After a fairly comprehensive home victory over Minnesota United on the weekend, the Seattle Sounders have been rewarded with arguably two of the most difficult road games —both on short rest — in Major League Soccer. Sure, Dallas, Orlando or Real Salt Lake may argue otherwise, but a midweek trip to the swamps of Houston followed by a hike through the Colorado Rockies seems more like an itinerary from the worst travel agent on the planet.
Still, opportunity knocks on this road trip, as the Sounders look to climb their way up the standings in MLS. And while both Colorado and Houston reside above them in MLS’s cushy accommodations, neither team is living the penthouse life. So on the road in Houston first, the Sounders had to like their chances of taking home a result, particularly with coach Brian Schmetzer starting as close to a first-choice lineup as was available.
And while Wednesday’s 1-0 victory in Houston won’t necessarily go up on the mantle for posterity, it deserves a spot on the fridge at least. Effort goes a long way, after all, especially when you’re not at your best. And considering the conditions, short rest and the prospect of another challenging match on the weekend, the Sounders will surely take the 1-0 result as they try to improve their lot in MLS life.
Cometh the man
MLS wasn’t going to be able to keep Raúl Ruidíaz down for long. After experiencing a scoring drought in MLS, Ruidíaz got off the mark with a penalty against Minnesota. Wednesday against Houston, Ruidíaz added to his tally with a more trademark score from the run of play, finishing off a well-constructed team goal that featured 22 completed passes. There might have been a bit of luck with a shot that was deflected on its way through the goal, but talented goal scorers are entitled to a bit of luck from time to time.
Working the rust off
It might have been a bit of a surprise to see the lineup virtually unchanged from the Minnesota match given the schedule congestion, but after the match, Schmetzer indicated that it was as much about getting his team back into MLS fitness after the events of the last several weeks. As everyone knows, an MLS season is particularly unforgiving, and players are going to have to get used to playing multiple games in a week, in difficult climates. Better to get reacclimatized to those conditions sooner than later.
Shutouts are welcome
The Sounders have long prided themselves on their stingy defense, which has been why it’s been somewhat alarming that they had no clean sheets in MLS up to this point. Goals are, of course, going to happen, but the nature and frequency of the concessions is something the Sounders were keen to clean up. Putting their first MLS shutout on the board was something Stefan Frei was particularly happy about in the postgame presser, though he admitted that he didn't have a lot of work to do on the day. Truth be told, Houston was somewhat wasteful, though they only had a few chances that would have really raised an eyebrow.
Sounders close out strong
Few things are worse in sports than giving up a lead late, so with a narrow margin going into extra time, there is always reason to worry about a heartbreaking last-minute goal. But that was not the case Wednesday, as the Sounders put on a master class in killing the game off. This wasn’t a case of time-wasting tricks; the Sounders simply never let Houston have the ball. Some of that may have had to do with tired legs and a wide-field thanks to the 10 v. 10 situation, but for the entirety of the added time, the Sounders were never truly threatened by Houston.
Atencio and Dobbelare help in a pinch
It’s tough to work your way into the first team in the best of times, and even more so when you have a talent-laden group of veterans who have been there and done it. So when the opportunity arises, you best seize it. That isn't to say that Josh Atencio or Ethan Dobbelare set the world alight in their substitute appearances Wednesday, but they did settle in. And that’s not nothing. Dobbelare in particular provided energy in his cameo, drawing a timely foul and getting forward to help the Sounders kill off the game.