The Seattle Sounders extended their unbeaten start to the season to 5-0-2 with a 1-1 tie against Atlanta in Week 6.
The point means that the Rave Green are off to their best ever start to an MLS season and the team will look to build on that with a home match up against MLS newcomers Austin FC.
The Sounders were once again superb defensively against Atlanta United, restricting an offense that includes Josef Martínez to just two shots on target. The switch to 3 center backs continues to make it difficult for opponents to penetrate the Sounders centrally.
The additional defensive cover from wingbacks Brad Smith and Alex Roldan has denied any quality service from wide areas. The Sounders rank 9th in MLS in xG Against at 7.9, but have outperformed that number with just three goals conceded, none of which have come from open play.
Areas to Improve:
Seattle was once again out-possessed by the opposition against Atlanta. Gabriel Heinze’s side had 63-percent of the ball, meaning Seattle have held less possession in every game since their opening weekend win against Minnesota.
The lack of possession in previous games hasn’t stopped Seattle from creating and taking scoring chances but this game was a little different. After getting an early goal from Raúl Ruidíaz, Seattle could only generate two more shots on goal. The Sounders are 4th in MLS for big chances created with 17 so this performance was probably more of a blip than the norm, but it is something Brian Schmetzer will want his team to correct this week against Austin.
Austin FC have played all of their matches on the road thus far, including impressive wins at Colorado and Minnesota on their resume. They have struggled recently, though, and come into this matchup on a three-game losing streak.
Their most recent match, a 1-0 loss at Nashville, showcased the type of team Austin FC are trying to become, as Josh Wolff’s side dominating possession but unable to break down the stingy Nashville defense. Austin’s rookie head coach has extensive experience as an assistant to USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter and the similarities between their styles in evident.
Austin rank 9th in MLS in overall passes with 2,846, and even more impressively sit third in the league with a pass completion rate of 84.9-percent. Alex Ring critical to their possession style, and the former NYCFC midfielder has been their most influential player so far this season. Disrupting Ring’s touches on ball will be an important aspect of the defensive work of the Sounders midfield, with Cristian Roldan the likeliest to get tight and make life frustrating for Ring.
Austin’s possession is impressive, but it has not translated to creativity in the attacking third. The Verde have scored just five goals this season and are 23rd in MLS for xG at 6.7. Playmaker Tomás Pochettino has yet to get going while Danny Hoesen has never been a prolific striker in MLS. Cecilio Dominguez scored twice coming inside from a wide position against Colorado, but both he and Hoesen have been consistently substituted, suggesting Wolff is still trying to figure out the right mix in attack.
Austin have been good defensively, with veteran Matt Besler headlining a defensive unit that has conceded just eight goals. However, a closer look at the numbers suggests have been a bit lucky with an xGA of 13.2 -- only Vancouver is worse in that category in MLS.
Key to the Game:
Ruidíaz scored a superb header off another excellent João Paulo delivery last weekend.
The Sounders now lead MLS with five headed goals, an area of defensive weakness for Austin so far this campaign. Wolff has seen his side concede three headers already. If João Paulo can continue his high-quality set piece service, it could be the key to a Sounders win.