In a week that saw the Seattle Sounders 1) Fly to Colorado on Tuesday, 2) Learn upon landing that MLS cancelled their Wednesday match due to snow, then 3) Have the poor weather conditions delay their return flight to Thursday afternoon, a negative result on Saturday against Toronto FC back home could have been reasonably predicted.
"They were grumpy," Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said at training on Friday.
Cristian Roldan also called the situation frustrating. And despite Toronto firing on all cylinders for the first 20 minutes of Saturday's battle, including an 11th minute goal by Jozy Altidore, Seattle roared back to score three goals, hold off the visiting Reds 3-2, and extend their best start in franchise history to 5-0-1.
Altidore and Kim Kee-hee highlighted the physical, back-and-forth match that also hands Toronto (3-1-1) their first loss of the season. Kim picked up a yellow card in the 61st minute while fighting off Altidore, then nine minutes later, the veteran forward scored to cut Seattle's lead in half.
For the final 10 minutes, the Sounders built what Schmetzer called an "amoeba" formation, without a true forward, playing five defenders at the back after Roman Torres subbed on, and faced multiple dangerous chances from Toronto. A 92nd minute save by Stefan Frei and countless clearances kept the Reds from scoring and allowed Seattle to capture their fourth home victory of the early season.
Offensively, Saturday's three goal effort gives the team 14 on the season, a mark it took the team 16 matches to reach in 2018. Will Bruin, starting in place of the injured Raul Ruidiaz (right heel contusion), scored twice on crosses by Brad Smith before Cristian Roldan fired a rocket goal past Quentin Westberg of Toronto in the 68th minute to give Seattle their third goal. MLS officially recorded Smith with only one assist, on Bruin's second goal, and Kelvin Leerdam with an assist on Roldan's.
"This game is good," Bruin said. "Getting the first goal of the season out of the way and I was able to double it up tonight, but I think that’s the hardest part, just staying mentally ready, when you have as good of a team as we do."
Bruin exited the match in the 79th minute with an undisclosed injury that Schmetzer said the club would have more information about on Tuesday at his next media availability. Ruidiaz "was very, very close," according to the Seattle Head Coach, which bodes well for his chances to play next week in Los Angeles.
Without a mid-week match, schedules for the club can now return to normal with preparation beginning Tuesday for LAFC on Sunday. Still, Schmetzer views the "frustrating" week, culminating in Saturday's win, as a positive.
"Adversity, in many ways, is what makes you better," Schmetzer said. "I reminded [the team] that our start had been a good start this year and maybe was too easy. Maybe this little bit of adversity would prepare us for this match. And I think you saw a pretty good effort mentally from that group. Because they could’ve said it was a terrible week, they could’ve mailed it in. But they didn’t.”
Mental strength will be necessary with LAFC, the top team in MLS by points and goal differential, as Seattle's opponent in both of the next two weekends. The Sounders will also face San Jose on Wednesday, April 24.
"Next week will define us," Roldan said. "We have three games coming up. We have LAFC away, San Jose home, LAFC home. So three difficult, difficult games. Hopefully we can rotate the squad. For me, if you want to have a statement it’s gotta be that three game week."
In a battle of unbeaten teams sitting at first and second place in the Supporters Shield standings, the Sounders and LAFC will kick off at 4:00 p.m. next Sunday, April 21, with the Pre-Match Show starting at 3:30 p.m. on Sports Radio 950 KJR.
Check out highlights of Seattle's 3-2 win over Toronto below, as well as KJR's Postgame Show, featuring Schmetzer's full comments, plus interviews with Bruin and Roldan.