Sounders looking like a complete package ahead of 2018 MLS Playoffs

The Seattle Sounders had a dominant performance at home against Houston Dynamo, winning by a final score of 4-1. It was one of their most complete performances of the year and put Seattle on the cusp of their 10th-straight playoff appearance while also eliminating Houston at the same time. Of all of the Sounders’ goals, it was the fourth that stood out the most. A Seattle throw-in started a 13-pass sequence that ended in a simple finish for Victor Rodriguez’s second goal of the match.

The goal sequence begins with a throw in on the right side of the pitch for Seattle after Handwalla Bwana subs on for Kelvin Leerdam. As the ball goes back for Kim Kee-Hee a pocket of space opens up for Bwana and Nico Lodeiro to operate in.

As the ball goes to Cristian Roldan, Bwana and Lodeiro check to the ball, pulling defenders with them before making a break upfield. Roldan elects not to play the ball up the sideline and instead begins to switch the field by passing the ball to Ozzie Alonso who uses his first touch to leave the ball for Jordy Delem.

With the off-ball movement of Bwana and Lodeiro drawing defenders to the right side, the left side of the field is now wide open for Seattle. Seeing this, Delem passes the ball to Nouhou on the wing and while his pass isn’t far enough in front of Nouhou, it’s accurate enough for Nouhou to move up the field into the empty space.At the same time Lodeiro is moving to the opposite side of the field to support Nouhou and Rodriguez.

At this point Lodeiro’s movement has drawn a centre-back towards him making the Houston back four defend one-on-one with Seattle. The passing triangle created by Nouhou, Rodriguez and Lodeiro is crucial to the Sounders breaking open the Dynamo defense and the positioning of Alonso gives his teammates an extra outlet while simultaneously drawing Boniek Garcia towards him and away from Lodeiro.

 

While this is developing, Will Bruin is threatening a run off the back of Leonardo, forcing the Dynamo defender to stick with the Sounders forward and leaving DaMarcus Beasley alone to mark Bwana who has continued his run up the right sideline.

From this position, Nouhou leaves the ball for Rodriguez who then runs a give-and-go with Lodeiro to beat one defender and then force Garcia to choose between stepping towards Rodriguez to stop the ball or to stay with Alonso. Garcia decides to step to the ball allowing Rodriguez a free passing lane to Alonso. Meanwhile, Bruin is being dragged down by Leonardo while drawing the other centre-back’s attention as well. This allows Rodriguez to continue his run into open space after the pass.

 

Once the ball gets to Alonso, both of the Dynamo centre-backs are too close together, forcing them to scramble to Rodriguez and leaving Beasley with no choice but to leave Bwana to try and stop the pass onto the oncoming Rodriguez. Bwana at this point has probably pinched too far into the centre of the field but does well to get wide again as the pass from Alonso comes to Rodriguez.

 

As Rodriguez receives the ball he recognizes that with Beasley sliding over to defend him, Bwana is now open and uses his first touch to pass the ball off.  

 

Bwana does well to let the ball come across his body, pulling both Beasley and Leonardo towards him while Rodriguez is patient enough to let the defenders pass by him before making his run to goal. Bwana could take the shot for himself but instead cuts the ball back inside.

Bwana makes the final pass perfectly between Beasley and Leonardo as Rodriguez slips behind the pair off Beasley’s back shoulder. At this point Rodriguez is one-on-one with goalkeeper Joe Willis and his first touch puts the ball into the side netting for Seattle’s fourth goal of the match and Rodriguez’s brace.

If Seattle is able to continue playing to the same level they did against Houston they will be in a fantastic position to make a deep playoff run and possibly return to MLS Cup for the third straight year.

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Gallery: Exclusive photos as the Sounders clinch Western Conference Championship in style against Houston

For the second year running, the Seattle Sounders are the Western Conference Champions. And for the second year running, they will travel to Toronto for the MLS Cup Final. They won the title last year and will be looking to defend the cup in what should be another intriguing finale.

The Sounders seem to come alive in the playoffs. They didn’t enjoy the best of regular seasons but once again rallied when it mattered most and came into the postseason in good form. That form has only improved as they’ve yet to conceded in this season’s playoffs.

Last week’s 2-0 win in Houston was impressive. But they made sure of the job by winning 3-0 in Thursday night’s second-leg, taking the series 5-0 on aggregate.

Goals from Victor Rodriguez, Clint Dempsey and Will Bruin got the job done in style on Thursday, albeit against a shorthanded Dynamo side that once again finished the game with 10 men. But the added bonus for the Sounders was seeing Jordan Morris return to the field for the first time since September.

Check out exclusive photos from the Sounders Western Conference Championship win on Thursday, courtesy of MLSGB photographers Denise McCooey and Paul Kahl.

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