Still in its infancy, Major League Soccer’s implementing of Video Assistant Referee (VAR) is still a prickly topic.
Sounders FC forward Raul Ruidiaz softened his stance Saturday.
“Right now, I’m loving VAR,” said the Peruvian striker as translated from Spanish.
That’s because Ruidiaz was given two chances to go one-on-one with Columbus Crew SC goalkeeper Eloy Room on a late penalty kick, the second securing a 1-1 draw for Seattle at CenturyLink Field on Saturday.
Room didn’t keep a foot on the line when initially defending the net, blocking Ruidiaz’s first penalty kick. Ruidiaz didn’t miss on the second, equalizing the score in the 79th minute.
The play was set up by Sounders fullback Nouhou, who hustled to win a ball and drew a Columbus defender into a handball inside the box.
“The first PK was a pity,” Ruidiaz said of the miss. “I feel bad about it (the tie) because here at home, we have to win all the points and we weren’t able to do that today.”
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer made late substitutions to put attacking players on the field but Seattle (1-0-1) couldn’t find another score. Forward Jordan Morris missed two headers at the goal, a heartbreaker in stoppage time that was also ruled offside. The Crew was also denied by Sounders keeper Stefan Frei on a free kick in stoppage time.
The save ended the match.
The Sounders held Columbus (1-0-1) without a shot attempt through 30 minutes of the opening half. But the Crew only needed one, breaking up the Rave Green defense in the 33rd minute for a nifty play in the box.
Columbus midfielder Luis Diaz sat on the wing waiting for a service from Artur. Diaz then beamed a cross to Gyasi Zardes, who raced toward the goal untouched to boot in the score.
Before the goal, the Sounders had six shot attempts, four by Ruidiaz. Room cradled two Seattle shots for saves in the first half.
The Rave Green started its first-choice defenders, with midfielder Gustav Svensson and center back Yeimar Gomez Andrade in the lineup together for the first time in three matches. Andrade was able to play in the CONCACAF Champions League match Feb. 20 in Honduras but missed the club’s two matches – including the MLS opener last Sunday – due to issues obtaining his U.S. P1 Visa. Svensson missed the past three matches because of a calf strain and was limited to 69 minutes Saturday.
Because Columbus had just one shot attempt in the first half despite possessing the ball 49.3% of the time, it seemed the new look was performing well together.
But one goal changed that perception.
“In the second half, when we were really getting on top of them, we created a lot of good looks,” said Schmetzer, whose team had 10 shots after the break. “Nouhou came on and sparked the crowd (in the 59th minute). I was pleased in some ways that we were able to create that many opportunities, you’ve just got to finish the plays.”
Seattle didn’t have its typical crowd to fuel it, either. Concerns about the spread of COVID-19 appeared to keep many Sounders fans from attending.
The club announced 33,080 were present Saturday but the figure isn’t an actual turnstile count. Pockets of the 68,000-seat stadium – which has most of the upper deck tarped for Sounders matches – were bare while the normally packed Brougham End and North End Faithful, where Sounders supporters’ groups sit, were thinned.
By comparison, 40,126 fans attended the Sounders’ MLS opener against the Chicago Fire FC last Sunday.
“It’s understandable having less people at the game,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “You want to take the most cautious way of living at this point (and) everybody’s got to be safe out there.”
The Sounders offered assistance in reselling tickets or swapping for a future match for those with health concerns. Fans at the match were offered more sanitation stations and thorough cleanings of high-traffic areas throughout the game.
The Sounders’ next home match is March 21 against FC Dallas.
“Long before this became big national attention about what’s going on here in Seattle, we set up an internal task force to address this issue,” said Peter Tomozawa, the Sounders’ president of business operations. “The crowd size was bigger than expected. … I couldn’t have been happier with the turnout. I thought it was extraordinary. considering the circumstances.”