I’ve been confident in this team all postseason, and I was delighted to see the players and staff showcasing their own confidence during the 3-1 Seattle win. Even down a goal, the Sounders never looked rattled, downcast, or disorganized. If anything, that LAFC score against the run of play seemed to inspire the away team, and the Sounders began to impose their will immediately afterward. Playing the shield winners, Seattle conceded possession but put together a masterclass of defensive shape, resolute dedication to a tactical plan, and utter domination. Anyone can buy amazing players and draw up tactics, but this team, and this coach, have complete belief in each other. The Sounders do have amazing players and tactics, but it’s the fusion of the buy-in that makes it all work. Never has this been so apparent as against LAFC, where the team was so focused and well prepared that the final score seemed inevitable. It was an absolute joy to witness and a testament to how much team cohesion and leadership matter in achieving results.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.6
Usually everything starts with Frei, but this game was a clinic in team defense, culminating in a three-save, one goal-against match against an LAFC team that had scored 569 goals this year. Stef did his part, keeping his teammates focused and constantly barking out directions and encouragement. He was only beat on one tremendous free kick that took advantage of a poorly executed wall. Frei is a leader on this team, and it showed.
One thing I liked: There was one moment, in the 20th minute, when Brian Rodríguez rounded Kelvin Leerdam and looked in on goal, poised to run away with the match. Up stepped Frei to parry away the near-post shot and keep Seattle in the game. No telling what might have happened if Seattle went down 0-2, but because of Stef, we didn’t have to find out.
One thing I didn’t like: In minute 74 with Seattle in control, LAFC had a weak shot that came in and Frei casually waist-trapped the ball to his feet in an attempt to kill time while about a foot off his goal line. The risk/reward of this play was insane. While I applaud his absolute confidence, the extra seven seconds killed on the clock weren’t worth my ulcer.
Going forward: Frei is an absolute monster in MLS Cup Finals, and that time is now.
Brad Smith – 8 | Community – 7.7 (off 88’ for Torres)
A potential concern going to LAFC was the Brad Smith versus Carlos Vela matchup. Luckily, genius coach Bob Bradley recognized Brad’s 1-v-1 defensive prowess and moved Vela far away. Without the league MVP to dominate, Smith was matched up against Diego “not as good as Pablo” Rossi*, who was promptly turned into an afterthought. Kidding aside, this was a very strong two-way performance from Smith, who both locked down his wing (15 defensive actions) and rampaged up and down the left side offensively, using his speed and attacking instincts to punish an LAFC roster that wasn’t as invested in defense as Seattle’s.
One thing I liked: Brad was a constant force up the wing, looking deadly as a late counter-attacking wide midfielder, but it was his defense that was impressive. Smith locked down his side, combining near-perfectly with Jordan Morris and a defensive midfielder to prevent any wide service. His 1-v-1 transition defense shut down any counter attacks. Most importantly, his defensive position was excellent. Every time the ball was on the other side of the field, Brad collapsed to the middle, preventing any back-side runs, and he was consistently there to clear away anything that made it across the box.
One thing I didn’t like: Late in the match Smith got forward on a breakaway and failed to give the Seattle fans what they really wanted: a Nouhou goal. Fortunately, there’s one more chance for that this season.
Going forward: When the worst thing you do as a left back is fail to give a victory cigar lay-up goal to your third string backup, it’s a pretty strong match. Smith will need to continue his strong defensive effort against Toronto.
Xavier Arreaga – 8 | Community – 7.9
Xavier set the tone early; no one matched the away team intensity led by Arreaga. His physical and assertive play dominated his space, indicating a teamwide dedication to play harder, faster, and smarter than their opponents. Xavier’s 13 defensive actions included an immense seven clearances, 73 percent passing, and about four tackles that had opponents cautiously looking around for the rest of the match in fear. Xavier wasn’t just a smiling wrecking ball, either; his anticipation and positioning were tremendous, mixing physicality with freakish athleticism to show LAFC a defender not to be trifled with. Guess how many fouls he was called for?
One thing I liked: Welcome to the MLS playoffs, Carlos Vela. In minute 10 Arreaga sized Vela up on a “50/50” challenge and trucked the league MVP into the third row. You can debate whether this was a foul, but you can’t debate that it set the tone for the entire match and gave Seattle a mental and physical edge. LAFC wanted to dance and control the ball — Seattle came to dominate and win, and when Arreaga easily outbattled Tristan Blackmon for a header in the 22nd minute, it was a goal in five touches. Seattle never looked back.
One thing I didn’t like: Arreaga walked the line perfectly due to a lenient referee, but man, I could do without the anxiety when he crushes people in the box. It worked out this time, but he will need to quickly adjust in the Final if the game is refereed differently.
