Going into this game, you might have justifiably been worried about the match against Sporting KC. Owning a sparkling record and the second-most points in the league, the home team was matched up against a Seattle squad without a single goal or point in league play, and without multiple key players. While my prediction of a Sounders win didn’t come true, they did play very well on the road against a good team, scored two goals and earned their first point of the year. With the addition of some players next week and the continued recovery from health and discipline issues, Seattle can perhaps leave some of the tainted first two months of the season behind them due to a strong showing in the midwest.
Stefan Frei – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 7.4
Stef had quite a bit to do against SKC, with eight shots on target coming his way (out of 12). Even though two made it past him, I thought Frei was exceptional in many aspects of his game, including ball control. With the home team employing an opportunistic press, Frei was asked to be an added outlet for the fullbacks and responded by showing great feet and keeping possession for Seattle. When necessary, he also put the ball long and out of harm’s way. The Sounders were more effective at playing out of the back than in prior games against Kansas City.
This was very evident in the 13th minute when Frei touched the ball four times on the same sequence, eventually clearing the ball after opening up the midfield for Seattle with possession in the back. Stef wasn’t called on to do anything much until Khiry Shelton found himself wide open on the six-yard box and Frei responded with a fantastic reaction save. This set a nice tone for Seattle, who controlled play well for long periods of time even though they conceded a penalty in the first half.
The Sounders played very compact early, but in the second half pushed more numbers forward to open up the game. As a consequence, Stefan was more active in the second half, coming out nicely for a rare over the top attempt in the 48th. Just three minutes later Frei was down to his right to make a clean save on a shot that was shielded by multiple players. In the 57th Graham Zusi got in on the right and his cross was dangerous enough to force a save by Frei; he held onto it well, preventing any rebound to the middle of the box. All game Stef’s area awareness was stellar and needed, as Seattle struggled marking on set pieces and needed position saves in the 69th and 83rd to stop open headers from SKC attackers.
Frei had a risky short pass in the 50th and he’ll want to watch tape on the Zusi goal (keepers hate getting beat near post) but otherwise — as usual — he did what was needed for Seattle to earn a good result.
Nouhou – 3 | Community – 3.4
I am still on the Houtrain. This dude has amazing physical talent embodied in strength, agility, and incredible speed. Against SKC we saw some substantial issues in tactical soccer play; there is still a lot to be learned by this young left back. Stat-wise he was okay with a key pass, 72% completion rate, six tackles and five interceptions, but two huge stats jump out. First was that Nouhou had the most touches on the entire Sounders team, nine more than Nico and 15 more than Elder Roldan. You don’t want your young left back running the team, but that is what he was asked to do, and it’s a big problem. The second is 1/7, which was his completion rate on crosses. This isn’t all his fault, but if you are going to run your entire team through your left back (see above), you hope he makes better decisions in the final third (he didn’t). He needs to work on the offensive conclusion of plays, or he shouldn’t join the offense.
I have a ton of notes about Nouhou, and he did a few good things and a lot of bad things. His defensive positioning was generally strong, and he continued to look good in most 1v1 situations. There were many mistakes as well, but instead of breaking them all down, it’s important to consider why they happened. I think they were because Nouhou is not experienced enough to handle the situations: the team asked too much of a young player to carry the team and when forced into a role, he lost mental concentration at critical points. With Joevin Jones in front of him taking all those offensive touches, Nouhou was allowed to play a simpler tactical game last year and he responded excellently when asked to play a defense-first role. This game clearly saw him tasked with more, and he wasn’t ready. Sure, there were long stretches of good play, but then he blinked and Johnny Russell (veteran player) drifted around him for an open header, and we saw the frustration on Nouhou’s face as he tried to blame Frei.
Later he lost concentration and Russell beat him into the box, but this time the young left back compounded his error in a desperate slide that cost Seattle a goal. Forced into a role he was unfamiliar with, we saw a disastrous decision in the 78th. After charging forward with the ball he took a terrible long shot, and then loafed it back on defense. I still can’t tell if he was tired or thought he had help, but what is almost worse than that play, which resulted in a goal, was moments later (84’) somehow Nouhou had the energy to again try to charge forward into the attack. These are bad decisions and inexperienced plays that aren’t unfixable, but Nouhou reacted poorly to being put into a high-pressure position.
Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 6.5
Marshall had a bit of a clunker for him, which means a fairly good game for about anyone else. Only 74% completion accuracy is low for Chad, and he failed to complete any of his five long balls, which are usually a strength. Marshall did once again show up on the offensive end, continuing to be a resource that Seattle should exploit often as he is nearly unstoppable on set pieces.
