After an extended break following a three-match losing streak, the Sounders returned to action in the friendly confines of CenturyLink Field, playing quite well despite a mixed starting lineup that consisted of both starters and backups (and backups of backups). But the depleted squad combined well for a
2-0 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps. This match also notably saw debut starts for 16-year-old Danny Leyva and forward Justin Dhillon, both of whom were signed to the first team from the Tacoma Defiance this season. With a shuffled squad that was missing six starters, Seattle was still able to gut out a late winning goal, end their losing streak, and leave for their upcoming road trip on a high note.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 7.5
Frei was credited with five saves, but he was rarely tested by any shots that were particularly strong or well-placed. Most of the night Frei was tasked with pinging the ball around his back line with varying degrees of success, making his evening a bit more difficult than necessary.
One thing I liked: Frei had one great save in the 57th minute on a wicked near-post strike from Whitecaps left-back Ali Adnan. He didn’t cheat the angle, and was therefore able to tip the well-hit ball over the goal.
One thing I didn’t like: The Sounders shot stopper had a bit of a rough night when passing from the back, particularly on his left side: Frei was 0/4 in completing balls from inside the box to the left wing. Those errors at least went wide; a weak central pass in the 32nd minute was the worst of the night, and the Sounders were lucky that it didn’t amount to much for Vancouver, despite the golden opportunity presented to them.
Going forward: Even with a bit of an off night, Frei kept a clean sheet against 12 shots. It’s impressive that not only is he expected to concede zero goals in matches like this, it’s also notable that he often meets those expectations.
Brad Smith – 7 | Community – 7.1
With Nicolas Lodeiro still away on international duty, it was left-back Smith who had the most touches on the team against the Whitecaps, as well as an assist for the winning goal. Overall, the young Aussie had an up-and-down game that saw him occasionally clashing with the movement of Joevin Jones in front of him, while also looking dangerously capable of turning the game on its head with his pace up the left wing. Defensively, he was quietly effective over 90 minutes, racking up five recoveries, a tackle, an interception, and a clearance.
One thing I liked: Smith struggled mightily to influence the game offensively, but he never quit. His first successful pass into the box came in the 94th minute, immediately before his game-winning assist via an excellent give-and-go with Harry Shipp.
One thing I didn’t like: Spacing was ugly in the first half, with both Smith and Jones moving into each other’s space and looking interested in driving to the end line to cross, rather than help facilitate his teammate in doing so. It improved after the break, but these two definitely need more time together if they are going to be asked to carry the offensive burden like this.
Going forward: Smith is still a devastating offensive option on the left, but his effectiveness is muted with the similar skillset of Jones playing in front of him. It was interesting to see how they interacted, and if Seattle is going to dedicate a ton of tactical planning around a strong left side, they will need to improve if they hope to see some productivity over the rest of the season.
Kim Kee-hee – 6 | Community – 6.5
You rarely thought about the Seattle center backs in this match, because they both quietly went about their jobs without incident. Kim had three interceptions and a couple of recoveries, but he was otherwise content to play great position soccer and deny Yordy Reyna any chance to get in behind.
One thing I liked: With Seattle pushing forward, the defenders had a chance to get into the offensive third multiple times. Kim is sneaky strong on the dribble and showed off his refined attacking skills on several occasions, including an impressive volley attempt in the 54th minute that nearly found the back of the net.
One thing I didn’t like: Right before half time, the big defender inexplicably let up and stopped dribbling, allowing ex-Sounder Fredy Montero to steal the ball and attempt to create a late shot. I am assuming he heard a stray whistle and thought the play was dead, but it was nearly a huge blunder.
Going forward: You have to believe that Kim is one of the two starting center backs going forward, and it will be interesting to see who ends up next to him. Both Xavier Arreaga and Román Torres will be eager to play, and even the guys who have played mostly in USL with the Defiance this season have stepped up and been solid as of late.
Saad Abdul-Salaam – 7 | Community – 6.3
As mentioned above, Seattle’s central duo were excellent overall against Vancouver, and Abdul-Salaam barely put a foot wrong on the evening. Statistically, he had seven recoveries, five clearances, two interceptions, and a successful tackle, while also completing 91 percent of his passes. Of his three incomplete passes over 90 minutes, two came in injury time.
