Seattle had a tame and predictable match against Real Salt Lake at CenturyLink this week, earning a rather mundane 2-1 victory in which they scored all three goals. The visiting team sat back most of the game, content to keep the Sounders from scoring buckets of goals, in exchange for not being particularly goal-dangerous themselves. Salt Lake ended with zero shots on target and while they improved some of their attacking play in the second half, they never looked consistently threatening, nor did they create dangerous chances or get near the goal. Seattle, on the other hand, squandered multiple chances to put this game away early and often.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.9
Chalk this up as another match in which Frei “should have” had a shutout. (I think that’s four on the season.) RSL did almost nothing to threaten his goal, and Frei was asked to do very little to ensure that the ball never came off an RSL player and into the goal. His organization of the group in front of him was excellent.
One thing I liked: Even though he was likely bored for long stretches against RSL, Frei stayed mentally involved and when needed punched the ball away (71’, 91’) or caught strongly in traffic (82’) to ensure that a routine win stayed that way.
One thing I didn’t like: There isn’t a lot to talk about when your defense allows zero shots on goal and more importantly almost no threatening moments. It’s a shame that yet another shutout was denied to Frei.
Going forward: I’m sure Stefan will accept a weird goal against in every match, as long as they win. We’ll continue these silly discussions about shutouts while still gaining three points per match.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 5.6 (off 86’ for Torres)
Hidden in the score line was Nouhou’s dominant defensive performance. The RSL passing map from their right when Nouhou was on the field was devoid of any successful attacking passes. They were so unsuccessful on his side that they abandoned it almost altogether, instead only gaining some purchase late from the left.
One thing I liked: RSL attempted a total of 10 passes in the attacking third on Nouhou’s side of the field and completed one, which went away from goal.
One thing I didn’t like: I don’t know if the ball skipped or he slipped (maybe some of each) but his own goal was awkward. Asked to come across behind to cover space that Shane O’Neill and Yeimar Gómez Andrare had left open, Nouhou originally made a good positional play only to completely flub a clearance attempt and put the ball behind Frei.
Going forward: Nouhou is less valuable as a defender if he scores on his own team.
Shane O’Neill – 6 | Community – 6.3
O’Neill stepped in and didn’t miss a beat. RSL was apparently fine to sit back and allow Seattle to dictate play for much of the match, and O’Neill smartly turned aside any small incursions and redirected the ball to teammates. His passing was immaculate, 97 percent, and the consistency of his positioning was a nice anchor for other Sounders to depend on.
One thing I liked: A backup defender who defends well, distributes to his teammates near-perfectly and is a steady, reliable player is a huge benefit to a team that will rely heavily on that depth in the next few weeks. I especially liked how he marked guys all the way across the box, like in the 40th minute, and prevented any of the deep looks that we saw in the previous match.
One thing I didn’t like: Especially in the first half I was frustrated with Shane’s distribution and positioning. His passes were just enough behind Nouhou that he was forced to obtain possession with his back to the sideline instead of his own goal. This also occurred when he tried to swing the ball to the other side, repeatedly stopping momentum by passing just behind Yeimar, or failing to lead João Paulo or Kelvin Leerdam into good spaces. This seems like a small thing, but it impacts the flow of the ball and should be fixed. He is incapable of playing vertical passes to start possession from the back. Overall, he is still behind Yeimar way too much, and a better team would take more advantage of that disconnect.
Going forward: O’Neill has been getting deserved plaudits by producing starting-level play. Seattle has a lot of depth in the back.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.0 (MOTM)
Yeimar is doing it at both ends of the field every week. Against RSL he once again put a DP striker in his pocket and dominated him so badly that Sam Johnson was the first RSL player subbed off the field midway through the second half. YGA held Johnson to a single completed attacking pass in the entire match, and only 19 total touches. On the flip side Andrade’s 86 touches were the second highest in the match, he completed 86 percent of them, added a baker’s dozen of defensive actions, and scored the game-winning goal.
One thing I liked: Yeimar may be capable of being as dominant in the air as Chad Marshall. He now has scored two goals, had 10 shots, and proven that he will make you pay if you don’t mark him on set pieces. He also almost had an assist in the 32nd minute, attacking the opposing area with an over the top pass from midfield.
One thing I didn’t like: For as well as he plays, there are some passing concerns with his, well, passing. It’s not that the 86 percent is bad, it’s that of the 10 incompletions he had on the night, some were inexplicably awful. An 89th minute one touch attempt to thread the ball through opponents square and to the middle was lucky not to have been stolen and converted. He is playing so well; he must understand that one big “oops” can undermine all the other success he’s having.
