SEATTLE — With the Concacaf Champions League trophy safely on display at Sounders headquarters — and the 2022 version of the US Open Cup nowhere in the vicinity — there remains only one trophy left for Brian Schmetzer’s side to focus on this year. A look at the standings coming into Sunday’s matinee matchup with Minnesota United — which also explains why the Supporters’ Shield is likely far-fetched — finds the Sounders in an awkward spot as the undisputed champions of the region yet also mired with the also-rans of MLS.
It’s an odd juxtaposition indeed, and while having the biggest trophy on the continent means a successful season by any measure, wandering through an abyss of an MLS season at the bottom of the standings is nobody’s idea of a good time.
So with no other distractions, it’s winning time for the Sounders as they try to make their way up the MLS ladder, and typically there is no team the Sounders would rather see to get a shot of caffeine in their system than Minnesota United. Coming in with an 8-1-1 all-time record and a road victory to boot this year, the Sounders are surely the Loons’ bogey team, when the three points on offer are typically there for the Sounders to collect.
Although the Sounders fell behind on an uncharacteristic gaffe, they showed their resolve in coming back. After a well-won penalty from Cristian Roldan that Raul Ruidiaz expertly dispatched, the Sounders were able to exert control over proceedings, and get back on track with a calm if not comprehensive 3-1 victory.
The win allowed the Sounders to move up the MLS pecking order, though there is still a bit of hole to dig out of. But the season is still relatively young and the Sounders have plenty of time left to make moves, so there won’t be any panic in Schmetzer’s squad.
Cálmate, as they say.
Roldan Runs Riot
Oft times a polarizing figure in USMNT circles, Cristian Roldan’s value to the Sounders can rarely be overstated, just on his workrate alone. But when he is bringing the assists and banging in golazos, his game goes to another level. Winning the penalty that got the Sounders back into the game wasn’t enough, as he then won the match with cross body shot that left MNUFC keeper Dayne St. Clair flailing helplessly as the ball sailed into the upper corner. For good measure, he completed an unconventional “hat trick” by assisting on the final tally.
It was a typically standout performance for the Sounders left back, as he rarely put a foot wrong all match. But similar to how goalscorers can have an off night redeemed by one quality finish, defenders are often remembered for the singular mistake, particularly when it leads to a goal. So it was for the Cameroonian international, who uncharacteristically muffed a simple clearance opportunity, leading to the opening goal for MNUFC. To be sure it was a once-a-season blunder, and shouldn’t mar what was otherwise a very solid performance.
Ruidiaz off the mark
It’s easy to forget that this was only the second start for Raul Ruidiaz in MLS play, having had a big portion of the season cut short by an injury that kept him out for much of the start of the year. Combined with squad rotation during the Sounders' CCL run, and it has been a bit of a stop-start type of year so far in MLS play — never mind his three goals in CCL play. Of course, it’s unlikely Ruidiaz will be quiet in MLS for too much longer, and opening his season account from the penalty spot is likely just the thing to help jumpstart him — and the Sounders in league play.
Set Piece defense
Unfortunate mistakes aside, if there was one thing Schmetzer was decidedly not pleased about, it was the set-piece defending from the Sounders. Stefan Frei had to come up with a spectacular save to keep MNUFC off the board early, and the Loons were a handful throughout the match. Credit to Emmanuel Reynoso, who has caused the Sounders problems with his quality deliveries on more than one occasion, and Robin Lot was a handful throughout. Still, Schmetzer indicated that the Sounders need to be better at the little things when defending set-pieces, lest they rely on Frei one time too many in a critical situation.
Must win? Maybe, maybe not
There was some difference of opinion on whether today’s match constituted a “must-win,” given the Sounders' slow MLS start. While Coach Schmetzer and Cristian Roldan leaned more in the “must” camp, Stefan Frei was decidedly in the “not” column. As a mathematical proposition, it obviously wasn’t, but a loss here would have dropped the Sounders further down the hole, and as a matter of gathering momentum, it would have certainly erased any remaining from the CCL run, if any remained. Either way, the three points are in the bank, and the Sounders can look forward to trying to get some road results in some difficult environments next week.