With the way 2020 is going, it’s no wonder the Sounders jumped on the San Jose Earthquakes the way they did Thursday night.
A smoky haze from fires across the region rolled over CenturyLink Field around kickoff of the Major League Soccer match. The chances of a delay due to poor air quality were small. But even the slightest uncertainty is a concern when the bulk of the season has already been stripped due to a global pandemic.
So, the Sounders played as if it were their last match, scoring four goals in the opening 20 minutes to leave no doubt of the winner. The haze never cleared, and the Sounders didn’t stop scoring until the final whistle cemented a 7-1 victory.
“I was most impressed with their mentality,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said via video conference call with media. “It wasn’t me. It’s wasn’t the coaching staff. It was that group of players in that locker room. I could tell before the game that they were ready.”
The Sounders dropped opportunities to collect outright wins in their past two matches because the defense conceded late goals. That resulted in a draw on the road against Real Salt Lake and a loss at home Sunday against rival Portland.
San Jose (2-4-3) did manage a late goal — a penalty kick in the 71st minute — but the win boosted the Sounders atop the MLS Western Conference standings. Seattle (5-2-3) has 18 points.
“We need to work with consistency and bring the level up,” Sounders midfielder Joao Paulo said via video conference call with media as translated from Portuguese. “It’s not always that we’re going to find a 7-1 score, but it was definitely a better match. If we keep improving and keep this level, we’ll be able to approach the next few matches with more tranquility.”
The Rave Green has historically had trouble playing San Jose’s man-on-man marking defense in the past. The Earthquakes held the Sounders to a scoreless draw in the MLS is Back tournament in Florida in July.
On Thursday, Seattle peppering San Jose with five goals before halftime set an MLS record for fastest scoring.
Sounders forward Jordan Morris shredded the Quakes defense in the fourth minute and the visitors never recovered. Morris collected a service from center back Xavier Arreaga and dribbled up the middle of the field untouched by San Jose’s defense for the score – Morris’ sixth goal of the season.
Minutes later, midfielder Joevin Jones sent a perfectly timed through ball to Nico Lodeiro, whose hustle and pass allowed striker Raul Ruidiaz to easily ping the ball into the net from inside the 6-yard box in the 12th minute.
Jones then worked with Ruidiaz to set up defender Kelvin Leerdam for a score in the 15th minute. The goal was Leerdam’s third of the season.
Then Ruidiaz sent a cross to Jones for a score at the mouth of the goal in the 20th minute.
To cap the half, Morris fed Ruidiaz a pass the latter used to charge at the net for an emphatic score in the 33rd minute. The goal –- Ruidiaz’s seventh of the season –- sent the Sounders into the break ahead 5-0.
But the Rave Green didn’t stop there.
Joao Paulo, who was signed in January, knocked in a goal in the 48th minute off a passing series from Morris and Leerdam. And Jones scored his brace in the 59th minute, Morris getting the assist.
San Jose avoided complete embarrassment after a foul was called on Arreaga in the box. Quakes veteran Chris Wondolowski shot past Sounders keeper Stefan Frei to make the score 7-1 in the 71st minute.
“We set a high bar for ourselves here in Seattle,” Schmetzer said. “And I didn’t like the fact that we gave up one goal. I didn’t like it.”
Thursday was the Sounders’ final match on paper. MLS has yet to announce the schedule for the next phase of its return to play amid the coronavirus pandemic. The league planned to play a total of 18 matches after its tournament in Florida last month. The truncated regular-season was supposed to feature an expanded playoffs capped by MLS Cup in December.
At the least, the Sounders were to have their Aug. 26 game against the Los Angeles Galaxy rescheduled. The original date was postponed after a pro sports-wide strike in support of protests regarding the shooting of Jacob Blake by a Kenosha, Wisconsin, police officer.
The league has yet to make any announcements but Schmetzer isn’t treating the club’s routine any differently. The players will have a regeneration Friday and the weekend off.
“And then we’re going to come in and start training on Monday again,” Schmetzer said. “And we’re going to prepare for whatever the schedule is. When MLS announces it, we will be ready.”