An unusual sight greeted Sounders fans ahead of their team’s fourth victory in five tries as somebody other than Raul Ruidiaz trotted out to the striker’s position.
Having a career 60-goal scorer like Will Bruin as a backup forward is something few teams would complain about, though it remained to be seen whether the Rave Green could maintain its lightning fast start to games minus ailing designated finisher Ruidiaz. As it turned out, the start of what became a 1-0 victory over Real Salt Lake on Saturday night wasn’t nearly as concerning for the home side as its inability to finish things off.
But ultimately, an 18th-minute goal by Nicolas Lodeiro stood up – barely — the rest of the way in front of 37,722 spectators at CenturyLink Field. The victory extended the team’s franchise record unbeaten streak to five games to start the season, though it was the second consecutive match the Sounders failed to score multiple goals.
“Obviously, every game there are going to be things that we can clean up a little bit,” winger Jordan Morris said after his team improved to 4-0-1. “I thought we had a great first half. The second half, we maybe let them have a little too much possession. They had a few good chances. But I think you’ve got to walk away at 4-0-1 and be pretty happy and keep building on the things we know we can build on.”
The Sounders had chances throughout the second half to put the game away, the closest being a Morris near-miss in the 60th minute when he ripped a shot over top of the net on a great feed by Cristian Roldan. That lack of a second goal nearly cost the Sounders in the 73rd minute when midfielder Jefferson Savarino sneaked in behind the defenders on the right side and rattled a shot off the near post.
Bruin had substituted off for Harry Shipp just moments before the Savarino chance. The game was the first since last July that Bruin had started as the lone striker in Ruidiaz’s place and the veteran put in a strong effort both ways to keep the Sounders looking dangerous.
“I think he came in and did a great job,” Morris said. “It’s nice to play with him. He holds the ball up so well and gets in the box. He’s just a really good team player and obviously a really good finisher. He fits in seamlessly when he comes in.”
Indeed, the Sounders once again looked lethal early despite the absence of Ruidiaz, who suffered a heel contusion in the scoreless draw last weekend at Vancouver. With the Sounders starting a stretch of three games in a span of a week, they opted to rest their top scorer and looked none the worse for wear in blitzing the Salt Lake defenders from all angles and scoring before the 26th-minute mark for the fourth time in five matches.
Roldan looked dangerous on attack all night from his defensive midfield position, setting up Lodeiro’s goal by sprinting for a loose ball on the right flank and sending a strong cross over the box. Lodeiro was waiting on the left side and one-timed a left-footed shot while tumbling backward that found its way inside the near post.
The goal was a just reward for a Sounders team that knocked on the door a couple of times, with Morris, Bruin and Victor Rodriguez all failing to connect on early chances in close.
The Sounders again nearly went up by two in the 37th minute as Lodeiro made a solid cross from the left side that a sprinting Morris ran down before firing a shot just wide.
The lack of an insurance marker nearly haunted the Sounders as the sneaky RSL side began generating quick chances that nearly found their way in. Then, the post saved the Sounders late as Savarino’s close-in attempt had Stefan Frei beat.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer didn’t like Savarino getting in that deep behind the defenders.
“I’m not pleased with it at all,” Schmetzer said. “It was a set piece … and that ball traveled 70 freaking yards up in the air and our guys didn’t react. I’m not very happy about that.”
Schmetzer was happier with the result and strong start to the season. So was goalkeeper Frei, who earned the clean sheet despite being tested in close a handful of times.
“Honestly, I think we needed to put this team away,” Frei said. “To let them linger on and give them hope and get chances is something we need to fix. Again, it’s great to get the three points and keep it going but there’s lots to do better.”
Frei toward the end of the first half made a point-blank stop on RSL forward Sam Johnson with his face. Johnson was ruled offside on the play, one of three such close calls in which the visitors nearly capitalized after pressing their attackers up high and hoping for a quick strike.
“I was joking with (RSL goalkeeper Nick) Rimando after the game,” Frei said. “I told him I was trying to fix my deviated septum. But it’s still crooked, unfortunately.”
Fortunately for Frei and company, their record is a lot more straightforward as they try to work through any lingering kinks.