Nicolas Lodeiro and his Sounders had gotten a halftime earful about their tendency to take their collective foot off the proverbial gas pedal.
It turns out being up a pair of goals on the junior-varsity squad trotted out Saturday by the Los Angeles Galaxy wasn’t cutting it for the coaching staff. So, Lodeiro and the Sounders provided a glimpse of what their killer instinct looks like, resulting in a team-record-tying 5-0 final score that actually flattered the visitors.
“The most important part for us as a team,’’ Lodeiro said, “was that we never lost our focus.’’
Indeed, the Sounders didn’t just creep up on the playoff “red line” once the second half began. They ran right over it, leaving the wreckage that had been the Galaxy strewn all over the CenturyLink Field carpet for 44,213 fans to see.
The club-record sixth consecutive victory, extending their unbeaten streak to nine, moved the Sounders two points behind Portland and the Galaxy for the final two playoff spots in the Western Conference. The Sounders play at Portland on Aug. 26. Making the playoffs might be the least of the Rave Green’s goals. The win left them only four points back of No. 3 LAFC.
Galaxy coach Sigi Schmid was running the Sounders bench when they notched a 5-0 win over FC Dallas in July 2016 in what proved to be his final victory with the team. Schmid likely wished he’d stayed behind in Los Angeles on Saturday, much like his star forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who skipped the trip saying he didn’t want to risk reinjuring a surgically-repaired knee on the artificial turf.
Designated players Giovani and Jonathan dos Santos, Romain Alessandrini and starting defender Michael Ciani were sidelined by injury, giving them as much resemblance to the actual Galaxy as 5-foot-7 Sounders midfielder Lodeiro has to Andre the Giant.
Small wonder things got a little terse at halftime after the Sounders, riding a fourth-minute goal by Chad Marshall off a header and another by Shipp on an 18th-minute breakaway, had twice narrowly escaped some late sloppiness. Things quickly changed in the second half with a Los Angeles own goal and a Cristian Roldan strike in the first 14 minutes and another by Raul Ruidiaz, who could have had about three more before the final whistle mercifully sounded.
“The most important thing was that the team won because we really wanted this game,’’ Lodeiro said. “The game was very difficult because they had a lot of injured players, and the other players they brought did their best to play better.’’
More like the Sounders hadn’t done enough to play their best after taking the early lead. They’d jumped out to early home leads in prior games only to slow down in similar fashion.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer, who celebrated his 56th birthday Saturday, was having none of it.
“There were some tactical adjustments, and then there were some other verbal adjustments as to making sure they picked up their play,’’ Schmetzer said of the halftime directives. “Because I thought they got a little bit complacent.’’
Lodeiro, who’d assisted on Marshall’s opening goal, helped change the dynamic for good in the 50th minute after a Galaxy defender slipped and fell. With a clear path to the net down the left side, Lodeiro dribbled in close and slid a pass across to Ruidiaz.
Galaxy midfielder Servando Carrasco tried to intercept but merely redirected the ball into his own goal. That 3-0 lead proved the equivalent of throwing steaks in a shark tank as the Sounders swarmed the Galaxy in waves, adding two more scores and narrowly missing several others.
Schmetzer said his group didn’t need more than a few basic tactical changes and the gentle reminder to “turn the jets on” no matter how depleted the Galaxy looked at times. “That team did what they were supposed to do, did what they had to do, to put that game out of reach.’’
And they did it in prettiest fashion in the 59th minute, when Roldan capped off a nifty three-way passing display with Shipp and Lodeiro by slamming a shot home from close range to make it 4-0.
“We talked about making adjustments at halftime to kind of put the game away,’’ Shipp said. “And I thought we did that very well.’’
Shipp has played a huge, somewhat unexpected role in this Sounders resurgence. He was the forgotten man at times this season and on Saturday’s second goal when the Galaxy left him completely unmarked after a midfield turnover.
Gustav Svensson hit him in-stride with a pass atop the box and Shipp waltzed in alone and beat goalkeeper David Bingham to his left while barely breaking a sweat.
“It was good for us to have an easy win for once,’’ Shipp said. “We’ve been winning a lot of games, but they’ve been close.’’
Closer than they would have been had the Sounders hit the same throttle they just did.