ESPN blacked out this game on ESPN+. MLS live allowed me to re-watch games, but the switch to ESPN platform has apparently ended that ability. I waited 48 hours to re-watch, but it was still blacked out. From what I can gather, ESPN+ from Atlanta is one of the few places you could get access to the replay. Instead of doing my normal write-up, I wrote up my thoughts about the game/tactics/coaches/gm and intermixed my regular re-watch stuff after the fact. When I was able to watch, it was on ESPN+’s terrible re-player that has nearly zero functionality. What you’ll seed below is that Frankensteinian article. Enjoy!
I’m usually bullish on the Sounders. I tend to think we have a good roster, with good management and staff, and this combination has led us to nine straight playoff appearances. Since I can’t re-watch the match yet, I will share what I currently feel about the team.
The front office has done a decent job. The Garth Lagerwey haters have some valid concerns. While he has brought in some great signings, failing to sign a few big-name players overshadowed the accomplishments of signing Nico, Roldan, Leerdam, Kim, etc. It’s neither logical nor fair to pick a fall guy among Garth, Brian, Adrian, etc. and blame them for everything wrong. It seems important when evaluating the players that we do the same with the management and coaching staff, because it’s not all one person’s fault.
When talking about the front office, I believe we had a better team than Real Salt Lake. We had more talent on the field and better players and there are few positions I would rather have their guy than ours. That has been the case for many matches. People can argue (and should) that this team has some big holes in the roster, but our team has been better than (or at least close to) the opponents in terms of talent on multiple occasions and yet, we can’t win. A couple instances can be attributed to luck or form, but at some point the coach needs to get his team to play to their potential. Even when missing injured players, that potential is higher than losses (at home, no less) to the likes of Montreal and RSL.
After this game (again, the roster has issues, but we had the better roster) I have some serious concerns about the coaching and adjustments made. Brian Schmetzer has done a good job this season in preparing for games. I feel that this team has come out ready to play in most games and the pre-match strategy has, for the most part, been strong. The defense plays smart and coherently. Our game plans for specific teams actually feel relevant and make sense. I applaud his ability to set up a team in different lineups. A previous concern of mine was that he would run the same formation every match. I especially think the game plans for Columbus, Toronto, Portland, and RSL all made sense.
My big issue is that once anything changes, this team fails to adapt. The inability to adjust versus Columbus after the red was awful. I’ll give Columbus all the credit in the world (they just played 40+ minutes down a man away versus Sporting Kansas City and didn’t concede, they haven’t given up a goal in five games, etc.) but we made it way too easy for them. Losing players against Portland saw Seattle fall apart. Our offense disappeared last weekend as soon as Handwalla Bwana was removed. This is a huge issue, and while some of the thinking makes sense, a team continually under performing after any change in the match is a massive coaching red flag. The reasoning given was poor as well: blaming Nouhou and trying to play Waylon Francis as Joevin Jones shows a real issue with understanding his players and their strengths and weaknesses.
In re-watching the team, they had no known formation. Dempsey was up high, but at times Wolff was next to him, at other times Neagle wandered up there. When Eikrem wasn’t near Dempsey he was dropping almost back to the fullbacks to gain the ball. Delem was randomly subbed off. The central mid pair of Roldan brothers didn’t have a clue where to go and I’m not sure who to blame that on. Misused outside backs on both sides of the field had such bad communication that, had RSL mounted any reasonable counterattack, they would have scored while each side got caught either too far forward or too far back. Where was Neagle playing? He started on the right, long enough to contribute to a goal against, then went high and settled in front of Francis sort of on the left. The reasoning given doesn’t make any sense to me. Subs were at best confusing, at worst horribly mismanaged. We need more players, we need healthy players, and we especially need people to be put in positions to succeed, especially after the inevitable adversity strikes mid-match.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 5.9
Frei has been good this year, but not great. His only MLS shutout of the season was 0-0 against Columbus aided by an early red. I don’t expect Frei to stand on his head and save everything but just as he is capable of the big gaffe (LAFC), he is also capable of picking up a team with fantastic play (MLS Cup Finals). We have seen the first this year, we need to see more of the second. I think he could have done better against RSL and made a difference. Was he asleep on the goal? It didn’t look particularly well struck, but it was RSL’s only decent chance all match and Frei looked fairly uncomfortable with his save attempt. I don’t blame him, but another chance to make a big play was missed. Yelling at his defense and making interview comments only goes so far: Frei needs to play great games every week.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 5.4 (off 67’ for McCrary)
I don’t know why he can’t play 90. Maybe he can and the coaches don’t trust him. Maybe they only sub certain players and refuse to remove any sacred cows who get playing time regardless of form. He has been good and when people start rating him against himself instead of against some weird combination of the best parts of Nouhou and Jones, I think he’ll be appreciated more. After one terrible game the coaches appear to have instilled a vast fear in the young left back, so he no longer gets up field as often, which has hurt the offense a lot. This team desperately needs width to come from the outside backs, and while Nouhou deserved to be talked to after his rough match against SKC, he has been a solid option attacking. Taking the training wheels off a bit going forward seems prudent. I was excited to see him show great growth after being beat in the 46th minute. This play was a carbon copy to the play Dallas scored on against him and this time he took a much better angle, turned on the jets, and shut down the attack perfectly. People are going to make mistakes, and seeing the young guys learn from them is reason to pay attention. Expecting him to finish or pass like a 26-year old Jones is a tall ask, but seeing a 20-year-old Nouhou repeatedly get into good spots is reason to be excited.
