The Sounders defeated Sacramento Republic FC, which plays in the second-tier USL Championship league, 6-2 in a closed-door scrimmage at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday. The 117-minute match was divided into two parts, with the first-team starters playing 72 minutes while a mix of reserves, roster hopefuls and Tacoma Defiance players appeared for the final 45 minutes.
Here’s what we learned from the friendly:
Goals on goals on goals
Sacramento was a quality opponent that beat the Sounders 2-1 in the fourth-round of the 2018 U.S. Open Cup. But it only took two minutes Wednesday for Raul Ruidiaz to dice up Sacramento’s defense for a 30-yard strike to put the Sounders on the board first.
Teammate Kelvin Leerdam had an assist inside the box to Harry Shipp for another goal in the ninth minute, indicating scoring shouldn’t be a problem for the Rave Green this season.
The Sounders scored 52 goals last season, making it the third straight time the Sounders broke the 50-goal mark.
“I did like the movement (Wednesday) and some of the things we did in training translated into some of those goals and chances,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “That’s what I was most pleased about.”
Forward Justin Dhillon scored two goals in the closing 45 minutes to lead the reserves. He signed last season as the Sounders waded through injuries and call-ups, starting three of his five matches.
Dhillon could again play a key role as the Sounders await the return of forward Will Bruin, who tore his right ACL in June, and prepare to miss Ruidiaz this summer due to a likely call-up to his Peruvian national team for Copa America.
“Raul is one of the best forwards in the league and every single training I’m just trying to learn from him and see what he does,” Dhillon said. “I’m trying to show that if my name gets called, they can trust me. Hopefully the couple of goals can help my case in that sense.”
Joao Paulo can definitely play
Brazilian midfielder Joao Paulo made his Sounders debut after signing in late January. He lined up with Jordy Delem in the starting lineup because Gustav Svensson was held out for precautionary reasons.
Co-captain Nico Lodeiro also wasn’t in the midfield. He’s in Uruguay receiving treatment for tendinitis and is expected to rejoin the Sounders in Mexico City this week.
Despite only having three training sessions with Seattle and playing on artificial turf at CenturyLink, Joao Paulo immediately displayed his skill set in passing and covering swaths of space quickly. He had a secondary assist on a Jordan Morris goal in the 35th minute after pinpointing a long ball to Leerdam to set up Morris.
Joao Paulo had a run-in with a Sacramento player but played the full 72 minutes.
“He (Joao Paulo) was a little bit sore after, just from getting stepped on and dealing with the turf for the first time,” said Shipp, who started for Lodeiro. “But it was good. He’s a smart player and a lot of it is just figuring out the rotation in the middle with me, him and Jordy (Wednesday) — how we’re going to rotate and do our best to try and keep the team moving and create chances but also balance keeping the ball.”
There’s depth, but not much
Considering Lodeiro and Svensson were out and Seattle signed a top defender, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, on Wednesday, the argument could be made that the club has the depth to match the core group that won Seattle’s second MLS Cup last fall.
Delem and Shipp were sharp, and new signee Shane O’Neill, a veteran center back, is progressing. They figure to be reserves this season, while Nouhou received praise from Schmetzer as a starter Wednesday at left back but will likely duel with Joevin Jones all year to retain the role.
The Sounders could still strengthen some areas but not likely through signings, according to Chris Henderson, the club’s vice president of soccer and sporting director.
“Whether we do something in the next few months in this window or we wait until the summer, that’s ongoing discussions,” Henderson said. “We’ll also see how the season starts, see if we have any injuries and where we need to upgrade the team. We’re still looking to be active, but for (CONCACAF) Champions League, this is the group we’re going to go forward with.”
The Sounders leave Thursday for Mexico City, which will serve as the final training camp ahead of facing C.D. Olimpia in the Champions League Round of 16 later this month in Honduras.
Regardless of roster decisions — Tacoma Defiance and Academy players aren’t guaranteed to make the trip — Schmetzer hasn’t divided the roster beyond a few locks as starters.
“It’s coming up fast,” Schmetzer said. “Last time we were in Champions League (2017) we tried to split the group; this is all one group. We’re all going for the same thing. … It’s all one big season with separate competitions.”
It took a moment for Shipp to remember that the last time he played at CenturyLink, he won a MLS championship before a facility-record 69,274 fans. Seahawks signage was around the seating Wednesday but the field had soccer lines.
“I didn’t forget, but I forgot it’s my first time back here,” said Shipp, who’s looking forward to the MLS opener March 1, when the title will be honored. “I (signed) right after they won in 2016 and was part of the whole thing, so it’ll be nice to be doing that but also have been part of the team that won.”