Seattle brought their old and tired team to the game against Real Salt Lake and dominated the match. Although they didn’t score until the 64th minute, the old and tired Sounders controlled the game from start to finish, creating a ton of quality chances and limiting the opponents to a single shot on goal. RSL did well to possess the ball and force Seattle’s old, tired legs to chase. Some strong halftime adjustments got the home team more in control and moving more cohesively as a group. While still limiting Salt Lake’s chances at goal, the Sounders confidently created great looks, putting away two for a comfortable 2-0 final score.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.2
Frei had a single save, and it was right at him. Watching the match, it was rare that RSL created much to threaten Seattle; it was a workmanlike defense from everyone across the back. Stefan was excellent at directing traffic, consistently yelling and gesturing to guys to get into correct positions. Most importantly, he had a shutout four days after getting the ball out of the net behind him three times.
One thing I liked: Stefan managed the team’s defense very well, and as a result he didn’t have to make a lot of spectacular saves like the guy at the other end of the field. Resolutely adhering to playing from the back, Seattle often created strong counter attacking play through Frei’s good footwork.
One thing I didn’t like: It was nice of RSL not to press the Sounders defense for most of the game, yet there were a number of nervy moments as Seattle narrowly worked the ball out of the back.
Going forward: Frei is an absolute monster when it counts, and it counts now.
Brad Smith – 7 | Community – 7.0
RSL had some early luck against the Seattle defensive left, but after getting some help Smith and Co. were excellent. He had 10 defensive actions, most on the width, and I was impressed with his work to limit service into the back from wide areas after a few early miscues. Although only getting a single key pass, Smith picked his spots to get forward nearly perfectly.
One thing I liked: In the second half RSL just couldn’t handle the waves of left-sided attack from Seattle. First Jordan Morris was released up the wing by Smith, then Smith took his turn to get forward. RSL’s Aaron Herrera was completely on his heels, forced into seven recoveries in the corner while committing a game-high four fouls. He was completely overrun by these two sprinting by him. While he concentrated on direct runs, Smith dropped a ball in behind to Raúl Ruidíaz, who assisted on the game-clinching goal.
One thing I didn’t like: Smith facing his own goal is a horror show. Once again, dealing with a high bouncing ball in the 61st, Brad had an awkward “clearance” that went straight up and forced an alert Kim Kee-hee to bail him out.
Going forward: A much bigger challenge incoming for incumbent starter Smith.
Kim Kee-hee – 7 | Community – 6.8
Kim showed outstanding range against RSL, consistently pushing up into defensive areas to prevent the opponents from getting a good rhythm, and making smart decisions in the back. Fourteen defensive actions included Kee-hee leading the game with five interceptions. He was fantastic jumping into the passing lanes and earning Seattle the ball.
One thing I liked: Kee-hee as the right-sided center back unlocked his offensive aggression and it immediately paid off. In the 57th minute he found a line-skipping pass from the back all the way to Ruidíaz checking centrally, which then immediately jumpstarted a counter attack through our left-sided pace. It’s essential to Seattle’s success to punish teams who try to collapse and leave the back side (and all that speed) open, and this connection did exactly that.
One thing I didn’t like: Kim had a number of poor clearances early, and it took him a while to consistently make clean contact. Clumsy challenges or passes that aren’t crisp will be punished by teams better than RSL. His 61 percent passing must improve.
Going forward: Román Torres’ injury likely puts Kim back to the right, and his versatility in playing both sides has been an under-appreciated bonus this year.
Román Torres – 6 | Community – 6.7 (off 49’ for Arreaga)
Torres and Kim were strong with their half of defensive combination. Once again Torres was a dominating physical presence in the back, leading the entire game in clearances in only 48 minutes.
One thing I liked: Torres consistently came across to help when needed, but also did well to limit RSL attacks down his side. Always willing to stick it in, Román was physical but fair in his time on the field. There’s something comforting about having him on your team when there are altercations, and Román has shown a milder, controlled intensity on the field since his return.
