Last weekend a lot of good MLS teams absolutely destroyed weaker teams ... and then there were the Sounders, who seemed like a great team playing what looked like a struggling team — and yet we came back from Canada with but a single point. The home team chose to concede nearly 70 percent of the possession and park nine plus players behind the ball at all times, daring Seattle to break the bunker. While the Sounders looked more likely to break the tie, they very nearly handed Vancouver a win in the waning seconds, which made the 0-0 final score both a disappointment and a relief. The Sounders showed a lack of central creativity in breaking down a deep lying, disciplined defense and settled for crosses. Seattle had 32 attempted crosses in this game, more than twice their average in the previous three matches, and they completed only 13 percent of them.
Stefan Frei – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.5 (MOTM)
Two shutouts in four matches and a GAA of .75/g is what you would expect from Frei. He’s looked absolutely fantastic in training this year and it’s translated into wonderful play on the field. Although Vancouver didn’t sustain much pressure on Seattle, they did have 12 shots and forced Frei into making three saves.
One thing I liked: Speaking of saves, two were incredibly athletic sprawling dives that prevented goals and kept the clean sheet by force of will. The first was a 76th minute reaction save on a shross that was headed into the net before an excellent parry wide. The second was in the 93rd minute and was absolutely huge to prevent Vancouver winning the match.
One thing I didn’t like: This was a light game for Frei who had but 20 total touches and so not much to nitpick, but there were a few times the ball went long up the middle and Seattle is just rarely going to win those balls.
Going forward: It’s hard to say the defense is better even though they earned a shutout. Vancouver was able to create enough offense from little possession, so it remains to be seen whether this defense is great or merely good. Frei, for the record, looks more than great.
Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 6.9
Both outside backs set up shop in the Vancouver half and consistently threatened down their wings, but neither had any success penetrating the bunker. Smith was 1/7 crossing the ball and his 82 percent passing showed only one completion into the box in a dangerous area. He was also unable to penetrate via off-ball runs, failing to get into good offensive areas within the parked bus. Defensively he was okay, with few actions due to being so high up the field supporting the attack.
One thing I liked: Brad was fairly strong in the first half, making a lot of vertical runs but seemed unsure what to do with the numbers Vancouver had on defense. Right before halftime Smith made a great move to cut the ball back from the end line and forced a corner.
One thing I didn’t like: Smith isn’t a great 1-v-1 defender, so he often backs off opponents to prevent them from getting around him. Normally that makes sense, but with Vancouver sending two or three players forward at best he should be much more aggressive closing out wide players. With Seattle having four to six more players on defense than Vancouver attacked with in the 39th, 40th, and 53rd minutes, Smith passively allowed the opponents to pick their head up, find a cross, and pick out runners in the box. It was frustrating to see three attackers from Vancouver nearly score on seven defenders (and Frei).
Going forward: Welcome to the bunker. Smith needs to take a long look at tape and see where Seattle can exploit the huge possession many teams are likely to cede. He is tremendous in transition, but this match was a playbook for how teams will line up until he and his teammates figure out how to crack it.
Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 6.9
After a rough game in Chicago Marshall bounced back with a typical Dad match. He had a fantastic 96 percent passing rate while defending well with four clearances and two tackles. With Vancouver rarely pushing numbers forward, Marshall’s job was mainly to find safe horizontal passes and funnel the ball to playmakers. He even chipped in with three shots, although none forced a save.
One thing I liked: Marshall was in good position on set pieces, and nearly scored in the 51st minute when a ball ended on his feet about five yards out. Chad only missed two passes all match and it was his 78th minute redirect in the box that was a bit of genius. Understanding he didn’t have the angle or power to go towards goal, Marshall instead headed a cross back across the field and onto the waiting foot of Raúl Ruidíaz, nearly earning an assist.
One thing I didn’t like: Chad isn’t the best transition defender, and he had a rather embarrassing attempt to stop the 92nd minute break that ended with him sprawled ungracefully in the middle of the field and the ball behind him.
Going forward: No surprise to see Marshall bounce back with a solid defensive evening, contributing to a clean sheet. Seattle puts a lot of pressure on the back line to be perfect as they send a huge number of players forward so it’s worth watching how Chad mitigates his speed deficiency as teams attempt to break out quickly.
Kim Kee-hee – 7 | Community – 7.9
Kim played well against Vancouver, understanding the game state and consistently pushing forward into the opponent’s half to support a very advanced Seattle team. Like Marshall, Kim was near perfect in distribution, also earning a 96 percent completion rate with considerably more vertical passing than Chad and 28 more passes (74).
One thing I liked: Kim consistently puts in 90 plus minutes of work and none was more important than his hustle in the 93rd minute. First, he raced across to confront Joaquín Ardaiz in the box after a break out. Although he was beat inside for a shot, Kim never gave up on the play, with an absolutely amazing effort to run across the goal mouth and picture-perfect slide tackle to assist Frei’s save. Kim put in a spectacular block, saving what looked to be a sure goal.
