Philadelphia had its chances.
But against the Sounders’ defensive lineup, the Union couldn’t keep its hot scoring streak going. The Sounders were able to slip away with a scoreless draw at Talen Energy Stadium.
“Statistically, it wasn’t a good game for us,” said Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer via audio provided by MLS. The Union possessed the ball for 67.8 percent of the match and had 20 total shots while limiting Seattle to six attempts, one on-target.
“When I look at the faces in the locker room,” Schmetzer continued, “when I look at the players out on the field giving it their all, giving themselves a chance to win at the end of the game on a couple of set pieces and stealing a couple of passes when the Union pushed up to score, I can’t ask for anything more from my guys. … It was a monster performance.”
The Sounders (7-1-5) are winless in Philadelphia. However, the outcome was a positive for the visitors considering all the Sounders had working against them Saturday in injuries and travel after playing Wednesday at home.
The club traveled without forward Jordan Morris, left winger Victor Rodriguez and defender Gustav Svensson, who were all out because of hamstring injuries. Defender Chad Marshall did not make the trip due to chronic knee pain.
To withstand the lack of starters against a Union team that’s second in the Eastern Conference standings, Schmetzer opted to use a defensive lineup. Jonathan Campbell, who has had a good run with the Tacoma Defiance, made his Sounders debut along the back line with Nouhou and Saad Abdul-Salaam, who made their first starts of the season.
Up top, Schmetzer went with Will Bruin in place of Raul Ruidiaz, who had only played one full 90 minutes since missing five matches with a heel injury. Saturday was Bruin’s first significant minutes since starting April 13. He missed three games with a hamstring injury.
The defensive lineup frustrated the Union (7-3-3). Despite dominating possession in the opening half at 66.9 percent, it could only create one on-goal shot attempt when midfielder Brenden Aaronson whacked the ball from outside the penalty box.
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei dived for an outstretched, right-handed save in the 18th minute.
“Campbell came on and did a really nice job,” Schmetzer said. “We were concerned Kim (Kee-hee) and Roman (Torres) have played a lot of minutes. The reason for Campbell was to get an extra center back in there to carry some of the load and have our outside backs do some of the work up the wings. I thought it worked well.”
The Sounders had their sole goal attempt in the 40th minute. Bruin had a header on a set piece from Nico Lodeiro, but the soft shot was an easy catch for Philadelphia goalie Andre Blake.
Schmetzer switched to a more offensive attack late in the match. Ruidiaz subbed for Bruin in the 79th minute and created a frantic finish with midfielder Handwalla Bwana, who was subbed into the game in the 75th minute for Jordy Delem.
Bwana had a possible play with Ruidiaz broken up in the 89th minute.
But as the Sounders tried to create more attempts, the Union picked up its pressure, too. Frei had five of his six saves in the second half, including an up-close header attempt by Ilsinho that deflected off Frei’s chest before he could secure the ball in the 61st minute.
“I was probably fortunate,” said Frei, via audio provided by MLS, who collected his fifth clean sheet of the season. “(We) couldn’t turn off mentally, and I had a sigh of relief because the guys on the back wall were punishing them. I’m happy with that level of commitment mentally, not just physically.”
The result was the Union’s first shutout since a loss April 13. In its last three matches, Philadelphia scored 10 goals while allowing just two.
But it couldn’t score against Seattle.
“It’s definitely easier knowing that you have (Frei) back there,” said Alex Roldan via audio provided by MLS. “With that being said, hopefully we don’t have to put so much pressure on him in the next games.”
The road matchup ended a grueling stretch for the Sounders where they played three games in eight days. The Sounders return home to prepare for another road game at Kansas City on May 26.
“Draws like this feel like a win,” Schmetzer said.