Sometimes staring into the abyss can provide a moment of clarity.
There were times, especially in the first half of the Seattle Sounders’ 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids at Lumen Field, that this simply everything seemed to be working against them. Not just the match, but the Sounders’ push to keep their streak of making the MLS Cup Playoffs.
After another lapse in judgment led to an early goal, and some glorious chances that went unfinished, the Sounders looked to be heading into the locker room at halftime needing to chase a goal that seemed like it would never come. And truth be told, they needed two, because a draw at home to the Rapids would have done little to restore the confidence of a club that had lost 4 of 5 games, and three in a row since they raised their Concacaf Champions League banner.
But with halftime looming, the Sounders decided to make their own good luck with a bit of quick thinking on a restart after what was probably a nominal foul call (more on the interesting refereeing decisions in this one later), and managed to catch the Rapids napping themselves with a quality finish by Jordan Morris.
Off to the races in the second half, right? Well, not exactly.
Referee Rosendo Mendoza decided to turn the controversy dial up the 37, and just moments into the second half sent off Kelyn Rowe for “throwing” an out-of-bounds ball over the advertising board. A technical time-wasting infraction that garnered Rowe a second yellow and sent him to the showers. It was the second time this month the Sounders have been forced to play an entire half down a man, and in this case needing some way — any way — to find that second goal to rescue the three points and a bit of their sanity.
But even in the direst of times, the Sounders are a resilient bunch, and adversity can steel your resolve. Brian Schmetzer’s side, even down a man, found a way not only to scrape by but put on a bit of a show. Dominating much of the second half even short one player, they found their reward 70 minutes into the match through a bit of hustle from Morris to draw a penalty, which Nico Lodeiro dispatched with his usual aplomb. And after nervous few final minutes of extra time, the Sounders had found a way. It may not have been the way they wrote it up, but some of the best stories don’t always follow the script.
It can sometimes be difficult for Jordan Morris to influence the match against teams that bunker. But even when an opponent plays in a defensive shell, Morris can be more than a handful with his combination of speed and power. Saturday was one of those matches where the Rapids had no answer for Morris, who continually made runs that flustered the Rapids backline. Morris got his goal in the 40th minute with a quality chip past William Yarbrough that was much more difficult than he made it look, and when he followed up his own saved shot to win the Sounders a penalty, it capped off a fantastic night when the Sounders needed it most.
Nicolas Lodeiro is likely a front runner for MLS Comeback Player of the Year, having logged significant minutes and returning to previous levels of production after a lost 2021. But while another trophy for the mantle is nice, Lodeiro likely wouldn’t be satisfied picking up that piece of hardware in a season where the Sounders finish below the red line. So Lodeiro will keep pushing as the Sounders try to climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves. It was another solid performance as Lodeiro was able to return to his more advanced role, allowing him to influence matters a bit more and be freed from some of the defensive responsibilities. As is custom, when the pressure was on, Lodeiro came through with another clinical penalty conversion, his 17th consecutive in MLS regular season play.
Cristian Roldan may never have a truly set position, which is a consequence of being very good at a lot of things. That probably frustrates him a little, but as a consummate professional and team-first player, Roldan will always do what needs to be done. And in this case, it was moving back to a defensive midfield position — and then right back after Rowe’s red card — with the Sounders still searching for an answer for the remainder of the season with João Paulo still recuperating and Obed Vargas’ timeline for return up in the air. Against the Rapids, Schmetzer said Roldan provided a calming influence in the midfield, which is something the Sounders could use as they make their playoff push. Schmetzer hasn’t ruled out using Danny Leyva and Josh Atencio in that defensive midfield position, but the solution for the rest of the season may be staring him in the face.
Albert Rusnák won’t get credit for the assist on the Sounders’ game-winning goal, but if there was a category for outrageous vision on a pass, he’d surely be nominated. Simply put, his awareness to find Morris in the 69th minute preceding the penalty was otherworldly, and few in MLS could have made that play. Beyond that, Rusnák was his usual steadying influence on the ball, and his ability to keep possession in tight spaces or while being pressured is a skill that can sometimes go overlooked, particularly with the Sounders’ search for scoring.
Rosendo Mendoza likely won’t be invited to any end-of-summer BBQs being held by Sounders faithful, but he did have some unlikely support from Schmetzer in the post-match press conference. Somewhat subverting the expectation of post-game criticism (to be fair a risky proposition, lest the MLS overlords reach into his pocket), Schmetzer noted that time-delaying incidents such as the ones employed by Rowe are a point of emphasis by the league. And though even by the standards of antics employed by others, Rowe’s crime barely rated a misdemeanor. But in front of the wrong judge, the sentence can be harsh, as Rowe and the Sounders found out to their detriment.