SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders’ first goal of Saturday’s 3-0 win over Sporting Kansas City was the epitome of strong ball movement and patient build-up play.
It started on the left side, when left back Nouhou and center back Jackson Ragen passed the ball back and forth to shift the opposing defense. Then, when Ragen saw an opening, the switch flipped and the Sounders pounced quickly.
He unleashed a long-ball across the field and connected with a streaking Alex Roldan. The right back laid the ball off to his brother, Cristian Roldan, who delivered a pin-perfect cross that Will Bruin headed in for a seventh-minute goal.
“Will is a true target forward, true No. 9,” head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the game. “That’s such a good goal, and true to who Will is.”
A week ago at the same time, Bruin was on the bench. Without leading scorer Raul Ruidiaz, who’s missed the past two contests due to a hamstring injury, Fredy Montero started last Saturday’s game against Los Angeles FC. Montero dropped back deep into the midfield, creating space for wingers Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan to get in behind. Yet the backup striker saw very little of the ball and notched just one shot.
Bruin’s impact against Sporting KC was more tangible. He provided a more commanding presence in the middle, linking up with Morris (one goal, one assist), Cristian Roldan (one goal, one assist), Nicolas Lodeiro (one assist) and Albert Rusnak more frequently than Montero had. That lineup change, yet another representation of the Sounders’ depth in offensive playmakers, paid off.
“A lot of (forwards) try to drop into pockets and get on the ball, that overcrowds space,” Bruin said. “I stay high and make sure some of the creative players have more space to get on the ball, and I think that helps a lot.”
With Saturday’s win over Sporting KC (4-4-10), one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, the Sounders (7-2-6) have now collected 16 points in their past seven contests, just five shy of the maximum, and allowed only four goals in that stretch. Saturday also marked Stefan Frei’s 300th appearance.
“When I say ‘defense wins championships but it’s handy to have good attacking players,’ a day like today certainly shows that,” Schmetzer said. “We’re always going to be good enough with our team, the depth of our roster.”
Sporting KC was coming off a 2-1 upset at Nashville FC, a victory that snapped a 10-game winless streak for Kansas City. While Sporting KC looked to notch back-to-back road victories for the first time since August 2021 at Lumen Field, the Sounders had other ideas.
After the seventh-minute goal, Seattle continued to look dangerous in its build-up play, via penetrating passes from Lodeiro and Rusnak as well as runs in behind the defense from Morris and both Roldans.
The Sounders nearly replicated Rusnak’s goal from last weekend when Kelyn Rowe pressed high up the field on a goal kick (Rowe started in place of 16-year-old Obed Vargas, who will miss multiple weeks with a lower back stress fracture). Rowe won the ball through pressure, but his pass was just inches out of Morris’ reach, and the Sounders failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
Schmetzer said last week that kind of high pressure is exactly what he wants out of his team, particularly during home games.
Morris said Bruin’s “hold-up play” was another asset that was really important, particularly on a hot, tiring day. It’s why Bruin was so successful linking up with other playmakers, Morris explained. Before halftime, Bruin collected the ball at midfield and shielded his defender while waiting for Morris to make a run. When Morris passed him, he backheeled a pass that unlocked acres of space in behind, though Cristian Roldan couldn’t convert the chance.
Yet there were periods after Bruin’s goal where, despite strong build-up play, Seattle struggled to connect in the final third of the field. They rushed passes on the counter-attack and gave away good chances. That was frustrating, Schmetzer said, but he was willing to “let some things go because there were moments where we were really, super good.”
That changed in the second half, though. Jordan Morris, who created a single-match career-high five chances last week against Los Angeles FC, continued to be a playmaker. He got on the end of Nouhou’s cross from the left side, heading home from point-blank range to make it 2-0. Bruin said he’s seen Morris score headers like that frequently in training.
“Obviously we scored a great early goal, but the final product wasn’t quite there on a couple other ones,” Morris said. “In the second half, I thought we improved on that a lot and things opened up once we got the second goal so we had some more opportunities.”
Schmetzer substituted Bruin, who received a standing ovation from the crowd for his performance, and then moments later, the Sounders tacked on a third. Lodeiro brought the ball up the left wing, and found Morris, who had another opportunity to shoot. This time, he picked out a wide-open Cristian Roldan to make it 3-0.
“This was their third game in a week, maybe they were a little tired, maybe our possession wore them down a little bit,” Schmetzer said.
And really, the Sounders should’ve had four goals. The floodgates, which opened around the 70th minute when Seattle consistently threatened on the counter-attack, stayed open for the remainder of Saturday’s contest.
In the 80th minute, Morris had a one-on-one chance that he couldn’t slot home. Abdoulaye Cissoko couldn’t put away the ensuing header, Jimmy Mendranda’s left-footed shot was saved, and Montero couldn’t score either. All couldn’t believe they hadn’t found the net.
Last week against LAFC, the Sounders had a comparable number of chances too, but only finished one. It felt kind of like a loss, Bruin said. This week, the “crazy” 80th-minute sequence was virtually irrelevant — “we would’ve loved to score a fourth but it was a great result,” Morris said.