One thing I didn’t like: If he has one big weakness, it may be in the air. Kim isn’t much of a factor offensively for a big guy, and he has now missed a few “easy” headers in the box. One in the 40th minute saw him jump and whiff on a ball that landed in the radius of the dangerous Fredy Montero. These sorts of mistakes gave Vancouver chances they didn’t really deserve.
Going forward: I was happy to see the clean sheet earned, especially on the road, but these guys made it closer than it needed to be, often with small, fixable errors. This defense can and should be one of the best in the league, but much of that depends on the continued high-level play of the center backs.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 6.3
Stats-wise you might have thought Leerdam had a great match. 89 percent passing, two key passes on 78 touches together with three interceptions, four clearances, and two tackles is pretty nice. This was a little deceptive, however; on the rewatch I noted quite a few mistakes when it came to the last (most important) pass. Kelvin got into good spots but was unable to execute when it really mattered in the dangerous areas.
One thing I liked: Leerdam had clearly done his research on Montero, who has seemed to score in every Sounders match since 2009. This meant shading over centrally and picking up Fredy every time he drifted off the back shoulder of Kim. In the 40th minute this likely prevented a goal, as Kelvin was immediately on the Whitecaps forward, preventing anything more than a weak attempt.
One thing I didn’t like: There were multiple times that Seattle got the ball in good spots with Leerdam and he just couldn’t make that killer pass that was needed to break down the defense. Kelvin ended 0/6 crossing and had few ideas to support from the right. As a converted winger, I would have liked to see more attacking instincts and better decision making.
Going forward: This match was more like last year, where Leerdam’s play was inconsistent and he tended to fade from the action. Let’s hope the player we saw in the first three matches is more indicative of what we can expect going forward.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 6.5 (off 83’ for Bwana)
Svensson looked strong in his return from playing with the Swedish national team. 87 percent passing from deep positions was combined with a team-leading four tackles and numerous strong plays breaking up attempted Whitecaps counter attacks.
One thing I liked: The Goose Cannon. We remember it well from last year, and I called it early on in this match: when Svensson unleashes a rocket from 30 yards out he hits it as hard as anyone in the league. In the 63rd minute he put a massive blast on frame, forcing a save but sadly not finding the net and opening the match up.
One thing I didn’t like: Goose was strong in this match, but he was unable to get involved with the offense other than his shot and a few moves forward. I kept hoping he would look more vertical with his passes, to open up the wings when he was playing so deep.
Going forward: Svensson showed a lot of range in this match, and Seattle looks very comfortable with him shielding the back four. When he gets forward, good things happen.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 6.4
I thought Roldan looked tired and kind of “off” in this match, and nothing in particular stood out on the rewatch. His passing was strong (92 percent) but not dangerous. Then I realized he had 18 recoveries! His work rate in the middle was absolutely heroic and he was consistently there to help make the center a complete minefield. There were few attempts by Vancouver to work the ball through the midfield, and when they did, Cristian was often there.
One thing I liked: Even a bit off with his touch, Roldan still came to work defensively and consistently was there to retain possession for Seattle. The amount of terrain he covers in a game is so underrated, and we shouldn’t take for granted how much effort this guy puts in every match.
One thing I didn’t like: Maybe he was tired, but Cristian just had no luck joining the attack. Other than one header, he didn’t have a single completed pass anywhere near the box. In a game where the opponent was bunkering huge, Seattle needed that extra central attacking option making vertical runs into the box.
Going forward: Roldan is awesome and consistently covers huge swaths of the pitch defensively. I would love to see Seattle figure out how to take advantage of his attacking instincts going forward as well, and see him utilize some directly vertical runs.
Víctor Rodríguez – 6 | Community – 6.3
Rodríguez did a lot of good in this match, but ultimately was unable to solve the Whitecaps’ defensive tactics and was much less effective than we are used to. He had a quiet (for him) 75 touches but led the team with three key passes as well as putting his single shot on frame.
One thing I liked: Víctor had a number of nice attacking combinations, maybe the best being a 34th minute dribble to clear space followed by a great cross to Ruidíaz.
One thing I didn’t like: V-Rod and crew failed to figure out how to break the bunker and while his 2/7 crossing was slightly better than most, it was still indicative of a team that needed to change tactics earlier. I would have liked to see him overload a few different areas to see if Seattle could take advantage of numbers instead of seeing Rodríguez isolated wide so often.
Going forward: I would have put money on V-Rod being the guy to break a bunker. I still think he can be this player, but now that it’s been effective against his team it will be up to Víctor to change his game to take advantage of what is given.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.4
Lodeiro looked the most tired of the internationals, and his play definitely showed an inability to crack the defensive wall that Vancouver created. “Only” 94 touches (third on the team) was surprising. Nico did have two shots and two key passes, but was ineffective crossing (1/7). We are just so used to seeing this guy run everywhere and dominate and this was a muted performance.
One thing I liked: One way to break the press may be to drop Nico deep next to Roldan. From that position he had a fantastic pass in the 85th minute that nearly looped onto the onrushing Ruidíaz.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico was a little off his game. Missing a few passes is okay, but he really struggled to put service into dangerous areas. His passing map was a giant void in zone 14 (and 11 for that matter).