One thing I liked: Abdul-Salaam was very impressive at center back, comfortably limiting any chances from Montero and Reyna and the rest of the Whitecaps attack. He plays with a casual confidence and seemed to easily be in great positions at all times, an impressive feat considering the hodgepodge of players around him.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 13th minute, Abdul-Salaam had a blind pass to the middle that ended up being a huge mistake, and Seattle was lucky that Vancouver didn’t do more with yet another easy gift.
Going forward: Just a few months ago, Abdul-Salaam seemed like a bit of a peculiar signing as a backup right-back, but once again the Sounders front office showed remarkable foresight as he has looked excellent at both right-back and center back this season. He has been a fantastic addition, and considerably bolsters the club’s defensive depth.
Kelvin Leerdam – 7 | Community – 7.9 (MOTM)
Leerdam did a lot of pretty good things for 85 minutes, then exploded in the last five minutes of the match and injury time, willing Seattle to a last-gasp victory. His passing wasn’t great at times, but defensively Leerdam stopped anything on his side of the field, racking up seven recoveries. Kelvin also worked well with speedy winger Henry Wingo in front of him, combining with the young attacker to provide a nice attacking outlet on the right.
One thing I liked: Dynamic goal scorers step up when the team needs a goal the most, and that’s exactly what Leerdam did. His two key passes came in the 88th and 94th minutes respectively, and when presented with a ball and some space in the box in minute 95, he ushered it (and Vancouver) home.
One thing I didn’t like: Leerdam always seems susceptible to giving up a foul in a bad spot each match, and in this one it came in the center of the field right before halftime on a play where Seattle had things under control and giving up a set piece was unnecessary.
Going forward: With Raúl Ruidíaz (probably) off winning a Copa America title, there will be pressure on second-place (!) goalscorer Leerdam to carry the team through the next few games. Why would anyone doubt his offensive prowess now?
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 6.8
There wasn’t a lot of talk about Svensson after the game, but he was massive against Vancouver. Similarly to Abdul-Salaam, the Swede only had three incompletions all match, but on a whopping 68 attempts, good for 96 percent passing accuracy on the night. Svensson was tremendous in spraying the ball around the pitch, finding teammates, and facilitating possession. Defensively, he led the team with three blocked shots, as well as four recoveries and a clearance.
One thing I liked: Whenever Seattle got into a bind with the ball, Svensson was the outlet. He pinged multiple long, switching passes at the perfect times, opening up the shape of the opponent’s defense and changing the angle of attack.
One thing I didn’t like: Svensson committed a single foul all night, and it came in the 98th minute. Giving Vancouver a chance at a late set piece was harrowing, but luckily Seattle cleared.
Going forward: With all the deserved talk of Leyva playing well, Gustav might have been a bit overlooked, but he was excellent once again in the middle and showed that he’s still the starter for the Sounders, barring fixture congestion or injury rotation.
Danny Leyva – 7 | Community – 7.4
Starting in his first match, Leyva impressed in nearly every facet of his game. His composure and ability shined brightly throughout as he put in a strong shift on both sides of the ball. Leyva was 41/47 passing (87 percent) and added some great defensive numbers: four interceptions, four recoveries, 2/4 successful tackles. Outside of statistics, he fit in well with the team, ranging forward ahead of Svensson and pinging passes from side to side for his teammates.
One thing I liked: Late in the match there were multiple times when Leyva correctly anticipated Vancouver trying to break out, and his interceptions both ended the opponents’ counter attacks and kick-started Seattle’s attack going the other direction.
One thing I didn’t like: Leyva goes to ground a bit often and a majority of his passes were to wide areas, but I fully expect his positioning to improve and for him to grow into seeing more options for direct, incisive passes in the very near future.
Going forward: It took me a while to get on the Leyva train, but this match put to rest much of the fears I had. His potential is incredible, and he looks to have the mentality and skillset to grow into his very high ceiling.
Joevin Jones – 7 | Community – 6.5 (off 86’ for Nouhou)
Jones started as a left winger and played very inverted at times, drifting to the middle to allow overlaps and supporting the Seattle attack through central channels. Jones isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, and he had three shots on goal to go with his co-team-leading four key passes. Joevin had some excellent service from set pieces as well, dropping corners and dead balls into dangerous areas.
One thing I liked: Jones’ control in tight spaces and composure on the ball was excellent. He is nearly impossible to get the ball from, something he leveraged into strong possession numbers through the left central channel for most of the match.