Chad did well early, sliding across in the 5th minute to defend and often stepping up to deny entry to Shelton who was attempting to post up. Marshall followed Shelton across the face of goal in the 23rd but inexplicably dropped off him to step towards the ball, allowing the SKC striker an open look from up close that forced a great save from Frei. Near the end of the half it was first a set piece header off a rebound that kept the ball in play and then a second flick header that perfectly landed where teammate Bruin couldn’t miss the goal. This was an enormous emotional victory to score right before half and due to a fantastic effort from Marshall.
The second half was up and down for Chad, including sliding behind the increasingly advanced Nouhou often. Marshall was badly beat by Ike Opara in the 52nd and 69th on set pieces and was lucky that neither turned into a goal against. I liked his 88th minute step on Espinoza, and Marshall was part of a group that forced SKC into mostly outside shots and set pieces.
Roman Torres – 6 | Community – 6.1
Roman has improved in every game this season and looked pretty good against the Sporks. He didn’t have any standout defensive statistics, but Roman’s partnership with Marshall looked strong and he worked well with McCrary on his right. Torres did have a ton of clearances, and only connected on two of his 11 longball attempts, likely due to the KC pressure.
Roman stepped forward well all night, and he did so in the 6th minute to deny an entry pass. He just missed a nice over the top pass to McCrary a minute later. In the 9th after great defense on Shelton to win possession, Roman immediately played a poor pass to the middle that was stolen. I really liked the communication on the right side of defense, in particular a 14th minute switch that saw Torres slide wide with Jordan inside him, perfectly in sync. Roman was beat 1v1 inside the box in the 23rd by Daniel Salloi, who otherwise was a complete non-factor in the match. Torres’ smart near-post pressure opened up Bruin in first half stoppage time for the opening away goal.
Roman was strong in the second half and there was very little KC attack through his side. With the adventures of Nouhou on the left occupying everyone, Roman stayed in his position and pushed forward judiciously to support Seattle’s attempts to score. Torres has had a rough start to his season, but in this match he limited the big gaffes made in prior games and looks to be rounding into form.
Jordan McCrary – 6 | Community – 5.7
McCrary looked like a decent, MLS quality right back, or at least a solid back-up. Similar to Oniel Fisher who he ostensibly replaced, Jordan is also prone to a few head scratcher plays each match, but stats-wise he led the team with six clearances and had three interceptions. His passing definitely needs improvement, with those clearances dropping an already low completion rate to a paltry 58%. He had very little interaction with the player in front of him, who may have been a ghost, and Jordan did well to compensate for this.
After linking with Bwana in the first minute, this combination ceased to exist. These two were unable to work together in any capacity with McCrary often left on an island to punt the ball forward out of harm. Jordan was judicious in attacking but had a great 7th minute run end roughly with a lousy cross into the stands. After playing steady all match, McCrary had a crazy out-of-nowhere studs up tackle on a play and was rewarded with a very dark shade of yellow card. Not only was this a bad tackle but it was an unnecessary time and place to be that physical and completely out of the blue. After this he settled down.
It seemed that McCrary was asked to stay home more; at least that’s what he did, and Jordan was solid holding his side defensively at the expense of offense. Rarely did he get forward and support the attack but did so nicely in the 58th and briefly earned a PK. McCrary did an excellent job of picking his spots to join the offense and showed smart decision-making in the back. There is room for more of this in the future, and I was pleased with a majority of this outing from a back-up. Most importantly, he didn’t slap anyone in the face.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 6.6
Goose is playing great and shows remarkable consistency so far this MLS season. Svensson just completely dominated the midfield, with a fantastic eight tackles, shutting down attempt after attempt by SKC to move the ball through the middle. Svensson and Roldan really had their positioning near-perfect for much of the game, with one central while the other ranged.
Gustav was very active defensively in the first half, winning tackles and alleviating pressure. He would often drop back between the center backs to support versus the SKC pressure and shunted all attacks wide. Svensson won ball after ball in the middle before popping up in the offense in the 35th and threaded a beautiful pass through three players to put Bwana in on goal, but was mainly occupied with covering for Roldan in the middle as each concentrated on defensive positioning.
