TUKWILA – As with the differences, the setting of the last two home games of the Seattle Sounders couldn’t be more intense.
A week after playing in front of nearly 70,000 fans for a continental championship, the Sounders face the San Jose Earthquakes with less than 4,000 in attendance at a commonly used soccer stadium. for youth tournaments in an early stage of the US Open Cup. .
In a sense, it’s a welcome relief, even if the result doesn’t go the Sounders ’way.
“I’ve played this complex a lot of times as a kid, especially in this field,” said Federal Way native Kellyn Rowe, who is playing here for the first time as a member of the Sounders. “It’s a nostalgic comeback, and the fact that we’ve been playing for a long time makes it exciting.”
Despite missing the 11th round in a penalty shootout after coming back from a 2-0 deficit, the night, I dare say, was fun. Starfire games with tight limits and limited capacity always feel tense, especially since the games played there are always win-or-go-home activities. But the mood on Wednesday was happier.
That it’s been five years since the Sounders played here has sort of made a contribution to the Starfire Sports Stadium legend. It clearly helped that the Sounders just won the Concacaf Champions League a week ago and it marks the first time that most fans can come close and personal with the trophy. The line to take photos with the 32-pound beauty stretched hundreds of people and it remained that way most of the time the gates were open until kickoff. Fans and front-office staff are free to join. Many of the first players on the team who didn’t fit looked on from the standpoints, exposed to the same elements as others. Starfire serves as a reminder that Sounders are not just part of the community, they are part of it.
Even after the Earthquakes scored in the opener just 10 minutes into the game – on a penalty awarded for a foul that seemed to have happened outside the box – the mood on the stands still seemed happy. When the Earthquakes added a second to the 50th minute, the mood could barely shift.
But when Jimmy Medranda got the Sounders on board in the 54th minute with a very nice freekick, Starfire seemed to come alive. Instead of slowing down activities, the rain that started to fall soon after seemed to lift the mood. The equalizer that felt almost inevitable came in the 77th minute when Fredy Montero fired a Kelyn Rowe cross.
The Sounders pushed hard to get the winner never to come, and their bad luck in penalty shootouts continued, but the players were often satisfied with the effort if not the result.
“We had a good run at CCL, had a lot of high emotions, but now we have to go back to reality and learn how to grind games,” Rowe said. “You see that coming back from 2-2. I think that’s good for league games that we still have that grind, that willingness not to stop.
Head coach Brian Schmetzer chose a lineup full of typical reserves and even left most of his normal starters off the team sheet. When asked about that, Schmetzer came back with somewhat shocking force.
“I put a team there that won this game. Dead stop, ”he said. “I have complete faith in [the players he used]. I didn’t buy that account. We guys play really well and I’m proud of them. ”
Although it’s not hard to imagine someone like Raúl Ruidíaz or Cristian Roldan who can help, Schmetzer has a fair point if the Sounders are the best team in balance. The Sounders had an xG advantage of 2.98-1.78, outshot San Jose 26-11 and dominated most “effort” metrics like duels and tackles.
There’s also something to be said about forcing reserves to figure it out on their own. Playing 120 minutes of high -stress soccer – a decent chunk of it is played against what was effectively the first team in the Earthquakes – is expected to pay dividends down the road.
I have no doubt that Schmetzer really wants to win this game, I’m sure there are a lot of players who are as disappointed as he is, and though I’ll admit I love the Sounders ’chances of making a long run despite this . second-choice lineup, but I still can’t help but feel it’s for the best. The Sounders recently finished off an absolutely terrifying start to their season, one that included four road trips that added at least 20,000 miles to their travel schedule. As much fun as it is now to start a less intimidating-but-difficult Open Cup run, there are bigger purposes at play.
With the deck now almost clear, the Sounders can focus on getting their MLS season back on track.