One thing I didn’t like: Jones still plays a bit casual on defense at times, and in the 65th I would have loved to see him do more than just watch as his side of the field got overrun.
Going forward: Jones has been asked to play a number of roles so far upon his return, and he has been excellent at everything he is being asked to do. Getting him into town early was a great move, as he continues to show how much he can support his team all over the field.
Harry Shipp – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 6.4
That was a pretty damn good Nico Lodeiro impression that Shipp showed versus Vancouver. He led the team with four key passes and five shots and nearly everything Seattle did offensively went through Harry, who involved himself equally in the buildup and execution of his team’s best chances. Not just content with being the offensive engine for Seattle, Shipp threw in eight defensive actions over 90 minutes as well. In the second half he was especially goal dangerous, attempting eight passes into the box during the run of play, constantly attacking the area vertically, and always looking to put Justin Dhillon in behind the defense or his wingers into space.
One thing I liked: The goal Leyva
almost scored came off a turnover created by Shipp jumping in a passing lane, stealing the ball, and first-timing Dhillon through on goal. Shortly after that goal was removed, Shipp upped his intensity, firing off multiple shots that forced Zac MacMath into saves with a broken ankle. The game-winning goal came when Shipp checked into the box, drew multiple defenders away from their assignments, and worked a perfect one-two sequence with Smith inside the area.
One thing I didn’t like: Harry completed just 73 percent of his passes in the first half, and many of his incompletions were from passing where teammates should have been tactically and not getting the correct movement and spacing. This was fixed at half time and he had a fantastic 88 percent completion rate in the second half, and almost all of his touches were in the attacking third.
Going forward: Shipp doesn’t get a lot of love, but man, did he really drive this match. His movement and connection with teammates was Lodeiro-esque and he was the guy creating everything for Seattle. Obviously with Nico and Víctor Rodríguez around, it’s unlikely that he will play this role a lot, but Shipp clearly has the talent and ability to impact games as the creative hub when given a chance.
Henry Wingo – 6 | Community – 6.6 (off 80’ for Bwana)
This was maybe Wingo’s best match as a Sounder, and he built off his strong Open Cup showing with more dynamic, aggressive, direct soccer from a wide midfield position. Although his first half was exciting, he was even better in the second half, going 17/18 passing and earning two key passes.
One thing I liked: Henry played against Ali Adnan, the Iraqi national team player who is a high TAM/borderline DP-caliber talent and Wingo completely dominated him. Driving straight at his opponent constantly, the young Sounder got by the defender over and over again, dropping in crosses and earning set pieces throughout the match. In the 18th minute he skinned Adnan going directly at goal, nearly earning himself an assist.
One thing I didn’t like: Wingo only had a single shot, a 54th minute chance that didn’t trouble MacMath. He did well to beat his marker with dribbling and off the ball work, but Wingo needs to add in some goal-dangerous shots to make his crossing even more effective.
Going forward: We still don’t know where he belongs, as he was ostensibly a right-back who in this game played well in right midfield and even better when switching to the left. When Wingo and Bwana first signed, I thought Wingo had the higher chance of being successful due to his size, control, and speed, and I have been wrong so far. In this match we finally got to see a bit of the things that I saw back then, and it will be interesting to see if this continues.
Justin Dhillon – 6 | Community – 5.6 (off 90’ for Ocampo-Chavez)
Signed midweek, Dhillon looked MLS-ready as soon as the match began. He made plenty of strong runs, held the ball up well, and battled hard with the Whitecaps’ central defenders for 90 minutes. He consistently pestered the defense and opened up chances for Seattle, and he racked up four of the Sounders’ 24 shots.
One thing I liked: Seattle tends to strand lone forwards a bit, and to be successful you have to move off the ball. Dhillon was excellent at this, constantly moving into dangerous spots, really making great runs off the ball. Justin used his big body to hold the ball up and relieve pressure, but also combined that with smart, quick runs into space that were equally impressive.
One thing I didn’t like: On two occasions he made great plays to get the ball or get into space but then had a bad touch or pass that let him down. He will want to clean up those mistakes as touches are often limited in his role.
Going forward: It’s a shame that Bruin got hurt, but at times I thought Dhillon actually played better than Will. His game isn’t as refined offensively but the runs he made and positions he put himself in were as good or better than I would have expected out of any Sounders forward not named Raúl. Seattle will definitely miss Bruin and all the intangibles and experience he brings, but Dhillon might not be that big of a drop off after all.