Chad Marshall – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 6.2
Chad has shown no obvious signs of slowing down defensively. Based on the opinions of those who are suddenly hindsight geniuses about Dempsey, we should cut Marshall immediately, because even though he still looks good, he’s old or something. In this match he did everything right defensively, and offensively had a number of great headers won that put teammates in positions to score. I’m not sure what more you should expect from him. In this match he was nearly perfect. I didn’t see him get beat, although there wasn’t a ton of action, and he was consistently where he needed to be. On offense, he was a menace on set pieces, continually winning knock downs and pointing the ball towards teammates. A more agile Neagle would have rescued a point in the 93rd on a perfect header from Marshall, who posted up high late. There is no slowing down from Chad, and I see no indication he is somehow injury prone or losing any ability to play the position.
Kim Kee Hee – 7 | Community – 6.4 (MOTM)
With aging center backs on the roster, Seattle needed quality depth in the center while a promising youth pipeline develops. I just read that Garth Lagerwey “can’t sign any good players,” so it’s confusing when I see this guy on the field, who has averaged a touch better than Marshall and much better than Torres this season in my ratings. This guy is 28, big, fast, strong, makes smart plays, and his solid performance this year has been drowned out in all the negative shouting in comments here. He was great in this game, defensively stout and offensively playing with a direct, heads up transition that is refreshing. After an adjustment period, Kim has settled in nearly seamlessly in the defense and adds pace from the back that strengthens the entire defensive band. There were a few moments where I thought his positioning was a little off and I have noted a number of lapses that Seattle was lucky not to be punished for, but his attacking verve and direct service has been great. It was Kim’s header that freed up Neagle for a wide-open look in the 65th, and Kim is starting to be a factor on offensive set pieces.
Kelvin Leerdam – 5 | Community – 5.1
Leerdam has been all over this year. He slaps a dude, costing us a game versus Montreal. He plays tremendous in a losing effort against LAFC. He is inexplicably asked to be some offensive spark by the coaching staff, and while he is good combining going forward, he hasn’t combined well with Wolff in front of him. He definitely didn’t combine well with Francis behind him. Leerdam has a pretty bad temper, and around the 55th minute he started getting into it with Bofo Saucedo. This may have contributed to his poor defense moments later that resulted in the game winning goal, getting completely outplayed by a guy who hadn’t scored a single goal in his career. This was such an uncharacteristic blunder and I assume he was expecting help from Neagle or New Neagle. He got help from neither. As a complementary piece popping up on the outside sporadically and trying unique angles on the attack, Leerdam has looked good. As a pure winger needed to create through dribbling and smart forward movement, Kelvin has completely underwhelmed. Putting McCrary behind him instead of in front of him should have led to opportunities by Leerdam to create; this never happened.
Jordy Delem – 6 | Community – 5.0 (off 58’ for Neagle)
I like the growth of Delem, and he has improved a ton this season. He still is prone to some really bad decisions and awful fouls when beaten, but he is learning how to take his above average control and touch and translate that into a solid MLS performances. Unfortunately, this team needs more than solid from somewhere on the field, and they aren’t likely to get it from Delem. In this game he was very good, asked to be a pure defender which suited his skills well. He wasn’t flashy, but he won every ball in the middle and was a big reason why RSL had zero good chances when he was on the field. Then, attempting to switch things up, Schmetzer yanked Delem and Seattle immediately conceded. This is both an indictment of the change and an illustration of how effective Jordy had been prior to the move. Delem led the team in tackles and interceptions even though he subbed early, and repeatedly won the ball in front of the back four. Delem may not have the ceiling of Roldan and is prone to some wild tackles, but he usually plays calm, within himself, and can be part of a team that needs a solid, unspectacular guy to defend hard and keep possession in the defensive midfield.
