Forward Fredy Montero didn’t see a lot of the ball during the Sounders’ game last Saturday against MLS-leading Los Angeles FC. He had only one shot despite starting and spending 67 minutes on the pitch.

But Montero and coach Brian Schmetzer said the backup striker played well. Montero said the game plan was for him to play more of a “false nine,” meaning he tracked back for the ball and drew LAFC’s center backs out with him. 

Montero’s movement created space in behind for wingers Cristian Roldan and Jordan Morris to exploit with diagonal runs and speed. Seattle created plenty of opportunities and could’ve scored three or four goals against LAFC.

The Sounders (6-2-6) were without leading scorer Raul Ruidiaz, but that didn’t deter them. They flashed versatility, creating offensive chances in different ways even without their talisman. It’s why Schmetzer and other players aren’t worried about how the team will perform without Ruidiaz again this Saturday against Sporting Kansas City (4-4-9). 

Montero and forward Will Bruin have appeared in 10 MLS games this season, and the Sounders have midfielders Nicolas Lodeiro and Albert Rusnak, in addition to wingers Roldan and Morris, in strong form. Many have experience playing without Ruidiaz, who’s been hampered by hamstring injuries in the past. So without Ruidiaz now, all have stepped up — and aim to continue doing so. 

“It’s the deepest team that I’ve been a part of,” said Morris, who’s been with the Sounders since 2016. 

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Ruidiaz has led the Sounders in scoring for the past five seasons despite injuries. He missed the last two months of the 2021 season, and March this year (which included MLS and CONCACAF Champions League matches). 

He had been healthy since, until he suffered another hamstring injury June 14 against Vancouver and had to be substituted after scoring a brace. Schmetzer said the team didn’t want to rush Ruidiaz back too soon, especially with others playing well.

“I’m concerned that Raul’s not here on the field, but I’m not, if that makes sense,” Schmetzer said June 17, before the LAFC game.

Besides, this isn’t a new situation. When the Sounders played a Champions League series against Leon with Montero in Ruidiaz’s place, Schmetzer said he made only small tactical adjustments. The coach later described Montero’s style as a combination of Bruin’s and Ruidiaz’s — Bruin can operate between the center backs and early crosses benefit him, while Ruidiaz shows strong movement within the box. Montero brings both.

“I’ve got complete faith in Fredy and Will,” Schmetzer said after practice Tuesday. “We’ll platoon them a little bit, we’ll see which game tactics, those two guys will get a good run out and we’ll be fine.”

Montero said the Champions League experience benefited him as well. Roldan said Montero for Ruidiaz isn’t a “like-for-like” swap, but it’s important that the others help cater to Montero’s strengths. He doesn’t quite “lead the line” the way Ruidiaz does, Schmetzer said, but a combination of tactics and Montero’s instincts lead him to track back and create space for others.

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“Raul is a big part of this organization, but he’s not here, and the most important thing for us is to find a way that other guys can score goals as well,” Montero said Tuesday.

Against LAFC, that goal came from Rusnak as a result of pressure. Lodeiro and Roldan pushed up, “hounding them” and moving higher up the pitch until the Los Angeles goalie made an errant pass that Rusnak capitalized on, Schmetzer said.

Lodeiro was on the end of an excellent 15th-minute chance when Morris settled and teed him up but couldn’t finish. Time and time again during the first half, Morris proved dangerous along the left wing, chasing down through balls and delivering passes that could’ve — and perhaps should’ve — been put into the back of the net. Without Ruidiaz, taking advantage of Morris’ strengths one on one was a big part of the game plan, Schmetzer said.

Roldan won aerial battles against taller defenders and mirrored the runs that Morris was making on the other side of the field, albeit with less success. After the game, Schmetzer praised the play of both wingers and both midfielders. They created the chances despite missing the finishing touch to come away with three points instead of one.

“I think whenever you miss a guy like Raul … obviously what he brings is goals, but again, we have guys that step in and do a really good job,” Morris said. “The depth of this team is pretty special.”

Notes

  • Schmetzer said defender Xavier Arreaga will miss two to three weeks. Arreaga, a starting center back, went down in the 74th minute Saturday because of an apparent leg injury. He had an MRI Sunday.

    Schmetzer shifted Nouhou to center back instead of bringing on a substitute to replace Arreaga, and the Sounders conceded the equalizing goal moments later. “It’s hard when you lose a center back; that’s where I’ll have to do some reflection on my job as a coach,” Schmetzer said after the 1-1 tie.
  • Midfielder Obed Vargas is sidelined by a lower-back injury, the Sounders announced. Schmetzer didn’t specify the timeline for the 16-year-old’s return.