You don’t need to teach Kelyn Rowe about the importance of Lumen Field to the Sounders FC.
Raised in Federal Way with a longing to play for his home state’s MLS club, Rowe is intimate with the dominance the Sounders have at home. And with Seattle’s skyline tattooed on his arm, Rowe certainly isn’t going to be part of any roster that changes that perception.
Wednesday, the veteran midfielder helped the Sounders (8-0-5) set the MLS mark for best unbeaten start in league with a goal as the home side beat Houston Dynamo 2-0. It’s Rowe’s first goal as a Sounder and first since 2018 when he suited up for the New England Revolution.
“I kind of blacked out once it went in,” said Rowe, who was signed in January. “It was a great feeling. Obviously right in front of the fans, so pure enjoyment and ecstasy.”
Sounders forward Raul Ruidiaz, who played in a numberless jersey after getting blood on his, added the insurance strike in second-half stoppage time off assists from wingback Brad Smith and forward Fredy Montero.
“I just wanted the team to perform well,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “We all know that at some point the streak is going to end. I’m just happy it didn’t end tonight.”
Houston (3-4-6) had a four-match unbeaten streak snapped.
The Sounders’ next match is July 18 as the league takes a break for the opening of the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Montero sent a long cross to wingback Alex Roldan to help set up Rowe’s scoring play in the 62nd minute. Roldan sent a pass to Rowe in the box, the latter using a left-footed tap to get past Dynamo keeper Marko Maric.
Smith, a mainstay starter, substituted into the match Wednesday in the 84th minute for Jimmy Medranda. Montero again ignited a score, with Smith and Ruidiaz on a fast break to rush Maric with an inevitable goal.
Perhaps as equally impressive as the goals was the lineup.
International call-ups (Alex Roldan joined his El Salvador national team after the match Wednesday) and injuries qualified the Sounders for the league’s Extreme Hardship signing. The club added Tacoma Defiance midfielder Juan Alvarez on Wednesday. The Tukwila product was selected to the bench against Houston.
Schmetzer made four starting lineup changes from the road draw Sunday against Colorado. One was forced by midfielder Cristian Roldan leaving to honor a call-up for the U.S. men’s national team to compete in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Schmetzer juggled his midfield to flank Joao Paulo with Danny Leyva and Rowe.
Center fielder Xavier Arreaga returned to the starting lineup for the first time since May, replacing Shane O’Neill, who wasn’t selected for the 18-player roster Wednesday. Arreaga spent the past month with his Ecuador national team for Copa America but didn’t make an appearance in the four matches.
Schmetzer called on Montero to start alongside Ruidiaz up top. Montero should see an uptick in his minutes due to forward Will Bruin undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last week that could sideline him for at least a month.
“I would’ve liked more training sessions with the Salvador team,” Alex Roldan said. “But I also think my club is important and working toward points and wins is important. Contributing to today’s win is something that I’ll look back on and be glad that I stayed.”
A quick turnaround and lineup adjustments didn’t limit possession and activity between the sides to open the match. Ruidiaz had a shot ping off the post in the seventh minute while Montero had a header in the box hit Maric in the gut.
Sounders keeper Stefan Cleveland had a few dicey moments in goal as Houston challenged in the opening half. Dynamo midfielder Memo Rodríguez had a right-footed shot that Cleveland saved in the 17th minute. Minutes later, Cleveland was off his line and needed backup defending from AB Cissoko to block an attempt.
In Seattle’s last match at Lumen Field — a 2-2- draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps — Cissoko and Cleveland conceded a goal in a similar position.
Houston’s best chance in the second half was forward Maximiliano Urruti’s shot from the dead center of the box in the 89th minute. A collective relief and appreciation could be heard from the 27,421 in attendance when Cleveland made the save — his third in the match.
Wednesday marked the first time since March 7, 2020, that the Sounders welcomed spectators without any restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The club played in an empty Lumen Field when MLS resumed its regular season in August 2020. The Sounders opened the 2021 season with a spatially distanced crowd of about 7,000 people and incrementally increased capacity as Gov. Jay Inslee progressed to reopening the state.
“The crowd was energetic,” Schmetzer said. “Go back to Raul, when he scored that second goal, the stadium erupted. It was such a good goal, such a good way to send those fans home on a high.”
NOTE: MLS and Liga MX announced dates for the 2021 Leagues Cup. The single-elimination tournament features the top eight teams from the leagues that are not competing in the CONCACAF Champions League.
All matches will be played on U.S. soil with the Sounders meeting Tigres UANL on Aug. 10 at Lumen Field. Tickets to the game will be sold separately from the regular-season slate.
This is Seattle’s first appearance in Leagues Cup. The Sounders qualified by finishing second in the 2020 Western Conference standings. The club advanced to MLS Cup, losing to the Columbus Crew.
Seattle is 4-8-2 against Liga MX sides.