Going forward: Lodeiro has shown a willingness to play many games in a week and he’s still so good that his play barely dropped off, but I definitely expect more from him when he’s on regular rest.
Jordan Morris – 6 | Community – 5.8
It was hard to rate Morris this week. He only had 31 touches and a 72 percent completion rate on his passes. He did a ton of little things that helped the team out though, from winning three tackles and three aerials to pressing diagonally and creating numerous turnovers that helped Seattle get its few transition attempts.
One thing I liked: Jordan is consistently making runs that help his team in small ways. Whether it’s a back-post header attempt or a wide stretching burst up the wing, Morris shows a refined tactical understanding of the ways he can help the team. In the 55th minute he pressed high and nicely won the ball, nearly converting through a teammate.
One thing I didn’t like: There were multiple occasions early when Jordan got a full head of steam up the right wing in space but lost control out for a goal kick. These chances are coming fairly rarely for him, and he needs to take better advantage by cleaning up that final touch.
Going forward: Eventually (hopefully soon) Jordan will be rewarded for some of those runs and he will reward the teammates that find him by returning the ball in dangerous spots.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 6.2 (off 87’ for Bruin)
This was somewhat of a nightmare for Ruidíaz who still played very well. He had 12 completed passes — all outside the area — and five incompletions — all within. It was that kind of night for Ruidíaz, who led the team with five shots and did some great work holding up the ball and linking through the middle while constantly running off-ball to try to find pockets amidst the 19 defenders Vancouver had inside the box.
One thing I liked: Ruidíaz just keeps coming at you. Even though it was a frustrating game, he still managed to get a shot or chance off every 10 minutes and was constantly there if Vancouver ever made a defensive mistake.
One thing I didn’t like: Raúl had five shots and zero counted as on target, mostly because Eric Godoy and Doneil Henry blocked them all. There were a lot of defenders in the box and Raúl was often alone, but it would have been nice to see him actually force a save in a match where he gets a full handful of shots.
Going forward: Raúl is a great scorer and averages about a goal a match so I look forward to at least a brace next week.
Handwalla Bwana – 4 | Community – 5.2 (on 83’ for Svensson)
Bwana saw his first run out of the 2019 season and it was a poor one. In his eight minutes plus stoppage he touched the ball six times and looked tentative on nearly every occasion.
One thing I liked: He had one pass in his own half that would have been bad had he not completed it, but he calmly found a teammate.
One thing I didn’t like: Handwalla had a number of chances, but didn’t do anything assertive. In the 86th minute he had a wide-open lane for Víctor to pass to and instead of dashing directly at goal and expecting the ball as he has seen teammates do all season, he paused his run. As a result, a perfect ball that would have put him through on goal went wanting.
Going forward: It doesn’t say a lot about the bench when a team is allowed to bang its head against a wall for over an hour and no subs happen till minute 83. I would love for Bwana to turn into a super-sub bench option that could be a change of pace, but he didn’t show that against Vancouver.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.2 (on 87’ for Ruidíaz)
Bruin came in late to point at through balls. He hit two of his three passes and did some holdup/defending.
One thing I liked: Will had three recoveries in a very short stint, showing some nice hustle coming back to help the midfield.
One thing I didn’t like: He had zero touches towards goal, and zero inside the 18. He might be big, but he isn’t much of an aerial threat (not that Seattle tried to use him as such in this match).
Going forward: This team didn’t have much luck breaking the bunker and seemed out of ideas. One idea would have been to bring in Bruin earlier, but as such he was just sorta there for a few minutes as the game wound down. If these guys are on the bench, it makes sense to figure out how they can help the team and then give them enough time to prove it.
Robert Sibiga – 5 | Community – 6.4
Sibiga allowed a lot of “play ons” in this match, which ultimately tended to help the team sitting back absorbing pressure. Both teams were relatively clean in the game, and other than a few big plays, there weren’t a lot of whistle-worthy moments. In the 76th he allowed Smith to get hacked a few times and then brought the ball back on the edge of the box for a free kick, and I thought the advantage was played correctly.
One thing I liked: The eventual call on the 93rd minute PK. This is what VAR is for and congrats to him and his team on getting it right. We all know refs who would have ignored the monitor. It wasn’t pretty, but this team got it right and that’s important.
One thing I didn’t like: I’ve seen the early Ruidíaz pass to the back-trailing arm called a PK plenty of times (I think Marshall was penalized before?) and it would be good to have a definitive ruling on what happens when a guy slides in the box and the ball hits his arm. Even if it’s unintentional he is making his body bigger and gaining an advantage, and there should be a consistent ruling on this.
Going forward: I thought Sibiga was lousy live, but on the re-watch he was okay.
Vancouver Whitecaps MOTM
As mentioned above, Ruidíaz didn’t get much in the way of clean looks, and that was due in large part to the defensive positioning and awareness of Doneil Henry.
Next up, Real Salt Lake comes to Seattle (maybe sans Damir Kreilach) and is a very beatable team. They’ve already lost 0-5 and 2-4 this year while amassing four red cards in their last three games. I expect a lot from Seattle this weekend.