About the only consistent criticism that can be leveled at the Sounders after a record start to their season is that they’ve swarmed their opponents a little too aggressively.
Most of the talk heading into Saturday’s first road contest at Chicago has been how the Sounders, especially last weekend against Colorado, have overwhelmed teams early with some of the most dynamic Rave Green attacking displays ever seen. But there were also murmurs about maintaining more ball control through a game’s latter stages and not constantly embarking on a frenzied push for additional goals.
Goalkeeper Stefan Frei talked about the need to be “more clinical’’ in-close, Cristian Roldan felt his team was “too impatient’’ and Nicolas Lodeiro wants them “more patient’’ and to “control our last pass’’ on scoring attempts. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer agreed that, at times, the team’s relentless attacking movements inside the box left something to be desired.
“Guys were almost passing the ball when they should have shot, or holding onto the ball too long when the guy was (open) over here,’’ Schmetzer said. “So some of those little nuances we’ll take a look at.’’
It’s tough to get too critical about what appears to be a team-wide desire to get in on a goal-scoring feast. Their league-leading six goals are the most in franchise history after two games and one more than they scored their opening seven matches last year.
The statistics demonstrate just how the lightning-quick, impeccably skilled Sounders have been throwing the ball around at will, leaving beleaguered defenders unsure of where to turn next. In the opener against Cincinnati, the Sounders successfully made 560 passes and then completed another 519 versus Colorado. A year ago, the Sounders had only one game all season in which they successfully passed the ball more than 500 times.
The accuracy on those passes, 84.5 percent in the opener and 86.7 percent last week, has also proved incredibly frustrating for opponents. Last season, the Sounders didn’t post two games with pass accuracy stats that high until their 14th contest.
Oft-criticized for too much possession and not enough scoring through dismal starts the past few years, the Sounders have completely turned that narrative on its proverbial head. When things are going well, it’s been an offensive free-for-all epitomized by right back Kelvin Leerdam already having two goals — as many as the entire Sounders team had through five games last year and double Leerdam’s prior output since joining the squad in July 2017.
Both of Leerdam’s goals have come before the games were even 27 minutes old. And both resulted off the wild goal mouth scrambles his Sounders are fast becoming known for generating against overmatched opponents.
“It just happened that way, and I was there,’’ Leerdam said of his sudden scoring prowess. “You just hope the ball falls in your area.’’
And when teams overwhelm opponents as the Sounders have done early, it’s tempting for even conservative-minded defenders to want to step up and capitalize on loose balls that seem to pop out of nowhere.
The concern comes when the Sounders start passing the ball around so quickly that even they can’t actually keep up. There were times last weekend, as when Harry Shipp flubbed a shot 10 yards over a wide-open net, that Sounders players seemed surprised to have the ball coming their way.
That type of occurrence suggests an attack somewhat out of control. Roldan admitted this week that defensive midfielders were frustrated by the attacking four giving some balls right back to opponents too quickly in the second half after they’d been hard-fought to gain possession of.
“You saw what happened,’’ Roldan said of the scoreless second half against Colorado. “We were a little too impatient toward the end of the game. I feel like you can only press for 10 to 20 minutes like we did (early) in the game.’’
Indeed, the Sounders have scored five of their six goals this season in the first half. By the second half of both games, perhaps somewhat gassed, they’ve committed more turnovers.
Roldan would rather have seen the Sounders slow things down and control the game’s tempo more against Cincinnati and Colorado once grabbing that multiple-goal lead. Considering the Sounders have averaged possession of the ball nearly two-thirds of both games — a very impressive number — Roldan’s comments would suggest the extent of this team’s capabilities aren’t yet close to being fully maximized.
Roldan’s fellow defensive midfielder Gustav Svensson expects Chicago to come out firing on Saturday as home teams typically do to impress their fans. And if that happens, the all-out assaults the Sounders have unleashed on opposing defenses to start their prior matches might have to be tempered somewhat with attacks that, while still aggressive, are more controlled.
“We have to maintain our composure and make sure that we don’t let them have the initiative in the beginning of the games,’’ Svensson said. “It’s going to be a little bit different. We probably have to be a little bit more careful with what we do.’’