The Sounders FC season opener Friday night had the appearance of being the first to test-run a roller-coaster ride. There were scares and thrills and thankfulness to leave Lumen Field without any harm.
Goals from Joao Paulo, Fredy Montero and a brace from Raul Ruidiaz ensured a positive exit into the balmy, spring night for Seattle with a 4-0 win against Minnesota. It was the MLS opener for both teams, Seattle improving to 7-0-1 all-time against Minnesota.
“I do have a soft spot in my heart for Fredy,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said of his favorite goal of the night. “Seeing him score that goal, that was a just reward for his coming back to Seattle, working hard in preseason and coming into the game and changing the game. … There was (also) a little reminiscing about how he scored the first goal for this franchise in MLS history (in 2009).”
The Rave Green unveiled a new formation for the first time since Schmetzer took the coach position in 2016. The two-forward lineup depends on strong play up top but also the fullbacks being able to cover a lot of space in both trying to score from the wings and defend.
Minnesota capitalized early on Seattle not recovering quickly in stopping the counterattack. But of the Loons’ seven shots on goal, just one was on target. The others were tense moments for Seattle.
The Sounders had three shots on target in the opening half. Ruidiaz’s penalty kick in the 29th minute was saved by Minnesota keeper Dayne St. Clair and two other shots by the Sounders forward were saved.
The reset at halftime worked for the Sounders. Joao Paulo put the club on the board with a deep, dead-on shot in the 49th minute. He first collected the ball and before it dropped to the field, whacked it toward the net with such force that he spun full-circle.
Ruidiaz and forward Will Bruin showed their chemistry later, connecting in the box for Ruidiaz’s first goal in the 70th minute.
Ruidiaz, who was about three weeks late to training camp due to complications securing a U.S. green card, added another score in the 73rd minute off an assist from Cristian Roldan.
“I kept my composure,” said Ruidiaz as translated from Spanish of his frustration in missing the penalty kick. “That helped. And I started to get into a rhythm. As games continue to progress and throughout the year, I’m going to keep improving and be effective.”
Schmetzer substituted Montero into the match for Bruin in the 71st minute. Montero is a club original who spent the past two seasons with the Vancouver Whitecaps FC. He took a feed from Alex Roldan to score in the 86th minute, surpassing Clint Dempsey for all-time MLS regular-season goals for the Sounders. Montero was already the club’s all-time leader in scores across all competitions.
Seattle played without forward Jordan Morris (knee) and midfielder Nico Lodeiro (injury).
“This was our first real game playing with this formation,” Ruidiaz said as translated from Spanish. “During the first half, we were trying to adapt and figure it out. At halftime the coach was very clear with us that we need to keep calm and keep trying and things were going to happen. We did that and thankfully the goals started to come.”
Minnesota’s last trip to Lumen Field was a thrill ride, too. The Sounders left exhilarated with a 3-2 comeback win for the Western Conference championship. The Sounders scored all of their goals in the final 20 minutes.
Seattle took the field to a smattering of applause and cheers. The people dotted around the lower bowl of Lumen Field were the first to attend an MLS match since March 7, 2020, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Jay Inslee and health officials approved the Sounders to host fans last month. The club began the return by selling 7,000 tickets to each of the opening five home matches. Seats were zipped tied to keep social distance and most transactions — from tickets to purchases — were touch-free.
Approximately 33,080 fans attended the March 7 game. The Sounders finished in a 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew SC. MLS shut down March 12.
“The atmosphere was great,” Joao Paulo said as translated from Portuguese. “We felt the strength of the fans. At some point we were all sweating a little bit but we felt their presence on our side and that helped get the result.”
NOTE: The Sounders joined the Loons in wearing black armbands and taking a starters’ photo together. The clubs posted statements to their Twitter accounts explaining the players’ decision. The Sounders’ read, in part “to honor and acknowledge the death of Daunte Wright and those who have lost their lives to racial injustice.” Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, was shot by a white Minnesota police officer Sunday.
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