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Mental toughness, tactical adjustments power Sounders past Sporting Kansas City and into first in the West

SKCvSEA Sider Cover Bruin Celebration

Following the Seattle Sounders’ defeat to Club León in the 2021 Leagues Cup Final on Wednesday, plenty of people wondered how the team would bounce back against Sporting Kansas City.

It would be understandable for players to be physically drained and emotionally fatigued after coming so close to lifting silverware in Las Vegas. All of those questions were resolved emphatically on Sunday as a Sounders side with some tactical alternations beat SKC 2-1, securing their first win at Children’s Mercy Park for the first time since 2013 to reclaim their spot atop the Western Conference.

“It was especially hard because, look, everybody wrote the story about how we came up short against León and how are we going to bounce back mentally,” said Head Coach Brian Schmetzer in his post-match press conference. “Well, our team just gave you guys the answer.”

Seattle’s resilient victory on the road was just the latest example of a club that relishes the opportunity to fight through adversity and always push for success on the pitch.

“It was a huge win,” added Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, who scored the opening goal. “Obviously with the circumstances, with sporting being at the top with us, we felt like it was a must-win, a six-point game if wanted to win the Western Conference.

Beyond the mental fortitude, a few adjustments from the team’s recent tactics helped the Sounders generate chances and gut out the result.

After deploying the team in a 3-4-2-1 in recent months, Schmetzer and his coaching staff rolled the 3-5-2 it had used early in the year, with Will Bruin starting up top alongside Raúl Ruidíaz and Roldan in a central role underneath the strikers.

“Raúl likes to play high in between the center backs,” Bruin noted when asked about the two-forward set. “Sometimes I’ll drop underneath and see if I can get on the ball, or sometimes I’ll make late runs from behind…. But when you’ve got someone like Cristian in there, who can cover so much ground and add so much quality in the final third, it makes it easy on Raul and us. I think we complemented each other really well.”

Roldan, who scored a goal on a late run from midfield for the second consecutive match, pointed out that operating in that central role behind two true No. 9’s gives him the freedom to make penetrating runs and create overloads.

“I think late runs from the midfield is one of my strengths,” he said. “Playing off the strikers is also a strength of mine. A lot of the time as a defensive midfielder when I would play there, it would be really difficult to defend those guys coming from deeper areas. It allows me to get into the box more free.”

According to Bruin, the movement and counter-movement of Seattle’s two strikes caused headaches for the Sporting defenders. With Bruin and Roldan capitalizing on the confusion to the tune of two goals, it’s clear that the game plan paid off.

“When I dropped off, [Ruidíaz] stayed high,” added Bruin. “When he dropped off, I stayed high. I think the center backs were kind of on their toes, they were a little confused to step into midfield or drop. I think it worked out well.”

The Sounders return to action on Wednesday as the visit the San Jose Earthquakes (7:30 p.m. PT; FOX 13+, Prime Video, 1090 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM) at PayPal Park in another Western Conference clash.



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