Going forward: It’s hard to see the coach changing the lineup that beat the best team in the world of all time, and that means more tucked in shirts and hiked up shorts. I’m here for it. (Zero. He was whistled for zero fouls.)
Kim Kee-hee – 7 | Community – 7.5
As well as Seattle played defensively, Kim had a surprisingly light stat line: five defensive actions, 21 touches, 59 percent passing. Because LAFC had the ball a lot, the Sounders defense worked extremely hard to limit entrance into zone 14, and they did so very effectively. Kim and company limited entrance through the middle to Vela and prevented him from linking up using excellent anticipation and positioning. In the first half, Vela didn’t have a single pass toward goal that was successfully completed.
One thing I liked: Kee-hee was quick to close down space in this match, immediately stepping up with authority and conviction, preventing any player who got the ball from turning and connecting. It takes a lot of faith in your teammates to be this aggressive, and the team obviously trusted each other completely.
One thing I didn’t like: That 59 percent passing isn’t great, and while clearing the ball from danger is perfectly acceptable, there were at least two times that Kim had time to pick out a pass and dumped the ball to the corner instead of finding a teammate. This may have been a miscommunication, but in a game with very little of the ball, Seattle needed to make use of each opportunity to retain possession.
Going forward: Kim hasn’t gotten a ton of appreciation from fans at times, but when he’s lifting MLS cup, we’ll look back and recognize his strengths were essential to the team this year.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 7.5
If there was a part of the field that LAFC was able to exploit in this match, it was the Sounders’ right. The home team attacked through this side consistently and got in behind a few times. As a result, Leerdam had a massive 20 tracked defensive actions, and a paltry 64 percent passing on the second-most touches (58) for Seattle. Leerdam wasn’t bad but was very busy on the night.
One thing I liked: Nine clearances, five tackles, five recoveries. That’s a lot of defensive actions for an outside back and indicative of just how busy Kelvin was. Even though LAFC was in his area often, Seattle never conceded from their defensive right and much was due to Leerdam’s “bend but don’t break” defense. Amid all this pressure, in the 4th, 20th, and 38th minutes Kelvin still managed two incredible over the top looks to diagonal runs from Morris that almost linked up for goals.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle was beat down their right early on in this match and that wasn’t all Kelvin’s fault. What was his fault was a 55th minute offside trap; Leerdam held everyone onside with the entire Sounders team holding a different line. LAFC nearly tied it up, and this kind of mental lapse must be corrected in the Final.
Going forward: Leerdam likely has one more game with Joevin Jones in front of him, and it will be important to watch how they interact on both sides of the ball.
Gustav Svensson – 8 | Community – 8.5
The defensive game plan for Seattle was near-perfect and precisely executed by the players. Svensson was a textbook illustration of this, absolutely dominating the middle and outworking anyone from the other team. Although not blowing up the stat sheet, every time LAFC tried to penetrate through the middle the Goose was there, pressuring the ball back to the width. Oh, and he showed up there as well, providing wide defensive cover.
One thing I liked: LA had zero breakout plays mainly because whenever they tried, Goose was there honking at them and forcing them back. Svensson constantly recovered defensively with more energy and desire than his opponents, forcing LAFC to recycle possession and allowing Seattle to reset their defense.
One thing I didn’t like: Gustav was beat by Vela, and while it’s hard to determine whether there was a foul, the play was whistled and LAFC scored from it. It’s rare, but when Svensson whiffs, it can be catastrophic for the defense behind him.
Going forward: Seattle completely dominated the central midfield and there is no reason they can’t do the same next week.
Cristian Roldan – 8 | Community – 7.8
Roldan’s 17 defensive actions included a team-high six tackles and near-perfect combination with Svensson tracking runners through the middle. Together, these two absolutely shut down the vaunted LAFC midfield, and they collapsed defensively in perfect sync to limit any chances for long, speculative attempts. Cristian wasn’t an offensive force, but his work rate defensively gave teammates the confidence to go forward with abandon in the right spots.
One thing I liked: Roldan was clearly looking to move the ball quickly and it was hugely effective. When he got the ball in the middle from Arreaga, he looked up to find Leerdam or even Jones, instead of slowly finding Kim and waiting for him to take two touches before working the ball around the horn. This minor tweak meant the ball sliced up the field quicker for Seattle, removing two or three of the LAFC front line players from the play, as once the ball was past them, they stood around and watched as Seattle scored.
One thing I didn’t like: Cristian was also guilty of whiffing on the 16th minute goal-creating foul and forced a few passes.
