Last year I assumed Seattle would run over RSL at home but the Sounders lost. For some reason that team is always well set up to play in Seattle, and Saturday evening was no different. Although the Sounders seemed the better team and created more opportunities, RSL nearly scored an equalizer on one of their few quality chances. The 1-0 win for Seattle wasn’t always pretty, but that’s the third shutout in five matches. With the lowest goals-against in the league, it looks like Seattle can count on their defense to keep them in every match and they are creating enough chances to outscore their opponents so far this season.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.9 (MOTM)
A big part of that defense is Frei, who earned his nice 69th career shutout. Against RSL he wasn’t tested frequently, but he had to make some quick decisions and was credited with four saves on the evening.
One thing I liked: With RSL often content to attack from deep, Frei did a good job (especially late) of coming out in traffic and catching looping crosses. His calm control amidst some hectic late game scrums was critical. When RSL had their one big chance, Stefan was there to make sure only a perfect shot would beat him. (Spoiler: it wasn’t.)
One thing I didn’t like: In the 44th minute as Seattle was trying to make it to half up a goal, Frei should have punched away instead of trying to catch. He came out and attempted to control the ball while falling over Chad Marshall, and Stef fumbled it to an RSL player who hit wide. A strong punch might have saved the Sounders some nervous seconds and also prevented poor Dad from being piled onto.
Going forward: It made sense to be nervous with a defense that looked out of sync and susceptible to opponents, but a good remedy was two straight clean sheets. They still look shaky at times, but Seattle seems poised to be a top defense in MLS once again.
Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 6.7
Smith had a somewhat muted game against RSL, failing to dominate at the level we saw in his first two home matches. He was still solid, with 84 percent passing including a key pass as he tried to help the left side create chances. Smith had a tough time working without Raúl Ruidíaz up there creating massive space to operate on his side.
One thing I liked: Smith’s key pass was vintage. Underlapping his midfield teammates, he dove directly into the box and crossed back to a waiting Will Bruin from the end line, who got a nice shot on goal. Ruidíaz likely does enough more to have that sequence end with the ball in the back of the net.
One thing I didn’t like: While Brad did a good job with most of his 1-v-1 defending, his transition marking was questionable at times and none more so than in the 73rd minute. RSL took a free kick and launched it 60 yards to Jefferson Savarino. Smith managed to completely botch the defending, somehow allowing the RSL player to control the ball, get past him, and shoot around an onrushing Frei. Yikes.
Going forward: Brad might give you a few scary defensive plays but he also comes through with a key pass or more every game while being a constant threat up his wing. So far, that’s been a worthwhile trade-off.
Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 7.0
It’s not a coincidence that Marshall started playing better and Seattle started racking up shutouts. In this match he was tremendous, covering a ton of ground while offering two interceptions, three clearances, a massive six aerials won, and a nearly perfect 95 percent passing completion rate.
One thing I liked: This is what Chad does. He takes a player like Sam Johnson and just removes him from the game. Marshall limited Johnson to two shots, absolutely blanketing him. In the 62nd minute with RSL trying to break out, Dad marked Johnson all the way near the right sideline, slide tackling the hapless DP with perfect precision while in the same motion winning the ball clean upfield to Roldan. Coincidence that Johnson was subbed shortly after? I don’t think so.
One thing I didn’t like: When Gustav Svensson goes forward to press, Marshall is left on a bit of an island and if he has a kryptonite, it’s defending quicker players in space. In the 25th minute Chad was left sprawling as RSL played in behind, although luckily the play was stopped for offside.
Going forward: Marshall just sort of does everything right, and the confidence that must create for his teammates is immense. Once again Chad looks poised to be in the DPOY conversation.
Kim Kee-hee – 6 | Community – 6.5
Kim had a quiet match; other than a few strong plays and a couple mistakes he did a very solid job holding down his side of the field and negating the speed threat from Savarino. He also had two interceptions and three clearances, but Kim’s 84 percent passing was indicative of much more risk taking from the back which was generally a good thing.
One thing I liked: Kim looked for attacking passes and didn’t settle for slowly going around the back or constantly using Frei. In the 9th minute he linked all the way to the top with Bruin and consistently looked for line-breaking penetration with his distribution. When available, Kim seized on the opportunity to press high on the right side, even using a nice give and go up the wing with Nico late to create a chance.
