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Postgame Pontifications: Making their own breaks

The Sounders made a step toward saving their season in a rather improbable way.

Last Updated
4 min read
Caean Couto / Sounders FC Communications

In a season where seemingly everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, the Seattle Sounders finally had a game where that wasn’t the case.

That doesn’t mean their 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Union on Tuesday – which was the continuation of a match that officially started on March 9 – was anywhere near perfect, but they deserve credit for not letting this one get away. They were playing on the road on just two days’ rest, against one of the league’s most dominant home teams over the last several years, and managed to turn in arguably their best performance of the season.

Yes, they nearly squandered a 3-0 lead, but notably they didn’t.

“Winning in MLS is hard; winning away from home against the Eastern Conference leaders is really hard,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said in the postgame press-conference, perhaps overstating the Union’s standing by just a smidge. “We’ll do our normal review and think about what we can do better, but as far as I’m concerned the team played great.”

If Schmetzer seemed a little defensive in his answer, it could be excused. The Sounders played what has to be their best half of soccer of this so-far disastrous season, looking like they might actually cruise to victory through about 55 minutes. They built a 3-0 first-half lead behind a combination of opportunistic and well-taken goals, and repeatedly gashed the Union in transition and easily could have been leading 4-0 or even 5-0 with some slightly better finishing.

It was the exact kind of play we’ve been waiting to see from the Sounders all season. Opta credited the Sounders with four “direct attacks” – basically attacks that start in the defensive half and feature mostly forward passes – something they had only managed to do 11 times in their previous nine games. But in this one, Jordan Morris and Léo Chú were repeatedly getting loose on either wing with Cristian Roldan providing plenty of support while reviving his role as the “central winger” he played so well in 2021.

Behind Roldan, the central midfield pairing of Obed Vargas and Josh Atencio were as dynamic and attack-minded as they’ve ever been. Vargas, in particular, was a revelation. Not only did he score his first professional goal on a beautifully curled shot from 18 yards out, but he drew what turned out to be the game-winning penalty, was credited with five successful dribbles, won 6 of 6 tackles, was 15 of 18 on duels.

After months of stagnant offensive soccer, the Sounders actually were fun again.

“It wasn’t an extremely convincing win by any means,” Roldan said. “But it’s a result-driven league. No one is going to talk about this win or how we won in September. We’re struggling for points. We have to take those three points and try to ride this momentum. We scored three goals on the road. We looked like a different team over the last three halves. That’s what we’ll take from this game and hopefully carry on with some momentum.”

Beyond just the goals and the quality of chances the Sounders created during those three halves, there’s something to be said how they made their own breaks, too. The first of those three halves was the final 45 minutes against D.C. United, which was entirely played while down a man. The Sounders weren’t able to get the goal that would have allowed them to salvage a point from that game, but it was something positive to build upon.

In the first half against the Union, the Sounders obviously started out flying. But they deserve credit for making some plays to preserve that lead going into halftime. Andrew Thomas made a couple of good saves, including one from near point-blank range on Dániel Gazdag, who would later become the Union’s all-time leading scorer.

The Sounders could have made life a little easier on themselves if they had converted a couple good looks early in the second half — the best of which came when Morris found Ruidíaz for an open volley that was well saved — and that nearly cost them when the Union scored two goals virtually on top of one another in the 56th and 57th minutes. But unlike what we’ve seen so often this year, the Sounders didn’t quite crumble. Albert Rusnák entered the game shortly after those goals and helped calm the game down enough that the Sounders saw it out.

Make no mistake, though – this result is not a cure. The Sounders have narrowly pulled ahead of their 2018 pace — and are no longer off to their worst-ever start — but they’re still much closer to the bottom of the Western Conference than the top. For this result to matter, they need to follow it up with another solid performance against the LA Galaxy on Sunday and then push it beyond that.

But this game did show something like a blueprint for how the Sounders can succeed if they trust their depth, get out in transition and continue to make their own breaks.

“The team already had belief, but we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot,” Schmetzer said. “We need to collect points from here on out. We’re going to take this group and do the same thing. That group is committed to themselves. Maybe it’s a little bit of them against the rest of the world.

“We have a talented team. They’re firmly committed to playing well. I think you’re going to see a very tight group of players doing what they can to get us out of this hole.”