Two weeks ago Seattle Sounders FC were in the midst of a four match slide that featured a 3-2 loss at home to Sporting Kansas City, a 3-3 draw at home to New England Revolution, a 3-0 thumping at Real Salt Lake, and a 2-2 draw at Los Angeles Galaxy where Sounders played with a man advantage for 84 minutes and still needed one of the flukiest own-goals of the past few seasons to get away with a point.
Next on the schedule was a difficult trip to the Rose City for the deciding match of the Cascadia Cup against biggest rival Portland Timbers and it seemed like a late-season skid would cause Seattle to relinquish their claim as Kings of Cascadia.
Instead Seattle pulled out a gutsy 2-1 win at Providence Park to win the Cascadia Cup for the second straight year and nine days later they again scraped out a win, this time 4-3, with a determined performance at home against LA Galaxy to jump them into second in the Western Conference.
The difference between the past two matches and four matches prior is undoubtedly in part to moving Cristian Roldan from the defensive midfield role he’s played in all season to a more attacking left midfield position. Roldan has scored three goals for Seattle in the last two matches since moving higher up the field and has had a knack for making the right run at the right time to finish off loose balls in the box and capitalize on defenders’ mistakes.
“When he’s up and down on this side [Roldan] has the power and the endurance and the mental toughness to, even when he’s tired, get up and down the field,” said coach Brian Schmetzer. “Tonight, against an opponent that had some heavy legs, his mental toughness, his drive to succeed and win, is what put him at the back post for that winning goal.”
Meanwhile, Jordan Morris on the other side of the field set up both goals in the Portland game and scored a breakaway goal of his own against LA and has had the utmost confidence to take defenders one-on-one with great success.
Morris has struggled with injuries in his first four professional seasons, missing multiple games late in the 2017 season and all of 2018 with an ACL injury, and the impressive speed he displayed his rookie season has been missing for a lot of this season. The past two performances though have been reminders of what he’s capable of and why he was offered a chance to start his career in the German Bundesliga with Werder Bremen.
There are still a lot of questions to ask of the Sounders defense after conceding 15 goals in their last six matches and Schmetzer is running out of time to find answers with just six games to go but the most encouraging play has been from Xavier Arreaga. The Ecuadorian Designated Player has had to step into the starting role since Chad Marshall’s retirement and Roman Torres’ suspension and has made crucial tackles and reads to stop opponents’ counter-attacking opportunities and deny crosses into the box.
Then there’s the passion and effort that he plays with maybe best encapsulated by the image of Arreaga falling to his knees as the final whistle blew in Portland, smile beaming with arms raised in triumph before fully collapsing to the turf.
All three will be missing this weekend in Colorado as they represent their country and Seattle will need Schmetzer’s “next man up” adage to hold true with them gone but expect Sounders’ playoff aspirations will hinge on the play of Roldan, Morris, and Arreaga.