One thing I didn’t like: Kim had a number of bad passes, the worst being a 24th minute ball directly to RSL from the back. That’s the kind of pass you cannot give away in your own half, especially with Seattle sending fullbacks into the attack as aggressively as they do.
Going forward: Kim isn’t totally back to the level he was playing at last season, which should be worrisome for opponents as he still earns high marks and Seattle’s defense is rolling.
Kelvin Leerdam – 7 | Community – 6.4
Leerdam was sneakily effective against RSL, turning in an excellent all-around performance. Defensively he held his side well, and offensively he led the team with two key passes as well as a sparkling 94 percent passing rate. Kelvin was the more advanced of the two outside backs and had more success going forward.
One thing I liked: We are starting to see better communication building between Leerdam and Jordan Morris. While not the technical beauty of the left side, the guys on the right are starting to click. A great example of that was in the 49th minute when Morris peeled off direct at goal and Kelvin curled an inch-perfect pass around the defense onto his foot, propelling Jordan into the box with a full head of steam.
One thing I didn’t like: Frei had a right to be angry following the 40th minute sequence that got him bashed in the face. Stefan lectured Leerdam and for good reason: he didn’t close out a defender and allowed a free cross into the box. Our outside backs must not so freely allow service into the area, no matter how good Marshall is at repelling it.
Going forward: What could have been had this offensive juggernaut not been robbed of his goal-scoring streak in Chicago? We may never know, but Leerdam still puts up very nice offensive numbers while locking down his wing as expected.
Gustav Svensson – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 6.8
This was Svensson’s best match of the year and he was absolutely fantastic. As Spenser Davis remarked multiple times to me during the match, the Goose is just so calm. He is always even-keeled, keeps his head in high pressure defensive situations, and consistently makes the smart play. He did an excellent job shielding the back line and easily led the team with four tackles won. He tossed in two interceptions, two clearances, seven recoveries, and a hugely important five midfield aerials won. He touched the ball 84 times and made the right play with nearly every single one.
One thing I liked: I absolutely loved Svensson’s offensive contributions from the defensive end. Time and again he would step up to win the ball in midfield and sustain Seattle pressure. When he got the ball in deep lying positions, he moved the ball quickly, and on at least four occasions he looked cross field and long with incredible 50+ yard passes that completely changed the point of attack by finding teammates up the opposite wing.
One thing I didn’t like: There were a number of times when Albert Rusnák found some space within the block of Svensson, Cristian Roldan, and the center backs when RSL had sustained pressure in the Seattle half. This is the space that the Diego Valeri & Carlos Vela types like to take advantage of, and he will need to be sure to track runners a little better when the Sounders switch off defenders.
Going forward: Seattle is starting to show some excellent cohesion on defense and a big reason for that is Svensson, who looks great in the deeper defensive midfield position. His tradeoffs and communication with Roldan are strong as well.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.2
Seattle definitely changed some tactics to get Roldan higher up the field, and he delivered. He had an impact in nearly every quadrant of the pitch, showing an ability to get into the box and make wide runs in support of the midfielders. This immediately paid off, as he had two shots and two key passes, including the game-winning assist. Roldan didn’t shirk his defensive role either, recording eight recoveries.
One thing I liked: Every time he is asked to do something, like play higher up the pitch and help heighten the offense, he does it. Whether it was the 15th minute line-splitting pass to put Víctor Rodríguez into the box, his 18th minute assist, or that absolutely fantastic effort in the 62nd minute to beat a man on the end line and find Morris on the cut back, Roldan was an offensive catalyst.
One thing I didn’t like: When Roldan makes mistakes, it’s potentially catastrophic for the Sounders. Multiple early passes square inside his own box nearly gifted RSL with golden opportunities. A 52nd minute missed tackle at midfield allowed a massive counter for the away team, and that’s the second match in a row he might have been better served to just take a yellow and regroup.
Going forward: I don’t know whether the coaches asked Roldan to be a huge part of the offense, but it’s promising to see the tactical adjustment to get another player in the attacking third. Even with a distinct desire to get forward, Cristian is still a beast on the defensive end.
