Fredy Montero got the biggest highlight in Saturday's game. The defense was (and will be) rightly praised for its collective effort. The breakout player for the match? My money is on Sanna Nyassi.
The second-year Gambian was all over the field, both on offense and defense. Prior to Montero's game-winning goal, he was also responsible for the Sounders' two best scoring opportunities, forced Red Bulls keeper Bouna Condoul into handling a ball outside the area and drew what should have at least been a second yellow card for Jeremy Hall.
Put together, the 21-year-old had what coach Sigi Schmid called probably his "best game for the Sounders."
"I thought he had a very good effort for us," Schmid said. "He offered an attacking threat for us throughout the game and helped us out defensively as well. I thought he had a good game."
In all the flurry of activity, from the debate over Brad Evans' proper position to Montero's effort, from Steve Zakuani's maturation to the eventual arrival of Blaise N'Kufo and Nate Jaqua, Nyassi seems to have been a bit overlooked.
Mainly, that's a product of playing time -- prior to Saturday's game, Nyassi had started just once and played 148 minutes in five appearances.
Saturday, Nyassi made his best case yet for more of it.
"I think I showed I can play more minutes," the soft-spoken, but obviously confident Nyassi said. But "I'm still not satisfied with myself. Even though I worked hard, I'm not satisfied. I have to go for more."
I counted 23 touches for Nyassi in the match. Of those, I considered four of them negative (meaning they led to a change in possession), 11 of them neutral (they neither advanced play nor resulted in a scoring opportunity) and eight of them as positive. That means more than a third of his touches resulted in a clear scoring opportunity or helped facilitate one, and that doesn't even include the plays he made where he didn't touch the ball but his speed was enough to create havoc.
Almost from the opening whistle, Nyassi was in high gear. Forty-five seconds into the match, Condoul made one of his trademark gaffes by handling the ball just outside the penalty area. To call it an unforced error, though, wouldn't be fair. Nyassi was bearing down on Condoul and would have been one-on-one with the keeper if the ball had been allowed to roll even a split-second longer.
The result was a free kick from just outside the top right corner of the box. Although nothing ultimately came of the opportunity, a message seemed to have been sent about Nyassi's ability to get behind defenders.
He showcased his passing skills on a couple of passes that resulted in solid looks for Evans, who it should be mentioned had another solid game as the center forward. In the 39th minute, Nyassi took a pass on the right wing, dribbled the ball to the corner of the penalty area and sent a cross that resulted in Evans missing a shot over the crossbar. In the 60th minute, Nyassi was given space outside the penalty area and was able to loft a pass to Evans just outside the goal box. Evans was able to get clean look at a header but was unable to get it on goal.
Nyassi also showed an ability to create his own shot. In the 47th minute, he accepted a pass from Patrick Ianni near the right edge of the penalty area, dribbled toward the middle of the field and fired a left-footed shot from the top of the arc that went just wide.
His best scoring chance came in the 53rd minute. Peter Vagenas sent a beautiful through ball to Nyassi, who had blown past Danleigh Borman. Nyassi then beat Condoul to the ball just outside the area, took one dribble to control it and then slid a left-footed shot toward the near post. Borman was able to catch up to the shot just before it got to the goal mouth, possibly denying Nyassi his first goal of the season (although he did have a goal incorrectly disallowed against Philadelphia).
Nyassi, although disappointed, chalked up the miss to a learning experience.
"It was a great play," Nyassi said of Borman's effort. "I think there was not enough power on the shot, though. If I had put a little more power on the shot, I think it would have gone in.
"When I was watching the replay, I wish I had taken another dribble. But that's how you learn from your mistakes."
At the very least, Nyassi appears to have shown to be worthy of putting those lessons to future use.