It wasn’t exactly the statement win that the Seattle Sounders were looking for against LAFC, but I think there were still more positives than negatives to take away from it. Here are some of my main observations:
Another very good defensive performance
I know there’s some frustration after two straight winless matches against teams the Sounders should be expecting to contend with, but let’s not lose the fact that through four matches the Sounders have only given up one goal. They have three shutouts through four games, already halfway to their total in 2022.
What’s most encouraging is that it seems to be pretty repeatable. The Sounders are not known as a pressing team and I don’t think anyone will confuse them with the New York Red Bulls or St. Louis City, but they do lead both of those teams — and the rest of MLS — in turnovers in the opposition’s third, ie “high turnovers,” according to Opta. That they’ve only turned four of those 46 turnovers into shots is not ideal, but it does speak to their proactive defending. They also rank seventh in Expected Goals Against, but two of those teams have played fewer games.
We saw it again in the LAFC match, as they were able to keep their opponents pinned back for most of the first half especially. The Sounders created 13 turnovers in LAFC’s end, while only turning it over three times, according to WhoScored.com.
Playing through the press effectively
Speaking of turnovers in the opposing end, LAFC have been one of the top defensive teams ever since Steve Cherundolo took over last year. Despite having played just three matches, they still rank eighth in forcing high turnovers. Keeping in mind that I’m not using exactly overlapping datasets, I don’t think the LAFC forced any such turnovers against the Sounders. According to the WhoScored data, they only forced three turnovers in the Sounders’ end, and all of them were near midfield.
Throughout the match, I thought the Sounders did a really impressive job of picking and choosing when to play through the pressure and when to go over it. As a result found themselves in advantageous positions, often charging toward the LAFC goal at speed.
“I think it was successful for the most part,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said. “We didn’t give away the ball badly in the back. They feed off that. They press high to try to make you give up the ball, to essentially do all the work for them and they score when they’re already in dangerous positions. Considering that, we read those presses well.”
But not enough end product
As good of a job as the Sounders did playing through LAFC’s press, all of that work didn’t get the reward it deserved. Despite unsettling the LAFC defense, the Sounders still had a hard time turning that into real scoring chances. More often than not, they were get in or around the penalty area only to have a shot blocked, a pass missed or the timing just to be a little off.
Maybe the best example of this was later in the match when the Sounders got off on a counter-attack in the 80th minute when Fredy Montero played Léo Chú in on the left wing. Chú put in a good cross to Jordan Morris, who controlled it and passed it back to a wide open Albert Rusnák at the top of the penalty area. Apparently not quite realizing just how wide open he was, Rusnák chose to attempt a volley and mishit it rather badly. If Rusnák had settled the pass instead, he could have lined up a better shot or, ideally, found the equally wide open Fredy Montero, who was about 12 yards out and being totally ignored by the defense. Instead, Montero gathered the mishit shot and attempted a chip from about 18 yards out that John McCarthy handled easily.
There were lots of moments like that in this game. I’m choosing to take it mostly as a positive that they’re getting into these spots, but they need to be cleaner, too. What makes it even more frustrating is that LAFC were surely on tired legs, having played four games in 10 days and five in 15.
Raúl Ruidíaz getting through unhurt
One player who I think will help clean all that up is Raúl Ruidíaz, who made his first start of the MLS campaign. He still looks a little rusty and is clearly regaining some fitness, but he consistently got himself into dangerous positions and, more importantly, managed to get through 60+ minutes without any apparent injury.
Of course, he was then called into the Peru national team for a pair of meaningless friendlies against Australia in Spain.
Considering Ruidíaz’s history of returning from international duty with injury and the fact that at 32 he’s unlikely to have much future with them, I don’t really see the point of them calling him in. But there’s no reason to really bemoan that now and to just hope he comes back refreshed and ready to contribute.
Obed Vargas makes his return
Similarly, it was really good to see Obed Vargas get his first competitive appearance since last June. He played about 30 minutes and showed just enough to remind everyone why he was considered such a high level prospect before the back injury sidelined him.
Also like Ruidíaz, Vargas immediately left for international duty. Although in his case, I’m less frustrated. Vargas is also going to be in Spain with the United States U20 team, the youngest player to be included in the final training camp before the U20 World Cup. Even with the Sounders’ short-handed against Sporting KC, there wasn’t any reason to think that Vargas was in line to get significant minutes and I suspect one of Danny Leyva or Josh Atencio will make equally good use of whatever minutes were available.
Everything else you need to know
- The Sounders picked up $150,000 more in GAM from the LA Galaxy in exchange for a 2023 international roster spot. Despite having now traded away four such spots, the Sounders still have two more they have that are unused.
- In addition to Ruidíaz and Vargas, four other Sounders have been called into international duty this week. Joining them are Xavier Arreaga (Ecuador), Nouhou (Cameroon), Reed Baker-Whiting (US U19s) and Alex Roldan (El Salvador).
- I have no idea if there’s a Sounders angle here, but it looks like there’s finally going to be some progress on rehabbing Memorial Stadium. It sure would be cool if it’s retrofitted in a way that could accommodate soccer…
- We’re going to be recording a podcast on Tuesday night. Feel free to leave any questions in the comments.