After efficiently disposing of an expansion team last week, Seattle welcomed the newly revamped, veteran Colorado Rapids to CenturyLink Field. The Sounders came ready to play and throttled the Rapids in the first ten minutes. Scoring twice in a dominant first half performance, they had an obscene 82 percent possession that could have led to an even more lopsided score. Although Seattle had numerous other solid chances, the second half was a more even affair as Colorado tested the home team’s defense on a number of occasions but ultimately the 2-0 halftime score held up.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.2
Frei’s management of his back line was near-perfect, and Colorado had no miracle shot to ruin his clean sheet. With 15 shots from the away team, Stefan was more active but still only registered three saves.
One thing I liked: Frei was alert and assertive all evening, coming out to catch in traffic and supporting the defense with his feet. There wasn’t much stress, as the defense was able to drop it back to Frei and reset the shape moving forward. With Colorado dropping off their pressure, Stefan was a release valve that also helped control possession in the second half.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle is still trying to figure out how to handle the lack of size through the midfield when Gustav Svensson drops deeper, and it shows with some hesitation by Frei clearing the ball. When the Sounders aren’t able to work the ball through his feet, Stefan on multiple occasion uncorked short, aimless clearances that Colorado was able to immediately attack with.
Going forward: It was great to see Frei and his defense earn a deserved shutout. He may not be “trying” to win GKOTY in 2019, but I fully expect him to be in the discussion.
Brad Smith – 7 | Community – 7.2
Smith was again highly utilized by Seattle (92 touches) and his strong offensive motor powered the Sounders in the first half. He had two key passes and a shot on goal offensively, while controlling the game with his movement and 91 percent passing. Defensively, Brad was pretty good, contributing a very active three tackle, three clearance evening while again being an absolute terror down the left wing.
One thing I liked: Smith and Víctor Rodríguez are dynamite down the wing together, and have clear chemistry that continually pulled Colorado out of position and put Sounders players in for solid chances. In the 5th minute these two demonstrated that as Smith continued his run in behind and retrieved a nifty V-Rod pass before beating the center back and crossing into a dangerous area.
One thing I didn’t like: Sometimes Smith looked shaky defensively down his wing. A poor clearance in the 43rd minute and a few other defensive actions showed his defensive acumen is overshadowed by his offensive prowess. Although he has team support behind him, he should still improve in the few 1-v-1 chances he is tasked with defensively.
Going forward: If Brad keeps showing this dynamic attacking and cohesion on his side while doing enough defensively, he is going to have a big year. The goals/assists stats aren’t there, but the havoc he helps create is tangible and a huge weapon for Seattle to lean on. Smith will need to show he can also defend at some point, but for now he has been excellent as a primary offensive player and until (if) he is exposed for being too far forward, he should continue to make teams pay.
Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 7.0
Dad had another very efficient match against Colorado, again splitting wide and supporting the rampaging left side defensively. His passing was an excellent 94 percent and he didn’t take any needless chances with the ball. When asked to mix it up with the incredibly athletic Kei Kamara, Marshall inserted himself between the Rapids striker and the ball and stayed there all match, preventing Kamara (and any Colorado attacker) from getting behind him.
One thing I liked: Chad and Kim Kee-hee removed the Colorado strikers from the match, blanketing them and allowing Seattle to push numbers into the offense. When split wide in the back, Marshall was his usual calm self and dealt with his defensive duties in his usual efficient way.
One thing I didn’t like: With Seattle splitting the center backs and dropping a defensive mid, it’s essential that passing from the back is crisp. While he only had a few mistakes, a 19th minute pass from a deep left corner was easily intercepted by Colorado and immediately put in on goal with a dangerous chance. If the Sounders are going to vacate the midfield like this, they need to be very careful when passing into the gaps that are created.
Going forward: There’s not a ton to say about the central defense in this match and that’s likely just the way Coach Brian Schmetzer likes it. Seattle shouldn’t expect all teams to drop out of their press as easily as Colorado, however, and Marshall and Co. will need to be able to reset from the back under duress.
