With once again fans in the stands for the first time since March of 2020, the home team pulled off a convincing victory that left us with plenty to digest
Although there were only 7,042 in attendance to watch a rematch of last year’s Western Conference championship game between Minnesota United and the Seattle Sounder, the limited crowd brought back life to a Lumen Field that is iconic for its atmosphere.
Perhaps the chants last Friday were just a whisper compared to the usual and the “Scarves Up” ritual was not existent as it typically blanks out entire sections of the stadium but those in the stands, unquestionably provided a special factor to this match. Frankly, it was the fans who played a major role that for a moment of seconds MLS being back felt as it did before the pandemic, only to be amplified by the protagonist in Rave Green scoring brilliant goal, after brilliant goal.
Yes, it took Sounders a full forty five minutes to iron out the wrinkles of their new 3-5-2 formation, the home team struggle to even get out of their own third early in the game but it’s hard to argue with results and their dominant second half led Seattle to a strong 4-0 victory. Even though the overall performance was not perfect, overwhelming a Minnesota side that at times looked flat and without ideas, it did leave us some conclusions to analyze.
Brian Schmetzer silenced the doubters
The second half by Sounders was a strong statement of how effective their new 3-5-2 formation can be. From field of play, all four goals displayed great passing combinations, smart movement of the ball and an overall understanding of how to exploit the space their ball movement was creating. Defensively
Contraire to the narrative created by season/previews previews such as my own published prior to the game and a few more written by other respected columnist, it took Seattle no more than one game to put themselves in the conversation as a true contender in 2021. To the surprise of us “pundits” as Schmetzer refers to some of media members, the lack of preseason games nor the decisions made on the starting XI created a digression in their level of play or at least none that could not be figured out at half time. The head coach made sure to send a message to those journalist that like myself, were critical of how prepared the team really was for this game.
“People who get excited about the first game of the year and lineup choices are not that well educated. We’re going to need every single player to contribute at some point during the year”, was Brian’s way of letting everyone know he heard the noise but ultimately he knew better.
The decision to the club’s defender of the year in 2020, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, was one of the surprising moves going into this match, however, considering the coaches mention of rotations and the clean sheet earned, there is nothing to criticize. Although I still believe the team’s best center back should always start, as Lodeiro or Ruidiaz would if healthy, the dominant victory has earned this coaching staff the benefit of doubt on their decision to keep “The Tank” off the pitch.
Maybe the most impressive decision and one that was clearly spot on, was trusting 19-year-old Josh Atencio to make his starting debut at home against a strong Minnesota United. Despite the pressure, responsibility of his role, facing a talented midfield of the likes of Emmanuel Reynoso and Gregus, the Academy product played as if he was an MLS veteran.
You guys witnessed his transformation into a very, very talented MLS player,” it’s how Schmetzer expressed the maturity in which Josh played with while also describing his game as fantastic.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Josh. He had big shoes to fill. If Nico Lodeiro, the captain of this club, was healthy, Nico would have been playing. That would have meant Cristian would have dropped next to JP, Josh wouldn’t have played.”
Josh got better as the game went on, his decision making got better, as his positioning on the field as he covered ground and by the end of the game he had won 78% of his duels, with 6 tackles and connected 81 % of his passes. There are still areas of improvement, by no means should this performance indicate that Atencio will all of the sudden turn into new Honey Badger but his numbers, along with his overall performance were very promising.
Joao Paulo was pure class but Cristian Roldan was phenomenal
What can be said about Joao Paulo’s goal that has not already been said, it was Sport Center’s top play of the day, Major League Soccer’s goal of the week and the in every conversation related to opening week. Of course, the Brazilians two touch screamer from outside of the box stole the show but his performance was more than just one brilliant goal.
For a player that this season needs to prove he can be as consistent as his designated player tag demands, Joao has definitely started with the right foot this season. In Friday’s win over Minnesota the former Botafogo was crucial in buildup play, he tallied up a team high 69 touches and 51 passes, with a 72.5% completion rate, something he needs to replicate for Seattle to play at their best.
Joao’s technical abilities are undeniable but he had a fantastic supporting cast at center midfield which allowed him to play with certain freedom, Cristian Roldan being by far the most important out of them. CR7 was actually the most influential player on both sides of the ball, from clearing a ball just inches from crossing the goal line, to his accuracy on link up play which resulted in at least three opportunities and one assist, his contribution throughout the game was phenomenal.
As an interior player of this 3-5-2 his versatility fits perfectly with his role, there are very few players in MLS that are as complete as Cristian. Even though there were a few passes he probably wishes he had back, on Friday he put in full display how well he can run that position, reaching the finally third through the inside channels and working to perfection with his brother Alex at wingback, it is easy to speculate that Cristian will be a huge reason this system works for Seattle.
Although it is only week one, Sounders did enough to elevate early expectations
Brian Schmetzer did an excellent job at containing expectations which could build up unnecessary pressure after a remarkable result. The experienced head coach made sure to acknowledge that a victory this early should be enjoyed but not hide the fact that there are still things to improve upon and Sounders would not always be as dominant as it was tonight.
“In the first half we struggle a little bit and had to make some adjustments. Like I said before, there is going to be a learning curve, it’s not always going to be like this”, Brian admitted during Friday night’s post-game press conference.
“Yes, we are very happy with tonight but there is going to be a learning curve, a few bumps on the road so we as coaches know that”.
A veteran move, by a wise coach who made sure to protect the team as well as young players like Atencio and Alex Roldan from being exposed to the dangers behind “The Hype” of any dimension. Nonetheless, as already mentioned there is plenty to be excited about, if Seattle can turn this momentum into points during the first few weeks while players like Lodeiro and Medranda overcome injuries, it could really put them in a privilege position.
Just imagine how dangerous this team will be once the clubs most valuable player is slotted into this formation, not only would he uplift the level of play on the field but it also give Schmetzer even more options on how and when to play the young prospects. Now, how about when in the summer window more talent is brought in out wide is it is expected to happen, adding yet another element that can defy defenses and create mayhap could raise this team’s potential substantially.
Another reason to place Sounders in the top section of the power rankings was how dangerous their attack was, which benefitted of a Raul Ruidiaz who was elite in the final third. With a brace on the first game of the season, “La Pulga” admitted it was the best start if his career as he could not think of any other inaugural game when he came away with two goals of his own.
The Peruvian Striker told me earlier this year how motivated he was to compete with Carlos Vela and Josef Martinez for the Leagues golden boot as they were both out in 2020, this year he is off to a hot start and although as he mentioned his number one priority is helping the team earned points, this is something that will continue to drive him all season.
Bob Bradley’s LAFC is always played like a derby and a perfect parameter to test this group, especially when Seattle has to travel to Los Angeles and play at Banc of California. Schmetzer told 950 KJR’s Jackson Felts, Lodeiro could travel to LA depending on his progress this week but, even if the legendary 10 does not return to at least the bench, this game r will tell us more about where this team is.