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Postgame Pontifications: Strong finish to first half of season

Sounders’ 2-0 road win over Toronto FC makes them 6-2-1 since their focus turned to MLS play.

Leo Chu (23) celebrates scoring a goal with team mate Dylan... Photo by Angel Marchini/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ever since the Seattle Sounders were eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup on May 11, no team in MLS has been better. You can slice the data any number of ways, but they all tell basically the same story.

Following Saturday’s 2-0 road win over Toronto FC, the Sounders are now 6-2-1 with a +11 goal-difference since their agenda was cleared of non-MLS matches. No team in MLS has as many wins or points, and the team with the next best goal-difference is the Vancouver Whitecaps at +5. In that time, the Sounders have made up 6 points on Supporters’ Shield-leading LAFC, 5 points on second-place Austin FC and 5 points on Eastern Conference leading New York Red Bulls.

The advanced metrics also like the Sounders, if maybe not quite as much. In all six of their wins, the Sounders have had a positive expected goal-difference and collectively they’re at 15.5 expected goals scored and 10.27 expected goals allowed, not too far off from the actual number of 17 goals scored and six goals allowed, which I’m tempted to chalk up to some exemplary goalkeeping by Stefan Frei and Stefan Cleveland until proven wrong.

Even more encouraging is that this data doesn’t seem to be too heavily influenced by the Sounders’ home-road split over that period. The Sounders are 4-1-1 (2.17 PPG) at home and 2-1-0 (2.00 PPG) on the road. If they were to maintain those splits for the rest of the season, they’d finish with about 61 points.

The Sounders have also been doing this while juggling their lineups quite a bit. Even taking João Paulo’s injury into account, the Sounders were missing multiple key starters in at least six of those matches, in which they’ve claimed 10 points (1.67 PPG).

The win over Toronto was especially confirming. Already missing several starters to longer-term injuries and coming off a frustrating midweek loss, Brian Schmetzer chose to make the calculated gamble of resting several other veterans ahead of this coming weekend’s match against the Portland Timbers. Stefan Frei, Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan and Albert Rusnák didn’t even fly to Toronto, instead making way for the likes of Léo Chu, Cleveland, Danny Leyva and Dylan Teves. Those replacements collectively have just 13 starts and less than 1,300 minutes of playing time in MLS play this year.

Not only did all four of those players turn in standout performances, but they did it in a game that was a bit of a gut check for the Sounders after admittedly getting outplayed by the Montreal Impact a few days prior. Chú spent most of the evening skinning Designated Player Carlos Salcedo and had the game-winning assist; Cleveland got his first shutout of the season while making six saves; Leyva had arguably his best-ever performance as a defensive midfielder matched up against a veteran midfield of Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Alejandro Pozuelo; and Teves was consistently dangerous and scored in his first MLS start.

Add in solid performances from what was effectively the starting backline, another encouraging shift from Nicolás Lodeiro as part of a double-pivot, and Fredy Montero conjuring another vintage performance, and you can understand why there seemed to be some extra pep to the post-win “Jingle Bells.”

“The players are in a very good mood,” Schmetzer told reporters after the game. “I think it was a determined group.

“After a loss at home, to come all the way across the country to play against a team with big ambitions and a great coach and come out with a clean sheet and two goals was very, very impressive and the right moment for this group to lead into the Portland match.”

All of which is to say the Sounders look like they’ve found their footing following a somewhat self-inflicted slow start to the MLS season while they understandably had their focus on CCL. This looks like a team that’s now built to weather the bumps and bruises that come during any MLS season. They also find themselves in reasonably strong position in the table. Although they’re seventh in the West, they are just one point out of fourth and three points out of third with a game in hand.

The match against the Timbers should be another good test. It’s unclear if any of the injured starters will be available, but the rest that Frei, Morris, Roldan and Rusnák got will hopefully pay dividends. If the Sounders can play the second half of the season the way they finished off the first half, this promises to be a special season.

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