The take away from the Seattle Sounders FC ( 4-9-5, 17 points) 1-1 draw with Atlanta United ( 12-5-4, 41pts)is that by hook or crook the team intends to continue its streak of making the playoff since it joined MLS in 2009. The Sounders have been to the MLS Cup two consecutive years winning the cup in 2016 and losing the Cup in 2017. Where the Sounders are this season is 10th place in the 12 and four games behind the LA Galaxy ( 8-4-7, 28pts) who occupy the sixth and final playoff spot.
An injury-plagued early season, World Cup call-ups, and good old poor play have left the Sounders cellar dweller for much of the season. Brian Schmetzer and his squad have been preaching the gospel of team unity, perseverance and we shall overcome all season. An awful month of June in which the Sounders managed one win, four losses and one tie left many wondering if all that preaching was just an unheard voice in the wilderness.
The Sounders are undefeated halfway through the month of July with a win at Colorado and back to back ties at New England and Sundays draw at Atlanta United the MLS’s new kid on the block. The gutsy performance at Atlanta left many Rave Green fans wondering asking what was that rhetoric Schmetzer was going on about?
Sundays match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was played in front of a Major League Soccer single-match record crowd of 72,243 and the visiting Sounders showed why they played in the last two MLS Cups. The visitors never backed down and answered every physical challenge and dished out some of their own punishment. The result was a choppy first half that saw three yellow cards and a fortunate video review that gave the Sounders a penalty kick after Atlanta’s Francos Escobar was called for a handball inside United’s goal area.
Nicolas Lodeiro converted the penalty kick in the 45th minute to give the visitors a halftime lead but the lead was shortlived as MLS Golden Boot leader Josef Martinez scored his 19th goal of the season when he headed a Julian Gressel pass into the back of the Sounders net past Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei for the equalizer.
With the home crowd urging them on United continued to push forward looking for the go-ahead goal but a defiant Frei and his backline played some hard-nosed defense and kept the home side from notching the game-winner. The United crowd urging turned to downright insistence in the 63rd minute when Seattle fullback Jordan McCrary was issued his second yellow card of the game and the Sounders were down to ten men.
Sounders head coach made a tactical gamble that enabled his side to withstand the United attacked by inserting Kelvin Leerdam in the 65 minute for Harry Shipp, Gustav Svensson in the 73rd minute for a hobbling Chad Marshall and Osvaldo Alonso for Victor Rodriguez in the 88th minute. The defensive subs kept newly signed Designated Player Raul Ruidiaz on the bench.
The strategy worked as the Sounders left Atlanta with a point that felt like a win but not enough given the team’s playoff aspirations. The Sounders have three more games left before months end. Next Saturdays home catch against the Vancouver Whitecaps another road game at San Jose and a home match against New York City FC. All must win games as the sprint for the playoff race has begun and intentions are all well and good but wins and points get you into the playoffs not intentions.
“I like the mentality of the group, but we need to collect three points, three points, three points,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer after Sunday’s game. “I’m absolutely not complaining about our road form…our road form has been good, so now we’re going to work on getting points at home.”
- Midfielder Nicolás Lodeiro scored his second goal of the season on a penalty kick conversion to close the first half of play.
- Lodeiro’s first-half goal marked Sounders FC’s first penalty kick attempt this season.
- Gustav Svensson made his return to Brian Schmetzer’s lineup with a 73rd-minute substitution for Chad Marshall. The midfielder just returned to club duty following his participation with Sweden in the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.
- Fullback Kelvin Leerdam made his first appearance for the Rave Green since injuring his right hamstring versus D.C. United on June 9. Leerdam entered the match in the 65th minute following the departure of Jordan McCrary due to a second yellow card.
- New Sounders FC Designated Player Raúl Ruidíaz was included on the bench but did not play, with Sunday being the Peruvian’s first eligible MLS fixture after signing on June 29.