The Sounders remain the top team in MLS. But after a scoreless draw with expansion side Austin FC at Lumen Field on Sunday night, another fang from Seattle’s bite was removed.
The Rave Green didn’t flex as it normally does on its home turf. The Sounders’ best chances to score flew high over or skimmed outside of goal and the one that slipped in was disallowed after review. The positive — and it’s a big one — is Seattle still has not conceded a goal within the run of play.
“Frustrating is the word that we would use,” Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan said. “Sometimes we rush ourselves, then we don’t find the right final pass that can really change the game. That sloppiness is also in the head. You have to be mentally strong throughout the game and make the right decisions in the final third. I thought in the last two games we didn’t do that.”
Sunday’s match closes the first quarter of the Sounders’ 34-match season. Seattle’s next game is after a FIFA international break when the team travels for a road match against the Los Angeles Galaxy on June 19.
Seattle (5-0-3) stretches its franchise-best unbeaten streak to eight matches.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer switched his lineup up top. Forward Fredy Montero received his first start in Rave Green since 2012. The club’s leading goal-scorer played alongside Raul Ruidiaz.
Montero used a nice cross to get Ruidiaz in scoring position in the 62nd minute but the Peruvian was a step off in making the scoring connection. Montero later slid in for what appeared to be a Sounders goal in the 75th minute. Video review waved off the score.
Austin (2-4-1) had its best looks in the second half. Midfielder Cecilio Domínguez breached Seattle’s defensive line for a dead center, left-footed look inches outside the keeper box. Sounders defender Nouhou provided the goal-saving block in the 53rd minute and led the Sounders out for the counterattack. But the offensive advance didn’t lead to a score.
In the 71st minute, Sounders keeper Stefan Cleveland teamed with center back Xavier Arreaga to stop an attempt by midfielder Jared Stroud. Cleveland was able to cradle the right-footed shot in his chest for the save.
The play was Cleveland’s first test since taking over the position after mainstay keeper Stefan Frei suffered a knee injury earlier this month. Cleveland is 1-0-2 as a starter.
“Sometimes it’s difficult playing for a good team with such a good defense,” said Cleveland, who had three saves overall in the match. “I can count four non-routine saves that collectively (replacement Alex Roldan and Frei) we’ve made, and Alex probably made two of those. The defense is so good, I didn’t have to do anything the last two games.
“But today, over 270 minutes, it’s going to break down one time and we did a good job on that counter to force them to make it predictable. For me, it’s just getting in the right spot, we worked on it all week, and standing there and making the save.”
Seattle dominated possession for most of the opening half and created six shots. But often the final pass was misplaced and what looked like possible simple scores in the box for Ruidiaz or even slightly outside for Cristian Roldan fizzled into missed opportunities.
Cristian had a powerful strike beam over the goal in the 22nd minute. He had a solid look in the 47th minute that found a similar fate.
The Sounders are a point ahead of the New England Revolution for the Supporters’ Shield lead. Yet, the Sounders opened the season with decisive wins and finished with draws against Atlanta United last week and Austin on Sunday.
“There was an improvement from the Atlanta game,” Schmetzer said. “There were better attacking movements. A little bit more fluidity. … We were on top of them (Austin), we just couldn’t get the breakthrough.”
Unlike past matches, both sides heard plenty of feedback from the audience as the Sounders opened more vaccinated sections around Lumen Field. The partisan crowd of 12,895 let Domínguez and officiating hear their displeasure, Domínguez often laying on the field for long stretches in pain but did not leave the match.
“In terms of the antics, we get it,” Cristian Roldan said of Austin. “We are on top and teams come in here and it’s a difficult match, so they want to time waste. It’s part of the game. Because we were tied 0-0, it’s more frustrating. If we score one early, they don’t do that. We have to look at ourselves just as much as we look at Austin and their tactics.”
The Sounders were hopeful to return midfielder Nico Lodeiro (knee) and Frei (knee) after the international break. Both captains suffered setbacks in their recovery from injuries and will be out an indefinite amount of time.
Ruidiaz (Peru), defender Brad Smith (Australia) and Arreaga (Ecuador) are expected to be called for international duty. Ruidiaz will first take part in CONMEBOL qualifiers and likely won’t return to MLS play until July because of the Copa America tournament scheduling.
“We don’t have Raul anymore, so that’s going to be one change,” Schmetzer said of adjustments that will be made during the break. “The team is going to look different when we come back. We’re going to use this break to get everybody as physically ready as possible to start pushing that cart down the path. And come up with a way to score some goals. Our defending has been great.”