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Five things we liked from Sounders’ first MLS win of the season

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SEATTLE — Over time, even the most interesting relationships can lose a little bit of their luster. The Seattle Sounders and LA Galaxy have been doing this dance for 14 years now, and while they’re not really geographic rivals, there’s no questioning that it’s a rivalry, and has been since the moment the Sounders began their MLS journey.

And it’s tough to live up to some of the highs (2014) and lows (later in 2014) in this long-distance relationship, so it’s not surprising that after a while, that a “been-there-done-that” vibe can creep in. But the relationships that endure come up with ways to keep the spark going, through the good times and the bad. And for the Galaxy, they’d really let themselves go since the Sounders dumped them out of the playoffs in 2015.

But when they renewed acquaintances Saturday at Lumen Field, the Sounders surely noticed there was something different about Greg Vanney’s side. Particularly when the Galaxy greeted them not with a hug, but more of sucker-punch in the opening 5 minutes. That opening goal likely gave fans a bit of PTSD, given that this would hardly be the first time the Sounders have followed up their solid Concacaf Champoins League performances with an MLS dud. This time, the Sounders were up for the challenge.

Displaying some of their trademark composure and maturity, the Sounders were able to overcome the early first-half deficit and an early second-half equalizer to open their MLS account with an entertaining 3-2 victory, which sets them up for their return match at Leon on Thursday. After the match, Schmetzer said the game was a good experience for what the team will endure in Leon, so even the longest relationships can teach you something new.

One way to break out of a scoring slump is to take advantage of chances from dead-ball situations, and the Sounders certainly did that in this match. Of course, the most dangerous set-piece is from the penalty spot, and after winning the foul that set it up, Fredy Montero — after some…deliberation with Albert Rusnak — dispatched the ball from the spot with clinical precision. Jordan Morris’ goal from a corner might not win any votes for goal of the year, but as Schmetzer pointed out after the game, he was in the perfect position to take advantage of the corner, which he did. The third set-piece finish from Xavier Arreaga however was far more aesthetic, nodding home an exquisite pass from Alex Roldan on a training ground-style short corner.

When Schmetzer called the match a good experience for what they’ll endure in León on Thursday, it was a reference to the way the Galaxy put the Sounders under pressure from the start. When the Galaxy were rewarded for the endeavor in the opening minutes, the Sounders had to figure out a way to deal with the onslaught from behind. That they were able to equalize relatively early in the match surely helped, but that didn’t relieve the pressure much and it showed in the post-game status, with the Galaxy holding close to a 2-1 advantage in possession and shots. Sometimes possession stats can be misleading, particularly when a team is passing the ball around their defensive half of the field. In this case, it certainly wasn’t.

Speaking of lessons, the Sounders got some early work in closing out a lead, which they did expertly in Saturday’s match. Few things are more demoralizing than giving up a lead late (the New England Revolution got a taste of that Saturday), but the Sounders had no such issues in this one, navigating the 5 minutes of extra time with aplomb. Will Bruin, in his first action this year, was instrumental with his holdup play drawing some timely fouls and throw-ins deep in the Galaxy defensive half of the field.

One thing the Sounders felt was important was building off their CCL performances. To this point, there was some narrative that spoke to the Sounders being two teams, given their inability to match their international and domestic forms. While that may be a bit unfair given injuries, fatigue and the timing of matches the fact is that an 0-2 MLS start left a lot of people wondering. While a singular home win may not change that narrative overnight, it will surely ease a lot of nerves.

One of the questions coming from change back to a 4-2-3-1 from the three-man backline was how their defensive backs would adjust to the formation. Last year, Alex Roldan in particular was able to provide width and supply service, particularly with three center backs providing cover. With more defensive responsibilities, the Sounders not at full strength and new players being integrated, it’s been a bit of a challenge. In this match,8 however, Roldan did an expert job picking his spots, and showed his quality on the service on the third goal. While Nouhou didn’t have an assist, his defensive contributions were solid as always, yellow card aside.



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Jordy Delem joins USL’s San Antonio FC

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Jordy Delem has signed with San Antonio FC of the USL Championship, the team announced on Thursday. Delem has been training with the Seattle Sounders for most of the year while recovering from a torn ACL he suffered early in 2021.

There had been some hope that he might rejoin the Sounders once he regained full fitness, but even after João Paulo’s injury the indications from the team were that they were satisfied with their existing depth. Beyond that, there was a distinct sense that the Sounders did not view the 29-year-old Delem as enough of an upgrade to justify giving him minutes over developing players like Josh Atencio, Danny Leyva and AB Cissoko.

