Seattle Sounders started their 2019 MLS campaign on Saturday night and quickly showed much potential for the upcoming season. Upstart FC Cincinnati grabbed an early lead, but similar to team Nightfall in the media game, it turned out to be nothing but a mirage as the better team quickly exerted their hold of the match and created chance after chance, resulting in a 4-1 scoreline that could have been much worse for the visitors. These ratings may be generous given the expansion team opponent, but I felt the whole team played well together and they played above the level of their competition while cruising to an easy victory.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 7.0
This was a quiet match for Frei. He was credited with two saves on a total of seven shots against. He spent the majority of his night organizing the back line, keeping positioning and offering a consistent outlet with his feet when pressure required it. Better defensive actions might have prevented the wonder strike from Leonardo Bertone.
One thing I liked: With Seattle committed to possessing around the back, Frei did a good job helping to dictate the pace. When asked to control tempo, he used crisp one-touch passing to move the ball around the back. It wasn’t always deliberate, however, and in minute 53 with the ball in his hands, Stefan saw an opportunity and hurled a perfect throw out to Víctor Rodríguez and his dash down field found Raúl Ruidíaz and Nicolás Lodeiro, and nearly the back of the net.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 5th and 52nd minutes Stef had short clearances that were also to the middle of the field. With the middle being occupied by the unimposing height of Nico and Raúl, the width might be a better option in the future.
Going forward: This was likely one of the easier matches Frei will have this season. But, there is always room to improve and Seattle needs to keep clean sheets against opponents like this. The goal against and some of the second half play leaves the Sounders with plenty to work on.
Brad Smith – 7 | Community – 7.0 (off 84’ for Nouhou)
Smith had a very action-packed evening; he was involved in many chances that nearly bore fruit but nothing came of them in the end. He had a massive 112 touches and completed a stellar 87 percent of his passes while earning a key pass along the way. His defense was okay, with no glaring issues as Seattle dominated the game on both sides of the ball for long stretches.
One thing I liked: Offensively, Brad is very patient. While he’s a very quick player, his instincts going forward are excellent and he has obvious cohesion with Víctor and Nico when they overload the left and look to penetrate the wide areas. His speed is great but even more impressive are the angles he takes to maximize that pace, which repeatedly created 2-v-1 opportunities on the left. When given those chances, Smith and crew took full advantage.
One thing I didn’t like: Smith tends to lose effectiveness later in halves. After coming out of the gate like gangbusters, he faded, and his impact on the game lessened as the game went on. This may be due to game state or just lingering fitness, but most of his success came early.
Going forward: Brad adds a repeatable dynamic attacking threat up the left that should produce goals through direct and indirect pressure. Nouhou still has something to say about the left back position, though, and until Smith starts turning in consistent full 90s, I’ll be a little skeptical. For now, this is Brad’s spot to lose and he did well in his first match back from injury. When Smith starts connecting those passes, the assists should start piling up.
Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 6.9
Ho hum. Another boring Chad Marshall game. He had a single tackle, a single interception, and a measly 63 touches. He didn’t even have a single aerial won. At the same time, Marshall completed 97 percent of his passes, escorted Fanendo Adi around the field and immediately bottled up any half chances Cincinnati created through his zones.
One thing I liked: There were zero signs of lingering injury issues after the knee problem that ended last season. Chad, Stef, and Kim Kee-hee were back in tune in the central defense, moving for each other and communicating well. Multiple times Seattle looked to be under pressure and then I realized Marshall had dropped diagonally to the corner, giving Stefan a simple, clean lane to pass and alleviate the press. Chad’s positioning remains impeccable.
One thing I didn’t like: With Seattle’s wings pushing very high and Gustav Svensson dropping back, there was confusion in transition at times. Not a big deal against Cinci, but better teams will take advantage and Chad will need to be in charge of this.
Going forward: Pencil Chad Marshall in for this sort of game another 30+ times this year. He just plays so consistently that until someone proves he’s lost a step or takes advantage of some minuscule mistakes he makes, Chad looks good moving forward.
Kim Kee-hee – 7 | Community – 7.0
This combination in the back of the central defense looks stellar yet again. While Marshall was consistent and safe with his passing, Kim mixed it up with many more vertical attempts. This ended in 78 percent passing but almost all of his errant passes were on long balls that attempted to penetrate the defense multiple lines forward. Kim was aggressive and combined well with Kelvin Leerdam on his side of the field.
