It was more of the same for the Seattle Sounders in their midweek match at Real Salt Lake. I’m guessing that if the coaching staff had been told that RSL would only have four shots on target they would have taken it, especially since the men in green came out with a very conservative five-man back line. Unfortunately, three of those ended up in the net behind Stefan Frei, while on the other end the Sounders didn’t even put a single shot on frame. It was a very uninspired, lethargic match that seemed doomed from the start and didn’t improve from there. The team never looked comfortable with the formation, and no player outperformed his cohorts; most of the team was very, very average.
Stefan Frei – 5 | Community – 4.7
I still don’t know how to rate a goalie who gives up three goals in seemingly every match. Frei made one save. Seattle took four kickoffs. He has to take some credit for a defense that has many good pieces but zero cohesion.
One thing I liked: I think the Seattle game plan was to bunker and prevent wide play that allowed RSL to get in behind, and that certainly worked. For the first half at least, Frei and his team were even aside from a rather fluky deflection.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle seemingly had no plan to do anything other than defend, and that was reliant on a severely outnumbered midfield. When RSL created good chances, though, they scored on nearly every one. I am not sure why Frei camped out on his line for the third goal instead coming out and narrowing the angles. He was beat on the near post.
Going forward: Seattle still isn’t going to win many games giving up three goals.
Joevin Jones – 4 | Community – 3.8
If there is a formation that allows the outside backs to charge into the attack with abandon, it’s a 5-man backline. So of course, Jones stayed glued to Campbell in the defense and refused to get forward in the first half. When he eventually moved forward after the half, he was still very tentative. He had a 91 percent completion rate with his passing, but all but three of his passes were backwards.
One thing I liked: In the 57th minute Joevin slickly threaded a very difficult pass around two defenders to Raúl Ruidíaz in the box.
One thing I didn’t like: Jones wasn’t asked to defend a lot in the second half, but he got a nice view of a couple goals as he jogged behind the play.
Going forward: I’ll take Nouhou’s fire at being subbed off over Jones’ lack of fire when on the field.
Jonathan Campbell – 6 (MOTM) | Community – 4.1
Yeah, I was surprised too when MOTM ended up being a guy who usually plays in Tacoma. Campbell was one of the few Sounders who looked comfortable with this formation and without him, RSL might have had three more. He was calm in possession and only missed two passes all night for a 96 percent completion rate. Campbell had a pair each of tackles, blocked shots, interceptions, and clearances, as well as six recoveries.
One thing I liked: In the 61st minute Campbell did well to defend Albert Rusnak 1-v-1 on a break, delaying the play and preventing his opponent from getting a great chance. This and his aerial ability separated him from his teammates on the back line.
One thing I didn’t like: The back five was never on the same page, with the back “line” often looking more like a lightning bolt ... but much, much slower.
Going forward: Campbell isn’t a flashy player and there’s plenty of evidence that he is a borderline USL talent who hasn’t always looked great for the Defiance, but he has responded well in both MLS appearances this year and remains an option when the coaches want to get … creative with lineups.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 5.2
Arreaga seemed to be playing the central defender position well, but similarly to his teammates, he was often out of position with the rest of the group. When he charged into the midfield with the ball on his foot it appeared to take his teammates by surprise. His 91 percent passing was nice, but Seattle just never looked comfortable in the five-man backline.
One thing I liked: Xavier has incredible feet for a defender. The assortment of off-foot outside-of-the-boot through balls he completes is astounding for an MLS center back. He also had a nifty turn in traffic in the 67th minute, leading to his key pass into the box following a set piece.
One thing I didn’t like: I don’t know if he was just tired or what, but in the 87th minute he was easily beat to the middle and similarly to Jones, he got a nice view of the third goal.
Going forward: Arreaga has a dismal record when he plays for Seattle and we’ve yet to see him combine well with other defenders. As the supposed center back of the future, the Sounders desperately need him to be the center back of the now.
Saad Abdul-Salaam – 4 | Community – 4.2
I think Abdul-Salaam was the guy who had the hardest time understanding what the tactical plan was. Sometimes staying home defensively, other times charging forward on underlapping runs, Saad tried hard to do something but he was very ineffective.
One thing I liked: SAS was one of the few Sounders who was willing to extend in the first half, and it was his multiple runs upfield that gave Seattle their best chances in the first period. When he got forward, he filled the spaces that ostensibly should have contained Kelvin Leerdam, which balanced the numbers a bit and let Seattle attack the huge open spaces in the wide corners.
