With a number of veteran players remaining out of the lineup due to injury or international duty, the Sounders have continued to ride the rollercoaster that comes with playing their youngest players.
In fact, Seattle nearly set a record in that regard last week.
The Rave Green fielded the second-youngest squad by average age in MLS history against Austin FC Thursday, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Head coach Brian Schmetzer had five teenagers in his starting XI and a sixth came on as a substitute in the second half.
Despite all of that inexperience, one of its veterans came up big in the 1-0 victory over Austin.
Raúl Ruidíaz, who entered the game in the second half, scored what Schmetzer called a “goal of the year candidate.” A pass forward from one of his teammates was knocked away by an Austin defender, and the deflection went right to Ruidíaz, who spotted the Austin keeper well off his line and blasted a high, arching shot that flew over the keeper’s head into the net.
“That is an unbelievable goal,” Schmetzer said. “Raul always knows where the goalkeeper is at all times. The ball drops for him, he hits it first time. That’s a goal of the year candidate for me just because of who he is — a true goal-scorer.”
Ruidíaz was named MLS Player of the Week for that effort — which was his league-leading 11th goal — and it held up, leading a team that had significant youth on the field, including Sounders Academy players Reed Baker-Whiting and Obed Vargas, who are 16- and 15-years old, respectively; and fellow Sounders Academy graduates Danny Leyva, Ethan Dobbelaere and Josh Atencio, who are 18-, 18- and 19-years old, respectively. It was the first time in MLS history a side fielded five teens.
“That group came out and persevered under challenging circumstances and got a result,” Schmetzer said.
The team’s fortunes weren’t as good Sunday as they took on Sporting KC, which sits in second place just behind the Sounders in the Western Division.
The crowd of over 32,000 at Lummen Field, the largest since March 7 last year, was enthusiastic, but an experienced Kansas City club handed the Sounders a 3-1 defeat, just their second of the year. Despite the loss, Seattle remains two points ahead of Kansas City.
Kansas City’s Johnny Russell whipped a free kick just inside the left post in the 31st minute and a quick counterattack on a turnover in the 42nd minute, finished by Daniel Sallói, extended the lead to 2-0.
Freddy Montero cut the deficit in half in the 51st minute. Kelyn Rowe sent in a cross that was punched away by Kansas City’s keeper and the rebound was chested down by Baker-Whiting. The youngster couldn’t get a foot on the ball, but Montero was in the right spot at the right time as he spun around and knocked the ball into the far corner.
The goal was Montero’s franchise-leading 50th regular season goal. He is top scorer in club history with 63 goals in all formats, six ahead of U.S. legend Clint Dempsey.
“I’m happy to reach a number,” Montero said. “It was just a rebound inside the box, I took my chances and kicked the ball. Thank God it went into the net, but unfortunately it didn’t help the team.”
Ruidíaz nearly tied the match just a few minutes later, as Rowe’s pass found him with time and space near the top of the 18-yard box, but his chip shot was just barely touched by the keeper’s fingers, but it was enough to send it into the far post.
Kansas City added one more in the 71st minute.
“It was obviously a tough week,” Sounders defender Shane O’Neill said. “Kansas City came in here with a pretty strong mentality. They came to win the game. Maybe just out-dueled us a little bit. That’s a veteran group over there, and maybe this is a good turning point for us, and a good eye-opener where we need to raise our level up again and come back stronger for the next week.”