SEATTLE — Most seem to understand that much of the Seattle Sounders’ early-season struggles could be attributed to the need to rotate their rosters in order to focus on Concacaf Champions League play. Not only did this pay off as the Sounders became the first MLS team to win the continental trophy, but it also had the ancillary benefit of giving meaningful minutes to a wider assortment of players.
We are now seeing some of the late fruits of those decisions.
I don’t want to overstate Saturday’s impressive 3-0 win over Sporting KC, a team that is now tied for the league’s worst points-per-game average. I don’t even want to read too much into their current form, as four wins in that 5-1-1 run have come at home. But what I find encouraging is how relatively seamlessly they’ve been able to integrate the reserves into the roster, even when they’re in positions in the backbone of the team.
In the most recent win, the Sounders deployed Jackson Ragen at centre-back, Kelyn Rowe as part of the dual-pivot midfielder and Will Bruin as a striker. It’s probably an overstatement to say that one of them was perfect, but they were all quite effective. Bruin scored the opening goal and delivered solid holdup play throughout; Rowe put on another performance from a classic yeoman and created one of the game’s best chances; and Ragen looked so good that we are getting closer to an open debate over his status in the regular starting lineup.
The depth of the centre-back and defensive midfielder has proven particularly valuable this year. It was Ragen’s first time starting alongside Yeimar Goméz Andrade and it’s the sixth different centre-back combination Schmetzer has used this year. The two ideal starters – Xavier Arreaga and Yeimar – have started just nine out of 24 matches in all competitions. Only five of those starts have been in MLS.
Ragen, who joined the first team this year after spending 2021 with Tacoma Defiance, has played 17 games, second among centre-backs. In the 10 starts he has made alongside Arreaga or Yeimar, the Sounders have averaged a perfectly respectable 1.60 points per game.
The midfield double pivot required even more juggling with the Sounders losing João Paulo to a season-long injury and now Obed Vargas for an extended period. There have been eight different combinations used in all competitions. It was the third time Kelyn Rowe has started alongside Albert Rusnák, with the Sounders now 2-1-0 in those matches.
While this was arguably the Sounders’ best showing with Bruin as a forward, the extent to which they struggled to score goals when Ruidíaz was out was also a bit of a stretch. It was the fifth time in 12 games that the Sounders scored multiple goals as someone other than Ruidíaz started as a striker.
The number of different acquisition methods that sounders have used to assemble this depth should not be overlooked. The starting line-up against Sporting KC included starters who were recruited through six different methods, covering virtually every mechanism available to MLS teams. Other teams may grab headlines with splashier moves, but the Sounders continue to plug the holes any way necessary.
It almost goes without saying that there is a limit to the depth of sounders. The 4-0 victory over the Vancouver Whitecaps earlier in this homestand was their first win in a game where they had less than six ideal starters. But these results also speak to their ability to turn over new players, even in high-leverage positions. This should all bode well as they continue to climb the leaderboard.