SEATTLE – The Seattle Sounders made it harder on themselves than they might have liked, but another goal from Jordan Morris and a game-winner from Yeimar Gomez Andrade gave them a 2-1 win over Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink Field. They’ve now won five out of six and at 9W-3L-3D and 30 points, they remain in first place in the Western Conference.
Here are five takeaways from the match:
Shield is in sight
After the Sounders won their second MLS Cup title in four years last season, midfielder Cristian Roldan made a point of mentioning the one thing that was still gnawing at him: That Seattle haven’t won a Supporters’ Shield since 2014. Roldan wants to see Seattle back in the mix for that trophy.
And with eight games remaining in the 2020 season, the Sounders find themselves right there.
It’s a logjam atop the league table right now, with Toronto FC out in front on 34 points, and Columbus, Philadelphia and Orlando all right behind. It might still be a bit early to handicap the race, but after Wednesday’s match Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei said the team isn’t necessarily tuning the standings out either.
“It’s an opportunity. It’s a goal,” Frei said. “It’s something that’s very difficult to achieve any season, even this strange year. These are opportunities. I told the team before the game started one thing that’s been a strength of this organization is staying even-keeled. But the good thing, and maybe even the difficult thing is to stay even-keeled at a high level.
“So it’s certainly an opportunity. We’re there. We’re seeing that we’re in the picture to fight for that.”
Nicolas Lodeiro is as vital as ever
Lodeiro dances by another defender | Stephen Brashear-USA Today Sports Images
Morris is generating a lot of MVP buzz lately, and rightfully so given the ridiculous season he’s putting together. But when it comes to what makes this Sounders team really go, the answer is still their Uruguayan playmaker, who is arguably the single most indispensable player in the league.
Nicolas Lodeiro was everywhere on Wednesday, dropping pinpoint pass after pinpoint pass while racking up two more assists (to bring his season total to eight) and he could have had a couple more with some more clinical finishing. But with Lodeiro, the offensive stats are just part of the picture. The man is nothing short of relentless, with an off-the-charts work rate on both sides of the ball that the Sounders coaching staff has been raving about for years.
“His leadership as far as his work rate is concerned – he’s always consistently No. 1 as far as distance covered,” Schmetzer said postgame. “If you’re looking at the stats, you don’t see that. You don’t see how much work he does defensively.
“I couldn’t be more happy for him to be a Seattle Sounder because he’s a great, great, great soccer player.”
Lodeiro has been doing this in MLS for years now, but never seems to be near the top of the list when it comes to those MVP discussions. With competition on that front in the form of his own teammate in Morris, this probably won’t be the year that changes, but perhaps it should be.
No Ruidiaz, no problem
Will Bruin applying the pressure from his forward position | Stephen Brashear-USA Today Sports Images
Did he mean to do it? That was the topic of some debate on social media after Seattle’s first goal, which saw Will Bruin appear to dummy a cross from Roldan into the path of Morris, who pounced for the close-range finish. Some saw a heady play by the veteran striker, while others claimed he was probably trying to take a shot and just missed. You can decide for yourself.
Either way, Wednesday was another example of how Bruin has made his living in this league for so long – and it’s not just by scoring goals. Ask Schmetzer or any of his teammates, and it’s the dirty work Bruin is so willing to do that makes him so valuable to a team where he’s not the first-choice starter – namely, his hold-up play and his ability to use his size and strength to occupy defenders and free up space for his teammates.
With Raul Ruidiaz gone on international duty with Peru, Bruin will be the first-choice starter as long he’s away. He’s certainly a different type of forward, but so far, it looks like Seattle will be just fine at the position.
Yeimar’s game of Uno
Yeimar Gomez Andrade shutting down yet another MLS forward | Stephen Brashear-USA Today Sports Images
Another conversation starter from this match was the goal celebration executed by Lodeiro and center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade after the big defender headed home the game’s second goal in the 61st minute.
The pair sat down near the corner flag and mimed what most people assumed was rock-paper-scissors. So, was there any symbolism or story behind the celebration? As Gomez Andrade explained after the match, it was actually not, in fact, a game of rock-paper-scissors.
“It was a bit confusing because we always talk to Nico before the game and while we were chatting we were saying that if we score, we’d try to do either two things: Either dancing, which we did, or playing Uno, the card game,” he said through a translator. “So, that was an attempt to show that we were playing Uno.”
Celebrations aside, Gomez Andrade has proven to be a rock-solid signing so far for Seattle in central defense. This was his second straight game with a goal against Real Salt Lake, but he also helped marshal a strong defensive showing for the Sounders aside from Nouhou’s unfortunate own goal. The Colombian has acquitted himself well so far in his first year in Rave Green.
Shane O’Neill has found a home
The other center back in this game was journeyman Shane O’Neill, who has had a “strange career” leading up to his arrival in Seattle as head coach Brian Schmetzer put it after the game.
Once a highly touted prospect for the Colorado Rapids, he’s bounced around quite a bit since first breaking into MLS in 2012, never really finding a long-term home. When he signed with the Sounders ahead of this season, it was considered a flyer with the hope Seattle could resurrect his career.
The change of scenery might have done just that, as O’Neill has been steady in his early Seattle tenure, while playing a lot more minutes than anticipated. Asked about his play on Wednesday, Schmetzer said O’Neill has earned the respect of the entire locker room through his play on the training ground, including a competitive relationship with star striker Raul Ruidiaz, who Schmetzer said has grown to appreciate how hard O’Neill comes at him during drills and scrimmages. With Xavier Arreaga gone for the next few games for international duty, expect O’Neill to stay in the mix.