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Seattle’s X-Men

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How did the x-factors for the Sounders make a difference in the playoffs?

Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles FC - Western Conference Finals Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Before the playoffs started there was a lot of discussion about the ‘x-factors’ on the various teams in the competition. We even got in on the fun as we tried to predict who the Seattle Sounders’ difference makers would be. While our picks were good and accurate because we’re all incredibly smart, they were pretty easy predictions, right? I mean, you pick the coach or the team’s best players or the guys in positions that are important to the way the team plays as being the key to the team’s success every time. If the good players play well, the team probably wins. If the coach’s game plan is bad and the team’s not set up to succeed, they probably lose.

That’s obviously an over-simplification of the situation, but it’s still pretty tough to argue with. In the playoffs you need your star players to show up, and that’s been even more true in the new single-elimination format. A playoff path that would inevitably include a game against LAFC, the Sounders were going to need some offensive fire power, and their stars delivered. In the playoffs the attacking trio of Nico Lodeiro, Jordan Morris and Raul Ruidiaz have contributed a combined 8 goals and 8 assists in three games as the team put up an impressive 9 goals total. Those totals indicate a level of connection and interaction that some questioned prior to this season as folks worried how Morris and Ruidiaz would be able to work together in the same team. If you add Joevin Jones and his two assists, only two of the goals scored were not both scored and assisted by that attacking four. Those other two goals involved contributions from the star center midfielders, with Cristian Roldan assisting Ruidiaz’s first goal against Dallas and Gustav Svensson opening the scoring off of a Lodeiro corner against RSL.

When you look at the individual numbers for those first three players, the performances somehow get even more impressive. Both Lodeiro and Ruidiaz each have a combined 6 goals and assists - Ruidiaz has 3 goals and 3 assists, while Lodeiro has 2 goals and 4 assists - and Morris has 3 goals and 1 assist. Those numbers over three games are good regardless of the circumstances, but really stand out when compared to some of the other high-profile attacking players in the playoffs. Only Carlos Vela’s 2 goals and 1 assist over two games surpasses Morris’s 3 goals and 1 assist over three games, and he still doesn’t touch Lodeiro and Ruidiaz who both really cranked things up for the game against LAFC. For Jonathan Osorio, Alenjandro Pozuelo and...Nick DeLeon (I know, I know, it’s kind of weird) each have 2 goals and 1 assist in their three games. It’s definitely a good rate, and especially impressive from DeLeon who has amassed that total in 108 minutes as a super-sub.

It hasn’t just been the attacking stars who have stepped up in the playoffs, though. The game against FC Dallas was a weird one, and a bit of an aberration as far as the defense has been concerned recently. Even still, the defense has only given up 4 goals to the 3 that TFC have given up, but only allowed one goal on a remarkable free kick in the last two games. The duo of Svensson and Roldan have really stepped up in the team’s defensive game plan this post-season, especially as the team has shut the door on the opposition in the last two games. They both racked up over 40 total defensive contributions across the three games, which is more a measure of how busy they were than anything else, but shows how involved they were. Looking at the individual defensive stats in the context of how the team played - especially as they disrupted the opposition and played to create attacking chances in the last two games - you see where the bulk of their defensive actions came from: Roldan and Svensson had 22 and 20 recoveries each, respectively, with 9 of Roldan’s recoveries coming in the LAFC game. They weren’t just picking up loose balls, though. The two got in a few tackles, as Roldan contributed 10 tackles (half of them against LAFC) and Svensson made 8. They each only lost 1 tackle in that LAFC game, which points to how successful the team was in those challenges.

The CBs were pretty heavily involved as well, with the three - they only ever played a few minutes against LAFC with all three on the field - combining for a total of 76 defensive actions. That’s not quite the same volume as Roldan and Svensson, but one thing does jump out about their stats: in three games the CBs only lost one tackle, a Torres challenge in the 103rd minute against Dallas. In the game against LAFC the CBs did a lot of work to keep Vela and Co. occupied, pitching in 17 clearances, interceptions and recoveries combined. Xavier Arreaga in particular put on a show, with 2 interceptions, 7 clearances and 3 recoveries in that game.

Any list of Seattle stars that lacks Stefan Frei is a hate crime, so it’s time to sing his praises. Frei put up 8 saves on 12 total shots on goal in the three games, which both shows some of his quality, but also the work the team around him did to limit quality opportunities for their opponents. Frei also played his part in helping the team gain and maintain possession with 21 recoveries. Once again, the Dallas game was a bit of an outlier as it contributed 7 of the shots on goal and 4 of the saves, leaving him with 4 saves on 5 shots on goal. It’s all just an example of Frei’s ability to come up big in important moments. Add three punches and zero drops in the playoffs, and it’s clear that Frei’s ability to play an incredibly clean game and come up clutch is an important part of the team’s success.

I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. I do feel pretty confident saying that if the final is going to come down to whose big players step up, I’d count on it being the guys in Rave Green.