Among the things I didn’t think I’d be seeing this year, near the top of the list would have probably been “a fully fit and rested Raúl Ruidíaz coming off the bench.” I’d have been even more shocked to learn that the player putting him there wasn’t Héber — his top backup — but Jordan Morris, a player whose only starts at forward last year were alongside Ruidíaz.
But that’s exactly where I’m expecting to see Ruidíaz today when Brian Schmetzer unveils his lineup.
It’s not that Ruidíaz has been bad, it’s just that Morris has been so good that it’s almost impossible to move him right now. With five goals in two games, Morris is on the kind of form only Clint Dempsey in 2014 had previously achieved for the Sounders. He’s also doing it in a way that feels highly repeatable, constantly putting himself in positions for one-touch finishes near the goal.
Besides his form, Morris also looks like a near-ideal matchup for an opponent like St. Louis City who wants to compressive the field and try to catch the Sounders in possession. One of the best counter-punches to that type of play is to simply go around the press.
For all the strengths of St. Louis’ defense, one of them does not seem to be tracking fast forwards as neither Tim Parker nor Kyle Hiebert are particularly quick. St. Louis has also conceded 6.32 xG from open play, the seventh-highest total in the league.
Further complicating the selection dilemma is the emergence of Léo Chú, who is tied for the league lead with five assists. While it’s theoretically possible that Chú and Morris could both play as wingers with Ruidíaz between them, that does force the Sounders into a somewhat significant stylistic change. Whether it’s been Cristian Roldan or Albert Rusnák on the right side of the attacking band, both are able to essentially become central midfielders while the right back overlaps. They’re also very capable of providing defensive cover if the right back finds himself out of position.
There’s no reason that Morris can’t be productive on the right side, but it’s just going to be a significant stylistic change that might run the risk of overcomplicating things against a defense that already poses plenty of challenges.
At the same time, I think it’s important to not that Morris’ goal-scoring run has not come out of nowhere. Even before his move to forward, Morris was already playing some wonderful soccer. Let’s not forget that Morris had scored three goals in four games while playing primarily as a left wing.
As a point of comparison, Morris had 2.6 xG+xA in the season’s first two games. In these last two games, he has 2.7 xG+xA. The rest of his numbers tell a similar story. To put it more broadly, Morris is having a really good year almost no matter where he plays.
Josh Atencio gets another shot
With João Paulo out with hamstring tightness, that left Schmetzer with another tough choice: who to start in his place. My suspicion is that it will be Josh Atencio.
In part, that’s just because Atencio seems to be the top backup central midfielder based on playing time so far. But I think the other element of Atencio’s game that will help is his ability to hit switches and break pressure with the dribble.
For all Obed Vargas’ strengths, these are two areas where he’s not really shown much and against a pressing team they are attributes that are particularly handy.
Everything else you need to know
- Kickoff is at 7:39 PM on AppleTV. The game is not on TV, but it is available for free to anyone with an AppleID.
- The Sounders learned their U.S. Open Cup draw. They’ll be hosting the San Diego Loyal on April 26 at Starfire Stadium. This is the first time the Sounders have played the Loyal in a competitive match and they’ll be trying to advance in the Open Cup for the first time since 2017.
- If you’re hoping to get a better understanding of what St. Louis City does well, read this tactical preview.
- After winning their groups, the U15s and U17s both lost their Round of 16 matches in GA Cup. The U15s fell to Orlando City, who are now in the semifinals. The U17s lost to Atlas in a penalty shootout after tying 0-0 in regulation. Atlas was then knocked out by FC Dallas.
- The Defiance lost 2-1 to Austin FC 2 on Friday, taking a first-half lead on an AB Cissoko penalty and then surrendering a penalty and a 94th minute winner after playing the final 24 minutes down a man.