Víctor Rodríguez – 6 | Community – 6.6 (off 81’ for Nouhou)
Rodriguez tried a lotta stuff against RSL, and was unfortunate to not create multiple goals. Playing almost entirely in the offensive half, he struggled to get the ball into the central areas without Ruidíaz making those clearing runs, and Víctor ended up with only five passes into the area offensively. He did co-lead the team with three shots and continually threatened to break down his side but struggled to mesh with Bruin up top.
One thing I liked: The little things that Rodriguez does so effortlessly amaze me. In the 12th minute coming back to defend, he took a touch towards the width with a man coming hard and Smith (his outlet) marked. Somehow Víctor took an outside of the boot flick over the defender while he was being fouled. The pass was so good it completely froze both the defender and Smith, but Smith reacted faster, charging up the line. Nico came across to backheel it and Seattle was off to the races. This was an example of V-Rod doing something amazing as a casual part of his game. He’s underappreciated for those special things, merely because he makes them look easy.
One thing I didn’t like: Brooks Lennon did a good job defending V-Rod, but he also manhandled him (along with Everton Luiz). Víctor is going to get hacked, he’s not going to get calls, and he has to just keep playing and make them pay. It seemed like he got frustrated with the ref and opponents, and that didn’t help his production.
Going forward: Rodriguez missed the spacing and runs of Ruidíaz more than anyone else, and he struggled to integrate with Bruin. When Seattle doesn’t create space for the front group to work, Víctor will need to figure out a new way to utilize the personnel on the field.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.9
Lodeiro only got a measly 99 touches in this match but as usual he covered the entire field. His distribution map was basically all of the RSL half of the field, completing 78 percent passing to go along with his three shots and key pass. He also scored a ridiculous blind volley goal, on a ball that he couldn’t have seen until it almost hit him in the face, forcing an instinctive, fade away shot that found its way past Rimando. The reflexes, coordination, and muscle control to do that is astronomical.
One thing I liked: Nico is starting to figure out that he can hit backside balls from his trusty left foot and Morris will hit warp drive and get on the end of these passes. His vision to see these plays has actually forced Jordan to start running, as his thinking is so advanced, he sees the play before anyone else on the field.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 64th minute Lodeiro had the ball near the top of the box and Rodriguez was absolutely unmarked and wide open on the left side of the 18-yard box. Unfortunately, Nico just didn’t see him. You have to imagine that’s a pretty easy goal if he can make a rather mundane through pass there.
Going forward: Nico is the engine of this team but he also can finish well for a creator. As he goes this team should go, and that’s a good thing because Nico is a special talent.
Jordan Morris – 6 | Community – 6.4
Morris had a rather quiet match, perhaps highlighted more for his failure to take advantage of some nice chances teammates set up for him than anything else. His passing was a rough 66 percent, but he had two shots and continually stretched the field back toward the right side, opening central spaces for Nico and Cristian to work through.
One thing I liked: Morris is always an option on the back side and Seattle is slowly starting to find him. Svensson found him over the top on a number of occasions and Lodeiro has begun to swing in backside passes knowing Morris can get there. Nearly every time Bruin or Nico or Smith or Víctor took a shot from the left, Morris was lurking with intent on the back post, and it was only Nick Rimando’s strong goalkeeping or Seattle missing that tricky pass that kept Jordan from getting a few tap-ins.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 62nd minute his buddy Roldan made a magnificent hustle play down his wing, and when the ball came to Jordan in the middle of the box, he put it into the drummer stand of the ECS. He is not going to get a ton of chances every match, and he needs to show the lethal precision he had in the first few games when finishing.
Going forward: I liked seeing Morris up top and thought Seattle looked good with him pushing the defense back. Jordan will just keep improving as he continues to gel with Leerdam and Nico.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 6.0 (off 73’ for Shipp)
Bruin stepped into the starting lineup and did a fairly good job of facilitating for the players around him. He tried to do some holdup with varied results and was very active pressing and starting the defense from the front, which the coach said was a goal. He had a dismal 59 percent passing completion rate though, which is even rougher when taken into the context that he only completed a single pass forward all match. He did have one nice turn and shot that forced Rimando into a save.
One thing I liked: In the 45th minute Will controlled the ball in traffic and played a nice ball forward onto the foot of V-Rod, the only time Bruin was able to play the ball vertically. This was excellent skill and showed some nimble feet and the possibility for contributions if these guys play together more often.
