Heading into the 2021 Major League Soccer season, there were a lot of questions surrounding the Seattle Sounders. How would they replace Jordan Morris? He is out indefinitely with an ACL injury. How would they fare after losing the likes of Gustav Svensson, Kelvin Leerdam and Joevin Jones? All three departed in the offseason. How would they cope without captain and MLS Best XI selection Nicolás Lodeiro for the season opener? He missed out with a left quad strain.
The Sounders emphatically put many of those concerns to rest on Friday in a commanding 4-0 win at Lumen Field over Minnesota United, the same team they came from behind to defeat in last year’s Western Conference Championship. Led by a brace from Raúl Ruidíaz, a worldie from João Paulo and an emotional return goal from Fredy Montero, the Sounders cruised to a victory, one they had the opportunity to celebrate with fans in the stadium for the first time in over a year.
“I loved it for many different reasons,” Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer of the fans’ return. “I know that the club has worked hard with all the governmental agencies to have the fans come back safely, which is always our No. 1 goal. I thought that was another success of the evening. There were a lot of successes tonight. If we all wear our masks and be safe and get vaccinated, hopefully by the end of the year we’ll be out of this and we’ll have 40,000 people.”
Schmetzer rolled out a new formation this year, going with a 3-5-2 rather than the 4-2-3-1 he’s used since taking the helm in 2016. Schmetzer admitted that the team struggled a bit during the first 45 minutes, something to be expected in a new system, especially in the first match of a new campaign. But the Sounders came out like a team possessed in the second half, blitzing Minnesota with four beautiful goals in what was a thorough and complete romp.
“Even though during the preseason, we played a few games, this was a real first test of the formation,” said Ruidíaz. “During the first half, we were still trying to adapt and still trying to figure it out, and then at halftime, the coach was very clear with us that we needed to keep calm and keep trying the same way, and that things were going to happen. So, we did that, and thankfully the goals started to come.”
Added João Paulo: “We made the adjustments for the second half, particularly when it comes to building up the play, we started to win the second balls in midfield, and that started to build the strength in the team.”
João Paulo got onto the score sheet first with an MLS Goal of the Year candidate when he juggled a clearance once before firing home a right-footed volley from outside the box. Ruidíaz picked up right where he left off last season by recording a second-half brace three minutes apart to seal the three points. Friday was the eighth multi-goal game in 64 career Sounders matches for Ruidíaz in all competitions.
The Sounders get another massive early-season test next Saturday when they head to Los Angeles to take on LAFC (3 p.m. PT; ESPN), but Seattle is hoping to ride some of this momentum and earn another positive result. If anything, Friday’s performance was indicative of just how deep the winning culture runs throughout the club.
“There was a lot of good soccer tonight,” said Schmetzer. “The bar we set is very high. We did not approach that in the first half. But in the second half, we played like we knew we could play.
“This team has what most Sounders teams have had,” he added. “They have character. They have heart, they have desire, they never quit, they never stop.”