After soaring to a 5-0-1 start in their first six games, a top mark in franchise history, the Seattle Sounders suffered multiple major injuries to key starters and lost their first game of the season in Los Angeles.
The club followed up the defeat with three consecutive draws to San Jose, Los Angeles at home and Minnesota on the road. Seattle's points per game went from an extraordinary 2.5 to just .75 in the last four. Thankfully, the injury bug plaguing the Sounders lessened in intensity right when the team prepared to face the Houston Dynamo, third place in the Western Conference heading into the weekend.
With Raul Ruidiaz back in the starting lineup, Jordan Morris slid back to the right wing and Seattle's attack started looking like that of their first six games, needing just five minutes to score their first goal.
After hitting a 25-yard rocket in Minnesota last week, Cristian Roldan saw a fifth-minute corner pop back out of the box to his waiting foot, then sent another missile towards goal, flying past Houston keeper Joe Willis and into the top left corner of the net. Seattle jumped out to the 1-0 lead and never looked back, beating the Dynamo on Saturday evening at CenturyLink Field.
"You feel pretty lucky and then you feel like you’re on a roll," Roldan said. "Maybe next game I shoot two more. It gives me a lot of confidence, a lot of leeway, especially with my teammates. They think I can score outside the box all the time now. They are going to be okay with me shooting.”
The Sounders (now 6-1-4) finished the night with 16 shots, four on target, and could have finished the game with at least two goals if attacking players finished off any of their chances.
A Morris header in the 42nd minute soared above the goal, a Nicolas Lodeiro shot in the 44th hit the crossbar, Willis saved a well-place Harry Shipp shot in the 47th, Ruidiaz misplaced a header in the 64th, and multiple other counter-attacks failed to create a second Seattle goal on the day.
But despite these frustrations, praise is due in abundance to the entire Sounders team for defending a Houston attack led by Alberth Elis (four goals, four assists) and Mauro Manotas (five goals, four asists). By shifting back to the wing, Morris saw a larger defensive role, shutting down countless Dynamo threats on Saturday. Roman Torres stepped in for an injured Chad Marshall (knee inflammation) and headed away nearly every dangerous ball into the box.
Jordy Delem, Kim Kee-hee, Brad Smith and Kelvin Leerdam also put in excellent shifts on the defensive end, the latter three joining Torres in the back four, by both frustrating and tiring Elis plus rendering Manotas completely ineffective.
"My guys had to work hard to get a shutout," Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said. "The guys dug deep there to secure three points. The reason why they had to dig deep was because [Houston] does a good job. That’s going to be a team that’s right up in the Western Conference throughout this season...it’s just a testament to a commitment to defend as a team."
While the injury bug took a momentary break, 12 minutes into the match, it roared back. Victor Rodriguez exited the field with what Schmetzer called a "hamstring strain", and forced Shipp to enter the match in the 15th minute. The 29-year-old Spanish winger may miss some time if other hamstring strains on the squad in recent weeks are any indication, meaning extended time for Shipp and Handwalla Bwana who started in Minnesota last week.
And while Seattle signed left winger Joevin Jones on Tuesday from German club Darmstadt, it is unlikely the versatile Trinidad and Tobago native will be available for Wednesday's upcoming match against Orlando City SC.
That game kicks off at CenturyLink Field on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. with the Sounders FC Pre-Match Show beginning at 7:00. Check out highlights from Seattle's 1-0 win on Saturday below as well as KJR's Postgame Show featuring Schmetzer's entire post-match press conference, plus interviews with Roldan and goalkeeper Stefan Frei.