SEATTLE — Not since their inaugural MLS of 2009 had the Seattle Sounders gone through a home scoring slump quite like the one in which they entered Saturday’s game. They went all of June without scoring a home goal, a stretch that included three straight home shutouts. By the time Albert Rusnák finally scored in the 67th minute, the goal-less drought had stretched to 405 minutes.
The confounding part about that is the Sounders are creating plenty of chances at home. They lead MLS with 22.3 xG at home and their 1.03 xGD per 90 is second only to LAFC, despite claiming only 1.75 points per game at home (14th best in MLS).
Frustrating as this run of games has been, though, it’s a credit to their defense that it hasn’t been worse. The Sounders have only allowed five goals at home all season and have posted shutouts in 9 of 12 games at Lumen Field. It should also be said that they have allowed five fewer goals than xG suggests they should have, so it’s possible that luck is sort of cutting both ways if you are inclined to buy into that narrative.
The important thing from Saturday was that the Sounders did ultimately find a way to score and win against a Houston Dynamo team that has been one of the big surprises this season. That the goal only came after the Dynamo were reduced to 10 men and that the Sounders couldn’t add another goal is some cause for concern, but at least they got the job done.
Here are some of my main observations from the game:
Unsure about Nico vs. Albert
That Albert Rusnák scored and was involved in at least two other very good scoring chances is obviously a point in his favor and suggests moving him to the No. 10 spot has been a net positive. I think given the Sounders’ current roster constraints, it makes a ton of sense to get him into the attacking band one way or another. I will note, however, that Nicolás Lodeiro was actually pretty good, too. He is not as positionally disciplined as I’d like and I suspect he’s doing at least some free-lancing with his movement, but I think that can be a bit overblown.
Lodeiro still had a team-leading four key-passes and was the player who more consistently both made and received progressive passes. It’s also worth noting that he and Rusnák did a lot of position-swapping, including on the goal-scoring sequence. Léo Chú deserves plaudits for the final ball he delivered, but Lodeiro also played a very nice 1-2 and Rusnák did well to cut in from the right to finish it.
At least until the Sounders get their Gold Cup players back, I suspect we’re going to see this as the primary formation. But I’m not sure how much closer we are to definitively knowing how best to deploy these players when we hopefully have a fully fit squad.
Nico not feeling it
One of the undercurrents of this season has been the attitude of Lodeiro. Those who seem to think it’s a problem found some fodder on Saturday when he was one of the few players who didn’t celebrate with the group on Rusnák’s goal. As several people have pointed out, he simply headed back to the center circle while everyone else was embracing.
I won’t pretend to know what’s actually going on behind the scenes, but I will say that Lodeiro has always been a fierce competitor. I am sure he’s well aware of his lack of production and hears the chatter about needing to take a back seat to Rusnák. I’m a lot more skeptical that he’s actually causing problems behind the scenes.
The offense runs through Léo Chú
In case it wasn’t obvious already, the offense is very clearly running through Léo Chú. Yes, Rusnák and Lodeiro are getting most of the touches, but the attacking movements flow almost exclusively through Chú. This game was a great example.
Chú only received 31 passes, but 14 of them were progressive. That’s in addition to seven progressive carries. Two of those carries were into the attacking third and the other five were into the penalty box, the only Sounders to successfully execute such a move.
Chú remains a somewhat limited player and there are times where I think he can still improve his decision-making, but it’s downright scary to imagine how the Sounders would look without him right now. He’s also quietly turned into one of the more useful playmaking wingers in the league.
A change in midfield
João Paulo continues to enjoy a pretty amazing renaissance at one of the defensive midfielder spots, and for now it seems as though Obed Vargas is his preferred partner. I’m not sure how long that’s going to last. Vargas hasn’t been bad, but he’s been arguably the weak link in the midfield in his last four starts. According to FotMob, he’s been the lowest-rated of the three central midfielders in all four matches.
To his credit, it was his play that started the goal-scoring sequence and he was a tidy 40 of 45 passing. Where I’m concerned, though, is in his relative inactivity on defense. Vargas has failed to win a majority of his duels in either of the past two games and at his best doesn’t get into a ton of them for a defensive midfielder. He also isn’t a particularly prolific tackler nor is he particularly disruptive in terms of opponent passing. He’s a pretty average defender in most key metrics.
Vargas is obviously still just 17 and has a ton of upside, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Josh Atencio get at least some of these minutes. While Vargas is a more polished passer, Atencio is about twice as active defensively and potentially frees up João Paulo to be even more aggressive.
I don’t think it’s entirely coincidental that in the two games Atencio started alongside João Paulo that the Sounders scored six goals.
Everything else you need to know
- The Sounders visit the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday. The game kicks off at 7:30. If the Sounders have any hope of reclaiming the Cascadia Cup, this is basically a must-win.
- Going to be a light week for us around here, but if you have questions you want answered on the podcast please feel free to leave them here.