When you have the longest possible season followed by the shortest preseason, and then add five games in two weeks, lineups will get juggled. Last Sunday we had half our players out for various reasons and still managed to outshoot the opponent 22-5, looking clearly superior for nearly the entire match. Unfortunately for the home team, an early goal against held up and the Sounders were unable to find an equalizer despite dominating long stretches. Losing 0-1 at home to expansion team LAFC isn’t a great start, but when considering the circumstances, it’s understandable. Seattle played without five or more starters and still was the better team. Also, importantly — this Sounders team plays fun, exciting, attacking soccer that is enjoyable to watch. It’s hard to get upset about this loss.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.8
Frei hasn’t missed a beat from the end of last season. In fact, his footwork looks better. He’s calm and under control with the ball at his feet, freeing up defenders to use him as a pressure release. Although the Sounders lost this game, Frei did well with an inexperienced back line, and he was yelling at the defense to push up moments too late to prevent the sequence on which LAFC’s Diego Rossi scored.
After the 11th minute score, Seattle dominated and Frei did everything possible to help the Sounders have chances to come back. In the 19th minute he ranged outside of his box to collect a long ball when Alfaro was out of position. Five minutes later Rossi was again in alone but this time Stef was fast off his line to latch onto the through ball. The second half was less active as LAFC was only able to pressure a number of times on counters. In the 52nd Frei cleared pressure beautifully with his feet, and he was dominant in the air to clear a path and catch a lofted cross in the 63rd.
Frei looks like a dominant keeper that will win a ton of games with any offensive support. His positioning is great, he makes the saves he should and some he shouldn’t, and he’s added even more confident play with his feet, which only increases the defensive effectiveness.
Nouhou – 5 | Community – 6.3
Nouhou is a fantastic talent but is still very raw. Against LAFC we saw a rollercoaster of play from this young, exciting left back. He must improve on staying focused for the entire match, as he was lucky that LA didn’t take advantage of his lapses.
In the first minute was one such instance. Young Nouhou was caught sleeping on the back post while Latif Blessing made a darting near post run and clanged a header off the woodwork. This seemed to wake up the left back, who immediately surged forward with immense pace up the left wing on an overlap only to see his run unrewarded. After a few poor passes and LAFC scoring, it was Nouhou with a bit of magic that nearly saw the game level in the 14th. Finding some space thanks to a nice pick, the Houtrain surged onto the end of a Wingo cross and one timed a tremendous volley that somehow, impossibly, ex-Sounder Tyler Miller pushed wide. This was a fantastic strike and showed a level of offensive sophistication unseen thus far in Nouhou’s career. After the early header Nouhou put Blessing in his pocket and removed him from the match. I noted them at least five times matched up 1v1 with Nouhou coming out on top every time. Blessing eventually switched sides to get away from the Train.
Although he was generally strong on defense (team lead in tackles with four), in the 50th minute Nouhou fell asleep on the backside, completely losing a runner who was in unmarked. He has to clean these concentration lapses up, because in between he shows absolutely dominant defending and increased offensive capabilities. I would also like to see him start to connect square passes instead of just being linear with the ball. Nouhou needs to be really careful with flapping high hands and was lucky in the 93rd not to get a really stupid red for hands to the face of Carlos Vela.
Tony Alfaro – 3 | Community – 3.3 (off via red card 83’)
Alfaro has had every opportunity early this year to earn minutes, but he’s done little to show that he is MLS average. Seattle isn’t used to starting players who struggle as much as he does. In this game he was just a mess. As early as minute 3 he was not goal side of an attacker and when a fortuitous bounce gave him a chance to fix the problem, he instead put a weak header back towards his own goal and an incredulous Frei; it was stolen and they nearly scored. In the 6th minute Tony fumbled the ball out of bounds and showed a lack of poise that we shouldn’t see in a player with Alfaro’s experience. He should have slid over in support of Torres on the goal, and this was one of many times these two didn’t seem in sync at all.