One thing I liked: Kim consistently stepped up on the right side, beating opponents to the ball and his aggression often led to chances for his team going the other way. Although his passing was less successful, it was very direct and dangerous, giving Seattle another option to transition quickly. When Kim gets the ball on defense his head is up, looking for opportunity to push forward or find a vertical outlet.
One thing I didn’t like: Kim tends to recover to a position and not to a man, often using his speed to get back into place but failing to mark quickly if there is movement through his zone. This is a minor issue, but if he does make a mistake wide, there is an awful lot of space behind him.
Going forward: Kim and Marshall showed how seamlessly they connect in the back and I look forward to seeing them continue to put this near-flawless defensive effort to the test against tougher competition.
Kelvin Leerdam – 8 | Community – 7.3
After news surfaced that he’d carried an injury nearly all of last season and having had some shaky play in preseason, Leerdam was one of the biggest question marks for opening day. His play did much to alleviate the concern. Kelvin showed consistent defense combined with smart offensive forays that saw him score his second goal as a Sounder. He played well with Morris in front of him and Kim to his left, showing little sign of injury.
One thing I liked: In the 27th minute, with Seattle repeatedly pounding on the door via big name attackers, it was the wily veteran Leerdam who pounced on a loose ball and slammed it home for the equalizing goal. Seeing him in such an advanced position is great, as it shows a desire to support the offense while having the fitness and confidence needed to recover from such high positioning.
One thing I didn’t like: Leerdam backed off players on multiple occasions (including their goal sequence) when I would have liked to see more aggression in his 1-v-1 defending. By dropping and conceding so much space, opponents can pick out crosses at will.
Going forward: A right back scoring goals is a huge bonus to a team that looks poised to create a ton of chances via its assortment of creative attackers. Even more importantly, a healthy Leerdam locking down the right side and opening up opportunities is a good sign heading further into this season.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 6.7 (off 90+2’ for Delem)
The central defensive midfield pairing was under the radar in this match, but boy did those two guys destroy attacks in the middle of the field. The Goose was stellar, with 103 touches and an 86 percent completion rate on his passes. While five for eight on long balls, Svensson contributed a single key pass while being the more defensive of the two holding mids, but still popped up to nearly head in a corner in the 58th minute. He led the team with three tackles and was a consistent presence in front of Chad and Kim.
One thing I liked: As soon as Seattle lost possession it was the tenacious defensive mids who immediately stepped up to prevent counter attacks. Gustav was tremendous, consistently making smart decisions and preventing Adi from doing anything more than passing back to his fullbacks when Cinci tried to break out through the middle.
One thing I didn’t like: A minor criticism, but one of the few times Seattle was beat in transition was in the 13th minute, and the away team eventually scored a wonder goal. Svensson retreated inside his eighteen-yard box, and was unable to then push out to prevent the shot. I’d like to see him yield that spot to the center backs, and instead of retreating to the penalty area be more of a presence at the top of the box.
Going forward: Svensson’s play this weekend alleviated some concerns from a shaky preseason. He will need to build on this for stronger competition, but in this match he was effective in combining with Cristian Roldan to lock down the middle. Nico didn’t have a single defensive action outside recoveries (10) and that’s an amazing advertisement for how solid this pair locked down the middle, allowing Seattle’s best player to roam free.
Cristian Roldan – 8 | Community – 6.9
Roldan was also somewhat unheralded after the match, but the rewatch showed as strong a game as anyone turned in at holding mid all last season. The stats back that up: 90 percent passing over 95 touches, 11 for 11 long balls, one for one crossing, three key passes, two tackles, two interceptions, two clearances, a blocked shot, and a partridge in a pear tree. Cristian was solid in the middle, supported the width, got into the attack and did a little bit of everything on Saturday.
One thing I liked: With Roldan getting back home in the middle of the park, I thought it might take a few games to work the kinks out. Nope. Cristian was great. He did all the things you want from that position and exhibited incredible range. A highlight came in the 87th minute when he showed incredible acceleration and desire to win a 50/50 ball in the center of the pitch up 3-1. Seattle immediately scored, and that kind of effort that late in a match is just another indicator of how good this guy is.
One thing I didn’t like: There were a few times where both Roldan and Svensson got too heavily involved on one side or the other, and while Cincinnati didn’t take advantage, a stronger team might. Quick switching and interchange through the middle will leave gaps, and these two need to figure out a little better spacing to alleviate this concern.
