Major League Soccer, am I right?
Coming off the heels of the Seattle Sounders’ 2-1 home defeat to CF Montreal, head coach Brian Schmetzer had a decision to make. Having played his starters two games already this week with a nearly 3,000-mile trip on the horizon, squad rotation was something Schmetzer had to seriously consider.
And not that Schmetzer would ever admit it, there was also the matter of a certain rivalry match a week from Saturday, for which it would be nice to get some of his starters a little rest. So Saturday’s match against Toronto FC — a team that for a minute was near the top of the MLS hierarchy — was an opportunity for Schmetzer to do a little gambling. While Schmetzer considers himself on the conservative side, when he decides to push his chips in, well, in for a penny, in for a pound.
Not that Toronto was playing with a full deck themselves. To say that head coach Bob Bradley is overseeing a rebuild is probably understanding things by a couple of multiples at least. This is not the Toronto FC that gave the Sounders as good as it got between 2015-2019, when they met three times in the MLS Cup final. Prior to the Sounders lifting the Champions League Trophy the year, Toronto came within a whisker of accomplishing the feat, losing in the 2018 finals in penalties. That run cost them in MLS, as they failed to make the playoffs, a fate the Sounders are trying to avoid, and which made Schmetzer’s decision to heavily rotate his squad all the riskier.
But after the final whistle blew on the Sounders’ comprehensive 2-0 victory Saturday night, Schmetzer can fairly feel like he hit a mini-jackpot, as the win catapulted the Sounders into fourth place, which would be good for at least one home playoff game. Breaking out the 3-man backline, the Sounders got the tactics spot on, as a handful of TFC chances aside, the Sounders controlled the tempo of the match, and could have scored another goal or two. Combined with another clean sheet, the two-goal margin boosted the Sounders' goal difference to a more-than-respectable +7, important as they look at tiebreakers down the line.
All in all, a profitable day at the office.
Fredy Montero magic
Fredy Montero had a bit of a struggle influencing the last few games, but with the Sounders significantly depleted, they needed their once-and-current all-time leading scorer to reclaim a bit of that old-time magic. And boy did he deliver against Toronto. Leading the attacking line, Montero gave the Sounders a big-time boost, tracking back to help disrupt the Toronto midfield, and holding up the ball to help transition the Sounders from defense to attack. He was unlucky not to score early in the second half, when his shot hit the underside of the crossbar in the 52nd minute, but got his reward in the 60th minute, finishing off a well-worked Sounders sequence to put the game out of reach.
Dylan Teves announces himself
Dylan Teves was a prolific scorer towards the end of his college career at the University of Washington, and scoring back-to-back hat tricks will put most players on professional radars. Still, as a rookie in MLS, it’s tough to know what you’re going to get. With the Sounders dealing with rotation and injuries, it was a rare opportunity for Teves to make another impression. Consider the Sounders duly impressed, as Teves found himself the beneficiary of a bit of individual brilliance from Léo Chú, and clinically finished a pass from the Brazilian to open the Sounders scoring. Teves also became the youngest Sounder to score in their first MLS start since Fredy Montero did it just a big younger in 2009. Not bad company to keep.
Léo Chú finding his feat
Fans who had written off Léo Chú might want to get their erasers out, as the Brazilian has increasingly found himself part of Schmetzer’s rotation, and has rewarded the coaches’ trust with solid contributions. Chú has been able to use his speed and skill on the ball to get himself in dangerous positions and easily could have had another assist or two on the day. It’s been sometimes tough sledding for Chú as he’s tried to get acclimated to MLS and tried to break into an established side, but things look to be on the upswing.
Father Time, the saying goes, is undefeated. It may be a well-worn cliche, but it remains the undisputed truth, as Michael Bradley and TFC are finding out in what has the potential to be another lost season. Bradley was a turnover machine in this match, and while never the quickest player on the pitch, seems to have lost another step. Even the most powerful lions only spend a few years at top of the pride before they get overthrown, and mired in 12th place in the Eastern Conference, it’s hard to see him retaining his spot for much longer. Nobody lives forever. Not even sportswriters.
Schmetzer’s gambit pays off
One look at the lineup before the match, and fans could have been forgiven for thinking this was something of a throwaway match. That thinking discounts three important points:
1) Toronto is not very good.
2) Schmetzer has expectations of his players to perform no matter the lineup.
3) The Sounders have spent years cultivating their depth to account for the rigors of an MLS season.
To be sure, this wasn’t first-choice lineup, and Schmetzer didn’t attempt to sell it as such. But there was plenty of experience in key positions, and certainly enough quality to put up a good performance. More than that, the opportunities for players to earn more playing time on the pitch are limited on a squad as deep as the Sounders, and thus when a chance presents itself, you’d best grab it and run because you don’t know when the next one will. And the reserves more than did that Saturday, which got the Sounders the three points they lost on Wednesday, on top of getting significant rest for key players ahead of next weekend’s big rivalry match. A mini-jackpot indeed.