Grindy win was just what Sounders needed

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, apart 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 of 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 week-end.

“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 basically keeping 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 helped — 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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