One thing I didn’t like: Usually you don’t want your center back making 60-yard runs upfield trying to spur the attack, and it wasn’t a sustainable strategy. Instead of tight, coordinated defending in the middle, his movement pulled the defense all over the place.
Going forward: If you told me this is the first time this back five had played this formation together, I would believe you, at least based on SAS. Also notable is that our backup right-back has nearly as many appearances as our DP forward.
Kelvin Leerdam – 5 | Community – 4.7 (off 75’ for Bwana)
Leerdam had a quiet match, which was perhaps all we should have expected for a player coming off injury. That being said, there were a ton of chances for Kelvin to get into the attack as a wingback and he was vastly underutilized. A sparkling 97 percent completion rate combined nicely with two of the team’s six key passes when he did get forward.
One thing I liked: When Leerdam finally got the memo to push high and attack the corner space, Seattle thrived. Multiple times in the last five minutes of the half, Kelvin made strong runs from wide into the corners and Seattle found their best opportunities.
One thing I didn’t like: It took way too long for Kelvin to adjust to the needs of the formation, and in the second half he was less effective before subbing off.
Going forward: This team needs the balance that Leerdam can offer from a wide position.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 3.7 (off 63’ for Svensson)
Delem was asked to be the fulcrum defensive midfielder in front of the backline, and he had some of the best opportunities to distribute to Seattle’s strength points, which he was ill suited for. Jordy rarely got into the attacking half, and with the back five unclear on their own responsibilities, there were huge gaps in an already shorthanded midfield.
One thing I liked: In the 39th minute, Delem showed how Seattle could win possession and quickly transition. He won the ball, and quickly transitioned. They had a nice chance.
One thing I didn’t like: Some might blame Delem for a bad pass that was picked off and turned eventually into the first goal. That was a turnover in an okay spot, but what killed me wasn't the bad pass — it was that this was further evidence of the team forcing the ball to Nicolás Lodeiro no matter what, a habit that constantly creates issues. To further my distaste, Jordy once again waved his hands around like an inflatable car sales sign on the ensuing shot from Sam Johnson that deflected in. Didn’t he learn his lesson last week?
Going forward: Asking Jordy to be a distributor from a deep lying position is perhaps a role better suited for Danny Leyva.
Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 5.1
I am not sure how he will play this weekend, but Roldan ran his ass off against RSL. He covered the entire field with movement, had 92 percent passing, and tried to hustle his way into covering for a massive midfield deficit. It worked pretty well, until he started to get predictably fatigued.
One thing I liked: On the few occasions that Cristian was able to get all the way across the field into the offense, he dove straight at goal with some excellent vertical runs. In the 39th and 58th minutes, this sort of movement nearly created chances for Seattle.
One thing I didn’t like: The formation ended up being more of a six-man back line with Delem and two forwards, somehow expecting Roldan and Lodeiro to run the entire midfield by themselves. That didn’t go so well as the 40 yard gap from defense to offense was too much for even those two.
Going forward: I am a firm believer in putting your best players in positions to excel, and this formation didn’t do that for Seattle. I love Roldan, but I am guessing he shows some signs of fatigue this weekend.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 5 | Community – 5.4 (MOTM)
Similar to Roldan, Nico was asked to do a ton of work in the midfield, hopelessly trying to connect the deep backline and two-man forward combination. This was asking a lot, and as good as he is, Lodeiro really struggled against RSL. He had a 72 percent passing completion, but more telling was his inability to connect with anyone going towards goal.
One thing I liked: At the end of the first half Seattle looked dangerous via nice through balls and vision from Lodeiro, who also nearly scored in the 44th minute after starting the play centrally, feeding the ball wide, then getting it back for a shot.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico was 1 of 15 when attempting to complete passes into or near the penalty area. It’s not great, Dan.
Going forward: I am never betting against Lodeiro to dominate a midfield, but it’s an especially big ask during the third game in a week that included travel and an elevation gain.
Luis Silva – 5 | Community – 4.1 (off 61’ for Morris)
I thought the introduction of Silva to the Sounders first team went fairly well. He didn’t do anything spectacular, but he made strong runs and combined decently with a group of people he had just met. There weren’t any flashy plays, but his effort and movement reminded me a lot of the guy he’s ostensibly replacing or covering for (Will Bruin).
One thing I liked: I liked how well Silva seemed to understand his teammates. Checking to them when needed, coming back defensively a few times, and flicking through for Ruidíaz showed me that Silva has a nice soccer IQ.
One thing I didn’t like: Every single touch he had was within 20 yards of the center line. That is not what we want out of a forward, and it got worse as he got tired.
