Will Bruin - Seattle Sounders - Battling for ball
USA Today Sports

Five takeaways from the Seattle Sounders' 3-1 romp over the LA Galaxy

Playing on the road without Raul Ruidiaz didn't turn out to be a problem for the Seattle Sounders on Sunday, as they cruised past the LA Galaxy 3-1 on the strength of a Cristian Roldan brace and another standout performance from Jordan Morris.

Here are five takeaways from the match as we take stock of where things stand for the defending MLS Cup champs, one of MLS's hottest teams since the restart in home markets.

Cascadia battle out West

With Sunday's win, the Sounders vaulted into a tie for first place in the Western Conference on 24 points from 13 matches. Their companion up top? Their Cascadia rival Portland Timbers, who kept pace with a 1-0 victory of their own over the Vancouver Whitecaps. It sets up for the Sounders and Timbers since there isn't really a team below the Pacific Northwest rivals in the conference that can match their recent form.

There are a few candidates that can obviously still make a run in LAFC, FC Dallas, the Galaxy, Sporting Kansas City and Minnesota United, but none have really put together a consistent run of form that can match Portland and Seattle. Don't be surprised if the sprint to the finish for Western Conference supremacy comes down to Seattle vs. Portland although Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer didn't take that bait when he was asked after Sunday's match.

"The West is going to be a dogfight," Schmetzer said. "It's going to be a dogfight all the way through. Yeah, San Jose won at the last second against LAFC. Don't count LAFC out. San Jose, they've been bashed in the press -- don't count them out, because Matias [Almeyda] actually makes his players believe what they're doing. A win like that might get them back up on it. I mean, [the Galaxy] won four in a row, now they've dropped a few. It's a very streaky league, as well. So you can't count anybody out in the Western Conference, in my opinion."

Jordan Morris is a problem

One of the biggest catalysts for Seattle's recent run has been the continued dynamic play of their US winger, who just keeps stuffing the statsheet.

Morris scored another goal on Sunday, but it was his assist on Roldan's opener that really illustrates what has transformed him into such a dynamic threat. The pair combined to open the scoring just 12 minutes after kickoff, after Morris embarked on one of his now-trademark runs down the left before sending in a cross to the far post that gave Roldan an easy tap-in. Morris's calling card coming into the league out of Stanford was his goal-scoring, but his switch to the wing has unleashed a beast of entirely different proportions. Sunday's dime gives him six assists in 13 matches, just one off his career high of seven he set last season. And there are still plenty of games left. It's that versatility that has turned him into an MVP candidate.

"I feel like when I made that transition to playing wide, a big thing that I kept saying was I wanted to be goal-dangerous," Morris said. "So that was my big focus, was continuing to do that. But obviously it's a different position and it brings finding yourself in 1-v-1 situations out wide, like the first goal -- finding yourself a little bit wider. So that's definitely something I've worked on over the last couple years is that final pass because I'm finding myself in different positions than when you play up front, so that's something I've wanted to continue to grow at and get better at for sure."

Roldan shows his potential on the wing

With the signing of Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo and the presence of Swedish stalwart Gustav Svensson, Roldan has been deployed higher up the field with greater frequency this year, and the results have been mixed. The University of Washington product was a standout central attacking mid in college, but he has spent the majority of his time as a pro in a deeper-lying role, and been extremely effective, leaving questions as to whether a move to right mid was really best to maximize his skillset.

It's just one game, but Sunday's match showed what Roldan is capable of when he's playing in a more attack-minded role. Is he going to score two goals a game? No, but on a team that has a surplus of additional attacking talent, he doesn't really need to. In fact, the two-way skillset he's developed as a deeper-lying player has remained an asset playing higher, freeing up space for the likes of Morris, Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz to do what they do best. If Roldan can contribute on the statsheet on top of that, his ceiling as an MLS winger might be higher than you think. With international absences looming, Roldan will probably play both spots, but it's certainly a luxury for Schmetzer to know he can deploy him in either role to positive results. 

"Cristian has been great," Schmetzer said. "Six years. I mean, he's been here for a long time. The kid's been great for us in a lot of seasons, a lot of different positions. Always gives it, always works hard. I can't say enough about how he drives the team through leadership, through example. Tonight he got a reward."

The Sounders have two starting forwards

Will Bruin has scored a lot of goals in his MLS career and he could probably be a starting forward for a lot of other MLS teams.

But with Ruidiaz the unquestioned top dog up top for Seattle's first-choice starting XI, Bruin has embraced his role as more of a super-sub. However, with Ruidiaz suspended on Sunday, Bruin showed what he can still bring to the table when he's called upon. The veteran didn't find the scoresheet, but it's the dirty work he does that still led Schmetzer to dub his shift a "monster" performance and Morris to laud him for his hold-up play and willingness to battle multiple defenders and lay the ball off into space for his teammates.

Bruin's presence speaks to what Roldan says is going to key for the team as they prepare to contend with international departures for players like Svensson and Ruidiaz.

"I think having a big roster [is key]," Roldan said. "Being able to compete when guys like Raul are missing. We're going to miss guys like Gustav due to national team break. We're going to miss guys due to injury. So, to have a complete roster that can compete for a starting spot and can compete in training to make practice very competitive is something I think the front office has done a really good job of. Bringing players like Brad {Smith] to come in and make a difference. I think that's been the reason why we've had success, for me, these past six years. Having a well-built roster has created a lot of success for us."

One question remains

No one has questioned Seattle's ability to score in bunches when they're on their game, but if there's been one question mark surrounding the team in 2020, it's on the other side of the ball. This was an issue in Orlando, where the Sounders leaked too many goals, although it hasn't been as much an issue in league play with Seattle's 12 goals conceded good for the lowest total in the  Western Conference.

Still, Xavier Arreaga and Yeimar Gomez Andrade are a new pairing, and it's showed at times through some lapses in communication and individual mistakes. Perhaps it'll just take some time for them to learn each other's tendencies, but the Sounders have still never really found their lights-out defensive form of years past since the retirement of MLS legend Chad Marshall.

Now, Marshall is probably the greatest defender in MLS history, which is never going to be easy to replace. But as good as the Sounders are in attack, their hopes at making a run at their fourth MLS Cup appearance in five years could hinge on whether their center backs can perform at a high level with consistency against the league's top teams. On Sunday, Seattle's defense did well to corral a Galaxy attack with plenty of big-name talent, save for a late consolation goal they yielded to Sebastian Lletget. It'll be interesting to see if they can keep it up.