Seattle Sounders finding joy defensively in new formation, stymie LA Galaxy for second clean sheet in three games to start season

After thumping the LA Galaxy 3-0 on Sunday night at Lumen Field, the Seattle Sounders jumped to first place in the Supporters’ Shield standings after the opening three weeks of the 2021 Major League Soccer season.

Things are clicking for Seattle in ways they perhaps shouldn’t be, at least not this quickly. Jordan Morris, a 2020 MLS Best XI winger and one of the league’s best attackers, is likely out for the entire season after an ACL injury. Lineup staples and veterans Kelvin Leerdam and Gustav Svensson departed in the offseason. Head Coach Brian Schmetzer even adjusted to a 3-5-2 formation to maximize his roster.

All the Sounders have done is take seven points from their opening three games, and not to mention have done it largely without captain Nicolás Lodeiro, who missed the first two matches with a left quad strain and made his season debut as a second-half substitute on Sunday.

“The good thing is we’re getting good results and we can only get better,” said wingback Brad Smith, who had a goal and an assist. “We’re still learning the formation. That’s a positive. We can’t wait to keep this run going and keep improving on these performances.”

One of the most impressive parts of this season’s early goings is how strong Seattle has been defensively. The team has conceded just once, including zero goals from open play, and has done so against three of the better teams in MLS in Minnesota United, LAFC and now the Galaxy, who entered with the hottest striker in the league in Chicharito. The Mexican icon had five goals in his first two matches — he was only the second player in MLS history to do that — and yet the Sounders kept him off the score sheet and limited him to just one shot on goal.

“We worked all week on preventing service to Chicharito,” said Schmetzer. “Where he’s really dangerous is when the Galaxy get closer to the end line, his movement in the box is so good…We prevented service to him. Long, straight balls into the box against Shane [O’Neill], that was in our favor. We did a really nice job of cutting off his service and not allowing him to dictate the game inside the penalty box.”

O’Neill started in the middle of the three center backs on Sunday, as Xavier Arreaga, who had been there to begin the season, was given the night off and replaced by Yeimar, who made his first start of the season. Yeimar, O’Neill and Nouhou, who is in his first season playing in a left center back role, were strong all evening and cleaned up everything that came their way.

“We’ve got three good center backs, as well as Brad and Alex [Roldan] on the wing,” said midfielder Kelyn Rowe, who made his first Sounders start on Sunday. “It’s difficult to break us down. If you’re a lone forward, it’s hard to get anywhere near [the goal], and you saw a little bit of frustration from Chicharito. We defensively did a very good job.”

The Sounders will get another huge test next weekend when they travel to Portland to take on the rival Timbers (12 p.m. PT; ABC, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM), who have a pivotal second leg at Mexico’s Club América in Concacaf Champions League midweek. How well the Sounders do in keeping the Timbers off the score sheet will go a long way in determining whether they leave Portland with a result.

“Giving up one goal in three games is very good, especially in the beginning of the season when we’re still trying to get used to each other, still getting game fit,” said Rowe. “As things progress, you’ll see us get better and better.”

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