SEATTLE – The Sounders’ first goal of Saturday’s 3-0 win over Sporting Kansas City was the epitome of strong ball movement and patient build-up play.
It started on the left side, when left back Nouhou and center back Jackson Ragen passed the ball back and forth to shift the opposing defense. Then, when Ragen saw an opening, the switch flipped as the Sounders pounced quickly.
He unleashed a long-ball across the field and connected with a streaking Alex Roldan. The right back laid the ball off to his brother, Cristian Roldan, who delivered a pin-perfect cross that Will Bruin headed in for a seventh-minute goal.
A week ago at the same time, Bruin was on the bench. Without leading scorer Raul Ruidiaz, who’s missed the past two contests due to a hamstring injury, Fredy Montero started the June 18 game against Los Angeles FC. Montero dropped back deep into the midfield, creating space for wingers Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan to get in behind. Yet the backup striker saw little of the ball and notched just one shot.
Bruin’s impact against Sporting KC was more tangible. He provided a more commanding presence in the middle, linking up with Morris (one goal, one assist), Cristian Roldan (one goal, one assist), Nicolas Lodeiro (one assist) and Albert Rusnak more frequently than Montero had. That lineup change, yet another representation of the Sounders’ depth in offensive playmakers, paid off.
With the win over Sporting KC (4-4-10), one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, the Sounders (7-2-6) have collected 16 points in their past seven contests, just five shy of the maximum.
Sporting KC was coming off a 2-1 upset at Nashville FC, a victory that ended Nashville’s 25-game unbeaten streak at home and also snapped a 10-game winless streak for Kansas City. While Sporting KC looked to notch back-to-back road victories for the first time since August at Lumen Field, the Sounders had other ideas.
After the seventh-minute goal, Seattle continued to look dangerous in its build-up play, via penetrating passes from Lodeiro and Rusnak as well as runs in behind the defense from Morris and both Roldans.
Seattle nearly replicated Rusnak’s goal from last weekend when Kelyn Rowe pressed high up the field on a goal kick (Rowe started in place of 16-year-old Obed Vargas, who will miss multiple weeks with a lower-back stress fracture). Rowe won the ball when Sporting KC’s midfielder took a bad touch, and then elected to pass toward Morris instead of shooting. His pass was just inches out of reach, and the Sounders failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
Schmetzer said last week that kind of high pressure is exactly what he wants out of his team, particularly during home games.
Bruin continued his role as a playmaker when moments before halftime, he collected the ball at midfield and shielded his defender while waiting for Morris to make a run. When Morris passed him, he backheeled a pass that unlocked acres of space in behind. But Cristian Roldan couldn’t finish the one-on-one chance against goalie Tim Melia, who was facing the Sounders for the first time since he was suspended by MLS for one game for his controversial tackle on Roldan.
There were periods of the first half in which, despite strong build-up play, Seattle struggled to connect in the final-third of the field.
That changed in the second half, though. Jordan Morris, who created a single-match career-high five chances last week against Los Angeles FC, continued to be a playmaker. He got on the end of Nouhou’s perfect cross from the left side, heading home from point-blank range to make it 2-0.
Schmetzer substituted Bruin, who received a standing ovation from the crowd for his performance, and then moments later, the Sounders tacked on a third. Lodeiro brought the ball up the left wing, and found Morris, who had another chance to shoot. This time, he picked out a wide-open Cristian Roldan to make it 3-0.
The Sounders could have had four goals. The floodgates, which opened around the 70th minute when Seattle consistently threatened on the counterattack, stayed open for the remainder of the contest.
In the 80th minute, Morris had a one-on-one chance that he couldn’t slot home. Abdoulaye Cissoko couldn’t put away the ensuing header, Jimmy Mendranda’s left-footed shot was saved, and Montero couldn’t score either.
All couldn’t believe they had missed the net.
Last week against LAFC, the Sounders had a comparable number of chances but only finished one. This week, the 80th-minute sequence was nearly irrelevant – they’d already scored three.
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