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Postgame Pontifications: Is this momentum?

The Sounders still haven’t won consecutive MLS games this year, but the tie against Houston seemed to be a positive step in terms of changing that.

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4 min read
Brian Evans / Sounders FC Communications

Momentum has been hard to come by for the Seattle Sounders this year. Although they’ve managed to start collecting results at a decent clip, they’ve still not won consecutive games even once.

That’s still the case after Wednesday’s 2-2 tie on the road against the Houston Dynamo. But unlike many of their previous ties, where it felt as though points were left on the table, this was a draw that really felt a lot more like a win.

After playing what head coach Brian Schmetzer admitted was probably their worst half of the season — not only were they down 2-0 but they had given up 1.75 xG, worse than all but four previous full-game totals — the Sounders managed to pull even before the match even hit the 70th minute. That comes on the heels of probably their most complete performance of the season on Saturday, a 2-0 win over Minnesota United.

“It’s massive,” Schmetzer told reporters in the postgame press-conference. “The turnaround is a testament. That’s a good team, they just need to believe it. That’s part of the culture. They never quit. A lot of teams would have lost 3-0 and wouldn’t care. They came out and changed things for the better.”

From the sound of it, one of the sparks for the turnaround was Schmetzer’s halftime speech. He has apparently been making body language an area of emphasis and was particularly frustrated with how some of his players were reacting to the Dynamo’s goals.

While the Sounders’ inability to keep the ball was bad enough, Schmetzer did not like how players were reacting after the turnovers. Yeimar Gomez Andrade seemed to be guilty of this on both goals as he reacted slowly and lost marks on both. Although Schmetzer insisted Yeimar wasn’t the only culprit, it did feel notable that he was the only halftime substitute.

“No one had good body language but someone was coming out at halftime,” Schmetzer said. “That was my choice.”

Paul Rothrock, who has now scored in consecutive games, was possibly one of the exceptions. The Seattle native was a bundle of energy and seemed to be in the middle of every positive moment. The biggest those of was his goal, where he popped the ball over the defender, raced in on goal and then followed up his first saved shot by scoring the rebound.

It was a fair encapsulation of Rothrock’s performance. He wasn’t exactly clinical — he only completed 11 of 20 passes — but he was relentless. Rothrock finished with a game-high seven successful duels and was tied for the team lead with three tackles. This was Rothrock’s first MLS start, and prior to the Minnesota game he had only played as many as 15 minutes in a MLS match twice in his entire career.

“I’m just trying to take things game by game,” the 25-year-old said. “Nothing is going to be given to me and each game is a new game. That feeling of scoring goals and winning games, I’m chasing that and trying to have fun in these moments. I’ve dreamed of this stuff since I was a little kid. I’m just trying to take opportunities when I can.”

Rothrock is probably a fair avatar for the Sounders as a whole. It’s still hard to know what exactly to make of all this. On one hand, it’s great to see the Sounders grinding out results. Based on how this season has gone, even that can’t be taken for granted.

But the reality is that they are now 19 games into the season and are sitting outside the playoffs. This is a team that has yet to put together a string of truly encouraging results. At the same time, it’s not too hard to splice the data in a more encouraging way.

Since ending their five-game winless run at the start of the season, they are 5-4-5 (1.43 points per game). If they can play at that pace for the rest of the season, they’ll finish with about 43 points, which should be just enough to get into the playoffs. But they’ve also achieved that while playing 11 of 19 games on the road. If the Sounders can play their final nine home games at their historic rate of about 2.0 points per game while maintaining their current pace of 1.0 road points per game, they’ll likely finish somewhere between fourth and seventh in the West. That would be right in line with where they are in terms of expected goal-difference and expected points.

The Sounders are also 5-3-3 (1.58 ppg) when they have at least nine of their plausibly-ideal 11 starters. Assuming their injury woes are behind them, playing at that pace for the rest of the year would probably get them to about 46 points, likely out of the play-in round.

Without a serious injection of talent, it’s hard to see this team being anything like a favorite to win MLS silverware, but they are finally starting to show that they can at least hold their own.

“We showed a lot of grit, a lot of character,” Rothrock said. “That’s hard to do in this weather, coming off a game this weekend. We came together as a group.”