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The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: Things learned from Open Cup Loss

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Aaron Kovar announces his return while Ray Saari announces his arrival.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-Seattle Sounders FC at San Jose Earthquakes Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

There are somethings that can only be learned in a competitive match. Practice can give the coaches a lot of information about players, but only real game time can reveal the whole picture. Ideally these final puzzle pieces slide into place during preseason games or early in the regular season, and a single-elimination tournament is about the worst place to be fumbling those pieces into place. But what has passed has, indeed, passed. There are discussions to be had about how, why, who got the Seattle Sounders to this place, but let’s put those aside for a moment and look at what the 2-1 loss to San Jose taught us.

Ray Saari looks to be a real deal diamond in the rough

One of the biggest questions about S2 this year has been whether either of their two dominant defensive midfielders would be able to translate their USL success to the higher level of play in MLS. Their performances Wednesday night provided at least preliminary answers to that question for both players.

For Francisco Narbón it looks like he may not, at this time, be ready for the increased pace of play. He was consistently a step behind, and in his 35 minutes his defensive actions consisted of just one recovery, three lost tackles and the foul that got him a red card.

Things looked quite a bit better for Ray Saari, though. Before the Narbon’s ejection, Saari had four recoveries, which, had the game state continued for the full 90 minutes, would have given him an impressive 8-10 recoveries. He continued to always be where he needed to be and kept the ball moving quickly and cleanly through the midfield.

Post ejection, Saari’s defensive stats fell off a bit, but that is because he understood what his role needed to be. He fell back a bit and just took up space, rather than taking risks to pick off passes and loose balls. This helped limit San Jose’s easy chances in the second half. He also managed to get through the entire second half without an incomplete pass, which allowed Seattle some limited but much-needed possession. His only turnover in the second was an unsuccessful cross. This was a performance that, while not flashy, should go a long way towards getting Saari a First Team contract come offseason.

Wingo is not a right back

There has been a lingering feeling that the Sounders might have been ignoring a real option at RB in Henry Wingo. A lot of that has been spurred by a couple of tweets from Matt Doyle and a suggestion from Taylor Twellman that Wingo reminds him of DeAndre Yedlin.

It is clear now that Wingo’s potential at RB was, at the very least, overblown. Wingo now has two starts at RB, one for S2 and one for the First Team, and he looks to have been pulled from both due to bad performance. Wingo looked completely overmatched and lost against San Jose and the Seattle backline was much improved once he was removed at halftime. Wingo has promise but he’s not ready for First Team minutes at RB.

Joevin Jones at RB might be the best of bad options

Jones acquitted himself well on the right side in the second half. He was not the attacking force that he is bombing up the left, but he showed the ability to do well enough defensively on the right. With Nouhou having proven himself to be a competent left back, and also a legitimate attacking option, putting Jones out on the right just to play defense is now a legitimate salve if the RB continues to be a problem spot. We may find out as soon as the next game.

Kovar can kick it

Aaron Kovar looks to be back to the on-the-verge-of-breaking-out form that he was before fracturing his clavicle last season. Kovar was a dynamo against San Jose, constantly up and down the right side, putting in work defensively and creating near the goal. Kovar adds some much needed non-Morris pace to the Sounders’ front four. He also provides Seattle with a much needed dangerous, versatile free kick taker they have missed since the departure of Andreas Ivanschitz. The equalizer he scored was a thing of absolute beauty, he had several other served free kicks that created dangerous chances and even had a couple crosses that gave the Earthquakes trouble.

Kovar fully announced his return against San Jose. He should, without a doubt, take most free kicks when he is on the field and he is likely ready to start challenging Harry Shipp for playing time.

Alfaro is no longer a realistic 3rd/4th CB option

After a couple of good performances with the First Team last year, hopes were high for Tony Alfaro. It now appears those performances were aberrations. Alfaro struggled with S2 at the end of last season and has had a couple of shaky starts with the first team this year. This game was a chance to prove he is a better option than S2’s Samuel Rogers and Rodrigue Ele and, frankly, he did the opposite.

While he had a decent passing percentage in San Jose, he still looked shaky and unsure in his passing. Several times he missed easy passes to Nouhou and was caught pondering on the ball too long several times. He was positionally ill disciplined and both Nouhou and Rogers had to cover for him throughout the game. He goes to ground way too much, which was a direct cause of San Jose’s winning goal when he dove in and took himself out of the play. He just looked overwhelmed, slow and out-thought the entire game.

Mathers likely has no future with the Sounders

The Sounders have always hoped they could turn Mathers into a good MLS No. 8, but he has never developed the defensive aptitude needed. Mathers’ inability to get on the field in a game where the Sounders started four S2 players probably indicates that they have given up on that hope. It’s hard to see much of a future for Mathers in the organization.