The Seattle Sounders have a legitimate claim to be the best team in the MLS this season. They have the best goal differential at +18 and are currently tied for first in the Western Conference standings. They are in for a struggle this upcoming week to maintain that place, as the FIFA international window has arrived at a time where the team has looked it’s strongest. Winners of four of their last five, the Sounders are losing three of their key starters due to national call-ups. Their depth will surely be tested over these four games without Raul Ruidiaz, Gustav Svensson and Xavier Arreaga.
So far, the results have been mixed. Seattle beat a not-very-good Real Salt Lake and then got flattened by a struggling LAFC squad. While a possible three points out of six is not a worst-case scenario, the fact that all three fill-ins struggled in both games is.
Shane O’Neill recorded a substandard rating of 6.1 by fotmob.com across both games as he lost a combined four duels as well as picked up a yellow card against Salt Lake. O’Neill is a high-floor player, who is at his best surrounded by superior talent to mask his weaknesses. While Arreaga is an inconsistent player, when he performs at his highest standard, he brings an aggressiveness and bite to the Sounders backline that is sorely missed with the muted O’Neill.
Svensson has been replaced by long-term squad player Jordy Delem. While a more mobile player than Svensson, Delem is a far less impactful defender. He is regularly muscled off the ball by stronger players, evidenced by his five lost duels in his two recent starts. Seattle has prided itself on defensive rigidity and Delem represents a lacking weak spot in Seattle’s shielding.
While the Sounders have been first and foremost a defense-first side in the Brian Schmetzer-era, its offense has been nothing to scoff at. A key cog in that has been the wily Peruvian, Raul Ruidiaz. A tireless jitterbug with a flare for the dramatic, Ruidiaz is both a capable finisher and self-creator. He hounds backlines tirelessy while also creating space for both Jordan Morris and Nicolas Lodeiro. Will Bruin has been deputized in this role and at one time would have been an ideal spot-starter. But the dancing bear has been notably slowed since he has come back from a season-ending ligament-rupture. Never fleet of foot in the first place, the slowed down Bruin has struggled to make an impact these last two games. He has been limited to three shots on goal and one key pass, good for a fotmob score of 6.3 across each outing. Seattle’s once deft attack has been put on skids without their star forward.
What this shows is that a team once thought of as deep is actually very shallow in its reserves. Ruidiaz is a star and any backup would struggle to fill the void in his absence. Svensson is a very good defensive midfielder, but he isn’t a key cog and Arreaga is talented but imperfect. Both these players should be replaceable to a point and the fact that the Sounders do not have anybody that can seemingly step up is concerning for the rest of the season. They are tied at the top of the Western Conference standings with the Portland Timbers (who they play in three weeks). Any dropped points makes them susceptible to a drop in the standings. If an injury were to occur, it is now a very worrying sign for any of these fill-ins to play a regular role going forward.