We saw plenty of good signs from the Seattle Sounders through the first four games. They had mostly dominated the bad teams and been able to hang with the teams we expect to be closer to elite. But on the heels of back-to-back scoreless performances, there remained at least some level of doubt that they’d truly turned the page from 2022, especially when it came to road games.
After their demolition of Sporting KC at Children’s Mercy Park, however, I think that notion can be put to rest.
While this is not the best version of Sporting KC, it is effectively the same one that ended the Sounders’ season last year. The only significant difference in Sporting KC’s 1-0 win in the penultimate game of the season was that it had a healthy Johnny Russell. You could even argue the Sounders’ actually had closer to a first-choice lineup in that previous match than they had in this one. The results, however, could not have been more different.
Just as you’d expect, Sporting KC came out of the gates looking to make a statement. They dominated the first few minutes and got a well-deserved goal where Cristian Roldan and Josh Atencio both got beaten pretty badly.
“It’s just funny how coaching goes, because we had messaged all week that Peter was going to have his team ready,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said in the postgame press conference. “They hadn’t had good results. They were going to be desperate. They were going to come out on the front foot. We messaged that all week long. And sure enough, in the first four and a half minutes, they’re on top of us and they score the first goal. So that’s coaching sometimes.”
But rather than letting it snowball from there, the Sounders almost immediately turned things around. They started finding passes, breaking the Sporting KC press to generate dangerous looks on the counter. Morris’ goal in the 23rd minute was more a culmination of several minutes of sustained quality than a shock.
It also set the tone for the rest of the match. The Sounders never looked remotely uncomfortable from that point forward and were actually the team pressing more effectively. Morris’ second and fourth goals were both generated off pressing, and the Sounders disrupted Sporting KC’s buildup throughout.
Morris’ third goal, though, was perhaps most illustrative of how this year feels different from last year. Ben Sweat had just been ejected for picking up a second caution on a bad challenge, giving the Sounders a man advantage. Almost immediately, the Sounders went on a nearly four-minute stretch in which they out-passed Sporting KC 55-1, poking and prodding the defense while switching the field and playing it back into the own end before relaunching the attack. The final ball was near perfection, with Nicolás Lodeiro finding Morris at the back post for an acrobatic volley.
What I loved about the sequence was how much confidence and patience it showed, the sign of a team that knew what it wanted to do but was in no rush to make it happen. That could be said about the performance as a whole, as well.
We should be careful not to put too much stock in this result. Sporting KC are not in a good place. None of their three Designated Players were healthy enough to start and they’re missing several other key players. I’m not ready to suggest Morris should start every game as a 9 or that Léo Chú is now the team’s first-choice left wing, to speak nothing of the other changes. It remains to be seen if the Sounders can actually beat other top teams in the league, not just hang with them. But, especially for a team riding a 10-game road winless run and missing several key players of their own, this was an obvious improvement. I definitely feel better about the Sounders’ ability to rotate lineups and don’t feel like there’s any rush to force potentially tired internationals back into the lineup too soon.
“That’s a tough thing to go down in an environment like that,” Morris said. “We did a good job of not panicking. We dictated the tempo of the game after that. We made them move side to side, created the better chances. It was a super important step forward to show that style of play on the road.”