The Sounders entered Monday's game missing key regulars Raul Ruidiaz and Gustav Svensson due to rescheduling during the international break. But an early goal by Ruidiaz replacement Will Bruin provided needed confidence in what became a 4-1 blowout.
Some palpable postgame relief was visible as the Sounders dissected their latest blowout of an opponent in a must-win match with playoff implications.
They’d entered what became a 4-1 rout of the visiting Houston Dynamo on Monday night knowing some scheduling misadventures would leave them deprived of top scoring threat Raul Ruidiaz, among others. So, it helped their cause enormously when Ruidiaz’s replacement, veteran Will Bruin, found the back of the net early on to remove some pressure from a team that’s had its share of attack struggles this season.
“That was a game where the longer it stayed 0-0, the tougher it would have gotten,’’ Bruin said after his first goal in two months.
Indeed, the 18th-minute strike, which began with a fine Nouhou run down the left flank and a subsequent cross to Cristian Roldan, served to lift the CenturyLink Field crowd of 39,518 to its feet as it unfolded. Nouhou’s pass caught a streaking Roldan on the right side of the box and his pass back found an unguarded Bruin at the top of the box.
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Bruin trapped the ball, then spun around and unloaded a left-footed blast that beat goalkeeper Joe Willis just inside the post.
“I’ve been working with (assistant coach) Preki on getting my feet right in the box,’’ Bruin said. “I turned and I’m not used to not having a defender right at my backside, so that was nice. I just tried to pick out the corner. It was a little close for comfort but it went in.’’
Bruin’s team was missing Ruidiaz and midfielder Gustav Svensson, both called up respectively by Peruvian and Swedish national sides for the international break. It only became an issue because the Sounders in May rescheduled the match from last Saturday — fearing a Friday concert by Jay-Z and Beyonce would leave unfavorable field conditions – to Monday, which moved it inside the international window.
That meant the Sounders needed permission from the national teams to keep their players longer and neither Peru nor Sweden obliged. Fortunately, Uruguay let them hold on to Nicolas Lodeiro a few extra days, which helped on the second Sounders goal when he made a dazzling 36th-minute run to the box from midfield on a counterattack.
Drawing defenders toward him, Lodeiro slipped the ball to an unguarded Roldan to his right. And Roldan made sure to finish, firing a rocket past Willis for a 2-0 lead that all but salted things away against the equally under manned Houston side.
Victor Rodriguez sealed the blowout with a pair of goals nine minutes apart in the second half. DaMarcus Beasley ruined the shutout in the 87th minute with the Sounders having subbed in several young players.
With the victory, the Sounders moved to a lone point of fourth-place Portland in the Western Conference standings with a game in hand.
They also climbed to three points of No. 2 Sporting Kansas City and No. 3 LAFC, which have both played an equal number of games. Most important in the immediate, the Sounders now need the No. 7 Los Angeles Galaxy to lose or tie one of its two remaining games in order for the Rave Green to clinch a 10th consecutive playoff appearance.
Even if the Galaxy wins both its matches, a lone Sounders victory in their final three games gets them into the postseason.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said Bruin’s early goal was needed given past struggles on attack minus Ruidiaz and the fact they’d already missed some good chances in the opening minutes.
“It helped tremendously,’’ Schmetzer said. “Because we’d had a couple of sniffs early on in the game. And Will (Bruin) was kind of getting his feet under him. He’d had a couple of balls earlier in the game and then he pulls that off – left-footed, upper (shelf). It boosts his confidence and then the whole team just kind of went with him.’’
The run and cross by Nouhou to start it off was a welcome sign from the second-year youngster, back starting again after an injury to Brad Smith. Unlike some of his previous games, in which his crosses would sail over teammates’ heads or out of bounds entirely, this time he was on the money.
“That’s something we work on all the time,’’ Nouhou said. “We try to take advantage when we see some space in behind the defenders. I used my speed to set things up and then tried to get some strength behind my cross.’’
It found the mark. As did the Sounders, over and over again as their confidence built throughout a match they would not let get away.