Going winless in five straight matches, with just one regular season match remaining would seem like reason for concern for most teams — but most teams are not adding Nicolas Lodeiro, Raul Ruidiaz and Jordan Morris to a first place team that already boasts five MLS all-stars.
Against the LA Galaxy on Monday night, a 1-1 draw was not the ideal return for the Sounders star players, but credit the Galaxy for grinding it out and earning much needed point to help their playoff chances.
“There was no rhythm to the game,” said Schmetzer. “It was just hard to play when the [Galaxy] team kind of laid off and just let our guys have the ball, we needed to find a solution for that.”
Ahead of the playoffs, one solution for the Sounders is a clean bill of health — starting with Raul Ruidiaz and Nico Lodeiro making their return to the starting lineup Monday for the first time since September. Ruidiaz kept pace in the MLS Golden Boot race with his 17th goal of the season in the 50th minute, converting the equalizer for the Sounders via a penalty-kick.
As for Lodeiro, the 32-year-old playmaker was productive in his first start since September, completing 31 passes in 73 minutes on the field. Knee troubles have plagued the Uruguayan international all season, but having their captain back in any capacity for a potential playoff run adds a dangerous creative element to the Sounders midfield.
“For Nico it’s going to be let’s just see if his knee does not swell up after this game and if there are no issues he will start again,” said Schmetzer.
In addition to the returns of two designated players, the story of the night was homegrown star Jordan Morris entering the match in the 60th minute, completing his comeback from a second ACL injury.
“It’s been a long process, a long year,” said Morris. “I’m grateful to be back playing with the team. It’s obviously not the result we wanted, but we’ve got to push forward.”
In his 30 minutes on the field, Morris showed little signs of injury, showcasing the explosiveness that earned him a role with the U.S. men’s national team and made him one of the best wingers in MLS prior to injury.
Against the Galaxy, Morris did not play his usual winger role and instead came on at center-forward — a position he played earlier in his career and during his collegiate days at Stanford.
Due to Morris’ injury, the Sounders moved away from winger-heavy formations this season and having just returned from a long injury spell coupled with the lack of games left in the regular, Schmetzer will need to be creative to get the most out of the American attacker.
“He’s such a vital part of our team,” said Schmetzer on Morris. “He’s such a huge talent that I would be remiss if I did not figure out a way to get the kid on the field.”
The Sounders final chance to build some chemistry before the playoffs comes against the Vancouver Whitecaps on November 7.