Going forward: This was the start of a huge year for Roldan. He is only going to improve as the team gels over the next few weeks. I loved seeing his addition to the offensive third of the field, popping up and delivering excellent key passes that add yet another facet of an already deep offensive arsenal. One thing to notice is how often on those quick counter attacks Roldan magically arrives from deep midfield positioning before his counterparts, providing a numbers advantage with late runs due to his amazing conditioning.
Víctor Rodríguez – 9 | Community – 8.7
While some people still have doubts about Rodríguez, he continually rewards us with tremendous output. In this match he was outstanding, and I counted at least a dozen times he took the ball into the attack and created offensive chances for Seattle. He ended with eight shots, two assists, and five key passes on 86 total touches, and he could have had multiple goals or more assists. He was fantastic nearly every time he touched the ball, driving at defenders and constantly creating offense.
One thing I liked: The counter. The speed at which Seattle can counter is blinding, and nothing illustrated this better than minute 43. Defending a set piece, Roldan won a header to Nico who immediately recognized Rodríguez already sprinting up field. At that point the breakout was Rodríguez, Morris, Lodeiro, Ruidíaz, and Roldan. That’s incredible charging up field, but Rodríguez calmly found the right pass and the goal followed. Amazing.
One thing I didn’t like: He had a lot of shots but kept getting them blocked. Maybe not a huge deal for the future, but in a closer game it would be great to have a few of those find the back of the net or a teammates foot.
Going forward: Víctor has produced consistently for Seattle, and looks poised to have similar impact as other monster TAM guys like Victor Vásquez and Maxi Moralez. His combination play with the teammates around him makes Seattle so amazingly dangerous. V-Rod just pours nitro into the Sounders tank.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 8 | Community – 8.3
It’s a little crazy that Lodeiro was almost an afterthought this week. He touched the ball a massive 117 times, converted 86 percent of his passes attempted, tied Rodríguez with five key passes, and had two assists. He was somewhat overshadowed by the goal scorers but continues to be the engine of the team.
One thing I liked: His movement was excellent and I really liked seeing him use both sides. Even though Seattle’s left was dominant, Nico still looked forward to Raúl and right to Jordan Morris enough to keep the opponents from being able to just concentrate on the left. When he did overload a side, Lodeiro nearly always created a chance for himself or a teammate and wasn’t afraid to directly attack the goal with shots.
One thing I didn’t like: A few set pieces went awry and a number of through balls were short. Soon I expect him to learn Jordan’s pace, but it will have to wait till next match.
Going forward: Lodeiro is only going to be more effective as his rapport with Ruidíaz continues to develop. Look for him to eviscerate defenses going forward. It will be up to the staff to figure out how best to keep these pieces on the field together and ensure that Nico keeps getting the ball in good spots to make things happen.
Jordan Morris – 9 (MOTM) | Community – 8.7 (MOTM) (off 77’ for Shipp)
Welcome back, kid. What a way to return, as Morris showed exactly the type of match he is capable of from a wide position. He made the most of his 40 touches, repeatedly stretching the field and creating opportunities with his movement all over the pitch. His passing and positioning look better, and when asked to score he put both shots in the back of the net. The first may be debated but there is absolutely no denying his one time, left-footed finish in minute 43 that sent Seattle to halftime with all the momentum. Defensively, his positioning was strong, he made good choices, and his soccer IQ looks greatly upgraded.
One thing I liked: The second goal was amazing, but the first impressed me as well. After switching fields and being part of the play through the box, Morris didn’t quit because he didn’t get the ball. He reset his position onside and then immediately dove back in on goal, putting a dangerous ball through the box that went in. This showed a level of maturity as yet unseen from Jordan.
One thing I didn’t like: Morris was gassed after a long run in the 62nd minute. I’m not sure if leaving him in another 15 minutes was to push his endurance or what. Although he had a few defensive actions after that, it was clear he needed to come off. He will need to improve this stamina as the season progresses.
Going forward: Morris asserted his claim to the right wing spot with both his goals and his defensive play. His ability to stretch the field is already paying dividends. There are a lot of strategic ways to utilize the players on this team and a healthy Morris is the kind of elite talent that makes everyone around him better.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 | Community – 7.7
Ruidíaz continually impressed with what he can do on 30 total touches in a match: three shots (all on target) two key passes, and 78 percent passing. This from a forward who held the ball up when necessary and created and dictated play to such an extent that defenders were falling over trying to double- and triple-team him. Then he scored anyway.
