Perfect weather coincided with a nearly perfect first half for the Seattle Sounders on Saturday afternoon. Sure, Nicolas Lodeiro and his teammates would have loved to see the Uruguayan midfielder capture his first hat trick in Rave Green, but two goals stood as more than enough to capture three points against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Seconds before the end of the first half, Vancouver nearly saw the opportunity for a penalty kick to cut the lead by one. Referee Chris Penso used VAR, however, and saw what Chad Marshall already knew: A Kendall Waston shot went off the Seattle defender's chest, not his hand. Penso quickly reversed the hand-ball call, and the day transitioned from bad to worse for the Whitecaps, who never saw a chance to equalize the match.
For the Sounders, Saturday's victory extends the team's season-high unbeaten streak to four games (2-0-2), starting with a July 4th win in Colorado. It also moves their record to 5-9-5 on the season, good for 20 points, tenth in the Western Conference, and 10 points behind Real Salt Lake at sixth, just above the precious red line.
As Seattle continues to inch towards that red line, the pressure to gain three points in every match only increases week-by-week. The club, since their induction to MLS in 2009, has never missed the playoffs.
But like 2016, when the club saw bleak times after parting ways with former Head Coach Sigi Schmid, there is new life within the club thanks to the addition of a new Designated Player. In 2016, Lodeiro jumped into Rave Green and led the team on an epic run towards the playoffs and eventual MLS Cup Championship. This year, that same pressure falls on the shoulders of Raul Ruidiaz.
Ruidiaz made his debut on Saturday, entering the match in the 61st minute for Will Bruin, playing as the lone striker in Brian Schmetzer's 4-2-3-1 formation. The 27-year-old Peruvian forward, who scored 20 goals in back-to-back seasons in Liga MX, recorded one shot against Vancouver. Keeper Stefan Marinovic made a great save in the 68th minute that kept the score 2-0. Aside from that chance, the second half saw very few scoring opportunities for either team.
Even before Efrain Juarez saw a red card for the Whitecaps in the 78th minute, Vancouver couldn't gain any momentum offensively. Whitecaps Head Coach Carl Robinson's counter-attacking system failed to break down Seattle's stout defense, which featured the returns of Gustav Svensson and Kelvin Leerdam, at every turn.
Svensson made his first start since May 13 in Portland, before joining Sweden at the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. For Leerdam, Saturday marked his first start since June 9 against D.C. United with the fullback's hamstring now mostly-healthy.
Midfielder Victor Rodriguez left the match in the 45th minute after suffering a right hamstring injury. Schmetzer said after the match that the club will evaluate the severity of the injury next week. Leerdam subbed out of the game in the 84th minute to not risk the chance of re-injuring his hamstring in the final seconds.
Seattle's two goals, both scored by Lodeiro, came in the 5th minute on a penalty kick and a 31st minute long-distance strike. Watch those, and other highlights from the victory, below!
Both Lodeiro, Seattle's Man of the Match, and Ruidiaz spoke to the media after the match. Watch those interviews below.
For more match analysis and a look-ahead at what's next for the Seattle Sounders, a game on Wednesday evening against the Earthquakes in San Jose (7pm on 950 KJR), check out KJR's full Sounders FC Post-Game Show below as well as a photo gallery from Saturday's match.