Kim Kee-hee – 7 | Community – 7.0
Similar to Marshall, Kim had a quiet defensive night, relying more on positioning and tactics than raw defensive actions to shut down the Colorado strikers. He also had a sparkling 94 percent passing rate, barely putting a touch wrong on the evening. A single interception and single clearance may seem like not much defense, but his positioning and consistent vertical attacking repeatedly denied both Kamara and Diego Rubio entry passes and often jump-started Seattle in the opposite direction.
One thing I liked: Kim has adapted to wide play, which gives Seattle a ton of flexibility. His interchange with Svensson dropping back has been clean, and when Torres subbed in, Kim played a wide position well, showcasing his anticipation skills as an outside back.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 19th minute when Marshall gave a ball away down the middle, Svensson (playing centrally in defense) had to step to the ball, forcing Kim to recover from very far on the right side. In doing so, his off-balance challenge on Diego Rubio at the top of the 18 resulted in a dangerous free kick.
Going forward: It’s easy to nitpick this central defensive pairing when re-watching a game on slo-mo, but the bottom line is this was a deserved shutout from a group that looks poised to repeat last year’s defensive success. Kim’s speed will likely be an asset moving forward, but he hasn’t been greatly tested yet this season.
Kelvin Leerdam – 8 | Community – 7.9
Once again Leerdam showed play that was vastly improved from anything we saw last season or this preseason. He actually had more aggressive offensive positioning than Smith in this match, continually pushing high and wide on the overlap on the right side and showing off the winger skills that were touted when he arrived. Leerdam has been a tremendous two-way player so far this year, pushing high to stretch the defense on the right yet not neglecting any defensive duties.
One thing I liked: Once again it was Leerdam who loitered around the penalty area with intent and then showed strong attacking instincts to volley in his league-leading second goal. His increased energy is great to see. Kelvin was continually getting into the attack, opening up Morris inside him through overlaps, and combining with teammates to attack the right wing before pushing in strong service.
One thing I didn’t like: Not a huge deal, but after a red last year Leerdam has used up his benefit of the doubt about stupid cards. His yellow was harsh, but he needs to “read the room” and see a referee sticking his chin out and glaring for the camera. Seattle’s right back position lacks the depth of other positions on the field and we need Leerdam in the lineup as much as possible.
Going forward: Kelvin Leerdam co-leads the league in goals and while that might not be consistently repeatable, it’s not a fluke. Seattle creates a ton of dangerous chances in very advantageous areas and smart players like Leerdam will benefit.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 7.1
I like what Svensson has done this year; after a shaky preseason he has settled right into a fantastic defensive role. The Goose had multiple blocks, tackles, and clearances while adding a key pass from a deep lying position. His 92 percent passing was clean on the ball and he looked even more comfortable splitting the central defenders and facilitating possession from back to front.
One thing I liked: Without being forced to link through the middle, Svensson gets to dictate the game from deep central areas. His vision and ability to switch the field via over the top passes has thus far been tremendous, and in the 23rd minute he hit a streaking Leerdam on a dime from the left flank to the right. These passes take advantage of Seattle’s wide pace as well as leverage against a defense that gets pulled out of shape from one wing to the other.
One thing I didn’t like: Almost the entire match Svensson was tremendous stepping up to prevent breaks as Seattle surged forward and was perhaps susceptible to a counter. In the 25th minute, however, Goose got a card for stopping such a breakaway, as his angle was poor. With so much depending on his cover in these instances, he has very little margin for error.
Going forward: This role looks near-perfect for Svensson, allowing him to play to his strengths in possession and positioning while also allowing him to jumpstart attacks with his over-the-top vision. Teams are going to figure out how to press into the space between the defensive mids, and that will be a big test for Goose to navigate.