While the USL Championship is a step down in terms of competition, San Antonio seems like a good spot for Delem. The club is currently tied for the lead in the Western Conference and is much more focused on winning than on developing young players. There’s also at least one familiar face in San Antonio in former Sounders forward Justin Dhillon. The Sounders have also sent several players to San Antonio on loan over the years.



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Grindy win was just what Sounders needed

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Aside from one particularly attractive attacking sequence, there weren’t a whole lot of memorable or even particularly notable moments from the Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 win over the Houston Dynamo on Wednesday. Well, aside from the fact that the Sounders won a midweek road game on short rest and got their first shutout of the MLS campaign, anyway.

But let’s focus on those big-picture takeaways first.

More than anything, this win was a bit of a stress test for the Sounders and it sure looks like they passed. It’s been well established by now that the Sounders spent most of the first two months of the season setting themselves up for what turned out to be a successful run at becoming the first MLS team to win Concacaf Champions League.

One of the main ways that manifested itself is in how Brian Schmetzer chose to rotate his lineups. This was the Sounders’ 11th match to be played on less than five days’ rest this season. In most of those, especially those that came on the road, Schmetzer has chosen to rotate at least part of his lineup. Against the Dynamo, however, he effectively ran back the same group that had beaten Minnesota United on the weekend.

“That group of players actually earned the right to play,” Schmetzer explained. “For that group to kick the rust off, they needed to go back out there again and show what they can do. That was the reason for keeping basically the same starting lineup.”

Perhaps the most notable player in that group was Jordan Morris, who the Sounders have been especially careful with due to his “sprinter” characteristics. But after looking at Morris’ physical metrics, Schmetzer opted to give him a shot.

Morris, like several of his teammates, definitely looked to be feeling the strain at points. There were a couple runs later in that match where it looked like he simply ran out of gas, and he was ultimately pulled in the 77th minute. But he also rewarded Schmetzer’s faith, playing the penultimate pass that led to Raúl Ruidíaz’s goal.

The whole goal sequence as a whole was easily the match’s highlight. It started with Xavier Arreaga jumping a passing lane in Houston’s end to create the turnover and featured 22 consecutive connected passes — nine of which were nominally attacking in nature and all but two of which were in the attacking half — with every outfield player getting at least one touch. The final part of the play saw Nicolas Lodeiro clip a ball to Morris, who then whipped a cross through the box to Alex Roldan on the opposite wing. Roldan then one-touched his pass back to Ruidíaz in front of goal, where he blasted it through a defender.

Although the Sounders never put together a sequence nearly that aesthetically pleasing in the match, it was a good reminder of just how good this team can be when they have something like their ideal XI on the pitch together.

More broadly, the performance was exactly what the Sounders needed to show they were capable of, grindy and sloppy as it seemed at times. Not only did the Sounders generate slightly better chances by Expected Goals (1.3-1.2), they also won all the effort metrics like tackles, duels, blocks and interceptions.

After a slow start to league play, the Sounders now find themselves just two points out of a playoff spot with at least two games in hand on virtually the entire league. The Sounders can potentially jump into a playoff spot if they beat the Colorado Rapids on Sunday.

“We sang Jingle Bells and we had a clean sheet,” Schmetzer said in the postgame press conference, striking a slightly different tune than he had in his on-field interview at halftime. “No one is going to care in September or October how or why we won the game.

“That is a happy locker room. I’m a happy coach. There are happy assistant coaches and I think the whole club should be pleased with the result. It’s a six-point swing against someone who was ahead of us, it puts us in great shape to end the week on a high. I’m not frustrated at all.”



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Team of the Week presented by Audi: Austin FC dominate lineup in Week 12

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Team of the Week (3-4-3, left to right): Brad Stuver (ATX) – Alexander Callens (NYC), Damion Lowe (MIA), Ruben Gabrielsen (ATX) – Xherdan Shaqiri (CHI), Jamiro Monteiro (SJ), Hany Mukhtar (NSH), Sebastian Driussi (ATX) – Lucas Cavallini (VAN), Raul Ruidiaz (SEA), Daniel Salloi (SKC)

Bench: Drake Callender (MIA), Yeimar Gomez Andrade (SEA), Alex Muyl (NSH), Alfredo Morales (NYC), Jackson Yueill (SJ), Emanuel Reynoso (MIN), Omir Fernandez (RBNY)





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