One thing I liked: His goal was excellently taken and the nuances of pace, direction, stepover to make space, and finishing were terrific. He constantly does the equivalent of this without the ball, however, and it’s almost more impressive. Nearly every time down the field when Seattle had the ball, Ruidíaz was weaving in and out of Kendall Waston’s vision and dragging him and Nick Hagglund through the area creating gaps that Seattle used to pour in goals. Raúl just does so much off the ball, it’s mesmerizing on the rewatch.
One thing I didn’t like: Late he had a chance to hit a ball and tried to force it to V-Rod. I get that you wanted to get your buddy off the schneid but you are a striker. A goal scorer. Don’t apologize for putting the ball through the net into ECS. Take the shot, apologize later.
Going forward: Watching Ruidíaz almost score two minutes into the game off a Roldan cross with a near-perfect header bodes well for this team. Raúl is so multidimensional as a striker that he’s lethal from anywhere and at any angle and looks poised to score bunches. Somehow, we haven’t yet seen how good he can be in rave green, and I’m here for it.
Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 6.3 (on 77’ for Morris)
Shipp was good. Came in, calmed down the side and made the passes he needed to make.
One thing I liked: When Harry subbed in, the team didn’t slow down. His entrance was nearly seamless, as he linked up with Raúl and Víctor, sliding across to fill the middle when Nico roamed, etc.
One thing I didn’t like: 83 percent passing isn’t bad at all, but there was some sloppiness at times. He could have kept possession a bit stronger, especially killing a game off.
Going forward: Shipp didn’t get a ton of time to make his mark, but he did exactly what he should do in that time: play defense-first, conservative soccer. While doing so, he also showed off the vision that allows him to be another piece you can put in to supplement quick transitional play.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 6.5 (on 84’ for Smith)
Although surprised to see Nouhou, as always, I was ready for the NH experience. He didn’t let us down, continuing to be entertaining whenever he’s on the field. Two shots and 92 percent passing while flailing his arms and high stepping showed everyone a good time to end the match.
One thing I liked: Seeing Nouhou just have a go. He was clearly ready to fire from deep and he did so a few times, nearly scoring on one occasion as the ball was cleared for a corner.
One thing I didn’t like: He took the ball off Nico’s foot, and recycled possession through Marshall a few times with the team captain on the wing calling for the ball. The coaching staff may have said be cautious there, but if Lodeiro wants the rock, give him the rock.
Going forward: Nouhou is a treasure and even five-minute cameos are fun. He managed two interceptions on the night, which tied him with Roldan and Kim for second most on the team (Leerdam had three) which shows how disruptive his defensive anticipation is.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 90+2’ for Svensson)
Garbage time sub that also surprised. Delem only touched the ball a single time but had a pristine 100 percent passing rate.
One thing I liked: Seeing Delem get on the field for a few minutes. Cultivating a defensive mid to give Goose a rest at times is a smart move and giving Delem a chance to get some reps was nice.
One thing I didn’t like: This move (any move) could have been made a bit earlier. There were some tired bodies out there.
Going forward: Delem did what he was asked to do, and his role should always be similar to this one — come in, play hard for a few minutes, and lock down games.
Chris Penso – 7 | Community – 6.1
I was pleasantly surprised by how good this referee job was. He called 19 fouls and gave out one deserved yellow card. The game never felt like it was getting out of hand, and a lot of that was due to nice positioning and refereeing that made sense.
One thing I liked: Both the yellow to Adi for high hands (46’) and the foul on Marshall (60’) were the right calls. I didn’t see enough for a red on Adi and Chad definitely had his arm over the shoulder of the opponent. I would want these calls to go the same way had the teams been switched.
One thing I didn’t like: Adi deserved a card for the elbow to Kim in the 25th minute and Hagglund had an absolutely cynical foul on Rodríguez in the 91st minute. Late hacks with the game out of hand need to be regulated.
Going forward: Sure, Clint Dempsey would get five games for the stuff Adi did, but honestly, this was a good performance by the refs. They did a very nice job keeping the game running smoothly.
FC Cincinnati MOTM
As surprising as that wonder strike from Bertone was, it should came as absolutely no surprise that he scooped up 2019’s first MOTM.
It was awesome to start out with a win. I was impressed seeing stuff practiced midweek immediately pay off on the weekend. Whether on a Thursday afternoon or a Saturday night under the lights, Coach Brian Schmetzer has shown he knows how to get the most out of his talent. Let’s hope the team can take this momentum into this weekend and get another win against a new look Colorado team.