Cristian Roldan – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.0
This match illustrated what Seattle missed last year with Roldan on the wing. He is such a fantastic arbiter of space and was completely dominant in the midfield. His quiet dominance gave everyone around him more space and time to perform their duties. The stats — 94 percent passing on 93 touches, a shot, three tackles, and three aerials won — they were great, but the story for me is Roldan had fifteen recoveries (!!!). Of those recoveries, nine were in wide areas on both sides of the field. He was simply everywhere. It is Cristian who frees up Nico Lodeiro and Víctor to roam into the wing and Cristian who covers wide to allow Kelvin and Brad to play so high. Defensively, Cristian fearlessly attacks opponents with the ball, trusting his amazing balance and reflexes to not get beat. This allows him to be ultra-aggressive instead of forced to back off and give space for fear of being rounded.
One thing I liked: Last year we had trouble getting numbers into the box. Not this year. Cristian is an ever-present force planted in Zone 14 on offense. On the first goal, Roldan (your “defensive” midfielder) was on the Colorado 6. On the second, he was open on top of the 18. This is a huge difference in our offense, as Seattle is getting six and sometimes seven players crashing the box moving forward; yet somehow Cristian still gets back to pressure anyone trying to counter. It’s so impressive. Roldan’s gravity on both sides of the ball is simply suffocating other teams and freeing up others around him to play simple, elegant soccer. A central midfielder who can keep up with the lightning-quick counter attacks from our wide players is phenomenal.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 89th minute Cristian lost possession towards his own goal, and with the game still only 2-0, he needed to be careful.
Going forward: Roldan appears to be a huge midfield improvement. His tackling shows an aggressiveness and confidence that is awesome. His full-field coverage is so impressive; he recovers defensively and gives teammates a rest while winning the ball in the defensive third, transitions up the field, and then personally supports inside the area.
Víctor Rodríguez – 6 | Community – 7.5 (off 68’ for Shipp)
For a guy playing with the flu, Rodríguez played well. His touches dropped to 55 and his passing, while still strong at 77 percent, wasn’t as crisp as in game one. V-Rod still managed to combine in a number of the best attacking movements of the night and was dangerous once again up the left wing and cutting inside.
One thing I liked: The offense is so dynamic when Víctor touches the ball, and both goals originated through his wing. The first was a broken play that saw him somehow still manage to thread a near-impossible pass into Smith’s overlapping run, and the second was his own inside run and pass. These show how intelligent his attacking mind is and even when sick, how effective he is at creating chances.
One thing I didn’t like: Víctor didn’t have as much energy as usual and there were a number of times when he didn’t check back to the ball strongly enough, forcing a tough pass for his teammates behind him to attempt. It’s dangerous to lose possession in those spots as the defender has a full head of steam moving forward if Rodríguez doesn’t retain the ball.
Going forward: Víctor was slower this match but he was still able to create magic in tight spaces. He is often the vertical component to Nico’s horizontal. Getting him subbed out for some extra rest is a good thing, as this team often looks to run its offense through his interactions with Nico and Smith.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.9
Another game, another 114 touches for Lodeiro, which was nearly twice the number of touches by any Rapids player. Nico once again was everywhere and pushed the ball from side to side, probing and prodding the defense, continually looking to spring teammates forward. He had good luck creating, with multiple shots and key passes while managing to continually keep possession for Seattle. His work rate contributed to Colorado haphazardly hacking anyone moving through the middle, and he earned four set pieces from being fouled.
One thing I liked: Nico should have had an assist in the 2nd minute, finding Raúl Ruidíaz through the box in free on goal. Lodeiro nearly had multiple goals on smart runs through the box, just narrowly missing on tap-in scores. The number of chances he creates and is a part of bodes well for the team moving forward.
One thing I didn’t like: Lodeiro was uncharacteristically hesitant in a number of critical moments, holding the ball a touch too long and waiting to make the killer pass. This led to a couple of missed opportunities that might have made more of a difference had the score line been closer.
Going forward: The offense was dynamite in spurts, and you can see when everyone is healthy and on the same page just how impressive it can be. It’ll be up to Nico to continue to drive this team to success, as it completely revolves around his engine in the middle.