Going forward: Roldan slipped into the box and scored against Toronto earlier this year. When overload by a defensive midfielder is available, look for Roldan to sneak up and get involved.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 7.7 (off 77’ for Nouhou)
Seattle’s wide midfielders were set up tremendously in this match, with both Morris and Jones sucking all the way to the middle of the field defensively to support, suffocating the center of the field and forcing turnovers. A single key pass and 79 percent passing might seem mundane, but especially impressive was Jordan’s dedication to defend every single inch of the field, yet retain enough energy to burst up the wing and support offensively the entire match.
One thing I liked: LAFC was clearly scared of Morris in the first half and adjusted their defense to prevent him from getting the ball in space on the left. This worked out well for the Sounders as Jordan and Seattle smartly took advantage of the defensive gaps to link up Raúl Ruidíaz and Nicolás Lodeiro in the middle and punish them. When the home team tried to suck inside after that, Smith and Morris found success in the wide areas. Morris’ indirect influence is huge, as was his defensive pressure in the 64th that forced a turnover, leading to Seattle’s third goal. His ability to change the game and his growth in tactical awareness have been so impressive this season.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 55th minute Seattle was cooking up the left wing to take advantage of those LAFC adjustments and Jordan just missed Smith on an overlap that saw both speedsters at full sprint attacking the defense. A better pass likely ends in the back of the net.
Going forward: Morris’ ability to attack the defense indirectly is immense, and seeing Atlanta get in behind Toronto, Jordan must be reminding Leerdam and Nico of that hat trick he earned a few games ago.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 9 | Community – 9.2
Before Lodeiro, Seattle had never had anyone this dominant in the playoffs. He continually shows up in the biggest games of the year and this was no different. You wanna talk stats? Eleven defensive actions. Four fouls suffered (that were called). Three key passes. Two shots. Two assists. Two flipping headers won. This was an absolutely fantastic match from a guy who was everywhere. Dropping back into the middle and width to pressure and disrupt defensively, Nico then teleported himself into the forefront of every attack as well, continually poking and prodding the defense with passes and penetration. When LAFC gave him too much space he slotted home the game-winning goal, perfectly placed into the side netting.
One thing I liked: Everything went through Lodeiro, but it didn’t feel forced. Teammates picked their head up and found him a lot as usual, but they didn’t have to look far or force the ball through traffic to him because he was always there. Every time any Seattle player got the ball, Lodeiro was moving to provide an outlet pass and adjusting his movement with perfect tactical precision based on the ball. Nico covers so much ground it’s almost inexplicable to watch him defend on the width, create a turnover, release Smith down the wing, and then magically pop up in the box to support the play. He never stops moving, never stops following up the play, and it’s completely mesmerizing to watch his movement.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico is such a creative passer he can get a little ahead of himself, and at least twice he tried to pass through a defender and gave away possession.
Going forward: You could put Michael Bradley, Bob Bradley, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Wilson Phillips, Captain Phillips, and Philip J. Fry to try to mark this guy but we all know how this ends, right?
Joevin Jones – 7 | Community – 7.4 (off 64’ for Delem)
Joevin has gotten very comfortable with his role as the “possession” winger and has done nicely to morph into whatever Seattle needs him to be. These playoffs have shown him as a speed counter threat, an inverted goal-direct player, and a defensive possession outlet. His ability to mix all of these on the fly has been a pleasant surprise. Against LAFC his 88 percent passing led the team and kept Seattle on the ball while offering two key passes in support of teammates.
One thing I liked: Jones only had five defensive actions, but they were all central. This was a nifty tactical move from the Sounders and saw Joevin working hard to compress the field. When Morris, Smith, and Svensson were on the left defending Rossi on the wing, Jones was sucking all the way to the middle of the field to compact space defensively, daring LAFC to attack the space in behind him. (Spoiler: they didn’t). Offensively, he immediately moved out wide, preventing some overlaps from Leerdam but creating central width that directly impacted the space used by Nico and Raúl to score. This was a tidy bit of adjustment that worked impressively.
One thing I didn’t like: Joevin going right is an adventure, and his 14th minute cross found a throw-in on the other side. Seattle doesn’t necessarily need Jones to be a huge offensive threat, but it would be nice if he combined more cleanly on the wing.
Going forward: Jones has repaid the faith the staff has in him with being part of a tremendous playoff run. It’s hard to see him not starting another Final, and it will be important that he plays much better this time.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 10 (MOTM) | Community – 9.7 (MOTM)
“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.” A guy I know wrote this last week, and boy did that age well. Raúl flippin’ Ruidíaz was a cold-blooded assassin against LAFC. Five shots, three key passes, two goals, and a performance that had the opponents completely bewildered. The home team had no answer for Ruidíaz and his movement, execution and desire. He was the best player on the field and it wasn’t particularly close.
