On Wednesday night, the Seattle Sounders earned a 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake at Rio Tinto Stadium. With so much action on the pitch, it’s easy to miss some of the building blocks that led to the result that snapped an eight-match skid in Utah.
Let’s break it down. Here are five things you may have missed.
As the Sounders showcased in wins over the Portland Timbers and LAFC – two teams with polar opposite soccer philosophies – they have versatility to pick up results regardless of the opposition’s playing style. That phenomenon continued on Wednesday night as Head Coach Brian Schmetzer rolled out a 3-4-2-1 formation that largely confounded Real Salt Lake.
It wasn’t your typical ultra-defensive deployment with three center backs. The wingbacks, Alex Roldan and Nouhou, had the freedom to push forward and press the opposing outside backs in their own half, which limited RSL’s ability to establish any width. It also meant that Seattle almost always had a four-man defensive cover, with the three center backs and Jordy Delem, when the Rave Green were in the final third.
Plenty of teams in MLS use possession-heavy systems with outside backs pushing forward in a 4-2-3-1, similar to Real Salt Lake. Wednesday night’s match showed that this system is a tactical changeup the team can replicate in the future.
An attacking midfielder for much of his collegiate and professional career, Alex Roldan converted to outside back in the offseason. His hard work on the training pitch, learning a new position and evolving his game, paid off on Wednesday night as he put in an excellent two-way shift.
In addition to his assist, the younger Roldan supplied several dangerous crosses and twice in the first half picked out Raúl Ruidíaz’s runs in the box with threaded passes. Add in his three tackles and six recoveries and it was the type of performance that shows he’s made tremendous progress in his new position.
Normally a No. 10, Nicolás Lodeiro lined up in a more box-to-box role next to Jordy Delem in Salt Lake City. With a pure, dedicated defensive midfielder alongside him, Lodeiro had the freedom to press higher up the pitch when the team was defending, and to roam around and dictate tempo when Seattle had the ball.
Stefan Frei is Ridiculous
There’s really no reason to go do in-depth on this point, as it's really just an accepted fact by now. Stefan Frei has been one of the best goalkeepers in MLS for a half decade now, and his quality was on full display against RSL.
Frei’s stops against Justen Glad and Marcelo Silva were excellent, but his full-stretch, finger-tip save to deny Albert Rusnak showed why he’s one of the best shot-stoppers in North America.
Heading into Wednesday night’s road match, which was played at altitude on short rest, most fans would have gladly taken a point from Rio Tinto Stadium. However, the Sounders’ excellent performance from open play, coupled with the fact that they twice took the lead, left a bit of a deflated feeling following the 2-2 draw.
Seattle still sits second in the Western Conference, just two points back from Sporting Kansas City in first with a game in hand, but Schmetzer outlined why last night’s result is a teachable moment for a talented squad with title ambitions.
“Championship teams figure out ways to close out games like that,” said Schmetzer. “The guys worked way too hard on two-days’ rest – the five guys that came in played well; the guys that came on played well. The team has to understand that championship teams are able to close games out like that. It’s two points dropped.”