SEATTLE — Coming off probably their flattest performance of the season, the Seattle Sounders were primarily looking for a response. Yes, opening the three-game homestand with a win was also important, but the thinking was the three points would come if the performance against the New York Red Bulls was solid.
That’s exactly what they got, even if it didn’t go exactly to plan.
Suffice it to say, the preference probably would have been to score multiple goals and cruise to victory with a clean bill of health. But the 1-0 win in which the Sounders had to figure things out first after losing Jordan Morris to an injury and then playing down a man after João Paulo was red-carded with about 15 minutes left to play may have been preferable in its own way.
“I think so,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said when asked if such a hard-fought win had some benefits. “Times were frustrating. For us to really have to pull together and be supportive of one another to try to coax the last amount of energy out of each other is a good feeling. But we gotta build on it.”
What Frei was mostly referring to was the way the Sounders managed the game after João Paulo’s ejection. Although the Red Bulls controlled possession over that stretch, they never were able to really threaten the Sounders’ goal and were limited to three relatively low-probability shots. The Sounders were mostly content to simply kick the ball away, registering 12 clearances during that stretch. It was a sort of no-nonsense approach that included Brian Schmetzer filling the field with as many defenders as possible. The Sounders shifted into a 5-3-1 formation almost immediately after João Paulo’s ejection with Dylan Teves effectively the only primarily offensive player on the field.
It was enough for the Sounders to pick up their MLS-best eighth shutout of the season, two more than they had all of last year. It was also their third 1-0 victory, all of which have come in their last seven games.
“It takes the whole team and a lot of effort and energy expended to do so,” Frei said. “Today was a good show of that, which is great. We had a little bit of class on the goal and some chances to get a second one. Sometimes you just have to find ways to get three points and today we did that.”
Prior to the red card there was also some encouraging offensive play. In addition to Morris’ goal — which came on a well-worked sequence that featured a quality pass from Albert Rusnák to put Léo Chú into space and then a perfect cross from Chú — the Sounders had numerous opportunities to add a second goal. Chú was involved in many of those, setting up Dylan Teves for one and positioning himself for a potential tap-in at the back post if Héber had let a Rusnák cross go through the box.
In fact, their 1.8 expected goals were the most the Red Bulls have allowed all season. New York came into this match with the third-best overall defense and had been allowing just 1.04 xG per game in their previous seven road matches.
Given how the last month has gone, this was probably the Sounders’ most positive performance since their 3-0 win over St. Louis City. The Sounders now have two more home games this week to see if they can turn this into a sustained run and potentially build some cushion at the top of the Western Conference.
“It’s the start we wanted from these three games, 3 points out of 9 so far,” Frei said. “That’s good, but it’s just a start. Getting back on that winning train is a privilege. It’s not ‘now you’re on it and you can ride until you’re at the end station.’ You have to keep working to stay on that train. Maybe how today’s win came — we had to dig deep — it does the team’s soul a lot of confidence.”