Handwalla Bwana – 6 | Community – 5.2 (off 33’ for Francis)
I actually forgot Bwana played in this game, which is silly because somehow this 18-year-old homegrown was inexplicably the linchpin of the entire offense. Seattle looked dangerous going forward with Bwana on the left wing and the minute he was unfortunately hurt, everything fell apart. The coach’s substitutions and formation changes failed, the players suddenly forgot how to attack cohesively, and a lot A.B. (Editor’s Note: Anno Bwana, or After Bwana, if you prefer) was dry, unexciting soccer. When he was on the field Handwalla opened up Nouhou brilliantly in the first five minutes, took on players most of the time (once he backed off from Beckerman though, apparently forgetting that the RSL defensive mid is literally twice his age). He was kicked by Savarino and hurt in this game and with him went the balance and attacking momentum that Seattle had enjoyed in the first third of the match. A.B. was a dark time, and hopefully his injury is minor. Handwalla looked very strong against Toronto and RSL and very weak against Portland, which is about what you should expect for such a young player.
Alex Roldan – 4 | Community – 4.5
Alex looks and plays like a USL player. He hasn’t shown more than decent control and while his possession numbers are okay, only 80% passing with the number of safe passes he takes per game is very low. I don’t know why this team tends to run guys well after their play has dropped off, but it’s been an issue for years and it is painful looking at lineup after lineup with this guy asked to carry the weight in the midfield for a team trying to win. There wasn’t much in this match to get excited about from Alex. His positioning and movement put a ton of stress on those around him, especially his brother. When given opportunities to attack the goal or make the pass that moves forward, he almost exclusively takes the safe/backwards choice. I am not sure if this is a lack of ability or ambition, but he is just not a player who can affect MLS matches positively. At the very least he needs to really improve his speed of play, both physically and especially mentally. He won’t have a future as an MLS player unless he vastly improves his decision making.
Cristian Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.5
Roldan is a great player but he is being overshadowed and impacted by the players immediately around him. Constantly shuttling him around to different places is minimizing what he is good at and asking him to do all these different jobs has hurt his performance. I think Cristian can be a dominant single defensive mid in a 4-1-4-1, but lineup choices had him needing to play as an attacking midfielder, something that only has worked in very specific situations. He was very strong pressing and supporting Dempsey until Bwana was removed. The staff has done a poor job of allowing good players to play where they are comfortable and deal with holes by using substitutes, instead trying to push their better players into less familiar places to try to patch holes. Shackling Elder Roldan with his younger brother in the midfield was a plan that completely fell apart as soon as Bwana was removed, and Cristian’s impact waned after this. Later, with Delem subbed, there was still an ineffective Roldan midfield pairing which didn’t have the ability to get through RSL’s center.
Magnus Wolff Eikrem – 5 | Community – 4.8
I think we have a good idea of who Wolff is. He is a goal direct, vertical connecting player who needs to be surrounded by willing runners and people creating space for passes that he can make. Asking him to be a dribbler or slow possession creator is a huge mistake. His best plays this year have been in surging forward with his head up and finding runners. Seattle rarely has those runners and it has minimized his impact. What I like most about Wolff is his desire to get the ball into the box, and a large percentage of his passes were towards or into the area. MWE has had nearly zero effectiveness connecting with Leerdam, and multiple times in this match asked for a through ball or wing pass only to have Kelvin recycle possession through the center. Wolff was very active early (until the Bwana sub) and then the team was so discombobulated he rarely touched the ball for huge swaths of time. At one point I thought he was playing up front with Dempsey, until he popped up next to Marshall to get the ball. This disorganization was rampant, and I honestly don’t know where he was supposed to be playing. Magnus did a good job looking for teammates, but his over-reliance on crosses and long balls contributed to a not so nice 69% passing clip. His set piece delivery, once considered a strength, is wildly inconsistent. I counted three or four free kicks that didn’t make it over the first man, while others were wonderfully dangerous into the box. Asking a technical player to stand on the wing and create without dynamic movement is a tall ask and Eikrem has shown that while he’s very good driving at the goal from a central or outside channel position, he isn’t going to break down defenses 1v1.
