October 4, 2022

Since the Seattle Sounders were eliminated from the US Open Cup on May 11, no MLS team has been better. You can slice the data in several ways, but they all essentially tell the same story.

After Saturday’s 2-0 road win over Toronto FC, the Sounders are now 6-2-1 with a +11 goal difference since their schedule was cleared of non-MLS games. No team in MLS has as many wins or points, and the team with the second-best goal difference is the Vancouver Whitecaps at +5. Meanwhile, the Sounders are up 6 points over leaders LAFC in the Supporters’ Shield, 5 points over second-placed Austin FC and 5 points over leaders New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference.

Advanced Metrics also love Sounders, though maybe not as much. In their six wins the Sounders have had a positive expected goal difference and collectively they are at 15.5 expected goals scored and 10.27 expected goals against, not too far off the actual number of 17 goals scored and six goals allowed, which I’m tempted to attribute to some exemplary goalies in Stefan Frei and Stefan Cleveland until proven otherwise.

What’s even more encouraging is that these data don’t seem to be too strongly influenced by the distribution of the Sounders’ state roads during this time period. The Sounders are 4-1-1 (2.17 PPG) at home and 2-1-0 (2.00 PPG) on the road. If they were to maintain those splits for the rest of the season, they would end up with around 61 points.

The Sounders also did this while juggling their lineups a bit. Even factoring in João Paulo’s injury, the Sounders were missing several key starters in at least six of those games, in which they claimed 10 points (1.67 PPG).

The victory over Toronto was particularly confirming. Already missing several starters with longer-term injuries and coming off a frustrating midweek loss, Brian Schmetzer opted to make a calculated bet to rest several other veterans ahead of this weekend’s game against the Portland Timbers. Stefan Frei, Jordan Morris, Cristian Roldan and Albert Rusnák didn’t even fly to Toronto, making way for Léo Chu, Cleveland, Danny Leyva and Dylan Teves. Those substitutes collectively have just 13 starts and less than 1,300 minutes of playing time in MLS this year.

Not only did these four players put in outstanding performances, but they did so in a game that was a little tough for the Sounders after being ousted by the Montreal Impact a few days prior. Chú spent most of the night flaying Designated Player Carlos Salcedo and getting the assist; Cleveland earned its first shutout of the season by making six saves; Leyva had arguably his best performance ever as a defensive midfielder against a veteran midfielder in Michael Bradley, Jonathan Osorio and Alejandro Pozuelo; and Teves was always dangerous and scored on his first MLS start.

Add to that strong performances from what was effectively the starting baseline, another encouraging change from Nicolás Lodeiro as part of a double pivot, and Fredy Montero reminiscing about another vintage performance, and you can see why it seemed be a little more pep after winning “Jingle Bells”.

“The players are in a very good mood,” Schmetzer told reporters after the game. “I think it was a determined group.

“After a home defeat to come across the country to play against a team with big ambitions and a great manager and come out with a clean sheet and two goals was very, very impressive and the right time for this group to lead the game. from Portland.

All that to say that the Sounders seem to have found their footing after a somewhat self-inflicted slow start to the MLS season as they naturally focused on CCL. It looks like a team that is now built to handle the bumps and bruises that come in any MLS season. They also find themselves in a reasonably strong position in the table. Although they are seventh in the West, they are only one point behind fourth and three points behind third with one game less.

The game against the Timbers should be another good test. It’s unclear if any of the injured starters will be available, but the rest that Frei, Morris, Roldan and Rusnák have gotten will hopefully pay dividends. If the Sounders can play the second half of the season like they finished the first half, it promises to be a special season.