Handwalla Bwana – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 80’ for Wingo)
Bwana came in and was quite active for 10 minutes. He recorded 13 passes, completing 10 and chipping in with a couple of key passes. He also had a few turnovers and was unable to get around anyone or effectively create when going at goal.
One thing I liked: After dribbling into a crowd in the 91st, a stumbling Bwana had the wherewithal to toe poke a pass wide to Ocampo-Chavez in a great spot towards the box.
One thing I didn’t like: Bwana only had a single successful pass forward towards goal, and got in trouble in the 92nd minute trying to force his way through traffic on the dribble. Handwalla really struggled to reproduce the success of Wingo when attacking the goal from the wing.
Going forward: Handwalla is comfortable going 1-v-1 at defenders, but with Vancouver sitting back defensively he often got stymied and a bit lost, choosing to drop the ball back rather than taking a chance with a positive move. He will need to work on other parts of his game (especially off-ball movement) instead of relying solely on posting up and trying to beat a single guy on the wing.
Nouhou – 5 | Community – 6.1 (on 86’ for Jones)
Nouhou came on and you got to see everything about him — both the good and the bad. He was perfect with the ball, with a 100 percent passing completion rate on 11 attempts and a shot on goal.
One thing I liked: Brought in defensively late, Nouhou stopped a break in the 87th minute and shortly after in the 93rd he made two crucial stops in a row. After each defensive play, he galloped with extreme urgency into the attacking third.
One thing I didn’t like: Once in the attacking third, Nouhou’s deficiency in the attack was in stark contrast to Smith and Jones. He was great at getting into the attack, but then stagnated, looking lost when trying to combine with Bwana, Smith, and whoever else was on the left.
Going forward: Nouhou is a great defensive player and an exciting prospect, but this game showcased just how far he has to go to be an attacking player in this system. He has some of the tools (and if he had scored can you imagine the crowd?) but he needs a lot of tactical training to go with his decent physical skills going forward.
Alfonso Ocampo-Chavez – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 90’ for Dhillon)
Welcome to MLS, Fonz! I thought he had an active shift, moving around and getting some touches while naturally gravitating into dangerous spots. AOC went 3/4 passing and showed a bit of his holdup instincts at times.
One thing I liked: Not afraid of the ball, Ocampo-Chavez earned two fouls in his brief outing, presenting Seattle with valuable set pieces late.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 91st minute, Fonz found himself at the top of the box unmarked. As a striker, he has to shoot there, either by hitting it first time or by cutting back to his left for an extra touch and a curled attempt. Instead, the young Sounder attempted a bad pass to an overlapping player that went out for a goal kick.
Going forward: He doesn’t have a ton of size, but there were some good aspects of his initial MLS outing. The experience of a late win should be one that spurs young players like him to train harder, get better, and increase their impact in the future.
Alan Kelly – 4 | Community – 2.6
I don’t know what to say, really. Up to the terrible VAR call, this officiating staff had done an excellent job of running the match. Few fouls had been called, advantage was being played, each team likely happy with the refereeing until that one big mistake. After that the match was a mess highlighted by some pretty obvious make up calls.
One thing I liked: Other than a missed corner off a deflection that was given to Seattle as a goal kick and a 41st minute bike attempt that I thought should have been dangerous play, neither team had much to complain about for most of the match.
One thing I didn’t like: I don’t want to rehash this much. I don’t see a foul, I see a guy shooting and the keeper sliding under his foot, which wasn’t an unnatural motion by the shooter nor did it extend or have cleats showing high. I definitely don’t see “clear and obvious mistake” from the original call of a goal, and I just can’t believe that both Edvin Jurisevic and Kelly thought the call was so wrong that it was worth overturning. It’s a shame, it’s a sham, and that’s all I have to say about it.
Going forward: This was a VAR nightmare, but I don’t know how to rate that. I settled on below MLS average. But let’s be honest, was that any worse than most of what Toledo etc. do every game?
Vancouver Whitecaps MOTM
Goalkeeper Zac MacMath barely (just barely!) wins Man of the Match. If I had to guesstimate, I’d say he won it by the length of a big toe. May this award help to soothe his pain.
Getting all three points at home was huge going into the upcoming double-away-match week. Seattle needs to get positive results in order to stay at the top of the West and remain within striking distance of the Supporters Shield.