After that, Alfaro did slide in behind Torres on multiple occasions to help clear, but when clearing his decision making was awful. In the 34th Tony forced a central pass to Goose that was nearly a disaster. In the 37th Alfaro wasn’t goal side of Urena and had absolutely horrible positioning a minute later with Seattle lucky not to be scored on. In the 49th a simple over the top ball bewildered Alfaro, who fumbled it to Urena. A minute later, similar to Nouhou, Tony completely lost a backside runner, instead jogging to the middle of the six-yard box and marking Frei. In the 59th and 66th he had terrible passes forward, and at this point the distribution was a struggle that ended with an 81% completion rate.
The start of the end came in the 79th, when from an advanced position Tony had a tremendous thumping slide tackle to win possession in the offensive third. This was a great play, except he then immediately coughed up the ball by trying to run around his right foot and compounded this mistake by rashly and unnecessarily pulling down a player. This frustration earned him a pivotal yellow card that ended up being one half of a red card, earned a mere four minutes later for another stupid slide tackle. Tony has not taken advantage of his chances to start, and with a TAM center back incoming, the writing may be on the wall for his first team minutes.
Roman Torres – 4 | Community – 5.3 (off 46’)
Roman saw his first action of the season against LAFC and he was very rusty. His connection in the middle with Alfaro was rough, he only completed 77% of his passes, and he was repeatedly caught flat-footed on defense.
Early in the match Torres was way too aggressive, especially with his backline out of sorts. This manifested itself in the 5th minute with Roman quite far forward pressing, and when he was beat Svensson was forced into a (luckily non-yellow carded) foul to stop an LAFC breakout. In the 10th minute Rossi completely pantsed Torres, catching him flat-footed and easily rounding the big center back. A minute later Roman was too slow to react to Vela who was allowed to receive a pass in the hole, turn, and assist (nutmegging Torres in the process) on the only goal of the match. In the 18th Roman tried a terrible pass in the direction of Delem, which was easily stolen.
Torres did a few things really well, stopping a 17th minute break with great defense before looking up and finding a nice pass through the lines to put Bruin into the attack. In the 21st after a steal he charged forward as only he can do and was involved in a sustained offensive series, offering a back-side header option. Most of the rest of the first half was more calm and controlled for Roman, although he again was caught flat-footed in minute 42 with the “ole” defense. Most of what I saw from Roman looked like fitness, rust, and communication concerns, rather than a lack of ability. It’s unlikely that we see this back line together again, and with a stronger group around him, Torres should be much improved.
Jordy Delem – 4 | Community – 4.4 (off 80’)
Let’s face it, Delem is much more comfortable as a defensive midfielder, and isn’t a natural right back by any stretch of the imagination. He struggled in the first half of this match, but improved after half with Svensson next to him instead of Torres. Jordy led the team with four interceptions but was clearly uncomfortable with the pace and positioning required of an outside defender.
Delem’s very first touch was a bouncy, weak back pass. His first defensive play was not closing a crosser down who nearly earned an assist. In the 11th Delem showed his clear lack of right back knowledge by failing to remain goal side of Rossi, who promptly scored. Offensively, Jordy wasn’t much better, often overlapping but then getting lost on the wing and unable to add a viable option going forward. Rossi was back to terrorize him in the 24th before making the same run and Delem again failing to defend it.
My first positive mark came in the 32nd with Jordy showing much better marking inside the box, and a few minutes later he aptly followed Rossi on an internal run and blocked his shot. It was Delem’s pass after an overlap that should have earned Bruin a penalty right before half. In the second half Delem was much improved, contributing a nice defensive play in the 66th and showing a well-timed slide tackle in minute 72 which stopped a break while Nico and Roldan were both high and unable to defend. Although he offered zero offense up his side, Delem was quietly defensive and solid after the break.
Gustav Svensson – 6 | Community – 6.3
Goose was decent in a game where he had much work to do defensively, eventually moving back to center back after playing the first half in the defensive midfield. He struggled some in his partnership with Roldan and has a lot to work on with Cristian to solidify their positioning going forward this season.
