The Sounders are familiar with this time of year. When it doesn’t matter how or who, the club just needs production to survive and advance.
The Cameroonian international declared this to be the season where he scores his first goal as a Sounders defender. Dubbed the “train” for the way he motors up and down the left flank, he made the right stop Sunday at Lumen Field to keep the Sounders’ season alive.
Nouhou collected a poorly cleared ball in the box and toed a right-footed shot into goal in the 59th minute to equalize the score. He followed the eye-popping play with an assist to Fredy Montero for the go-ahead header in the 76th minute.
Nouhou’s first goal since signing a first-team contract in 2017 and third assist of the season put some sparkle on a 2-1 win against the Houston Dynamo.
“I was a little bit nervous because it was my right foot,” said Nouhou of his first MLS strike. “But it wasn’t a moment to celebrate because it was 1-1. Hopefully next time is going to be a good time to celebrate.
“But I have more freedom this year. We changed a little bit and I was playing with Albert (Rusnak) and told him I need to have more freedom, I need to go forward because now I’m comfortable.”
Seattle (11-15-3) remains six points behind archrival Portland for the seventh and final playoff berth in the Western Conference. Houston, which has never defeated the home side through all competitions in Seattle, dropped to last in the conference at 8-16-5.
The Rave Green have advanced to the playoffs every year since joining MLS in 2009 — a league record of 13 berths.
“The crowd has been waiting for some time for Nouhou to score a goal, so when it happened the place was pretty nuts,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of the atmosphere that couldn’t be cooled by intermittent rain in the second half. “You’ve got to credit him for not giving up. Lots of midrange players might think, ‘well, that’s it.’ He does the work in training, so credit to him.
“It did spark the team. The guys were surprised it was his right foot. They were ribbing him (in the locker room) about that. It was great.”
The Sounders had one of their better starts Sunday. The club had 53% of possession and outshot Houston 6-1 in the opening 20 minutes. Attempts by Rusnak (free kick), Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz didn’t have enough muster to get past Dynamo keeper Steve Clark.
It was Houston that buried the first goal in the net. Sounders keeper Stefan Frei slapped away a corner kick attempt and had himself and the defense in position to deny a rebound strike. Yet, Adalberto Carrasquilla collected the rebound and sent an assist from distance into the box for Daniel Steres to thread through Seattle’s defense for a right-footed goal in the 26th minute.
A sparse crowd (announced at 33,621) gathered for the holiday weekend match and made themselves heard in the 37th minute. Rusnak was going for the ball in the box and appeared to be fouled as he dropped to the turf. Referee Silviu Petrescu didn’t rule the contact as impeding Rusnak’s ability to score and VAR didn’t call for a second look.
It was a difficult no-call for the Sounders to accept because they’ve had five penalties go against them the past three matches and conceded four.
The Sounders did a penalty called their way with Montero was fouled in the box in the 73rd minute. Club captain Nico Lodeiro took the shot from the spot and Clark made the save, snapping Lodeiro’s perfect 18-of-18 record for penalty kicks.
Schmetzer made two player changes and shifted the formation from the squad that lost 3-2 to Orlando City last week. Rusnak played on the left wing with Josh Atencio and Danny Leyva charged with control the tempo in the midfield.
Brazilian winger Leo Chu didn’t dress due to an adductor injury.
Schmetzer subbed Montero on for Leyva in the 56th minute to get another attacker on the field. It proved to be a good managerial decision as the club’s all-time leading scorer added to his goal total.
“Danny played well, it’s nothing against Danny,” Schmetzer said. “There’s people that might think (the 35-year-old Montero) is past his prime. There’s things we can say about Fredy but he’s scored a lot of important goals for this club over the years. Tonight was one of those vintage performances. As soon as he got on the field, the game changed.”
Seattle continues its homestand against Austin FC on Saturday. The Verde and Black (15-8-6) are second in Western Conference standings.
“We made it a point in this game that we had to dictate our outcome,” Morris said. “If (Houston) was going to beat us, they were going to beat us because they were clearly the better team and outplayed us. We showed fight. We showed we still have that quality as a team … and it probably couldn’t have been a more perfect person (than Nouhou) to score his first goal and lifting the team.”