Seattle Sounders credit second-half surge to increased intensity, not tactics

SEATTLE – The 3-1 scoreline in the Seattle Sounders’ victory over Toronto FC in the 2019 MLS Cup at CenturyLink Field on Sunday probably doesn’t do justice to just how hard the Sounders had to work for it.

The contest was a scoreless deadlock through the first half and, if anything, the visitors seemed to be on the front foot for much of the opening frame and even the start of the second, dominating possession and matching the Sounders chance for chance.

The script flipped in the second half, however, starting with Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam opening the scoring in the 57th minute with a deflected finish that set the stage for Victor Rodriguez to double the lead 19 minutes later. Asked at his postgame press conference following the victory about that first half where his team seemed up against it, Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer credited Toronto with giving Seattle all it could handle and forcing him into some halftime adjustments.

“They were a very active midfield,” Schmetzer said. “I mean, they were running guys, in and out, [Alejandro] Pozuelo was dropping real deep or out in the wing channels, their two wide guys were coming inside, they really presented some problems for us.

“So, we tried to make adjustments in the second half by just switching Jordan [Morris] and Joevin [Jones, on the wings], but then trying to step higher up the field to see if we couldn’t engage them before they had the ball in our half of the field. So, it was challenging, but I think in the second half, especially after Kelvin scored that goal, I think we were able to figure it out.”

Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said he thought the key to changing the nature of the game in the second half was partially about tactics, but mostly about energy. Sunday’s match was far from Seattle’s sharpest performance on the whole, but with the extra juice provided by the record-breaking, sell-out crowd of 69,274 on hand at CenturyLink, Roldan said his team managed to respond coming out of the locker room.

“We just talked about intensity at halftime,” Roldan said. “We felt like if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging. And the reality is, we didn’t play our best but if we came out with the same intensity at home, we were going to win this game. We didn’t really talk about too many tactics, just lightening up the mood and getting the intensity higher.”

Added Schmetzer: “I think there were some nerves there in the first half, there were some plays where guys needed to be a little bit more composed. As the game kind of grew, especially in the second half, I think they settled down a little bit, we tried to settle them down. The halftime speech wasn’t ranting and raving or anything like that, it was more firm, ‘Ok, look, this is what we need to do, this is what we’re going to try and change.’”

In the end, it’s the second championship for the Sounders in four years, with Schmetzer manning the sidelines for both of them following the club’s 2016 triumph in penalty kicks at BMO Field in Toronto.

Speaking with reporters over the blaring music and hollering players in the home locker room, Sounders majority owner Adrian Hanauer said the thing that impresses him most about Schmetzer is his gift for looking at the bigger picture, and maintaining a level head through the challenges and adversity that almost always surface throughout an MLS season – something that helps him thrive on the biggest stage.

“You know, it’s interesting because there’s been a lot of attention to how difficult this year was and, I don’t know, maybe it’s hindsight, but they’re all hard seasons,” Hanauer said. “This league is brutal. There’s a ton of parity, it’s long, there are challenges, whether it’s weather or travel or international fixtures or injuries – it is a war. And I think the one thing that Brian, among others, has been super successful at is not focusing on every individual battle but winning the war.

“His ability, his sense for people for when to push for when to put his arm somebody, when to chew them out, he’s just got a great sense for how to motivate and when to motivate at the right time. I can’t say enough about what he’s been able to do.”