Svensson was forced into an early foul, but it was a smart one after Torres was caught too high in the 5th minute. Moments later Goose forced a turnover in the midfield and immediately found Lodeiro. In the 11th minute Svensson lost Vela in between the lines and this gave the Mexican star the space he needed to make Torres/Delem look silly. Gustav adjusted well, and a similar attempt in minute 24 was thwarted with some good 1v1 defense. In the 34th Goose was able to manage with a terrible Alfaro pass and a minute later he covered the left back position well. Svensson jump-started an offensive push in the 38th with some good defense and had a nice recovery right before halftime.
In the second half Svensson moved back to center back where he immediately helped clean up defensive positioning. Presented with goal scorer Rossi 1v1 in the 47th minute Gustav completely annihilated the opponent, winning the ball and easily turning the other direction. His passing from the back also helped jumpstart the offense. Goose was consistently calm and able to work out of any pressure LAFC tried to impose on the Sounders’ back line. The Seattle defense was rarely under pressure as the opponents tired, and Gustav showed off his above average motor, running back and forth from corner kick offense to his center back position. Svensson is so valuable with his ability to play multiple positions well and was a clear upgrade to Torres in the back for a half.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 6.4
For the first half the only two creative players on the field were Nico and Cristian, and that was a problem, since Roldan was also tasked with helping all over for a leaky defense. Because of this, Roldan ended with three tackles, three interceptions, and two clearances on defense, and also added three shots. His passing was tremendous as well (89% completion). Roldan has developed incredible control in tight places, with remarkable improvement every season. This was on full display early, as Cristian repeatedly got possession and turned away from opponents to find Nico in space. This is a skill that Alonso was so good at and it’s exciting to see how comfortable Roldan now is in crowds. He consistently sprayed the ball around, whether to Wingo wide (13’), Shipp on the other side (22’) or Bruin on a skip pass (34’).
In the second half Wolff entered and changed the tempo, and Roldan was tasked with more defensive duties as Nico roamed around. This took some of the playmaking off his plate, and Cristian had a quiet second half. He had a great corner kick header that was saved by Miller in the 68th and found Neagle in the box in the 82nd but otherwise was not a big contributor. He did have a one-man counter attack denial in the 73rd which was quite impressive.
There were some small issues with his positioning related to Svensson that will need to be fixed, and I think Roldan should take more of a leadership role in games like this one. With a chance to really assert himself, Roldan was a little muted in his play against LAFC.
Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 5.7 (off 64’)
Shipp continues to be very steady. He comes in, does his job, and rarely has huge highs or treacherous mistakes. I like seeing how active Harry is defensively, adding three tackles and good hustle in support of Nouhou’s left wing while still contributing two shots to the offense.
Shipp made good decisions in this match, and in the 2nd minute with Seattle frazzled, it was Harry whose first touch got the side out of danger and found Nico in space. In the 8th minute I noticed a wrinkle in the formation, with Shipp drifting in cohesion with Lodeiro and trying to fill the voids that Nico tends to leave. This meant a lot of inside and outside running, first to the middle to support the defensive mids and then back to furiously try to provide needed width. In the 13th minute he was actually playing center forward, filling the space vacated by Bruin and keeping the center backs pinned deep.
Shipp had 15th and 19th minute passes go awry and ended the game with a mundane 74% completion rate. While many weren’t vital passes, some, like his 35th minute look, would have released the Houtrain up the wing. I’d like to see Harry connect on these opportunities, using his vision to add some creativity to the game. Once again Shipp utilized a high press defensively and in the 27th was rewarded with a turnover deep in LAFC territory. When given a chance from a Wingo/Bruin combo, Shipp put maybe the best shot of the game aimed at the side netting with a first-time volley only to have Laurent Ciman come out of nowhere to block it.
