It has been a couple of weeks since any Sounders team has provided a half of soccer that was fun to watch, but the patient were rewarded with a excellent half from Sounders FC 2 down in Carson, California, Saturday night.
From the first kick it was obvious S2 were looking to play a more aggressive match than they did in Vancouver last week, with high pressure being applied all over the field. Movement was much better from the whole team and there were plentiful passing options and direct, dangerous runs.
The dynamic play style from S2 was rewarded with an early goal in the seventh minute. Starting eleven debutant Felix Chenkam was able to force a turnover in LA Galaxy II’s defensive third with some high pressure. The ball fell to Zach Mathers, who quickly found Ray Saari running into the box. Saari picked his head up and passed the ball to Chenkam, who was able to slide just in front of an LA defender and guide the ball into the bottom left corner.
Just a few minutes later, before LAG II could really adjust to the game state, S2 found another goal when Saari played a 70 yard ball over the top to a galloping Nouhou. The left back was simply too fast and after running past everyone on the pitch, rocketed a ball into the upper left corner of the net.
This aggressive play continued from S2 throughout the first half and they should have scored four or five goals in the first 45 minutes. Unfortunately, S2 was unable to keep their defensive concentration and just before half let LAG II’s Ethan Zubak waltz in behind the backline where he beat a indecisive Tyler Miller and passed the ball into the net.
After a splendid first, the second half was a bit of an ugly watch. LAG II came out with a clear plan to disrupt S2 with fouls at every turn. It has to be said they did so very well and rather skillfully spread their rampant fouling out amongst players to avoid a sending off. The offense still had some good moments but were unable to adequately solve the negative play of LA.
S2’s backline held just solid enough to keep Los Dos off the score sheet in the second half and the team escaped with their second win of the season in just four games. S2 didn’t get their second win until game 13 last season.
Tyler Miller; Brian Nana-Sinkam, Sam Rogers, Rodrigue Ele, Nouhou Tolo; Ray Saari, Francisco Narbon; Zach Mathers, David Olsen (Lorenzo Ramos 61'), Irvin Parra (Shandon Hopeau 53'); Felix Chenkam (Jamie Dimitroff 78')
After a bit of a rough start to the season, Nouhou came into this game and reminded why he won himself a first team contract in the offseason. Nouhou is one of those players who can seemingly fill two positions on the field via sheer pace; a type of player the Sounders haven’t had since DeAndre Yedlin. He was up and down the left side all night providing solid defense, accurate crosses, and a counter attacking threat from deep. He had a team high three tackles and two interceptions while winning five of six duels and providing several key clearances. In the corner, his defense was strong and LAG II never threatened down his side. Nouhou probably has the best cross of any fullback in the Sounders system and he showed that again providing several dangerous crosses.
On top of all that his goal was ridiculous. He made a full speed run from deep in the defensive third to latch onto a ball over the top. He beat everyone to the ball. There are only a few players in MLS who could have made that run and Nouhou is likely the only left back among them. It is not a small thing for an opposing team to have to account for the counter attacking ability of a left back when they turn the ball over.
Felix Chenkam (FWD)
Having previously struggled to impact games coming off the bench, Felix Chenkam was able to put in a fantastic performance in his first start. A lot of what went right in attack this week compared to the match in Vancouver was down to what Chenkam was able to bring. When S2 won the ball in midfield, Chenkam’s good positioning and solid hold up play gave the midfielders a place to go with the ball and start attacks. His pressure up front was excellent and resulted in a goal and probably could have caused a couple more. The young Cameroonian really played his role as a lone forward to perfection.
Ray Saari (CDM)
Ray Saari absolutely bossed this game in the middle of the pitch. He did his usual solid destroyers work, combining with Narbón to make the middle a no fly zone for LAG II. But what has been missing a bit from S2’s repertoire is a little offensive contribution from the holding two. Saari has shown he has the skills to provide some offense in practice but Saturday’s game was the first time he brought it to a competitive match. The stats alone are astonishing. Saari completed 95.7%(!!) of his passes, nine of them being long balls. And this wasn’t just hold possession kind of passing. He was consistently looking forward, trying to start attacks. He ended the game with two assists and four chances created. He was unstoppable and with his attitude and drive on the pitch evident to all, it doesn’t seem like this is a one off performance.
Best performance by an Academy player
Sam Rogers and Jamie Dimitroff both had fine nights. Rogers wasn’t as good as he has been but that he was still steady, even on an off night, was impressive. Dimitroff didn’t have much time to make an impact but did an okay job and had a good moment in the box in the 89th minute that is worth giving a view.
First Team call up power rankings
- Sam Rogers (-)
- Ray Saari (New)
- David Olsen (↓1)
- Francisco Narbón (-)
- Irvin Parra (↓2)
- Tyler Miller is bad at coming off his line. He struggled at it again on Saturday. It is probably keeping him from being an MLS starting quality keeper and will need to improve drastically for Frei to even be a little worried.
- Rodrigue Ele didn’t have a ton to do in his first start but he is for sure one to keep an eye on in the next couple of weeks. First impression is that he might be a very good CB.
- David Olsen had another solid game and his defense is improving drastically.