Once upon a time, the Seattle Sounders were the brand-new MLS upstarts, turning heads around the league with a run of red-hot form to start their expansion season.
On Saturday, they’ll take on a club that’s following in those footsteps: St. Louis CITY SC (7:30 p.m. PT; Watch free on Apple TV | TICKETS), who are rewriting the MLS record books to start their inaugural campaign. Heading into Saturday’s MLS Matchday 7 clash between the sides at Lumen Field, the 2023 MLS debutants are 5-1-0 and in first place on the West table with 15 points.
Their five-match winning streak to start the season topped Seattle’s 3-0-0 start in 2009 as the hottest start for a debut club in MLS history. It will be put to the test this weekend, with the Sounders set to welcome them into one of the league’s most hostile venues for visiting opponents in Lumen Field.
“Obviously for us we want to compete against the very best and to be the best you have to beat the best,” said midfielder Cristian Roldan on Wednesday. “So, for us this is an opportunity to give that same confidence that we’ve had and continue moving forward against a strong team — another opportunity to get three points.”
Playing an expansion team always presents a unique challenge, with it being an entirely new group of players that are still relatively unfamiliar to opponents.
Through six games, however, Seattle can prepare for a team with a clear identity in terms of playing style: Influenced by head coach Bradley Carnell’s time with the New York Red Bulls, St. Louis CITY play a purposeful, high-energy, high-press brand of soccer, aimed at creating chaos and putting opponents on their heels.
They’ve ridden that strategy to great effect so far, bagging a league-leading 15 goals in six matches, several of which have been directly caused by their high press leading to errant back-passes and turnovers.
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“They’re a team that presses a lot, so [it’s about] understanding when to play conservative and also when to try to break lines and be brave in attack,” said Roldan. “It’s a complex team, a team that likes to press to try and win balls in the attacking half.”
“So, if we can make them have to chase us with the ball in their half, we would like to do that. And then at times, you can’t press the whole game, so at times you’ve got to maintain the ball, make them run, make them chase and be on the front. We’re at home, that’s the most important thing going forward.”
For Seattle, a win would vault them over St. Louis into the top spot on the West table, making it one of the marquee matchups of the Matchday 7 slate.
On top of that, Roldan said, it’s about building on Seattle’s last two positive results – road victories over Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy.
Last Saturday’s win at LA saw Seattle absorb waves of pressure in the second half and preserve the three-point result, something Roldan said bodes well as far as the team gaining confidence getting results in varying game states.
“At the end of the day, what we took out of it is the confidence to win in different ways,” he said. “That’s important in this league. The ball isn’t going to go your way every game, and you’re not going to have your A-game every weekend. But if you can win with your C game, your B game, that’s going to put you at the top of the table at the end of the year.”
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