Shipp does a lot of things right and it’s a shame that he wasn’t rewarded with a goal. In the second half with Seattle charging forward he turned into a mostly defensive player, allowing Nouhou, Nico, and Wolff to push forward at every opportunity. Part of his second half ineffectiveness may have been due to fatigue.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 7.1
Stat wise Nico was impressive. He had 143 touches, which is 46 more than anyone else (Roldan) and a whopping 77 more touches than any player for LAFC. He had 82% pass completion, even though nearly every ball was driving the team forward (6/8 long balls). Nico also contributed three shots and a jaw-dropping eight key passes. He even added a few defensive actions and earned five fouls as well. Seattle completely dominated the second half of this game yet the majority of my notes for Nico occurred in the first half.
Lodeiro missed a wide open Nouhou in the 2nd minute and instead tried an incredibly challenging pass through two defenders to Bruin. He missed a give-and-go with Wingo in the 7th. None of that mattered because Lodeiro was everywhere in the first half. His 8th minute layoff gave Bruin a wide-open look. In the 9th minute he tried one of his own, but Miller was ready for it. In the 21st Nico popped up unmarked in the box and maneuvered for a shot near post that went wide. Five minutes later he beat Benny Feilhaber, who hacked him all game, then nutmegged Dejan Jakovic but was unable to connect with a wide-open Bear in front of goal. In the 27th he made a beautiful pass that should have found Bruin.
Nico missed a few passes and went to ground at least once hoping for a call that the ref ignored. He missed a number of through balls that may have earned even more chances for Seattle. In the second half he played all over, defending and creating chances from the run of play and set pieces. In the second half, Lodeiro’s motor still ran but his effectiveness dropped. I think he missed the comfort of Dempsey and his gravity field opening spaces.
I think that Nico and Wolff can work together, but in this game they were consistently in the same space and making the same runs. This is a concern, even if a minor one. Similar to the rapport that needed to develop between Nico and Deuce, the Wolff needs to work with Lodeiro on their connections. Both players are smart and this shouldn’t be a problem, but there were definitely times where these two did not work well together. In the previous game all three were on the field at once and completely mashed, but this match missed that one more creative player.
Henry Wingo – 6 | Community – 5.7
In his first start, Wingo really filled up the notebook, with both positive and negative marks. Stat-wise he had a respectable two shots, and an impressive four key passes to go with his 91% passing mark. There were a lot of young mistakes, but Henry has a great physique and exceptional pace.
Wingo showed his direct style in the 7th minute, attacking forward on the dribble. Offensively, Wingo made great decisions. His cross in the 16th minute was perfectly curled inside the six-yard box and is an assist if Bruin is a smidge quicker. A 36th minute cross should have been an assist to Shipp through Bruin, but LAFC had some defensive magic. When open on the wing in the second half, Henry was well composed to find Bruin wide open on the 6th in a third pass that deserved an assist yet went wanting. He had a wide-open shot in the 67th but was unable to pull the trigger, instead taking multiple touches and failing to get a shot on frame.
At times he was caught up, leaving the beleaguered Delem in troublesome spots. Henry also struggles with the tight passing necessary on the wing, and he contributed to the early pressure down the Sounders’ right side. In the 36th and 37th he dribbled into trouble. Defensively he was caught out often and needs more work on his positioning. Wingo is a very exciting talent who clearly has a future in the league but may not be ready to start just yet.
Will Bruin – 4 | Community – 5.8
I didn’t like a lot of the Bruin show against LAFC. He was his usual hustling, hardworking forward, but the runs he made were very disappointing and consistently forced his teammates into rough situations. He did have four shots and three key passes, but Will is judged on how he finishes his chances and, in this game, he missed his one giant chance and struggled on many others.
In the second minute Bruin tried a back heel that went hilariously wrong and followed that up with a mistouch turnover. After good movement in the 8th minute his shot from the edge of the area was tame. I don’t understand why he didn’t slide in the 16th on a perfect Wingo cross; Will made the run and the ball was right where he ran to. He had a miserable holdup attempt in the 18th minute. When Torres put him through a minute later it was from nice vision to move to space, but then he immediately turned over possession. In the 27th minute he ran away from Nico, instead of making a much smarter run across the defense. Bruin battled all game as usual and smartly nodded a header back to Shipp in the 36th minute that deserved so much more than a corner kick. Although soft, Bruin should have earned an Altidore penalty right before half, but the ref swallowed his whistle.
