The Sounders have spent the better part of the last month frantically applying life support to their flagging postseason hopes. And Sunday might’ve provided the most impressive jolt all season.
The Sounders’ massive 4-2 win over the LA Galaxy in Carson, Calif. reversed seven years of futility. Seattle hadn’t won at the StubHub Center since 2009, a run of 11 straight trips without a win. Further, the Galaxy had chalked up just three home defeats since the start of the 2014 season. The place was a fortress, and the Sounders reduced its thick walls to rubble over 90 minutes.
The Sounders have struggled to lift their attack off the ground since Clint Dempsey left the lineup with an irregular heartbeat that’s kept him sidelined still. But Sunday proved that even against a Galaxy team with an outside shot at the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the Sounders can score. And score often, from a variety of positions.
And now, as a result, the Sounders are three points closer to what we once thought defiantly improbable just six weeks ago: a spot in the postseason.
Here’s a look at three things we learned.
Jordan Morris rules the roost
We’ve talked about Jordan Morris’ tear before in this space, but it bears repeating that only one rookie in history has had a season like his. The fact that it was Cyle Larin, and it happened to come last year, may compel you to take some shine off his massive performance this season. But don’t let it, because not even Larin did what Morris is doing.
With his 11th and 12th goals of the season against the Galaxy, Morris chalked up his sixth game with a match-winning goal. That’s two more than any rookie in league history, and two of those came over the Sounders’ last two games, both must-wins to keep Seattle in playoff contention. What’s more, Morris has five goals in the Sounders’ last seven, a 4-1-2 run that has the Sounders breathing down Portland’s neck for sixth place in the Western Conference.
Morris has essentially turned his biggest weakness - his left foot - into his biggest strength by developing his right into an especially lethal weapon. Morris’s first, the ultimate match-winner that gave the Sounders a 2-1 lead, came on a turn-and-burn off a 50-50 long ball from Alvaro Fernandez. Morris charred Daniel Steres and cleaved into open space for a one-on-one with 'keeper Brian Rowe.
The only problem? Morris was coming right to left, an ideal spot to load the ball onto your left and curl it inside the far post. But necessity is the mother of invention, and Morris opted to outside foot it with his much more comfortable right foot. It turned out to be the correct decision, because Morris used the pace he’d built and his strong right leg to paint the far upper corner like Bob Ross dropping a mountain onto a canvas.
Morris cleaned up his day with a well-struck rebound off a Nelson Valdez blocked shot to polish the game. This came less than a week after Morris threw out the first pitch at a Seattle Mariners game. Not too shabby.
“It’s been a fun week,” Morris said. “We needed to come in here and get the three points, so that was the most important thing.”
Sounders quiet Dos Santos’ thunder yet again
With all apologies to Robbie Keane, perhaps the greatest on-field Designated Player in MLS history, Giovani Dos Santos has been the Galaxy’s most valuable attacking player this season. Seemingly his only kryptonite has been playing with Keane. Of Dos Santos’ 14 goals, 13 came without Keane playing next to him. There are a few reasons for that, notably that both generally prefer to occupy the same spaces of the field.
But when they play together, Dos Santos inevitably ends up occupying the sinew between the midfield and Keane, and if there’s one thing Dos Santos is not, it’s a creator. He can help set up goals with quick one-twos around the box, and he’s happy to get most of his assists this way, but he won’t crack open defenses like Nicolas Lodeiro (who had yet another assist on Sunday). He wants to run and he wants to shoot.
The Sounders explicitly targeted Dos Santos as an item of interest, and Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan did a tremendous job in keeping him from dangerous spaces for much of the match. Here’s his chalkboard. The squares are passes and the circles are shots.
To make some sense of this, Dos Santos managed 30 passes in Seattle’s end of the field, but take a look at how many of them occurred in and around the box: aside from the corners, that total was one. And it was incomplete. Everything else was pushed either high or wide, away from danger and certainly away from any wider connection with Keane. In fact, Dos Santos only found Keane with passes three times.
In three games against the Sounders this year, Dos Santos, the league’s sixth-leading scorer, has no goals and few chances. That’s efficiency. And this time, the Sounders got the goals to make the Galaxy pay.
Sounders gain ground in the West
In the first half, the Galaxy nearly stretched their advantage to 2-0 when Dos Santos wriggled free for his only dangerous opportunity of the match. Stefan Frei emerged to challenge the breakaway and his reaction save forced the shot out. The Sounders got a goal from a corner minutes later, the first of four unanswered goals.
That was a watershed moment in the Sounders’ push for the postseason, because life on that front has never looked rosier.
It wasn’t a perfect weekend in games elsewhere for Seattle, but it was close. Sporting Kansas City won late to all but affirm its spot in the postseason, but the Portland Timbers’ road woes crushed them on Saturday night. The last-place Houston Dynamo managed a frankly shocking 3-1 win over the Timbers that made the Sounders’ three points on Sunday all the more significant. Take a look at the standings amongst the bottom five now.
That’s a pretty picture from Seattle’s perspective.
The Sounders are just three points off Portland with an all-important two matches in hand. The Sounders will make up one of those when they host an eminently winnable match against reeling Chicago on Wednesday before trekking up to face a Vancouver Whitecaps FC team that’s won just two of its last 14 games. Win even one of those and the Sounders are essentially level with Portland on points with a game still in hand.
There is still work to be done, but each win creaks the door open a bit more. And Sunday was perhaps the biggest effort on that front yet.