In the second half things opened up a little more but again it was the Goose constantly winning midfield possession and turning away SKC attacks. After Alonso came in, Svensson immediately dropped deeper centrally, playing flawlessly behind his teammate. He did have a pretty big gaffe on an 83rd minute free kick, completely losing Ilie Sanchez on a set piece, but Frei bailed him out. I’m not sure how the defensive midfield will shake out as Alonso returns, but Svensson has been one of, if not the most consistent player on the team early in this MLS season.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.9 (MOTM)
Like Svensson, Roldan did very well, especially defensively through the middle. These two looked very in-sync, moving smartly off each other and constantly covering whenever one would support wide. Cristian has the added ability of quality attacking that was accentuated when he moved higher. Roldan ended up with a key pass, 85% passing and a goal to go with his strong defensive effort.
The first half was all about positioning and these two d-mids were excellent. Seattle kept very compact, forcing KC to try playing through Roldan and that’s largely why KC had few chances from the run of play. In the second half Seattle changed tactically as players tired, asking Roldan to dig deep into his stamina reserves and go from busting his ass all over the defensive midfield to busting his ass all over the entire field.
He did exactly that, and it was very helpful for Seattle. Perhaps overlooked in the Alonso sub was exactly what Roldan offered as an advanced midfielder. While his goal was well taken (and much harder than he made it look) he wasn’t spectacular as a creator on offense. What Cristian did was become the hold-up player that Bruin had failed to be all match. Suddenly there was a relief valve for the pressure that SKC was putting on Seattle and the solution was a disciplined player confident on the ball willing to look upfield (Alonso) and a player showing in the middle as an option (Roldan). This worked well and it shows Cristian’s impressive awareness of tactical positioning. Roldan filled this need on the field and it immediately opened up other channels.
Handwalla Bwana – 4 | Community – 5.3 (off 68’)
Once again, Bwana doesn’t look ready for MLS speed of play, physicality, or tactics. Handwalla struggled hugely against SKC, only touching the ball 19 times in his entire shift, completing just 62% of his 13 passes. He was credited with a shot and had a single tackle as his only defensive action. Bwana ran a lot, but offered little that directly helped others, and this game he was even without the fancy dribbles that he has used to open up the field in the past. I’m sure he was played for his energy and ability to fill in holes as Nico roams around, but there was little that stood out.
In the first minute Bwana looked okay, getting on the ball in a good spot but he was timid and didn’t attack the goal with authoritative motion. Bwana needs to mentally speed up, and in the 5th and 21st minute he was just lost on defense, completely clueless on where to be. He had a chance to dive near post with Nouhou dialing in a cross in the 15th minute but instead made a looping far post run, hiding his massive 145-pound frame safely behind Matt Besler and completely out of the play. Bwana was pushed off the ball easily in the 22nd and resorted minutes later to pointless and not even close midfield slide tackles that removed him from SKC attacking sequences. After a magnificent pass from Goose put him alone in the box, a hesitant Handwalla took too many touches and then kicked well wide of frame, failing to either shoot early at goal or find either of two hopeful Sounders runners through the box. Right before half I caught another really heavy touch, which continues to be a problem for this player.
I think he played in the second half, but there were zero notes, and this was a very disappointing outing from Bwana. Although positionally he did okay to help Seattle’s shape, he was a complete non-factor in the game, and possibly prevented McCrary from doing anything other than babysitting the right side. Handwalla has a high ceiling but the last two matches have been poor.
Nico Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 6.8
Watching live I knew Nico had played pretty well but didn’t think he did much to stand out. The tape showed just how important he is to the team, as his constant movement wreaked havoc with the SKC defense all night. Lodeiro just kept getting stronger as the game ran on, and he tired out multiple Sporks with his endless drive. Nearly all positive offense came via some smart movement or passing by Nico.
After trying a through ball to Bruin in the 3rd minute Nico posted himself in the middle and provided some needed holdup. His movement through the lines is so visceral and effective, he’s like a family circus cartoon with a purpose. And there is always a reason for his movement, such as in minute 16 when Lodeiro floated to the left and unlocked Alex Roldan for a wide open cross. Nico can find passes through the tiniest gaps and did so a moment later, this time putting Nouhou into a huge left-sided area alone. In the 23rd it was back to the right side, backheeling McCrary up the line and into the attack. Lodeiro moves so much you might think it’s just physical exertion without purpose but he showed again in the 35th that he could be the hold-up option that was lacking and his checking run opened up Goose to put Bwana in. Right before half Nico did two huge things. First, while others worried about the health of the crossbar that Bruin had just brutalized, he busted his ass to get the ball back in play. Second, he showed a fantastic long throw (who knew?) that earned him a secondary assist. Heads-up play by the captain.