The second half was a mess. I noted a 51st minute bad run before completely choking on a pass from Wingo that Bruin was completely prepared for. In the 61st he missed Wolff on a breakaway before missing Nouhou two minutes later. He agilely won a header over Miller for what seemed to be the tying goal, only to have it rightfully taken back because Bruin was offside. Will is going to be rated on how well he does with these chances that he’s talented enough to get, and in this game he was lacking.
Magnus Wolff Eikrem – 7 | Community – 7.2 (MOTM) (on 46’)
Wolff again made a halftime appearance and again was the driving force of the Sounders offense. Although he was in the same spaces as Nico, Eikrem brought a pace of play and attacking desire that was absent in the first half. In only 45 minutes of time he led the team with four shots, added a key pass and a nice corner kick, and was a constant menace offensively.
In the 48th he showed the rest of the team how to utilize Wingo, releasing him up the wing. Eight minutes later he repeated the task, this time leading the young winger directly at goal. Eikrem beat Miller in the 60th minute but his shot went wide on a nasty free kick that caught the ex-Sounder leaning away. A 65th minute backheel released Bwana up the line with a full head of steam.
Wolff just needs more time to work with his new team, as evidenced by his runs being similar to Nico’s and the fire he spewed at some of the younger guys who weren’t making good runs. Great to see this leadership on the field from a new addition.
Handwalla Bwana – 5 | Community – 6.0 (on 64’)
In his first game I thought Bwana looked like he belonged on an MLS field. He has the pace, touch, and vision to be a very good player. In this match, he also showed he is very young and tempered his fantastic highlights with a number of lows.
Bwana’s second touch was a side volley that nearly deflected into goal, instead banging off the crossbar. Moments later he had a shot blocked and was consistently goal dangerous when in possession near the box. In minute 74 he lost the ball and proceeded to follow Vela 40 yards down field and hack him on the edge of the box in what should have at least been reviewed for a penalty kick. This was a very stupid thing to do, but one that is clearly due to youth and not ill intentions. There was some good soccer underneath the rough edges.
Lamar Neagle – 5 | Community – 5.4 (on 80’)
Neagle came in and got in a good spot in the 82nd but screwed up the pass. He got his head on a corner but put it harmlessly wide.
Juan Carlos Rivera – 6 | Community – 4.7
Rivera was pretty good in this game, controlling the match and making generally good decisions. It was nice to see him ignore dives by Feilhaber and Lodeiro in the 27th and 28th minutes and he used advantage play well. What I didn’t like was Benny Feilhaber being allowed to use completely cynical fouls to destroy Sounder players in the 30th, 34th, and 60th without recourse. He eventually got a yellow for a foul in the 69th, but why was he allowed to football tackle Roldan in the first half? Why does Nico have to suffer five fouls every game with one guy continually committing egregious hacks that aren’t normal soccer plays?
I think the two PK calls may have balanced out, but game state is a huge issue and timing matters. A PK right before half that ties the game is hugely different than one given trying to chase a deficit late. I have no idea why we have VAR if they aren’t even willing to look at the Bruin play. I think it’s a soft foul but a foul nonetheless (two handed shove) and I just have no idea why these calls seem to go against us but never for us. The Bwana slide tackle should also have been at the least looked at, and it’s frustrating it wasn’t.
With a whopping, unprecedented 81.8 percent of the vote, Tyler Miller turned in an undeniable Man of the Match performance. (His status as a beloved former Sounder certainly didn’t hurt his numbers, but let that take nothing away from the saves he pulled off in this match.)
Next up is CCL where we can start the home win/shutout streak all over again. There is a lot to look forward to this year with an exciting, deep team just getting started.