One thing I didn’t like: Older players getting muscle injuries when playing two games in short succession is unfortunate, but not a huge surprise. His sub limited the player changes that could be made.
Going forward: Torres has been very solid since he returned from suspension, and his injury forced the team to scramble. The way he was jumping around after the match makes me hopeful that he’ll be available to play in one of the next two matches.
Kelvin Leerdam – 7 | Community – 7.1
For a guy who had struggled much of his MLS career when playing on short rest, Leerdam looked fit, fresh, and active. While the Sounders offense was fast and surgical on the left, Seattle actually attacked more down their right side through the controlled and intelligent link-up play anchored by Leerdam’s work up the wing. Nine defensive actions combined superbly with a shot on goal and two key passes on the offensive side.
One thing I liked: Leerdam’s back side run was rewarded early in the second half with an excellent far post ball that he absolutely hammered. This would have been a goal if not for a defender getting his face in the way. Kelvin kept popping up in the attack, and after a gut-busting through ball from Nico nearly got Leerdam in behind in the 63rd minute, Kelvin earned a corner that Svensson and Lodeiro used to break the game open.
One thing I didn’t like: Leerdam could have had more chances but was indecisive on a couple of occasions, often taking a fateful extra touch that allowed RSL to recover.
Going forward: When Kelvin gets involved offensively, it’s almost an embarrassment of riches.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 8.2
One of the main reasons RSL didn’t have much offensively was the wall of defensive actions Svensson earned near midfield. Thirteen times RSL tried to test the Goose, and he was up to the challenge each time. It looked for a while like he was going to run himself into the ground chasing the ball, but some player positioning changes did magic for central midfield success. When he had time on the ball, Svensson was quick to look right, finding long ball success switching the ball to the width. When he got forward, he found two shots and a key pass to add to his massive set piece goal.
One thing I liked: Seattle has so many ways to beat you. Svensson has popped up at the near post to win headers twice so far in the playoffs, adding another dimension to the attack. Many players might jog on the near post run after seeing so many go far, realizing that you also have to get back defensively — not Gustav, who commits strongly to this run every time, and against RSL his header was strong and true.
One thing I didn’t like: Goose is lucky not to have a bad wheel after the horrid tackle that he suffered.
Going forward: Goose showed little fatigue, and as long as his ankle is fine, should be excited to have another crack at the LAFC center.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.3
Roldan had an interesting performance against RSL. He only (for him) had 10 defensive actions, only completed 68 percent of his passes, and stat-wise looked to be a bit of a dud. This couldn’t be further from the truth, as he was very successful in this match, growing stronger throughout and impacting the game in a ton of little ways. Whenever Salt Lake looked to break, Roldan was in perfect position, and whenever Seattle needed a run, it was often Cristian getting to the right spot in support.
One thing I liked: Cristian had a 61st minute set piece header that nearly scored. He had a key pass, setting up a great Seattle look. When pushed to the right by subs, he responded not with fatigue, but with renewed energy, almost single-handedly running out the clock while also creating a plethora of chances through his determination.
One thing I didn’t like: Seeing Roldan get rolled up on and stay down late in the match was alarming. We take for granted how absolutely indestructible this guy seems, but I was getting flashbacks to last season’s playoffs without him. Whew.
Going forward: Do you remember the BS red card that kept Roldan out of most of the last match versus LAFC? Cristian does.
Jordan Morris – 6 | Community – 7.3 (off 71’ for Delem)
Just about anything he did was bound to be a letdown from his fantastic hat trick game prior, but Morris did well on clearly tired legs to add what Seattle needed. He didn’t score, but had two key passes combined with 82 percent passing in a match where the Sounders didn’t need him to score. While still not linking directly with Smith, Seattle appears to have found ways to integrate both into the attack on the same side with devastating effect.