The second half was classic Nico, floating around and setting up players. He found Alex Roldan for a 70th minute shot and added a very nice free kick in the 81st. As both teams tired, Nico increased his defensive workload. After the introduction of Alonso, he was a consistent option for Ozzie to find in transition. Nico is playing very well and looks to just need a few more quality players around him to really excel.
Alex Roldan – 7 | Community – 6.3 (off 88’)
I’ve been a critic of Alex, seeing a guy with a high floor but not a super high ceiling. I didn’t think he had enough MLS skills to excel at that level and would likely be an S2 player. That may still be true, but I was really impressed with his play Sunday and Alex showed he belongs on the MLS roster. Making his first MLS start, Alex responded with a shot, a key pass, 83% completion rate, multiple defensive actions, and excellent positioning. Perhaps most importantly, this guy doesn’t lose possession.
I don’t know what they feed those Roldan kids but they are both fantastic at shielding the ball and keeping control under pressure. In the 2nd minute Alex showed comfort pushed up against the sideline, and expertly worked out of traffic via Nico. In the 5th he nicely tracked a Zusi run forward, showing a willingness to defend from a wide position that is needed. Five minutes later was a really nice sequence that accentuated his tactical smarts. With Lodeiro roaming and other Sounders in possession, Roldan orbited around Nico’s run, eventually finding space and the ball. Because he had moved so intelligently, he was able to work a give-and-go with Lodeiro and open himself up into space for a cross that he put right near post where Bruin should have been. This was high level movement and something I frankly didn’t know Alex was capable of. He followed this up with nice possession in the middle in the 15th (did I mention he doesn’t lose the ball?), a 16th minute backheel and excellent spacing on a Nouhou cross a minute later, forcing Opara into no-man’s-land trying to defend two Sounders. Minute 65 surrounded by multiple Sporks — doesn’t lose possession. Two minutes later Roldan was nutmegging Opara and earning a free kick on the edge of the box. In the 70th he was having a crack from 25 and putting it just wide. This nice sequence ended three minutes later when his Jordan Morris left-footed pass neatly found Bruin in space and earned Roldan his first assist.
Alex wasn’t perfect, losing the ball once dribbling on a break with numbers forward and struggling to help Nouhou on the left at times. He definitely should have supported more on the last goal of the match and at times seemed unsure what to do when Nouhou rambled forward. This match so far exceeded my expectations for this player that it’s hard to get too down on him for mistakes. I still don’t know what his exceptional MLS ability is or how he fits into a roster positionally or tactically. But having a ton of solid if unspectacular soccer skill combined with an intelligent, tactical mind will go a long way to making Alex Roldan a good utility player on this team.
Will Bruin – 6 | Community – 6.6
Bruin confuses me. On paper he’s amazing: four shots, goal, assist, crossbar hit, two key passes, 78% passing, even a few tackles. Yet with all that my notebook is filled with a multitude of crummy plays, bad positioning, and perhaps most egregious, an inability to understand what the team needed of him and adjust accordingly. I believe in this game Seattle needed a player to hold up the ball, offer an outlet, and bring the midfield into the game (think Valdez). Instead, Bruin continually ran away from the midfield, wide and often offside, looking for over the top balls to get in behind the defense (think Morris). When Seattle looked best was when they had players who filled this first role, whether it was Nico, Cristian, or Bruin himself. This is a game state thing that really drove me nuts watching, like if those little guys could do it, Will could have as well.
In the first minute Seattle had a cross and Bruin faded his run to the back post. This happened continually, (8’, 19’, 24’) and it’s a big problem. Someone has to run across the goal face, as allowing MLS center backs free headers on defense is not a way to score. Seattle doesn’t currently have the wide service to put a perfect ball over a defender in front of a keeper, and this is what Bruin’s runs consistently ask of guys like AR and Nouhou. Yuck. When Will did go more near post like the 17th minute, good things happened (even though he completely whiffed from six yards out, it was a good chance). Multiple times Bruin came back to harass the SKC defensive mids and this was awesome. What was less awesome was after creating turnovers seeing Bruin immediately go vertical, offside, and hope for an over the top pass. Will somehow missed a free header on a great Lodeiro pass right before half, and then stabbed awkwardly at a Marshall flick to score the first goal of the Sounders’ MLS 2018 campaign. This was such an important goal for the team we should probably forgive the miss and ugliness.
