SEATTLE — Every season, it seems, has a point of inflection. A game that, in hindsight at least, you can point to and say “this is where it all turned around, for better or worse.”
Who knows if Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Colorado Rapids was that match, but there are definitely reasons to think it could be.
At the very least, we know it was a match where everything seemed to be working against the Seattle Sounders almost from kickoff. But instead of hanging their heads after giving up their earliest goal of the season and playing almost an entire half down a man for the second consecutive home game, the Sounders responded with a performance that was encouraging both for its gutsiness and quality.
“It’s a big win,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan told the media. “Obviously under a little bit of pressure after getting three consecutive bad results and going down a man. It displays our character and what we stand for, and that’s playing as a team and grinding games out.”
It’s not that the Sounders haven’t showed similar abilities in the past — this was their fourth come-from-behind win this year, all of them at home — but after three straight losses, it was fair to wonder if some of the fight had gone out of them.
In that sense, winning in a match where so much seemed to be going against them may have been more valuable than simply stomping an opponent.
For large portions of this match, it did feel a bit like it was destined to be another frustrating result. Jonathan Lewis opened the scoring in the 3rd minute, sneaking behind the defense on an admittedly well-designed play off a throw-in. The Sounders then spent much of the next 40 minutes doing everything well except score. The most frustrating sequence came in the 40th minute when Yeimar Goméz Andrade had one shot cleared off the line by a defender then managed to bounce a virtual point-blank header over the crossbar.
Here’s the sequence before goal where yeimar had a shot cleared off line and then somehow missed a point blank header. pic.twitter.com/oAihmwGYek
— Jeremiah Oshan (@JeremiahOshan) July 24, 2022
The Sounders managed to make some of their own luck a few minutes later, however, when they quickly took a free kick deep in their own end with Nicolas Lodeiro placing a 60-yard pinpoint pass on the foot of Jimmy Medranda, who perfectly controlled it and then found Jordan Morris streaking in for the equalizer.
PRO’s after-the-fact proclamation that the play should have been blown dead and restarted closer to where the foul actually occurred notwithstanding, the entire sequence was impressive not only in its industriousness but in its execution. Rather than complaining about the defenders delaying the restart, Lodeiro picked up his head and played the ball aggressively forward. Similarly, Medranda and Morris never stopped their runs and then were clinical with the ball at their feet. It was a glorious sequence that showed just how much fight the Sounders still have in them.
⚽️ // PRO can confirm that an officiating error occurred in #SEAvsCOL in MLS Week 22.
The freekick that started the move leading to Jordan Morris’ goal for Seattle was taken from the wrong position, and should have been retaken. This play was not reviewable within VAR protocols. https://t.co/Kb8b3h9OJp
— PRO (@PROreferees) July 25, 2022
The Sounders didn’t have much chance to build on that momentum, though. Almost directly after halftime Kelyn Rowe was shown a second yellow card for absent-mindedly flipping the ball over the ad boards, forcing the Sounders to play nearly an entire half down a man for the second straight home game.
Again refusing to hang their heads, the Sounders continued to press the action even short-handed. Although they were unable to maintain their 75-25 first-half possession advantage, the balance of play continued to be in their favor. That was rewarded in the 69th minute when Albert Rusnák found Jordan Morris with another excellently weighted pass. Morris was unable to reward Rusnák with an assist when his shot was saved, but he did follow it up and was able to draw a penalty. Lodeiro converted it, his 18th straight successful penalty across all competitions and making him 17-for-17 in the MLS regular-season.
The three points the Sounders picked up were certainly useful. It did not move them into a playoff spot, but it did keep them just one point out and ensures that they’re still within their game-in-hand of moving as high as fourth.
Perhaps more importantly, it also served as a reminder that this is a team that knows how to win and has the talent to do so. Morris, in particular, flashed the kind of form that hasn’t always been apparent this season. He set season-highs for touches in the attacking third (33), touches in the penalty box (9), progressive passes received (9), progressive carries (5) and expected goals+assists (1.1).
The Sounders may have also finally found a solution to their inconsistency in the central midfield. At least until Rowe’s red card, Cristian Roldan was deployed alongside Albert Rusnák. It was the 13th different central-midfield pairing the Sounders have used this year and was probably the most effective one since Obed Vargas’ injury and arguably dating back to João Paulo’s. The first half was the Sounders’ second-best attacking half by xG this season (1.93) and Rusnák seemed to be freed to get a bit more forward than usual without completely taking Roldan out of the buildup.
While that may not be the solution for all games, it at least showed some promise and served as another example of the Sounders’ willingness to sacrifice individual desires for team goals.
“We’re going to be flexible, honestly,” Roldan said. “Every game is different. As we continue to get confidence, as we continue to get results, I might end up on the right, I might play as a center mid. If injuries happen I might end up at right back. The important thing is we continue to have belief in our team.
“At the end of the day, if I have to pay in the midfield I’m going to be a vocal leader because without João it’s hard to replace him, and I’m trying to do a little bit of that.”