Jordan Morris – 6 | Community – 6.8 (off 85’ for Torres)
Morris was good, not great this week, but looks to be a quality wide player. His work rate and game-changing pace was again on show, and it’s no coincidence that goals are coming from his side of the field. He didn’t have a shot, which isn’t great, but he had two key passes and strong defense, with Colorado creating zero chances down the Morris/Leerdam side. Some stellar offensive movement from Jordan was unrewarded, but those opportunities will come. It’s excellent to see how improved he is when dropping back in defense, using angles and his speed to clog up passing lanes.
One thing I liked: With the rest of the midfield somewhat … “diminutive,” Morris has become the target for goal kicks and other long clearances and has really excelled. A great example happened twice in the 8th minute: first he controlled a long ball off a set piece and recycled possession through the middle before moments later posting and getting on the end of a long pass from Nico. This was an absolutely beautiful leaping chest pass perfectly down to Ruidíaz, and then you saw Morris open up and offer a direct ball in on goal. The pass went to the space Jordan had opened on the left and V-Rod, and eventually back to Ruidíaz for goal two. Being able to alleviate pressure is great; being able to turn some long passes into instant offense with controlled touches is tremendous.
One thing I didn’t like: Jordan still has a bit to learn on the wing, and I thought his decision-making wide was a mixed bag. In the 50th minute he was on a break and tried a very difficult pass to RR instead of driving with pace into the box. In the 80th he got in deep and instead of taking a shot, crossed into space without finding a teammate. These are decisions he will need to review and learn from for the next match.
Going forward: As the team starts to remember that Morris is out there, I think some of those later runs will get rewarded, but he also needs to make better choices when he gets there. With a surprisingly strong defensive attribute in his wide play, Jordan will continue to impress as he gets closer to 90-minutes fit.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 7 | Community – 8.0 (MOTM)
Again, Ruidíaz showed an incredible efficiency in this match. 31 touches aren’t a lot, but he managed three shots (two on frame) a key pass, an aerial won, and an important 83 percent completion rate. There are a few unheralded skills that he showed off this match, surprising me a little. First off, he did some high-quality hold-up and linking play up front that consistently helped Seattle diffuse pressure and create space on the wings. The second, hidden part of Rauúl’s game is he is quietly becoming a very strong defender. Against Colorado he repeatedly poached possession back with tenacious defensive pursuit, which is amazing effort and great to see.
One thing I liked: His efficiency is majestic. In minute two, Nico found Raúl over the top and he took one touch to control and hit the ball with his second touch, forcing a great save from keeper Tim Howard. In the 8th minute he started the goal sequence by showing for a great Morris chest control and finding Víctor to his left as well as ending it with a calm, composed finish from the penalty spot. Ruidíaz isn’t a spray and pray forward; he’s going to put every single ball on frame, and his movement and accurate strikes are textbook material.
One thing I didn’t like: Although they linked up great for the second goal, I thought Raúl and Jordan were a little out of sync. Both tried to go back post a few times and there was some miscommunication on where each should be going when the left side created imbalances. This should be easy stuff to fix with some tape and practice.
Going forward: Ruidíaz looks capable of scoring multiple goals every match and does so without demanding the team adjust everything to funnel him the ball. Even more exciting is he does so many little things to help his team win, regardless of what it does for his own stat sheet, something truly inspiring to see.
Harry Shipp – 5 | Community – 5.3 (on 68’ for Rodríguez)
Seattle was struggling to keep possession midway through the second half when Shipp was asked to sub in. Harry played well, finishing 19 of 20 passing and adding a few defensive plays. His positional play helped keep Seattle strong through the middle, turning the game back in their favor.
One thing I liked: Harry was subbed in to help the team weather some down time and he did exactly that. Seattle completely changed their possession numbers, going from 34 percent in the 15 minutes prior to him subbing in to 68 percent in the 15 after he got on the field. That’s what the team needed and while it wasn’t fancy, it was efficient.