Bruin should know by now that he doesn’t need to run by guys. The run on his assist was a good example of just how slow he is and as he realized that, he then made a good decision to pick out a secondary runner. I wish Will was able to understand in game what is needed of him, because he can be much more effective by adjusting his positioning and runs. Bruin got a lot of good stats, and people will say that’s all that matters, and maybe it is.
Osvaldo Alonso – 6 | Community – 7.2 (on 68’)
Much has been said about the “instant impression” from Alonso and he did well for sure. Jeremiah showed some nice graphics of his defensive actions and stellar 96% passing. While I loved seeing Alonso back and playing well, I think his impact was part of a number of adjustments, which included getting a very ineffective Bwana off the field and moving CR to a hold-up midfielder position. Ozzie’s part of the equation is his unique ability to dive forward with the ball through the heart of the field, something he showcased immediately. After a 68th minute steal his first touch was vertical, and this fractured the SKC defense. Seattle, no longer beholden to a midfield pair that was mainly passing square and back, could suddenly move forward as a unit and stretch the defense through the middle, instead of over the top runs. Alonso was fantastic in transitioning Seattle quickly from defense to offense and was immediately impactful and dynamic in the central channel.
Ozzie was stellar, beating Espinoza and working the ball through a nice give and go in the 80th. He was, however, nowhere to be found on the goal in the 78th scored in a position that was often occupied by the guy he replaced in the match. Alonso still looked out of shape as well, not showing burst speed and appearing winded at times as he works back to full fitness.
Magnus Wolff Eikrem – 5 | Community – 5.3 (on 88’)
I’m not sure why subs weren’t used earlier or more often, but perhaps Brian Schmetzer didn’t want to rock the boat when Seattle had a late lead and was playing well. Eikrem’s introduction didn’t change much, and with only a few moments to work into the game he was unable to find an impact. Wolff is a very good player but perhaps the coach was listening to my thoughts that he works better with technical players and saw the gameflow and said let’s keep this bullet chambered.
Drew Fischer – 6 | Community – 5.4
SKC games are hard to ref, and Fischer was good for the most part. With VAR, now more than ever, games come down to a few big calls, often ones that the center has little control over calling. In this match I thought he was okay. SKC’s PK was an easy call, even though some people didn’t see much verifiable contact and the player clearly pulled the landing gear early. The McCrary foul in the 24th is an easy red for some refs, barely a foul for others. I am obviously happy he went with yellow, and honestly think this is what the play deserved, especially after watching some other similar tackles around the league.
I may be in the minority in thinking the McCrary PK warranted a much finer look. You aren’t supposed to be able to gain an advantage by having your arms in an “unnatural” position, and that’s the definition that is at play here. If you think (like the ref) that the hands are naturally there and the ball hits them then okay, but there is some advantage gained by coming in with your arms so high and this was closer than many believe. There is a reason guys like Nouhou clasp their hands behind their backs when they make these plays, and I’ve seen similar instances of ball to hand called a penalty based on positioning.
Overall, it was a well-reffed match and my only real issues were with three SKC players who got away with too much:
1. Sanchez went down in the 22nd holding his face in a clear dive and attempt to elicit a red card — this bs needs to be punished. He later had a deliberate foul on a break (44’) that was not carded and then stepped on Nico in the 72nd to stop another break; no card then either.
2. Medranda had a very bad two-footed studs up tackle in the 24th on McCrary, easily as bad as the McCrary foul. But because Jordan leaped over the attempt there was no call. In addition, Seattle lost possession on this play so they were actually penalized for their player not sticking in a leg and getting broken. Medranda later killed Alex Roldan on a foul without a card in the 81st minute.
3. Last was Roger Espinoza, who constantly hacked people as is his usual standard and even after getting a 53rd minute yellow, continued to foul often to stop a player who had beaten him. One was only a minute after his card! After the whistle at the end of the game he got away with a deliberate stomp.
More could have been done to curb this behavior of intentional tactical fouling to disrupt Seattle counterattacks. Otherwise the ref did well to control the game.
Sporting Kansas City MOTM
Graham Zusi and his game-tying goal dominated the MOTM voting. He deserves it for not only recognizing the opportunity and making the run to be in a position to score, but also for having the audacity to go near post.
This was a strong result against a very good team. Seattle should be full of confidence coming home this weekend to play a weak team. They can’t overlook Minnesota, though, who have a lot of offensive weapons that a porous Seattle defense should be wary of.
*Special thanks to my editing team who worked from New Zealand while on vacation to ensure this week’s ratings were readable.