Exuberant chaos engulfed Q2 Stadium on Thursday.
The home of MLS expansion side Austin FC featured a rowdy crowd bathed in green lighting still shaping how they want to support their Verde and Black. The opponent was the Sounders FC, dressed in Rave Green with the most inexperienced starting lineup in club history.
It took veteran savvy to cut through the wild atmosphere.
From midfield, Raul Ruidiaz spotted Austin keeper Brad Stuver playing off his line. When a deflection bounced Ruidiaz’s way, he immediately beamed a 40-yard shot at goal. The ball arced over Stuver’s head and into the net.
Ruidiaz’s goal in the 67th minute was enough to give the Sounders a 1-0 win. Seattle keeper Spencer Richey totaled three saves for the shutout. Austin has been unable to score in eight of its past 10 matches.
“This wasn’t the first time that I saw him playing away from his goal,” Ruidiaz said through a Spanish translator. “I saw the opportunity and I seized it, and it came out as a great, great goal.”
Ruidiaz, who turns 31 Sunday, mimicked flying around the edges of the field with a fleet of teenagers trailing the striker, joining in on the celebration. The goal was Ruidiaz’s 11th of the season for the MLS lead.
Austin appeared to have the equalizer in the 79th minute, but defender Julio Cascante was caught offside.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer started a youthful lineup due to missing 10 first-choice players. Center back Xavier Arreaga served a one-game suspension Thursday for yellow-card accumulation while midfielders Cristian and Alex Roldan are serving an international call-up to compete in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. The Sounders have seven injured players.
The absences put five teenagers in Seattle’s starting XI. The average age of 22 years and 159 days is the second-youngest to start a MLS match in the league’s 26-year history. Dallas FC (2019) and the New York Red Bulls (twice in 2005) each started four teenagers at one point.
Seattle’s bench was just as inexperienced with teenagers Juan Alvarez (16) and Alex Villanueva (19) selected. The duo joined forward Samuel Adeniran (22) and Obed Vargas (15) as call-ups from USL side Tacoma Defiance, signing short-term contracts. Vargas started on the left wing to become the third-youngest player in league history to either start or appear in a match.
The players were brazen in their performance from the first whistle. Right-winger Reed Baker-Whiting, who’s 16, made smart tackles and had a nice, right-footed attempt that was saved in the 32nd minute.
Adeniran, a Houston native, demanded attention up top in replacing Ruidiaz. The former had solid runs and a good, left-footed shot on goal in the 36th minute that was wide left.
Austin played without seven of its first-choice players, adding to the chaotic undertone to the match. But it was often the fresh-faced Sounders who came up with the goal-saving defensive moves like tackles from Josh Atencio, the 19-year-old replacing Arreaga on the back line.
“The message to the group for the last day and a half was we didn’t come down here to play a bunch of young kids, to make it a good story,” Schmetzer said. “Oh, we played five teenagers and oh, it’s unfortunate that the players, the Sounders didn’t win. That was never our intention. The winning culture of this club is always, I don’t care who we put out on the field. The expectation that we have as a coaching staff is that they No. 1 outwork their opponent. And No. 2 understand the tactics that we want. And the expectation in every game is we believe we can win.”
Schmetzer, whose club suffered its first loss of the season Sunday, began substituting his veterans into the match in the 54th minute. His original plan was to make the changes at halftime but the teenagers meshed well in the starting lineup.
“I was anxious,” Ruidiaz said. “It’s been a long time since the last time that I’ve been waiting on the bench to come into the game. I was excited to come in.”
Seattle (9-1-5) regained the league’s Supporters’ Shield lead. Austin, which managed a draw against the Sounders at Lumen Field in May, dropped to 3-7-4.
“This was a great opportunity for the young players to start,” Ruidiaz said. “They put forth all of the effort that was needed to achieve what we needed to achieve and the victory is an outcome of the work that they have done.”