The Seattle Sounders picked up a dramatic 2-1 win over Austin FC in their second road game of the week, as they head home for a must-win game against the Portland Timbers. For the second time in four days, Seattle took a lead on the road only to see that lead slip away as the hosts scored on a set piece.
Brian Schmetzer and his staff rotated half of the outfield players, resting Raúl Ruidíaz, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Albert Rusnák, Obed Vargas and Alex Roldan. In their place Jordan Morris started up top while Ethan Dobbelaere (right wing) and Reed Baker-Whiting (rightback) held down the right side, Josh Atencio slotted in alongside João Paulo in midfield, and Xavier Arreaga started on the backline. The changes seemed to have a positive impact, as the Sounders played better than they have in a while and seemed like they may be on their way to the kind of win that shakes out the cobwebs when Morris gave the team the lead just after the second half kicked off.
Eight minutes after Morris’ goal, Stefan Frei was called on to make a big save to maintain the lead but it took a lengthy review to be sure the ball hadn't fully crossed the line to make sure it stood. There was a sense that Seattle had possibly used up all the good luck they'd been banking over recent weeks and months where every bounce seemed to go against them, and that sense was bolstered when Austin got on the board in the 72nd minute. Emiliano Rigoni drifted in at the back post to put away a corner that looked like it was flicked on by Baker-Whiting, and Rigoni put his attempt right on frame. There was some question over whether that one had truly crossed the goal line as well, as the ball came back out off of Frei’s foot just inside the goal, but ultimately the call stood.
Both sides pushed for a winner, and in the end it was Rusnák who played the hero. Nico Lodeiro played in a cross from the left side that bounced off of a defender in the area; Vargas was the first person to meet the ball, but his effort on goal was blocked as well. The ball pinged around through traffic and set up for Rusnák to take on the bounce and from 12 yards out as regulation time ran down, he didn't miss. It was a nervy eight minutes of stoppage time (plus a couple more for good measure), but the Sounders held on to claim their first win since they beat the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2 on July 8 - also on the road, as luck would have it.
2' – The Sounders push into the final third through a clever dribble from Josh Atencio, but after a couple of hopeful crosses the attack fizzles.
13' – Matt Hedges nearly gives Austin the lead, beating Xavier Arreaga to a corner, but his header goes just over the bar.
26' – Austin with another good look, this time it's Sebastian Driussi working his way through traffic and ripping a shot that grazes the far post.
29' – Jordan Morris gets sprung by Josh Atencio, then plays in Léo Chú but the ensuing shot can't beat Brad Stuver at the near post.
34' – Stefan Frei with some heroics on a double save to deny Austin a goal, first parrying away a shot from deep, then making a point-blank save on the followup.
38' – Jordan Morris shrugs off a pull from Julio Cascante, then puts a move on him to get space to shoot but a kick save from Stuver gives Seattle a corner.
48' – GOAL! Nico Lodeiro sends in a free kick and Morris gets enough of a touch at the near post to put it in off of Stuver! 1-0 Sounders
56' – Another huge save from Frei, stopping Emiliano Rigoni on the doorstep with a big onehanded block!
72' – Goal! Austin equalize, Driussi ghosts in unmarked at the back post to put away a corner that's flicked through the box. 1-1
90' – GOAL!!! Albert Rusnák puts the Sounders back in front! The ball bounces around after a Lodeiro cross, but Rusnák takes it on the half-volley and smokes it. 2-1
Changes: I detailed the significant rotation the Sounders used in this one up towards the top, but it’s worth digging into how those changes played out on the pitch. With Baker-Whiting and Dobbelaere on the right, Seattle consistently had a pair of options for outlet passes on that wing, which allowed for a more balanced approach as they progressed down the field. The amount of work both players put in also made the press more effective when they used it. Morris was a consistent threat as he played as the line-leading forward, and Atencio a bit of everything as he pushed the team forward in possession and was busy all night making life as hard as possible for Austin. We’ll see how much of those positives get carried forward into the weekend’s game against Portland and beyond, but it was great to see for at least one night.
Josh Atencio, jazz master: It's probably worth digging a little deeper into Josh Atencio’s performance tonight. Mark Kastner had a great observation after the game: while the Sounders typically want the midfielders to act as a metronome or tempo setter, dictating the rhythm and pace of the game, Atencio played lead guitar against Austin. Alongside guys like JP and Rusnák, who are capable of setting that rhythm on their own, asking their partner to do the same is redundant. His passing percentage was respectable, but the real value comes from how he propelled the team forward. His one dribble came in the second minute and was an early look at the impact he could have as he created the first chance of the game. He followed that up by making 10 passes into the final third, racked up lots of defensive actions and got into tons of duels as he just made life hard for the other side. I hope we see more of him down the stretch.
It feels good to win: It really felt like this was going to be a repeat of Sunday against Minnesota United – or something worse. We've just seen so many moments of potential joy turn to sadness or furstration over the last few months, it seemed the most likely outcome. But for the first time in a long time,
Did you see that?!?
Tonight saw Stefan Frei make a number of vintage saves to make the goals stand up.
He said what?!?
One stat to tell the tale
8 - The Sounders are now unbeaten in eight games (7-0-1) where they score at least two goals.