One thing I didn’t like: Bruin didn’t fit into the Seattle offense, instead forcing the others to play his style. That meant lots of dropping deep to get touches and clogging up the middle which threw Seattle off. Instead of forcing the defense back and creating space by pushing high, there was a logjam in the front at times as Morris, Víctor, Nico, and Bruin all ended up fairly linear, instead of the arrow shape with Ruidíaz as the point that we’re used to.
Going forward: Bruin is a good back up striker and is very talented at some things. Playing 73 minutes and getting a single shot is asking a lot of his teammates, and a single touch inside the box is just not enough.
Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 5.6 (on 73’ for Bruin)
Shipp got a longer run out this match and looked very good. He was calm on the ball, made smart decisions on offense and defense, and did everything asked of him. He touched the ball 10 times and completed all 8 of his passes. Defensively he got a tackle and three recoveries in on a clean shift off the bench.
One thing I liked: In the 75th minute one of those completed passes was a sneaky backheel onto the run of Roldan, a bit of pretty soccering that nearly paid off with a goal.
One thing I didn’t like: When Seattle subbed in Shipp, apparently the defense fell asleep and RSL nearly scored. Hard to blame Harry for that though.
Going forward: All he did was play well for 20 minutes and help his team win. Shipp’s ability to seamlessly fit in when he subs into the match is impressive, and it shows a smart, tactical player who pays attention from the sideline.
Nouhou – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 81 for Rodriguez)
Nouhou came on to play defense and he did exactly that. He only touched the ball four times, but he came in and set up shop and RSL didn’t score.
One thing I liked: Smith was tired, and not exactly playing shut-down defense so this move made a lot of sense. It also released Brad to be an offensive force late, which nearly paid off in a late insurance goal or two.
One thing I didn’t like: He only completed one of his four pass attempts.
Going forward: Nouhou is clearly the second choice left back and it’s hard to argue with that. Having such a dynamic option off the bench for injury, fixture congestion, or late in matches is a huge advantage for Seattle, and he can come in and do well in limited exposure.
Nima Saghafi – 5 | Community – 4.7
I generally like Saghafi, but I thought he reffed emotionally and seemed to “ref the score” as well. The biggest issue was there was no consistency. Víctor fouls a guy from behind in the 21st minute and it’s called, okay, but when it’s reciprocated on him three minutes later, no whistle. That sort of thing grew very annoying, as it was clear the referee wasn’t giving Rodriguez in particular any calls. He may have dived in the 41st minute but twice in the 45th V-Rod was cut down and neither were called, and this happened at least two other times.
One thing I liked: Any team with Beckerman and Luiz running around knocking people can degenerate a match into a physical disaster pretty quickly. These guys don’t get called for a ton of fouls but the persistent after the play kicking and pulling and physical play from Lennon (and admittedly some Sounders as well) could have gotten out of hand but the referee kept it civil.
One thing I didn’t like: Some referees aren’t interested in VAR and that’s a bad thing. There were at least three reasons to use it this match in my opinion: 1. The V-Rod penalty shout saw Marcelo Silva come through the back of his leg in the follow-through, ostensibly the same thing that Kim was guilty of last week. No review either way. 2. In the 49th a Morris cross hit a defender’s arm in the box. This play may seem innocuous, and the arm is close to the body, but in review it looked like he made a movement to strike the ball with his elbow. That’s making your body bigger/gaining an advantage and at least worth a look. 3. He should have definitely taken a look in minute 83 at the elbow that hit Nico. Saghafi immediately pulled a yellow card, but it looked like Silva sized up Nico and meant to foul him. No, he didn’t mean to hit the face but that is irrelevant, he was beaten and clotheslined a guy. Maybe the ref was sold by the instant apology from the defender, or maybe he was continuing to ref to the score. Regardless, no VAR look.
Going forward: This guy was one of the best refs last season but he was just okay here. I would like him to use VAR when it’s an option for him, and he needs to look at the non-calls for Víctor and Bruin and figure out why he was allowing that sort of stuff.
Real Salt Lake MOTM
Nick Rimando did enough Nick Rimando things to keep RSL in this one throughout. He made a handful of good saves, and probably would’ve liked a second crack at Lodeiro’s near-post volley.
No rest for the weary. We’re off to the frozen tundra of Colorado for a midweek match where Seattle will want to earn points while being cognizant of the home match on Saturday.