SEATTLE — Most seem to understand that much of the Seattle Sounders’ early-season struggles could be chalked up to the need to rotate their lineups in order to focus on Concacaf Champions League play. Not only did that pay off with the Sounders becoming the first MLS team to win the continental trophy, but it also had the ancillary benefit of giving meaningful minutes to a larger assortment of players.
We’re now seeing some of the late-blooming fruits of those decisions.
I don’t want to overstate the impressiveness of Saturday’s 3-0 win over Sporting KC, a team that is now tied for the worst points per game average in the league. I don’t even want to read too much into their current form, as four wins during this 5-1-1 run have come at home. But what I think is encouraging is how relatively seamlessly they’ve been able to integrate reserves into the lineup, even when they’re playing positions up the spine of the team.
In the most recent victory, the Sounders deployed Jackson Ragen at centerback, Kelyn Rowe as part of the double-pivot midfield and Will Bruin at striker. It’s probably a stretch to say any of them were perfect, but they were all quite effective. Bruin scored the opening goal and offered solid hold-up play throughout; Rowe put in another classic yeoman’s performance and set up one of the game’s best chances; and Ragen looked so good that we’re getting closer to an open debate about his status in the regular starting lineup.
The centerback and defensive midfield depth have proven particularly valuable this year. This was the first time that Ragen had started alongside Yeimar Goméz Andrade and it’s the sixth different centerback combination Schmetzer has used this year. The two ideal starters — Xavier Arreaga and Yeimar — have started just nine of 24 matches across all competitions together. Just five of those starts have come in MLS play.
Ragen, who joined the first team this year after spending 2021 with Tacoma Defiance, has appeared in 17 matches, second-most among centerbacks. In the 10 starts he’s made alongside either Arreaga or Yeimar, the Sounders have averaged a perfectly respectable 1.60 points per game.
The midfield double-pivot has required even more juggling with the Sounders losing João Paulo to a season-long injury and now Obed Vargas for an extended period. There have been eight different combinations used there across all competitions. This was the third time that Kelyn Rowe has started alongside Albert Rusnák, with the Sounders now 2-1-0 in those matches.
While this was arguably the Sounders’ best performance with Bruin at striker, the degree to which they’ve struggled to score goals when Ruidíaz is out has also been a bit overstated. This was the fifth time in 12 games the Sounders have scored multiple goals when someone other than Ruidíaz starts at striker.
Not to be overlooked is how many different acquisition methods the Sounders have used to assemble this depth. The starting lineup against Sporting KC featured starters who were brought in through six different methods, spanning virtually every mechanism MLS teams have at their disposal. Other teams may be grabbing headlines with splashier moves, but the Sounders just keep plugging holes through whatever means necessary.
It almost goes without saying that there’s a limit to the Sounders’ depth. The 4-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps earlier in this homestand was their first victory in a match where they had fewer than six ideal starters. But these results are also a testament to how well equipped they are at rotating new players in even at high-leverage positions. All of this should bode well as they continue to make their push up the standings.