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Postgame Pontifications: Just what the Sounders needed

Paul Rothrock provides the Sounders a spark of energy that will hopefully keep burning.

Last Updated
3 min read
Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — Paul Rothrock freely admits that he’s not the kind of player scouts get excited about. The Seattle native is neither particularly fast nor technically gifted. He doesn’t put up eye-popping stats, either.

But what Rothrock has consistently done wherever he goes is find his place. He does it by being among the hardest-working players at training, by being a good teammate, by figuring out what his teams need and doing his best to provide exactly that.

Entering as an injury substitute in the 7th minute against Minnesota United on Saturday, Rothrock was mostly asked to stretch the field and more broadly provide energy. He did that and a little more, scoring his second career MLS goal to seal a 2-0 win that goes in the books as arguably the Seattle Sounders’ most complete team performance of the season.

“It’s something I take a lot of pride and something that’s gotten me a long way,” Rothrock said in the postgame locker room. “Over time that pays off, and once you start settling in at an environment I’ve always had success with that.”

The decision to bring in Rothrock seemed a little counter-intuitive at the time. Alex Roldan clashed heads with a United player in the 1st minute and the obvious response seemed to be bringing in Cody Baker at right back.

But with just one win their first seven home games, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer decided to roll the dice with a more aggressive decision. Gambling that the Sounders were probably going to have most of the ball, he decided to move Cristian Roldan to right back and put Rothrock at right wing.

It paid off relatively quickly when Rothrock drew a foul in a dangerous area by putting himself in position to win the second ball off a Cristian Roldan header. Not only did the foul draw a yellow card, but it also set up Jordan Morris’ headed goal off Albert Rusnák’s free kick.

Rothrock’s contributions only took off from there when he switched sides with Léo Chú. For whatever reason, playing inverted allowed both Rothrock and Chú to be more involved.

In the second half, Rothrock twice found himself with open looks at the back post. The first came right out of halftime when Morris put a gorgeous cross through the box that found Rothrock all alone, only for his sliding attempt at an open net go just wide. About 10 minutes later, he got a second chance. This time it was Chú working a nice give-and-go with Obed Vargas before finding Rothrock cleverly positioned. Rothrock didn’t miss this time.

“He did that because his training the last few weeks has been way up here,” Schmetzer said, holding his hand above his head. “Times weren’t going well and he was sniffing for an opportunity. He was going to be ready when the coach called his number. There was no hesitation on the bench. I wanted us to attack more, be on the front foot.”

The win put the Sounders back in a playoff spot, albeit a very precarious No. 9 position in which they’re ahead of the Portland Timbers on a goal-difference tiebreaker. They certainly aren’t where they want to be.

In reality, Rothrock probably isn’t the player who will push them over the top. To get there, the Sounders are going to need their highest-paid players to perform with more consistency and to maybe get outside help, too.

But the Sounders needed a win like this one. They’ve shown that they can grind out results, but this was the first time they genuinely outplayed a quality opponent from end to end. It doesn’t seem entirely coincidental that they staged a full-team celebration after Morris’ goal, a public showing of camaraderie with Rothrock in the middle of it.

“When teams are struggling, people get dramatic about things,” Rothrock said. “I have a good understanding that it just takes a few guys pulling in the same direction and getting some breaks.”

Perhaps they needed someone like Rothrock to provide a spark that will hopefully keep burning.

“Is he the best player in the squad? No,” Schmetzer said rather bluntly. “But tonight he was the most important.”