The Seattle Sounders faced off against two teams from Texas this week and the vibes after both games have been pretty weird. First, they beat Houston Dynamo 1-0 after a lengthy weather delay in Houston. Then, they lost 2-1 to Austin FC at home. A very strange week of games. Here are five things we learned.
Winning ain’t easy, but losing sure is
The Sounders would have to work very hard to have two games more different than the pair we saw against Houston and Austin this week. From a quality perspective, the displays were polar opposites. In Houston, they played poorly but walked away with all three points after toiling all night. Against Austin, they didn’t light the world on fire but created quality chances and lost.
The frustrating aspect of this week is they fought hard to win in Houston but the chances Austin scored on were just too easy, especially at home. This is the second time in as many weeks that a team on a record-setting winless run showed up to Lumen Field and not only walked away with three points, but completely dictated how the match was played. A worrying sign.
Cody Baker’s time to shine
The absences of Kelyn Rowe and Nouhou have meant that we’ve gotten to see Cody Baker start — and play well — in two matches at left back. Traditionally the 19-year-old Homegrown Product has played RB in his academy/Defiance days, but he’s been able to shift over to the left and do a decent job. He got forward much more against Austin than he did against Houston, playing a viable role in linkup play in the final third.
It’s way too early to talk about potential and fit for the young kid, but his two league starts have proven he can provide valuable minutes to the first team.
Misery (Midfield) Business
It doesn’t take getting too much into the tactical weeds to see that the midfield hasn’t been playing up to their own standards lately. A midfield trio of Albert Rusnak, João Paulo, and Nicolas Lodeiro obviously has the quality to be the best in the league, but things are not clicking right now. In particular, it feels like João Paulo is much more of a hindrance to progress than he has been an asset. He’s struggling.
On Wednesday in particular, it seemed like Austin honed in early that João Paulo could be exploited. They often doubled him in the press and he couldn’t find any outlets. This isn’t primarily his fault as it’s the rest of the team’s responsibility to be available as an outlet. If you’re looking for another reason to miss Cristian Roldan, here’s the main one.
The last time the Sounders scored more than one goal in a league game was on April 8th against St. Louis City FC. Since then, they’ve played five league matches and in each they’ve underperformed their xG. Finishing is flukey, but the goals have definitely dried up. So, who is to blame? Some interesting numbers to look at here.
Listen I KNOW this sort of thing doesn't make a lot of you feel better at times like this, I get that I really do, but if Schmetzer persists with Heber, he'll be rewarded imo. The goals aren't happening for anybody right now, but Heber's non penalty xG+xA per 96 is second in MLS. pic.twitter.com/ItFPYArZ4y— person of no interest (@ahandleforian) May 18, 2023
A lot of hay is being made about Morris and/or Heber being poor lately. Well, I’m here to tell you the problems don’t rest at their feet, in either a metaphorical or literal sense. They’re still doing the hard work of actually getting shots off; what’s dried up around them is quality AND quantity of chances. Finishing is mostly luck and if the Sounders can get back to creating more chances, like they did up until a month ago, the goals will come.
On the mend
A positive from this week is that it does seem like the Sounders are turning the corner on the injury front. Both Léo Chú and Nouhou featured against Austin on Wednesday night. They might both be available to start against Vancouver, but at the very least they’ll be on the bench again.
Before the Austin game, Brian Schmetzer mentioned that Raúl Ruidíaz is chomping at the bit to play, but Vancouver is too soon. Perhaps we might see a healthier squad next week.