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Postgame Pontifications: Up for the fight

The Sounders aren’t playing pretty and that’s OK.

Last Updated
3 min read
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports

PORTLAND — For most of this season, the Seattle Sounders have talked about needing to reward themselves. Players and coaches have insisted that training sessions have been sharp and competitive; the underlying stats have suggested a lot of the objectives were being accomplished; the results have not always followed.

Through eight games, the Sounders were just 1-4-3 despite an even goal-difference. It was their worst-ever start while entering the busiest, and potentially most important, part of their schedule.

The Sounders promptly lost their next game. In the process, they may have found something in the way they battled in a 2-1 loss at D.C. United, during which they played over half the match with only 10 men.

Since then, the Sounders have gone 2-0-1 in league play while also winning a shootout in the U.S. Open Cup. None of those matches have been particularly pretty, but they did showcase a similar level of grit and tenacity that they showed in the loss to D.C. United.

The prime example was probably Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Portland Timbers. Not only did it end a torturous six-game winless run against their biggest rivals, it was on the road and their first come-from-behind win since last July. The Sounders didn’t play particularly attractive soccer, but they seemed to embrace the “let ’em play” attitude of referee Allen Chapman. They battled for every 50/50 ball, contested every shot and forced the Timbers to start every possession as deep as possible in their own end.

“I thought we did the little things really well today,” Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei said after having to make just one save. “Especially when it’s hot outside and they go negative, can you take a couple of yards and force their front-line guys to get the ball farther back? It makes the entry ball more difficult. If you get complacent on those tiny details that’s when the pressure starts to mount. We dug really deep today in conditions where it’s easy to neglect those details, but we did them and we reaped the rewards.”

That didn’t necessarily seem to be the game plan going in. The Sounders came out reasonably front-footed, only to give up a goal in the 13th minute. Rather than hang their heads, they struck back almost immediately and continued to press for another goal. It came in the 50th minute on a beautiful sequence that ended with Raúl Ruidíaz conjuring a bit of magic, hitting a first-time shot from the top of the box that floated ever-so-perfectly over the outstretched arm of Maxime Crepeau.

At that point in the game, the Sounders had about 60% of possession and were outshooting the Timbers 6-4. Over the final 40 minutes, the Timbers had a roughly 70-30 possession advantage. They were only able to turn that into four shots, however, with all of them coming from at least 22 yards out.

The only one of those shots that seemed particularly dangerous was an Evander attempt from the top of the penalty arc that was fittingly blocked by Obed Vargas.

“It was the type of game where we lost a little bit of control of the game in terms of possession,” said Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, who had probably his best game of the season while playing alongside João Paulo. “It felt like it was going to be one of those where you jut have to get behind the ball and defend your lead. It’s something we haven’t really done well this year.”

Strip away the opponent, the stakes or the history, and there wasn’t too much to be excited about from this game in a vacuum. Aside from their two goals, the Sounders did not play particularly expansive soccer. Especially as the game wore on, Frei and his defenders were more than happy to simply boot the ball forward rather than build from the back.

But the details are important in this case. Especially in this rivalry, head coach Brian Schmetzer had started to openly wonder if his players simply weren’t getting the message that they couldn’t treat a game against the Timbers like any other game. Finally, the Sounders rose to the occasion.

This might not be who the Sounders aspire to be, but maybe it’s who they need to be right now.

“The most frustrating thing is playing beautiful soccer and having nothing to show for it,” Frei said. “Ultimately what is beautiful soccer if you’re not successful? That’s where football is trending anyways. It’s about being cutthroat. I think today we played a really balanced game, I liked how we played today. I hope we continue to do that.”