The Union weren’t surprised that the Seattle Sounders parked the bus, as the famous soccer saying goes, in Saturday night’s scoreless tie at Talen Energy Stadium.
No one should have been surprised, really. The Sounders’ long trip east came for their third game in eight days, which meant it was always likely they’d play backups. But a lack of centerback depth meant that 33-year-old Roman Torres had to start after playing every minute of those last two contests. Seattle’s 5-3-2 formation seemed designed in part to help him out.
Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer might have been willing to loosen the reins if his team were facing a lesser opponent. In past years, the Union might have been that. But they aren’t this season, as Schmetzer knew well. It’s a compliment to the Union that he felt compelled to fend off the home team’s high-pressure tactics with an unabashed defensive bunker.
Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin has seen this sort of thing happen countless times in his travels around the world.
“We are playing very good soccer this year. It’s also a little bit of respect for us," he said in the locker room after the game. “They’re not going to open themselves up over here. ... They were just hoping for some corners and some free kicks, and even a mistake of ours. But I think we didn’t give them any chance.”
The Union didn’t just give the Sounders few chances; they barely gave them the ball. Seattle had just 32.2 percent of possession in the game. The Union took 20 shots to Seattle’s six, created 16 chances to Seattle’s five, and outpassed the Sounders by a whopping 551-223 margin.
Of course, the statistic that matters most ended even. Medunjanin talked about that plenty, not least because he came close to scoring with a free kick that Stefan Frei barely tipped off the crossbar.
“Sometimes, the ball doesn’t want to go in, you know?” Medunjanin said. “But I think still, we showed we are a good team, against an experienced team that has a lot of experienced players — and still, they could do nothing today, because we played good as a team."
Past Union teams wouldn’t have kept up the relentless attack that this year’s squad unleashed Saturday from start to finish. Indeed, as fans know all too well, they might have conceded a late goal. Raúl Ruidíaz’s entry in the 79th minute brought back memories of when Schmetzer’s predecessor, Sigi Schmid, brought Obafemi Martins and Gonzalo Pineda off the same bench at Talen Energy Stadium to beat the Union in the 2014 U.S. Open Cup final.
This time, there was no collapse. Ruidíaz, who played for Peru at last year’s World Cup, touched the ball just once against the Union.
“In a weird way, tonight was one of our better games,” Union manager Jim Curtin said in his postgame news conference.