Going forward: Silva did about what I expected, and we can likely pencil him in for similar performances going forward. I don’t think forcing two forwards worked at all against RSL, but as someone who can combine well with a new team, I thought Luis was okay considering the circumstances.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 5 | Community – 5.0
This was a very quiet night from the dynamic Ruidíaz, who hasn’t scored in a while. His 96 percent passing was clean but having only a single shot is just too few for a player of his caliber and responsibility. He was also unable to get the ball in any dangerous positions.
One thing I liked: Raúl seemed a bit slow in Utah, but his vertical movement nearly got him in behind on a number of occasions.
One thing I didn’t like: Raúl didn’t connect well with Silva, and all having a second forward did was deprive the midfield of having someone to help even out the proceedings. While Silva put Ruidíaz into space and flicked on well, the opposite rarely happened.
Going forward: Raúl isn’t going to create a ton of goals on his own, instead relying on deft movement and finishing ability. Without someone getting the ball into the box consistently, he is going to continue to struggle.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 5.3 (on 61’ for Silva)
Morris came in and showed a lot of hustle, but had an anemic 12 touches and showed just how poor the Sounders were at getting the ball to the forwards. Pushing for an equalizer after Morris came on, his team conceded another instead.
One thing I liked: Jordan had immediate impact, driving into space and getting a nice cross off in the 65th minute. He continued to try to energize the team, to little effect.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 63rd minute Morris just missed a slip diagonal pass through to Ruidíaz, which would have likely tied the score but was barely intercepted.
Going forward: Morris continues to play well when given a chance, but the team still seems incapable of playing him into dangerous areas with consistency.
Gustav Svensson – 5 | Community – 5.0 (on 63’ for Delem)
It was nice to see the Goose back on the field after missing the last three matches with injury. He was a bit rusty in his movement, but showed off a nice 95 percent passing completion, only missing on a single long switching pass. He didn’t record a single defensive action.
One thing I liked: Svensson didn’t fit much better than Delem in that formation but his long passing helped Seattle switch the point of attack on multiple occasions. In the 81st minute he dropped a perfect long switching pass from left to right and it opened up the whole field for quick transition. This is one tool that was missing while he was out.
One thing I didn’t like: When RSL scored their second goal, Svensson was sucked out of the middle of the field to triple team a winger. This left the defense unbalanced and the middle open, with Roldan and Lodeiro unable to support centrally.
Going forward: Svensson was really clean with his passing, and that was a great sign upon his return. Look for him to drop into the middle of the field in some capacity going forward.
Handwalla Bwana – 4 | Community – 4.2 (on 78’ for Leerdam)
Bwana once again got inserted, perhaps to be an offensive spark. Bwana played 14 minutes, completed only one pass, and was flagged for offside once on his way to being a nonfactor in his brief appearance.
One thing I liked: There wasn’t much to like.
One thing I didn’t like: Inserted in the attack, Handwalla touched the ball a measly three times. On multiple occasions he looked to pull up instead of sprinting or sliding for a ball, showing what looked to be a lack of effort.
Going forward: Bwana looked dangerous without quite scoring two matches ago and hasn’t looked good since. I don’t know what this team is expecting him to do, but I’m guessing he is not doing it.
Armando Villareal – 7 | Community – 5.2
Villareal had little to adjudicate with Seattle barely putting up a fight and both teams committing a tame eight fouls and earning one yellow each. With so little action, there wasn’t much for the referee to call, and other than the few judgement calls there wasn’t much to worry about in this slog.
One thing I liked: The ref kept the game under control, and carded people who deserved it. There is something to be said about not having to do much, but also not inserting yourself into the match.
One thing I didn’t like: I absolutely think that Everton Luiz deserved a red card in the 52nd minute. He lunged studs first two footed from behind into Roldan, scissoring his legs and finishing by kicking through. This was a very dangerous foul that could have done a lot of harm and, to me, is textbook serious foul play. The VAR referee thought otherwise, and didn’t even bother talking to Villareal about his quick yellow card.
Going forward: Only one big VAR annoying red card mistake, making this an above average MLS referee job. This is the new normal.
Real Salt Lake MOTM
Albert Rusnák found plenty of space to operate in and around Seattle’s makeshift back line and stretched midfield. He consistently played clever one-twos to pull the Sounders apart, and turned that into chances for teammates, and a goal for himself.
I have said all year that the LA Galaxy isn’t great, but rather that they’re carried by one great individual player. I hope A: I’m right, and B: Zlatan magic doesn’t happen against us.