One thing I didn’t like: Okay, everyone saw it. In the 71st minute a great Morris cross eluded Lodeiro on the near post and found a completely unmarked Shipp on the back post. He chose to go first time and promptly dumped it into ECS. He shook it off and moved on, but that would have sealed the game. Those kinds of plays can make or break a bench player’s future playing time.
Going forward: Shipp might not get a ton of chances to score goals, but he missed a good one in this match. The good news is he was right where he should be to get that chance and is a positive, dependable player who did exactly what you want from the bench (sans miss) in that position and game state. Let’s hope he’s not sent to the dog house again because of one miss.
Román Torres – 5 | Community – 6.1 (on 85’ for Morris)
Torres and his magnificent hair saw their first action this year with a few minutes to close out the Rapids match. It was fun to see Román subbing in for Morris, but it ultimately caused Seattle to adjust their defense to the right to fill Jordan’s spot, pushing Kim wide and Leerdam forward. I’m not sure how many times this year we will see Marshall, Kim, Torres, and Svensson on the field, but it was kinda fun to see such a large yet mobile group of guys able to deny Kamara any aerial hijinks late.
One thing I liked: This was a new look for Seattle, and ultimately it worked. With Kim able to play on the right, Torres looked comfortable and completed three of four passes while adding an emphatic clearance for good measure.
One thing I didn’t like: At times, Kim and Torres were redundant on the right side, resulting in an 88th minute pass from Román going out of bounds to lose possession.
Going forward: It was nice to see Román on the field, and he looked good in his limited time. It’s important to keep him fit and happy, as we’ll likely be testing our bench depth at some point this year.
Baldomero Toledo – 4 | Community – 4.8
In case you don’t remember my referee recap regarding Toledo at the end of last season: “He’s so bad. He misses fouls and then gets a chip on his shoulder and cards everyone and changes game states around his attitude. It’s terrible.” How things change, yet stay the same. Toledo once again turned this into the Toledo show, clearly ready to be “in charge” no matter the price. He was upset about perceived delay in the seventeenth minute. When he doesn’t feel like he’s getting respect, Toledo predictably starts to card and completely changes game state with inconsistent calls and application of rules that tend to be one-sided.
One thing I liked: There were long stretches of pretty good refereeing in the first half. He warned Colorado early about the persistent fouling and then gave a persistent foul card. In a vacuum, many of his calls made sense following the letter of the law.
One thing I didn’t like: It’s just so ridiculous how he appears to ref to the scoreboard. Some of the one-sided calls were so tedious. Suddenly after Seattle scores its second, Toledo ridiculously allowed both a shot on goal and the advantage pull back set piece in minute 19. Toledo gave a drop ball and actually shielded Seattle from having a chance, essentially handing possession to Colorado. Although Goose had just gotten a yellow for a pullback in the 25th, Nicolás Mezquida didn’t get similar treatment four minutes later for blatantly holding Smith. After getting an early yellow card, Keegan Rosenberry was allowed an enormous amount of physical play, essentially being protected by the card for 73 minutes. Somehow after committing 10 fouls in the first 20 minutes, Colorado was only assessed eight more all match. Delay and dissent were only enforced harshly and punitively against Sounders players, resulting in three yellow cards when guys like Kamara were kicking the ball away and getting in the ref’s face constantly. Seattle got four cards in the second half to Colorado’s zero.
Going forward: It’s Toledo. You can argue that he made the by-the-book right call, and I might agree, but I don’t agree that he reffed fairly. Until he stops reffing to the scoreboard and giving leniency to away teams and teams down on the scoreboard, I‘ll keep repeating myself.
Colorado Rapids MOTM
Although it never amounted to much, Kamara was Colorado’s chief threat, using physical hold up play to bring his fellow attackers into the game. But with Seattle controlling the match, he had to resort to dropping deep into his own half to get touches on the ball.
Playing a stronger foe saw Seattle with another fairly easy win. This Saturday is the first road test of the year, against a beatable Chicago team. The Sounders will once again benefit via a red card against the Fire left back last weekend, and look for Morris to take advantage of the replacement player. A road test will go a long ways to further the legitimacy of Seattle’s hot start.