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Postgame Pontifications: Too many holes to fill

Albert Rusnák's late scratch leaves Sounders scrambling for answers.

Last Updated
3 min read
Sounders FC Communications

LOS ANGELES – On the eve of the Seattle Sounders regular-season opener, head coach Brian Schmetzer was faced with a decision he had not anticipated needing to make: How to replace Albert Rusnák, who picked up an ankle injury in the final training session.

Much of what the Sounders had drilled during the preseason was predicated on Rusnák's move to the No. 10 spot. But that was also a spot where the Sounders were rather thin, lacking a like-for-like backup without creating a cascading effect of changes at other positions.

Rather than moving several players around or inserting a relatively untested player into the lineup, Schmetzer opted to bring in Raúl Ruidíaz and move into a 4-4-2 formation in which the team had barely even trained.

The result was a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it failed to deliver a result as the Sounders fell 2-1 to LAFC. On the other, the failings in the match weren't so much tactical as they were ones of execution.

"I thought Raúl was okay," Schmetzer said during the postgame press-conference. "I asked him to do certain things and he did them because he's a team guy and he wants to help the team win. If you take Raúl and his new positioning into account, I thought the team looked sometimes like we wanted to play. Raúl did what I asked him to do."

What Schmetzer had envisioned was a slightly different role that Ruidíaz is normally asked to play.

Schmetzer had committed to starting the season with Jordan Morris as the Sounders' No. 9 and has a strong belief that Cristian Roldan is most efficiently used as right winger. Reluctant to move away from those commitments so early, he didn't want to move Morris to the right wing or slide Cristian Roldan into Rusnák's spot. Schmetzer also could have done something like insert Paul Rothrock – who has gotten most of the reps with reserves at the No. 10 spot during preseason – and keeping everyone in their spots. But that would have meant asking him to make his first career MLS start in the season-opener in one of the league's toughest environments.

It also would have meant leaving Ruidíaz on the bench, a player who not only has a history of success against LAFC but is a proven veteran who had led the team in scoring during preseason.

Schmetzer believed Ruidíaz could be effective playing in the soft parts of the left side, sort of floating between Léo Chú on the wing and Morris in that right channel while giving the Sounders another option in the box.

It clearly didn't work perfectly, but in 58 minutes Ruidíaz connected all 21 of his passes, was reasonably active defensively and consistently got himself into dangerous positions. He finished with five shots that included three that were on target and two others that were from inside the box but blocked by defenders.

What Ruidíaz wasn't able to do – and really wasn't really tasked with anyway – was providing the sort of bridge that would normally connect the midfield to the attack, effectively leaving Morris on an island much of the time. Morris finished the match with two good looks, one that came off a deflected cross in the 3rd minute and led to a shot that Hugo Lloris saved. The other came in the 67th minute when Cristian Roldan played Morris in behind the defense, and ultimately resulted in a penalty.


Those frustrations aside, taken as a whole, this was not a horrible performance by any means. Even before Rusnák picked up his injury, the Sounders were already pretty short-handed.

João Paulo and Stefan Frei have both been nursing injuries and were given the week off more out of an abundance of caution, and a general belief that their backups would hold up. Neither Obed Vargas nor Andrew Thomas looked ready to jump their counterparts on the depth chart, but were reasonably effective. Thomas made the saves you'd have expected him to make, while Vargas won his share of duels (seven), completed his passes (34 of 37) and covered a ton of ground. Yeimar Gomez Andrade is still working his way back from missing the first few weeks of training camp and Nathan barely put a foot wrong in his place. Pedro de la Vega, while still just about 30 minutes fit, made the most of his time, converting the penalty and attacking the LAFC defense virtually every time he had the ball.

Schmetzer may have been frustrated with the result, but he was mostly happy with the way the Sounders held firm to their principles of play that included setting a high line of confrontation and pushing numbers into the attack.

"It's a little early even without the injuries," Schmetzer said. "We have to get Pedro incorporated into the group. We'll work through some of the issues, it's not the final product yet."