, crashing out of the semifinals is something only the nerdiest historians even care about.

Still, there are memories to be made and trophies to be won. As always, Major League Soccer — in its seemingly interminable quest for relevance — wants to lay down the marker against Liga MX. This time, they’re guaranteed another shot at it once the Seattle Sounders and NYCFC settle their two-legged semifinal affair. Both sides made it to the semis on the strength of their homefield performances, though NYCFC did all they could to throw it away.

The Sounders were much more comprehensive against Leon, and likely needed little reminding about the need to take care of business at home. With effectively a full-strength squad particularly in attack, there would be no excuses accepted by the Lumen faithful for a subpar performance.

They needn't have worried, as the Sounders followed up a professional if slightly frantic display against Minnesota with an arguably more impressive showing Wednesday, dispatching NYCFC 3-1, setting themselves up well for the return leg at Red Bull Arena and a chance to advance to the CCL final for the first time in their history. The story is not yet written with 90 minutes left to play, but after the first leg, they’ve put themselves in a very strong position.

Jordan Morris runs wild

Under normal circumstances, Jordan Morris is a difficult matchup for MLS defenses. When he’s on his game, he is nigh unplayable. Like most of the Sounders in the first half, Morris was at his 2020 MVP-finalist best. His first contribution to the scoreboard was a tidy touch to unlock Albert Rusknak’s first goal with the Sounders. Morris’ finish to provide the winning margin was just as classy, taking a cutback pass from Cristian Roldan first time and arrow it past a helpless Sean Johnson. In between those two plays was another assist that got (correctly) ruled out for offside and he nearly had a couple other goals.

Albert Rusnak off the mark

Pricey free agent signings are still a new thing in MLS — proper free agency being only slightly older than a toddler — so the signing of Albert Rusnak to a DP contract was always going to make waves. While the Sounders weren't necessarily signing Rusnak to compete for a Golden Boot, they surely were looking for more than zero goals in the Sounders’ opening nine games. So it was surely a relief for everyone involved when Rusnak found the back of the net to open his account and the scoring in this match. Rusnak had been doing the hard work, moving up and down the Sounders’ line as Schmetzer needed, but his attacking talent is surely something the Sounders’ head man wants to exploit going forward.

Away goal hurts — a little

It’s tough to truly be upset about a 3-1 home leg victory, and it is unlikely the Sounders will lose much sleep over the scoreline. But the road goal NYCFC managed will give them more than a little hope of turning around the result next week. Struggles in the league aside, the reigning MLS Cup champions are more than capable of a multi-goal win, and certainly had their opportunities to close the gap at Lumen. But as they showed against León, the Sounders will fancy their chances to get on the scoresheet themselves. And given their current form, you’d say it’s more likely than not.

First 45 was fun again

If Brian Schmetzer thought the first 45 minutes against Minnesota was one of the best attacking performances in recent memory, Wednesday night might give that showing a run for its money. With their full complement of attacking talent on display, at times the Sounders were simply relentless going forward. Defensively they weren’t nearly as dynamic, conceding the away goal and allowing NYCFC a handful of dangerous chances. But unlike against Minnesota, the Sounders weren’t hanging on for dear life at the end.

Cristian Roldan puts in a shift

Schmetzer talks often about how important Cristian Roldan is to the Sounders, with his effort, workrate, and emotional energy. Roldan was all of that against NYCFC. While he doesn't always get on the scoresheet — he did get the assist on the Morris goal, giving him eight across all competitions this year — what he provides with his composure on the ball and drive cannot be overstated. If the Sounders see out this result and move to the final, performances like Roldan’s will be a big reason why.