Increased depth, competition for starting spots has Seattle Sounders firing on all cylinders during brilliant run of form

No team in Major League Soccer is more on form right now than the Seattle Sounders.

After a 3-0 win on Friday at CenturyLink Field over LAFC, the Rave Green jumped back into first place in the Western Conference. They’ve also scored the most goals in MLS (26) and have the best goal differential (+16). These numbers are due in large part to a ferocious awakening after the MLS is Back tournament, with Seattle going 4-1-1 in the six matches since returning from Orlando and outscoring opponents 19-6.

The Sounders’ dominance has come to a head in the last two matches especially, ones that saw Head Coach Brian Schmetzer start Joevin Jones, a nominal defender, on the right wing with Nouhou at left back. The balance this brings is palpable: Jones is as attack-minded as defenders come and has spent his fair share of time on the wing, both with the Sounders and the Trinidad and Tobago national team. His impetus to get forward forces defenses to stay more honest and not cheat to Jordan Morris’ left flank, which allows Morris more one-on-one opportunities where he thrives. This Starting XI also enables Schmetzer to get more defensive cover, as Nouhou’s strength and pace make him a hassle for opposing attackers.

Playing Jones on the wing frees up Cristian Roldan, who had made several starts there, to play in his more natural and comfortable position as a box-to-box central midfielder. The partnership between Roldan and João Paulo, who Schmetzer said “had a monster game” on Friday, has been fantastic of late and the two complement each other well.

This Sounders team now benefits from the addition of new left back Brad Smith, who signed a permanent deal with the club on Thursday, and the return of defensive midfielder Gustav Svensson, who has missed the last four matches while away with the Swedish national team and undergoing quarantine upon his arrival back in Seattle. This versatility makes the Sounders even more dangerous than before.

“We’re starting to get a little more competition for spots, and that’s always good because it keeps everybody on their toes and fresh,” said Schmetzer. “When Gustav comes back, he has to understand that that team is in a good run of form. Gustav is a total team guy. He understands that. He gets it.”

Smith’s arrival also affords Schmetzer and the coaching staff the ability to alter how they play in different matches, and even make adjustments in-game. Smith and Morris can use their pace on the left side while Jones pushes up the right to blitz defenses. Nouhou can start at left back while Roldan plays at right mid with João Paulo and Svensson in the middle to put the clamps on defensively. This flexibility becomes all the more important as games dictate different responses like it did against LAFC.

“It’s the beauty of football,” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “There’s ebbs and flows, and there’s pressure mounting and you need to be able to diffuse pressure here and there. The game has its own life. In the first half, we put pressure on them in the right moments. Second half, we knew they were going to come out strong, but we defended really well.”

The Sounders will look to keep rolling when they take on the Portland Timbers at Providence Park on Wednesday (7 p.m. PT; JOEtv, Prime Video, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1350 AM), but they’ll enjoy these three points heading into the weekend.

“For us to win 3-0 and play defensive when we needed to play defensive and offensive when we needed to play offensive is a heck of an achievement,” said Frei. “A shutout and three goals, you couldn’t be more proud of the squad.”

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