One thing I liked: Jordan’s pace is well known, but the absolute genius of his offensive movement turns that pace into a nearly unstoppable weapon. Morris rounded keeper Nick Rimando on two separate occasions, getting behind and creating absolute havoc for the opponents. The constant waves of Smith and Morris up the left side were awe inspiring.
One thing I didn’t like: It sucks to have to use your third sub in the 70th minute. Jordan was clearly tired and it was a brave and correct move, but not having a safety net for 20 minutes was nerve wracking with Roldan, Goose, etc. going injured at times.
Going forward: Morris can put the team on his back and carry them forward. He didn’t have to this match, but he showed a veteran’s ability to still make a huge difference.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.6 (MOTM)
This guy doesn’t score a ton of goals in the regular season, but he can score some huge ones in the playoffs. This was a fabulous effort from Lodeiro, with four key passes, four shots, 11 defensive actions, a goal and a post, and a reply every single time RSL tried to do anything on the field. He was everywhere, not only out-working everyone else in the match but also having the exquisite technical ability to leverage that insane work rate with successful soccering.
One thing I liked: There were many ridiculous passes that showed off Nico’s ability to see and respond instantly to tiny advantages, picking out the runs of Morris, Raúl, etc., but his goal was sublime. Lodeiro sprinted past multiple defenders in support of Ruidíaz, picked up a smooth square ball and hit the ball first time over the keeper and into the upper side net far post. He made it look easy, but this was a world class finish when you take into account the speed and angles involved.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico himself wasn’t sure if it was offside on Raúl, checking the AR vigorously on his run. Knowing it was close and VAR exists, it was a pretty risky move. I am not an advocate of getting cheap yellows for taking your shirt off (or blocking free kicks, etc.) and definitely don’t want a card for something that might not even count. In all the scuffles after I was laser focused on Nico, willing him not to pick up anything else.
Going forward: Midweek matches don’t scare Nico. He is playing as well as I have ever seen.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.4 (off 62’ for Rodríguez)
Jones is growing into a right winger nicely, and his game evolved this week into a possession and facilitation role. That had mixed effectiveness, with his defensive actions increasing in a very solid effort behind the ball, but limited offensive success. He did manage a shot on goal and 81 percent passing on his 33 touches.
One thing I liked: Jones is excellent at holding the ball in traffic, and this helped Seattle transition up his wing. His calm control on a number of occasions brought the Sounders into the attack with numbers, and Joevin’s decision making to switch and find Smith on the opposite wing was good.
One thing I didn’t like: Offensively there wasn’t a lot. A well struck long shot didn’t trouble Rimando much, and his entries into the box from the right side were for the most part ugly. While I liked his 54th minute over the top vision to see Morris, the pass was not good and killed a nice opportunity.
Going forward: Seattle needs to get everyone involved going forward to beat LAFC, so if Jones starts, he has to be more goal dangerous.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 | Community – 7.5
Raúl didn’t score a goal in this game, but he did just about everything else. He had an incredible eight shots, four on frame, to go with two key passes (one assist) and a ton of movement to create gaps for teammates all match. Ruidíaz doesn’t slow down and continues to torture defenses for 90+ minutes, continually getting the ball in the box and attacking goal.
One thing I liked: While Ruidíaz was getting a ton of shots on goal, he also was immense with his back to it. He has an impressive ability to win contested headers or control with nearly every part of his body and keep possession with massive center backs crawling all over him. Against RSL Raúl consistently got the ball and turned to open up explosive backside runs or held it to allow the Seattle mids to move upfield. These workmanlike things just rip the defense apart, and gave Nico an open shot on goal to seal the match.
One thing I didn’t like: Ruidíaz might lead the league in “almost awesome goals.” It’s hard to watch him do these amazing things only to have Rimando stand on his head or a defender desperately lunge and get a toe to deflect. Raúl is so close to a bundle of goals it’s excruciating.
