The Seattle Sounders traveled to Texas and came home with all three points after a late winner vanquished Austin FC. After Sunday's performance against Minnesota United, returning to Seattle with four points from two difficult road games is a decent haul. Here are five things we saw from Wednesday night's win.
Atencio takes the lead
Have you ever seen one of your favorite bands grow old and get kind of lame? Maybe they're a punk rock band that can't play with as much enthusiasm as they did before. Or maybe they're a jazz band that's just fallen out of sync with each other.
Well, that's been our Sounders this summer. It's the same band we know and love, but they've just been ... old and lame? They've been playing the same songs just out of tune and worse. Central midfielders can be deployed to do a lot of things, we often see Sounders midfielders act as sort of a metronome to set tempo. That's what's been so annoying of late, the Sounders have been too happy to just play at the same slow pace this summer. Until tonight. Josh Atencio, enter stage right.
Atencio played lead guitar last night. He was all action, all night. Here's the numbers for those who like to read sheet music: 62 touches, 10 passes into the final third, six attempted tackles (one won), four clearances, five recoveries, and 10/16 duels won. He was everywhere from the word go. He didn't just set the tempo from the start, he told everyone he was going to play fast and loud. Within the first two minutes of the match, he won a tackle, started a counter attack, and created a chance. Every time he was involved on the ball he tried to play the game at that pace.
It still remains puzzling why Atencio was effectively iced out of the lineup for months on end. I know he picked up an injury in May, but since he returned from that, he's hardly had a sniff at the starting XI. Hopefully the performance last night is an indication that he is in contention for most games for the remainder of the season.
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Nico Lodeiro hits the high notes like he used to
If you follow me on Twitter or have read previous writings, you know how critical I've been of the Sounders talisman. My stance has been that he hasn't been playing well at all this year and that Seattle needs to figure out a way to play without Nico because his days at the club are numbered.
Well, on Wednesday night, he was incredible. The classic Lodeiro performances are still in there somewhere and we saw that against Austin. The free kick he takes for Jordan Morris' goal is one of the best assists he's ever had as a Sounder and put him in the record books: He is now one of only five players in MLS history to have six seasons with at least 10 assists. The others are legit legends, which is fitting.
The key for the remaining schedule is finding a balance and picking the spots for Lodeiro to play to get the best out of him.
A bad referee is still a bad referee, even if you win
It's important to talk about these things when your team wins, that way you don't seem like a big moaner. Drew Fischer's performance last night was very bad. There was no consistency between calls. Jackson Ragen booked for breaking up a counterattack with a tactical foul? Yellow card. Matt Hedges or any other Austin player doing the same? No card.
That's before you even get to the potential game-changing calls, such as Morris' goal or the Austin goal that wasn't allowed. I'm not an expert in the manner of refereeing, so I'll always defer to people who have more expertise in the field. VAR reviewed both instances and were happy with the on-field calls in both instances.
The main gripe last night was for consistency in calls from the center referee. At the end of the first half, Nick Lima falls over easily to win a free kick to effectively end the Sounders' pressure as they pushed for a goal. In the second half, an Austin player ran through the back of Ethan Dobbeleare and the ball rolls out for a goal kick. The ensuing bit of possession for Austin led to them winning a corner that led to their goal. There was just no way for the players to know what was and wasn't going to be a foul all night.
Multiple goals a game changes a game
It might sound really silly and simple but the more goals you score in a game, the better chance you have of winning. Last night, the Sounders scored two goals in MLS regular season play for the first time since July 8, coincidentally the last time they won a match.
Over the past two seasons, the Sounders are 17-2-3 in matches where they score multiple goals. Both losses came last season and they've only failed to win one match this season where they've scored two or more goals.
I think scoring at least two goals a game is a great way to win games.
Giving us the fight we asked for
A few weeks ago I appeared on Nos Audetis to discuss the fallout of the Sounders being knocked out of the Leagues Cup. At the crux of my plea was to see the Sounders fight for something. Give us hope for the future and let us enjoy watching the games again, because it's been months without either.
Last night was a glimpse of exactly that. It wasn't the perfect tactical performance or anything like that, but they fought hard for a win for the first time in months. They gave a damn and gave us a reason to give a damn.
This is a building block. You're only as good as your last win and if the Sounders don't show up on Saturday against Portland, we're not just back at square one, we're completely behind the eight ball. You fight for us, we sing for you.