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Postgame Pontifications: Solid if unspectacular

Sounders were closer to dominant than bad in a 0-0 tie against the league’s best team.

Jane Gershovich / Sounders FC Communications

SEATTLE — For most of the week leading into Saturday’s match between the Seattle Sounders and LAFC, there was a buzz about “two of the league’s best teams” squaring off. I don’t think that was hyperbole.

LAFC are the defending Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup winners, and had outscored their opponents 11-4 in their first four competitive matches. The Sounders are the defending Concacaf Champions League winners and were leading MLS in many of the advanced stats this year.

That the game ended in a 0-0 draw felt at least a little underwhelming, especially from the Sounders’ perspective, as it felt like a pretty big missed opportunity to register a statement win. Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer seemed to agree when asked if he was happy with the point.

“No,” he said. “We needed to do better at home. We needed to take some of the half-chances, the buildup that was almost there, and create more full chances and then we might have scored the goal that would have given us three full points.”

After rewatching the game, however, I came away more encouraged than discouraged by the Sounders’ ability to create some of those half-chances and actually pretty impressed by the overall quality of the game.

The biggest thing I noticed was just how dominant the Sounders looked for the first 80 minutes or so, but especially in the first half. Their best chance came on a Xavier Arreaga header off a corner — which he somehow missed wide from the doorstep — but there were many moments where they created good looks from open play. Albert Rusnák’s shot off the post in the 22nd minute was the most glaring example, and Raúl Ruidíaz had at least two or three decent looks that I’d expect him to finish if he were a bit closer to midseason form.

The Sounders were absolutely eating up LAFC on both wings and actually had some nice interchanges around the top of the penalty area, too. Their press also did a solid job of creating turnovers, even if they weren’t always turning those into clear-cut chances. It wasn’t quite the “Highlife Soccer” they were playing in the first two games, but the ingredients were mostly there.

Combined with the Sounders’ at times suffocating defense — LAFC was held to just .15 xG off five low-probability shots through 85 minutes — it looked very much like what you’d want to see facing a team that was playing its fourth match in 10 days and fifth match in 15 days.

“Not getting the result is definitely not something we intended to do,” Sounders right back Alex Roldan said. “We are coming out here to win three points.

“At the same time, it’s a point that we are going to need. I know last year — I know we want to stop talking about last year — but those are sometimes the points that we missed last year where we missed playoffs. So I think we are going to need some of these throughout the season.”

It should be said, the Sounders were perhaps a little lucky not to give away that point. After dominating the first 85 minutes, LAFC generated several good looks in the closing minutes and forced Stefan Frei to make a pretty save to preserve the shutout. In the end, though, they did get that clean sheet.

Through four games, the Sounders have now allowed a league-low one goal and have three straight home shutouts. LAFC had been averaging 21 shots and 2.75 goals per game before this.

“I’m proud of that,” Frei said. “I’m proud of the team for working on some things we weren’t happy with last year and to give such a response early on is nice. It’s something to build on. If the rest of the season tanks it didn’t really matter, but it’s a good statement for everyone on the outside, but especially for ourselves. I’ve always said that shutouts are fragile and it takes all 11 players to buy in to achieve such a feat.”

I wouldn’t expect a scoreless tie to do much to exorcise the demons of last year, and I won’t try to convince anyone that this was a “good” result. I’m still inclined to see more positive than negative in these early stages and nothing has disabused me of the notion that even better times are ahead.

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