Fun to watch, but not much learned

Considering the Seattle Sounders have already won the Concacaf Champions League this year — beating the defending MLS Cup winners and two other quality Liga MX opponents in the process — it seems a little silly to still be putting too much stock in so-called “measuring stick ” matches. The reality is we know what they’re capable of, it’s just a matter of them showing it in any given match.

Still, Saturday’s matchup against Supporters’ Shield-leading LAFC was another datapoint which we can use to firm up our assessments.

In that sense, I think the 1-1 tie provided just a little more evidence that the Sounders are at least capable of adding another trophy to their cabinet this season.

It was hardly a perfect performance, not by a long shot. The Sounders generated some decent chances, but needed a pretty bad mistake by normally reliable LAFC goalkeeper Maxime Crépeau in order to get their goal. On the other side, the Sounders mostly limited LAFC’s chances but still needed Stefan Frei to come up with a few massive saves.

But in the end, the two sides played about as even as they could. Both teams’ expected goals were separated by just .06 — a meaningless amount — showing plenty of quality despite neither team being quite at full strength. It was also a mostly entertaining match, with two evenly matched teams trading punches.

“We didn’t play bad, but we didn’t play that good,” Sounders midfielder Albert Rusnák said after scoring his first league goal of the season. “In the end, we got a point, but it feels like a loss.”

That the Sounders seemed genuinely disappointed with the result was probably a positive. LAFC had come into this match with the league’s best record and highest-scoring offense, and were well-rested. Although the Sounders had won 4 of 5, they were on just three days’ rest and much closer to the middle of the table by just about every metric.

The disappointment, though, came from how the game unfolded. After a slow start, the Sounders were doing a better job of putting themselves in dangerous positions and by the time they took the lead through Rusnák goal — in which he did a better job anticipating where Crepeau wanted to pass than LAFC’s Ilie Sanchez — it seemed like a deserved lead.

Shortly after Rusnák’s goal, the Sounders also seemed to dodge a pretty big bullet when Stefan Frei made one of his patented big-moment saves, twice stopping LAFC from close-range on a sequence that will immediately get added to his career highlight reel.

The let-off came about 15 minutes later. Nouhou had just been moved to centerback to replace Xavier Arreaga and needed to be a bit stronger on his aerial challenge with Cristian Arango near the penalty area. Arrango not only won the header, but knocked Nouhou to the ground on what seemed like pretty mundane contact. That gave Arrango a little extra space to run onto a header that he basically looped over Frei and inside the far post.

That the Sounders weren’t able to hold the lead probably doesn’t tell us a whole lot new, except maybe that the centerback depth might be getting stretched a little thin if Arreaga is out for an extended period and Yeimar Gomez Andrade can’t get back soon. I think Rusnák and Obed Vargas once again formed a perfectly fine pairing in the double-pivot; Jordan Morris is getting closer to his pre-injury form; Nicolas Lodeiro looks as good as ever; and Frei remains an elite MLS goalkeeper.

Right now, there’s every reason to think the Sounders will continue their charge up the Western Conference table and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they face LAFC in the playoffs for the third time in four years. For now, though, they’ll just have to stew on this one.

“It’s a little quiet in the locker room, and rightly so,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said after the game. “Guys are disappointed, we’re disappointed, at not being able to close it out, and giving a goal away like that where it’s individual duels hurts a little bit.

“We didn’t come in looking at LAFC as Supporters Shield winners, they’re just the leaders. That’s playoff-type soccer.”

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