Many things I liked: Everything started up front. The entire team defended heroically all night and none as much as the forward, who had ten defensive actions, seven of which were inside the Seattle half. This dedication to defending constantly hampered any possession rhythm around the back for LAFC and created counterattacks that had the home team looking behind them and tentatively moving the ball around for long stretches of the match. When Raúl got the ball he immediately knew where it should go, making definitive lay off passes or slickly turning to score on Tyler Miller. I have to call out the first goal, as Raúl hit it so hard with the top of his laces in a diagonal motion that it actually knuckled to the top right corner of the goal while everything in his form looked to be bottom left. I’m still trying to process how he did this! (And no doubt so is Miller, who was juked out of his socks by this shot.) Raúl’s confidence was oozing and you could see it early and often as he barely missed audacious first-time volleys. Given another look at the goal in the 64th, he put it away, smiling before it even hit the net.
One thing I didn’t like: Yeah, right.
Going forward: Nico is magic in the playoffs but somehow Raúl is even more clutch. In the biggest game of his MLS career, you know Ruidíaz is going to be stylin’.
Jordy Delem – 6 | Community – 6.9 (on 64’ for Jones)
As soon as Delem subbed in, Seattle scored their third. Coincidence? Nah.
One thing I liked: Jordy was inserted to solidify the middle and he did well, going six of seven passing and keeping the ball for Seattle when LAFC was pushing hard. He may have only touched the ball seven times, but he made sure each was safe and funneled to a teammate or out of trouble.
One thing I didn’t like: No defensive actions in 30 minutes was kind of odd ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Going forward: The transition from right back to comfortable defensive stopper late in matches is almost complete, and if we see him against Toronto it means good things for Seattle.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 7.4 (on 77’ for Morris)
CHOO CHOOO. LAFC didn’t know what hit them when the energetic Nouhou subbed in. He completely invigorated the Seattle defensive effort and charged forward to offer tantalizing counterattack potential.
One thing I liked: You can’t deny that when this guy enters, Seattle gets hyped. His surging runs in the 78th, 87th and 93rd minutes showed off his dynamic pace, chugging up the field and nearly sealing the game with pure athleticism. When Raúl gets the ball in the 93rd minute in his own half, Nouhou is on the 18 defending. He then outsprints everyone on the field to get in on goal and nearly scores, forcing the best (toe) save of Miller’s evening. Nouhou doesn’t have to make that effort, but hot damn it’s fun.
One thing I didn’t like: After he nearly scored in the 87th minute he was a bit lax defensively, and should err on the side of defensive strength over offensive runs. But who are we kidding? We all want a Nouhou goal. JUST GIVE IT TO US.
Going forward: Nouhou isn’t a starter right now, but he’s clearly a valued teammate and someone who is trusted to come in and contribute.
Román Torres – 6 | Community – 7.0 (on 88’ for Smith)
Román came in to ostensibly help with size and defense late, but LAFC never really challenged him. Most of his work was physically standing up players and “gently” ushering them out of his area. Torres was very effective at doing exactly that.
One thing I liked: Román got one touch, and he did what he does with the ball late — put his massive foot through the ball and propelled it far away. That was enough to help Seattle make another Final.
One thing I didn’t like: I didn’t see any bunny hop postgame celebrations.
Going forward: Román’s injury might have cost him the chance to start in the Final, as Schmetzer and company have a difficult decision with three effective center backs. My guess is Román is saved for late like this match, and any PKs that are needed.
Jair Marrufo – 7 | Community – 6.8
Marrufo was consistent, and that was nice to see. You can debate whether you think he allowed too much contact, but I absolutely loved that he let it be known exactly what was and wasn’t a foul and then reffed equally fairly to each team going forward. At no time did this match ever feel out of control and while there were some heavy physical clashes, Marrufo was always calm and in full command of the match in front of him.
One thing I liked: There was a lot to like. Consistency. Ignoring an obvious dive by Eddie Segura in the 45th was great. Bringing the ball back after playing advantage when Nico fouled an LAFC player behind the play was excellent refereeing. The cards made sense. The precedent for inadvertent hand balls was also set, and followed through all match, which is a credit to the center and VAR teams.
One thing I didn’t like: Marrufo let a lot go and I generally didn’t mind the physical play since he was fair about his application of the rules. However, there were a couple of late plays that I thought were fouls or deserved more, such as Vela cleaning out Roldan after a clearance, or the Adama Diomande foul on Arreaga in the 94th that was cynical and unnecessary.
Going forward: It’s rare that Seattle benefits from a referee allowing a lot of contact, and against Toronto the Sounders will need to understand the game flow and adjust immediately.
Eduard Atuesta carved a sublime free kick early in the match and it could have been the beginning of a very long night for the Sounders. Instead, well, you know.
Let’s win another one.