The Sounders got top offensive performances by Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz to blow out a lowly Colorado Rapids side 4-0 on Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
Midway through an expected Saturday afternoon cakewalk, midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro, striker Raul Ruidiaz and their Sounders teammates were reminded by coaches of previous such matches that had turned needlessly nerve-wracking late.
The message was clear: Don’t let up on the throttle against a Colorado Rapids side considered by many to be Major League Soccer’s worst. And the resulting three-goal second half and 4-0 win, courtesy of an offensive display by Lodeiro and Ruidiaz, showed the halftime communication was indeed received.
“We understand each other very well,’’ July transfer addition Ruidiaz said of Lodeiro. “Every time he has possession of the ball, I get prepared to make the runs because I believe there’s going to be an opportunity.’’
A freewheeling Lodeiro had a goal and assisted on two others by Ruidiaz, the pair clicking in a tandem the Sounders have committed millions of dollars to keeping together for years to come. Both players took it to the Rapids from the opening kickoff in front of 40,042 fans at CenturyLink Field and the besieged visitors never quite figured them out.
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“The movement that we make on the pitch, it’s all key to creating that space we need,’’ Ruidiaz said. “And it’s that kind of work that we practiced during the week.’’
Victor Rodriguez added a late goal to complete the rout on a nice setup by Kelvin Leerdam. The Sounders outshot the visitors 18-8 overall and by a 7-1 margin in shots on target to snap a brief two-game losing skid and solidify their push for a playoff berth.
The Rapids, meanwhile, dropped their sixth in a row and looked every bit the easy foil they were reputed to be heading in. Perhaps that’s why the Sounders’ coaching staff got in the players’ ears at halftime about the fact they were only up 1-0 on Ruidiaz’s 22nd minute strike.
There have been plenty of occasions this season, the last being two weeks ago at Vancouver, where the Sounders jumped ahead early and then barely held on after easing up on their opponents. And though they never exactly eased up this time, their lack of a second goal before halftime despite some chances prodded coach Brian Schmetzer to take some locker room action through his assistants.
“The halftime talk wasn’t all rosy-rosy,’’ Schmetzer said. “There were some determined remarks to make sure they kept going. I’ve given my assistants a little more leeway to make sure they talk to their individual players and make sure they keep the fire stoked a little bit.’’
Schmetzer has been the one previously giving such halftime talks but figured using the assistants as a “different voice’’ late in a long season might keep players from tuning his messaging out.
“We want to make sure that when the game is there to be won, we win them,’’ he said. “That we don’t become complacent.’’
That message will be paramount as the Sounders look to pad their record in their final four games against teams that, on paper, they should beat. They play twice against Houston – 10th of 12 teams in the West to start the weekend – as well as against an Orlando City side with the worst record in the Eastern Conference.
The Sounders then finish against a San Jose team that entered Saturday dead last in MLS.
Schmetzer’s side entered Saturday holding the sixth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and had closed within three points of third place LAFC by game’s end. Run the table their final four matches and a first-round bye still isn’t out of the question, while a knockout stage home playoff game would likely be guaranteed.
Lodeiro certainly looked like a man who came to play Saturday, putting in huge second efforts on both of Ruidiaz’s goals. On the first, an initial Lodeiro shot was deflected away by goalkeeper Tim Howard. But Loderio pursued the ball to the end line, got it back and then hit Ruidiaz with a pass deep in the box for an easy goal to open the scoring.
“Getting the lead early was very important for our team and for our confidence,’’ Lodeiro said.
Then, after being tripped in the box by Kellyn Acosta in the 51st minute, Lodeiro was awarded the penalty kick and fired a shot low to Howard’s left that the keeper only partially stopped.
It was the third Sounders goal in the 73rd minute, however, in which Lodeiro’s second effort truly stood out, hustling to beat Johan Blomberg to a ball along the right side of the box. Lodeiro lost his balance and fell, but then, sprawled on his back, he still was able to slide a pass across to an unguarded Ruidiaz for another close-range goal and a 3-0 lead.
“I felt very confident,’’ Loderio said. “When the team plays like this, whether it’s at home or away, it fills me with confidence. And when that happens, I play very well.’’
Something the Sounders need to keep happening from here on as they make their playoff push.