Going forward: Raúl forced Rimando into a few saves Miller likely can’t make. We will need him to score against LAFC, and I think he can.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 6.9 (on 49’ for Torres)
Arreaga was likely thinking his best chance to get on the field was a five back line late while holding on, and instead he came in right after half for Torres. He did well, slotting in seamlessly and holding his side down, combining with Kim to keep the clean sheet.
One thing I liked: Arreaga was great in the air, winning headers and confidently clearing any danger that Seattle had. This was a bit of a weakness with Kim and Smith on the same side, and Xavier erased that.
One thing I didn’t like: His 44 percent passing was not good. The sample size (nine) isn’t a lot, and clearances to get the ball out of the back and safe is fine, but there were too many losses of possession coming off his foot.
Going forward: Arreaga likely still has something to prove, and he might get that chance with the Torres injury.
Víctor Rodríguez – 6 | Community – 6.9 (on 62’ for Jones)
V-Rod came into the game and while he didn’t have the immediate tangible impact of the previous game, he added an element in possession that Seattle didn’t have prior, with his insertion flipping the possession stats completely to 60-40 in favor of the Sounders in the minutes following him entering. He was a part of the sustained offensive attack that resulted in the Svensson goal, and in 17 touches Rodríguez completed 100 percent of his passes with a couple of recoveries on the defensive end.
One thing I liked: Seattle didn’t need to isolate Víctor and have him go 1-v-1, and against Salt Lake it was his smart movement and combination play that worked. He had two shots and a key pass and showed the ability to mirror the movements of Nico, with each buzzing around the point of Ruidíaz to combine and link in impossible-to-defend ways.
One thing I didn’t like: This guy might be snakebit, as both shots he had looked destined to be goals, with the first prompting a ridiculous Rimando save in the 86th after a beautiful run through, and moments later he got into another tremendous spot and put it over. It didn’t matter on the night, but Seattle needs those goals moving forward.
Going forward: Víctor might not be a starter in the Seattle coaches’ eyes, but they are definitely committed to getting him on the field with time to change the match, and he has the ability to do just that.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 6.2 (on 71’ for Morris)
Delem was a surprising early third sub brought in to spell the exhausted Morris. He did well defensively, but struggled to keep possession and was for the most part invisible.
One thing I liked: His passing percentage wasn’t great (57) but his decision making was. He was continually in the right spot and supporting teammates. His won header over Sam Johnson in the 81st minute went to Smith, who found Raúl, Nico, and a final goal.
One thing I didn’t like: Delem did have a shot, set up nicely by Roldan working on the right wing, and he promptly deposited it into ECS.
Going forward: Delem has earned his time as a defensive stopper late in matches, and he’s done well.
Alan Kelly – 9 | Community – 6.3
Kelly reffed one of the best matches of the year. He had consistent control of the match, his cards made sense, players were protected, he consulted VAR when needed, and he did an all-around excellent job.
One thing I liked: Starting in the 3rd minute with letting advantage play before bringing it back for a foul, Kelly was on his game. An instant yellow for a 27th minute tactical foul was given. When Morris slipped, he correctly ignored the crowd’s pleas. This strong, assertive, efficient refereeing went on all match, culminating in an 83rd minute red with zero hesitation.
One thing I didn’t like: As with any game, there were a few fouls missed. I thought he missed at least one professional foul that should have been carded for stopping play deliberately, but he chose to go with warnings, and that worked for this match. RSL committing 19 fouls without a persistent infringement was curious, but explained by some actual “last warnings” which were effective.
Going forward: Seattle has had good referees so far this postseason, and our team has played well. This correlation isn’t huge, but when a team doesn’t commit many tactical fouls, having a referee like Kelly helps.
Real Salt Lake MOTM
I’d have to go back and check the records, but this might be the most comprehensive opposing MOTM vote we’ve had. I suppose a match in which he saved (almost) everything combined with the fact that it’s his last after an unrivaled 20 year MLS career will do that.
Off to LA to play a pretty vulnerable juggernaut team. Go Sounders and go Toronto.