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Sounders continue pushing record MLS boundaries in Rapids win

Since Opta began keeping stats for MLS five years ago, only once has a team broken 800 passes in a match. Sporting KC pulled it off in 2014 by attempting 803 in a win over the Montreal Impact. But that came with a caveat; Montreal played much of the match on 10 men.

Sounders FC didn’t break that record on Wednesday night. But they weren’t far away, and they set one of their own in the process.

The scoreline coyly hid the true measure of Seattle’s dominance in its 1-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids on Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field. Sounders FC attempted a whopping 667 passes, not far off the pace . The difference, though, was that Seattle accomplished the feat against 11 men for a full 90 minutes. And while the scoreline might’ve looked like the game was tight, had Seattle capitalized on its raft of chances the gap would’ve been even wider. This was perhaps the most lopsided 1-0 victory in MLS this season.

The best news for Seattle, though, was that it rocketed up to the top of the Western Conference with the three points. Further, D.C. United’s loss to the Portland Timbers put Seattle in pole position for the Supporter’s Shield through 13 matches.

So how’d Seattle continue on its roll? A few talking points to mull from the match.

Record-setting possession

MLS has only been keeping advanced Opta metrics as league for five years, so saying “ever” in this context isn’t entirely germane. But at least in this context, Seattle took home a piece of history via its dominance on Wednesday. Seattle attempted 425 passes in the first half against Colorado, the highest total for a half in recorded MLS history. By halftime, Seattle held a 1-0 edge and boasted an unreal seven players hitting on at least 90 percent of their passes. 

There’s a pattern here. Of Seattle’s 667 passes, 600 were classified as “short passes,” an aesthetically pleasing percentage of 86 percent. There aren’t many teams capable of bossing a game in that particular way. So the fact that Seattle completed 83 percent of their total passes both makes sense and contributed to the Rapids’ helplessness.

The trend here is notable. In Seattle’s scoreless draw against Sporting KC, the team attempted 716 passes at an 80 percent clip. A game before, a 2-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, Seattle attempted 637 at 85 percent. There have perhaps been teams that’ve put together a three-game run with a combined total of 2,035 passes, but that number is minuscule if not entirely nonexistent.

And look at this: Seattle’s 667 total passes is fifth most in MLS in the last five years. It’s No. 2 in the last week, behind Seattle’s performance against Sporting KC. 

At times in the first half it felt like Seattle was toying with the Rapids, pulling them out of position only to exploit the space they so carefully manipulated themselves. Seattle ended up out-passing Colorado 667-290, and the Rapids only completed 63 percent of those. Thanks to a high press and a stylized game of keep-away, Seattle’s win was rarely in doubt. 

Alonso on another plane

There have been defensive midfielders who’ve cobbled together runs that approximate the one Ozzie Alonso is on right now, but the number in that regard is slim.

During Seattle’s current run of seven points in its last three, Alonso’s been firing at arguably the highest sustained level of his career. What was even more remarkable was that he kept up his level of production with a different central midfield pairing in Andy Rose. Gonzalo Pineda, the player with whom Alonso has such a stirring rapport, sat on Wednesday, but it wasn’t all that noticeable in the way Alonso helped stitch together Seattle’s attacks.

Over the past three matches, Alonso’s averaging 98 passes per game and a successful pass ratio of 93 percent. If that isn’t the best number in the league over that span, it’s close. Against the Rapids, Alonso was 81-of-90 passing and was 11-of-12 on his long balls. 

Sounders FC’s possessional dominance waned in the second half when it began locking up at the back. When Chad Barrett came on for the surging Cristian Roldan and Lamar Neagle replaced Marco Pappa, whose sublime goal gave Seattle the win, Seattle looked more into space than toward feet. Indeed, Seattle’s passes dropped from 425 to 242 in the second half.

But Alonso still managed to develop a connection with Rose in the midfield. While Rose has more of a propensity to take off vertically where Pineda would sit and play off Alonso, the two still managed to build a sturdy foundation.

Milestones galore in Sounders FC victory

There haven’t been a ton of fixtures in MLS history as lopsided as the Sounders FC-Colorado Rapids number since the former joined the league in 2009. That utter dominance continued apace on Wednesday.

With Seattle’s victory, Sounders FC moved to 13-2-2 all-time against Colorado, one of the highest winning percentages between two teams in MLS history. Further, Seattle’s never lost to Colorado at home, moving its record to 8-0-1 in matches at CenturyLink Field against the Rapids.

Centerback Brad Evans also hit a milestone of his own. Evans played in his 150th match as a Sounders player reaching back to the franchise’s first MLS match in 2009. Evans marked the occasion with a sturdy defensive performance featuring a team-leading three clearances despite not playing next to his more comfortable partner Chad Marshall, who sat in lieu of Zach Scott.

Evans continues to grow into his role underpinning the defense up the middle. His distribution and willingness to step out on attacks and cut them out cast him as one of the most unique converted defenders in MLS.

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