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Postgame Pontifications: Finally upward bound

They aren’t where they want to be, but moving into a playoff spot is a good first step.

Last Updated
3 min read
Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

The climb into a Western Conference playoff spot has not been pretty. The Seattle Sounders started it off by falling flat on their face, failing to win any of their first five games and flirting with last place.

Ever so slowly, they’ve managed to pull themselves up. It started with a loss, in fact, when they dropped a 2-1 decision to D.C. United on the road, but showed some fight after going down to 10 men.

Over the next eight games across two competitions, the Sounders went 3-1-2 in league play while also successfully navigating their way through two U.S. Open Cup rounds to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time since 2016.

In none of those matches have the Sounders played anything approaching expansive soccer. At their best, they’ve been opportunistic offensively and reasonably stout defensively. The most non-penalty xG they generated in any of their six league games during that stretch was 1.51 against D.C. United (a loss) and the most possession they had in any of the matches was 55% against the LA Galaxy, a game they tied 0-0.

It was more of the same against St. Louis City on Saturday. The Sounders were credited with 52% possession, although just 40% of their passes were in St. Louis’ half and they only attempted to play two passes into the penalty area. City, meanwhile, peppered the Sounders with 22 shots, with 15 of them coming from inside the penalty area. Especially during the final 15-20 minutes, the Sounders were forced to defend much deeper than they’d liked as they struggled to string passes together.

Statistically and aesthetically unappealing as that was, the Sounders still managed to score two goals and hold on for a 2-1 win.

“It’s the story of our season,” a clearly relieved Cristian Roldan said in the postgame press conference. “We don’t like to make things easy. We make things difficult by conceding possession, conceding crosses, letting them win second balls. They did a good job of putting the ball in box.

“We closed out not in the best way, but these are three points that we’ll look back and no one will talk about how we closed out the game.”

While the Sounders weren’t claiming any style points, there were some genuinely positive developments in this game. For the last couple of weeks, at least, they have struggled to create quality scoring chances in part because they’ve failed to be decisive in the attack.

Both Sounders’ goal against St. Louis came through the type of play head coach Brian Schmetzer has been preaching. The first came out some quick, inside-outside passing between Alex Roldan, Albert Rusnák and Cristian Roldan. That it ended up going in the books as an own-goal was less important than the way the ball moved and Cristian Roldan hitting the cross with his first touch, the type of early pass the Sounders have rarely been making lately. It should also be said that if Kyle Hiebert hadn’t deflected the cross, Raúl Ruidíaz had slipped behind his defender and would have had an open look at goal, the exact type of run he’s almost completely stopped making this year.

The second goal was a beautifully crafted transition moment. Cristian Roldan was again in the middle of things, starting the counter with a line-breaking pass to Ruidíaz, who tapped it back to Rusnák. Rusnák took one touch to control, immediately picked up his head and threaded a pass through three defenders, and put just enough weight on it for Jordan Morris to collect it in stride while not giving Roman Bürki any opportunity to come off his line. Morris, showing the type of confidence that has been in short supply, seemed to open his hips to get Bürki to commit slightly to the far post then calmly slotted it past the reigning Goalkeeper of the Year for a 2-0 lead.

Morris probably should have had an assist later on as well, when he created a counter-attack almost on his own as he carried the ball about 50 yards before setting up Danny Musovski for a chance that ended up going just wide.

Rather than putting away the match, the Sounders were forced to ride their luck a bit at the end. But make no mistake, the Sounders put themselves in position to benefit from the situation. Given how the first few months of the season have gone, it’s an undeniable step in the right direction.

It seems like the Sounders have at least managed to leave base camp. Now, they must figure out how to maintain this trajectory.

“The first goal is to make the playoffs and go on a run from there,” Morris said. “It feels good to be there. We’ll enjoy this, but we’re not where we want to be. It’s a good start but a long way to go.”