Clint Dempsey – 5 | Community – 4.3
Dempsey rightly gets a lot of criticism for not scoring this year but looking closer, he hasn’t been nearly as bad as his critics want you to think. He has an outstanding 88% passing clip for the entire season, averages 1.3 key passes a game and leads the team with 2.8 shots each match. This hasn’t translated into goals, and the issue isn’t that he is missing goals he should, but that he isn’t getting consistent looks. Much of this is due to a lack of creative players around him, but he should also be criticized for not finishing a few key chances that would have made a huge difference in this season (Columbus and Portland come to mind). Against RSL, he made multiple runs that had a teammate played a smarter/better pass he likely scores, but right now he isn’t getting these opportunities. The few times Wolff and Dempsey combined, good things happened, but these were few and far between. Clint hustled from the front, and while he was isolated, did a great job holding the ball up and setting others up (as evidenced by his three key passes). Dempsey can’t be both the only scorer and only creator and is instead stuck in between and ineffective at both.
Waylon Francis – 4 | Community – 4.3 (on 33’ for Bwana)
The more I hear Schmetzer’s reasoning for bringing on Francis the more upset I get. Trying to turn him into Joevin Jones raises huge red flags about evaluating both players. Waylon struggled against RSL to do much more than run up the wing and chunk in crosses. One of these (83’) should have been dealt with better on the back post, and he ended with two key passes, but expecting the offense to run through Francis is a confusing strategy. I like Waylon and think having him and Nouhou compete is a good thing for both. He offers enough different skills that there are minutes for him on this team but expecting him to be some dynamic left wing is really hopeful.
Lamar Neagle – 4 | Community – 3.8 (on 58’ for Delem)
I don’t know what the thinking is with Neagle. Maybe last year when he was brought in he was told he could fight for a minimum contract and somehow, he earned one. I suppose that isn’t a complete surprise, as Lamar had three playoff appearances last season. (I am not saying I agree with giving Neagle time!) What really confuses me is playing Neagle at a wing position. He has struggled for years to be an effective winger and continuing to toss him out as an option is … hopeful? He struggles to make good decisions and doesn’t open up wing backs or really add much on either end of the field from wide positions. Lamar is okay running off another forward, and is decent at set pieces, but his decision making hasn’t evolved as his skillset has deteriorated. For example, Neagle got a wide open look on an unmarked header in the box in the 65th minute but jumped wonky with unconventional footwork and headed it directly at the crossbar. Sadly, it was one of the best chances for Seattle on the afternoon, and Lamar had an entire far post of the goal to aim at. There is a reason players are coached to head the ball down when attacking frame (it’s harder for keepers to save and more likely to go in the net). Not only that, but Clint Dempsey was expertly running at the far post which effectively made Neagle’s target even bigger. Anything that direction was a literal “simple tap in” but alas, awkward side header off the crossbar was the result instead of instant response to going down a goal. Later, another perfect Marshall header was just out of reach of a slow to react Neagle who somehow could have scored twice this match but predictably did not.
Jordan McCrary – 4 | Community – 4.1 (on 67’ for Nouhou)
McCrary has looked okay as a fullback and has plenty of speed to get up into the attack. Unfortunately, he hasn’t shown much aptitude once he gets there, and using him as an “attacking” sub is confusing. The idea that he would play fullback and push Leerdam up is one that seemed to be in play against Salt Lake, but these two players showed zero cohesion and both were less effective than hoped. McCrary did have one of the best chances for Seattle, but inexplicably tried a volley on the back post instead of a header with predictable results.
Baldomero Toledo – 6 | Community – 5.3
Toledo reffed this match. There was nothing notably different than any other Toledo match where he makes sure the players know he is in charge by glaring at them after every call. I thought his fouls called were reasonable, the yellows were deserved, and my usual complaints about the extra physical stuff being let go by this ref were relatively minor. I thought Beckerman, Sunny, Silva and Delem all got away with hard fouls that could have been carded but weren’t. This was important for Silva and Sunny, who were each on a yellow at the time and while it would have been a soft sending off, crushing Dempsey or C. Roldan from behind should be a yellow no matter where/when it occurs. The game was fairly clean, and the referees did a solid job of not being part of the story.
Real Salt Lake MOTM
Sebastian Saucedo scored his first MLS goal, which also happened to be the match-winner. Predictably, he is your RSL MOTM.
If Seattle can’t beat that same RSL team missing Albert Rusnak and having played a game midweek, well, the sky is officially falling. Seattle will once again have the better team and it’s up to the players and coaches to create a game plan that will be successful.