The Sounders FC quickly knew they were in for a different match against San Jose.
A month ago, the Sounders scored a record five goals by the 33rd minute in a 7-1 win against the Earthquakes at CenturyLink Field. For the rematch at Earthquakes Stadium, the Sounders didn’t even manage five shot attempts.
The Sounders navigated the defensive battle to finish in a scoreless draw Sunday night.
“It was difficult,” Sounders keeper Stefan Frei said during a video conference call with media. “The last time we played them at our place, we had some really nice sequences early on in the game that we were able to really punish them when we were able to break their press. Today, that was more difficult. … We lacked that tiny bit of finesse or control to get out of tight situations and create something.”
The Sounders (9-4-4) host Portland on Thursday at CenturyLink Field. The Cascadia rivals each have 31 points to lead Major League Soccer’s Western Conference.
San Jose coach Matias Almeyda hasn’t altered his man-marking defense that’s conceded a league-worst 43 goals this season. The club has executed the unique tactic better, allowing just five in their past six outings – four of those resulting in wins.
Sounders midfielder Nico Lodeiro had a shot on goal in the 6th minute that was saved by Quakes keeper James Marcinkowski. The rest of the opening half was spent fending off San Jose as the Quakes had possession of the ball for 59.8% of the time.
The Quakes (6-7-6) had three near-chances to open the match. Sounders forward Will Bruin stopped an attempt from midfielder Jackson Yueill at the goal line in the 42nd minute.
Sounders forward Jordan Morris was able to create the team’s third chance in the box in the 79th minute. A slight hesitation on a pass to Bruin seemed to be what prevented the attempt from finishing.
Frei made his 250th appearance for the club Sunday. The mark is second to former midfielder Ozzie Alonso. Frei had a smooth tip-save in the 65th minute to collect his fifth clean sheet of the season.
Sunday’s match was the Sounders’ first in San Jose in 2020. The home side didn’t have fans in Earthquakes Stadium due to the pandemic, but the facility has a parking lot that borders one goal end and carloads of fans were able to park in those spaces to view the match.
“Kudos to them, this is a messed up year and it’s nice when people get creative,” Frei said of the San Jose organization. “It’s nice of them to try to get their fans involved in a safe manner. Still allow a part of the experience in a tiny way.”
The telecast didn’t overlay artificial sound, providing opportunities to hear horns honk in celebration of defensive stops and the players talking to each other throughout the game.
The Sounders gained a day’s rest after MLS postponed a midweek match against the Colorado Rapids due to multiple cases of COVID-19 found within the Rapids club. It’s doubtful the game will be rescheduled due to the Sounders having five matches slated in concluding the season Nov. 8.
Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer made two lineup changes after the loss at Los Angeles FC last week. Nouhou returned to starting at left back. Brad Smith, who was re-acquired by the Sounders in September after helping the club win the 2019 MLS Cup, suffered a minor hamstring injury during training and was a late scratch.
Midfielder Alex Roldan replaced Kelvin Leerdam at right back. It was Roldan’s second start of the season and 14th of his three-year stint with the Sounders.
“(Alex) deserved a chance to play,” Schmetzer said. “We need to make sure in these last set of five games that we play and manage some minutes and give some guys some opportunities. Alex came on and did the job. We got a clean sheet and that’s his No. 1 job.”