Going forward: The referee let Yeimar play this match 1-v-1 versus a striker and he ate the opponent and washed it down with a goal.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 6.4 (off 86’ for A. Roldan)
Another quiet match for Leerdam against RSL, and he was solid all around. He had 14 defensive actions on a much busier right side of the Sounders defense. He completed 85 percent of his passes. He kept control and helped Seattle’s defense feed the ball into attackers in space for them to work.
One thing I liked: Leerdam nearly had an assist in the first minute with an excellent cross to a slightly offside Jordan Morris, and then he was content to take what the match gave him. There is a lot of maturity to his decision making and sometimes the right choice is “give the ball to Nico/JP” and get out of the way.
One thing I didn’t like: RSL’s lone goal came on a badly broken-down defensive series. O’Neill chasing all the way to the right sideline and falling down wasn’t optimal, but the right side of the defense was a mess. I had to go back and find where Kelvin was, as he was caught way up field, and the confusion he created upon return allowed the RSL run in behind Yeimar and created Nouhou’s misplay.
Going forward: He hasn’t scored or assisted in a few games. Don’t sleep on Leerdam.
Jordy Delem – 6 | Community – 6.0
Delem replaced the Goose and was relatively invisible, which is a fantastic compliment to his steady play. He wasn’t required to make flashy defensive stops or create offensive attacks and he could do what he does well: defend, stay connected to the middle, and support his back line. He did this and facilitated the compact defense that stopped every RSL attack.
One thing I liked: He wasn’t involved in a lot of fancy plays, but Delem’s instinct to press into the center behind Nicolás Lodeiro was excellent in the 52nd minute and it directly created the turnover that led to a Cristian Roldan cross.
One thing I didn’t like: Jordy’s passing wasn’t always clean and while he had an 80 percent completion rate, there were plenty of misses, mostly when he tried to make attacking passes.
Going forward: Delem enabled those around him to excel, and that is a job well done that he must continue as a de-facto starter.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 7.6
Once again João Paulo was incredibly direct from his defensive midfield position, constantly looking to push the ball forward and attacking with through balls and over the top attempts to unlock the defense. At the same time, he blanketed the field with defensive actions from sideline to sideline, ending with 14.
One thing I liked: Even in a match where he’s not scoring bangers or setting up layups for teammates, JP still dominated the game from his defensive midfield position. His effort and intensity in the middle crushed any linking play, and his interaction, with Nico especially, opened fellow Sounders time and again to connect in the attacking third.
One thing I didn’t like: A 56th minute pointless foul on Johnson who wasn’t threatening goal allowed RSL a set piece. We know how dangerous they can be on dead balls, and it was a mistake to give them a chance to attack goal when they were otherwise struggling.
Going forward: João Paulo is a dominant force that is not slowing down any time soon.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 7.4
Morris was again a wide menace against an opponent, consistently diving in behind and linking up to attack down the wing. He had near-perfect passing (93 percent), only missing on two all night. He couldn’t directly assist on any goals but scored one of his own and was close on numerous occasions.
One thing I liked: His 28th minute goal showcased how clearly he sees the game. As Roldan and Nico linked up to find space on the right, Morris crashed all the way across the box behind Will Bruin, finding the ball and scoring a goal that was harder than it looked.
One thing I didn’t like: Jordan only had the one shot on goal and failed to have a key pass. Even though he was in the middle of numerous other strong attacking plays, he never quite found the connection with teammates and was ineffective after being moved to a solitary striker role.
Going forward: Jordan has found success in so many ways this season, it’s nearly impossible to defend against him.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 8 | Community – 7.8
Yet again, Lodeiro showed how to turn space, creativity, and connections with JP, Roldan, and Morris to an advantage. He was absolutely masterful in this match, with five key passes and the game-winning assist via a perfect set piece that was easily converted.
One thing I liked: He ended with two assists but could easily have had five. In the 49th and 55th minutes he dropped perfect passes onto the path of first Roldan and then Bruin, with each failing to convert. A 93rd minute pass was exquisite: after holding the ball patiently during a counter, he picked out the vertical run of Roldan and set him in free for a 1-v-1.
One thing I didn’t like: If you’re outside Seattle, you may not know how terrific Nico has been this year. He has eight assists but should have had easily eight more from the chances he’s created, and his four goals could easily have doubled had he finished some good chances of his own.
Going forward: Nico has a tough test of his endurance this weekend against a team whose defensive mids love to foul him.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.3
Roldan was excellent in this match but will likely be more remembered for what he didn’t do than what he did, which is a shame. He made great use of his 35 touches, with a shot and an assist and being part of four huge scoring opportunities for his team due to his off-ball movement and decision making.
One thing I liked: When Seattle opened up the scoring in the 28th minute, it was via Cristian getting into the box with a slick vertical run, raising his head to find the right movement of teammates, and threading a perfect pass across to find a Morris finish.
One thing I didn’t like: His wide play has been much improved lately, but in the 49th Nico delivered an absolutely perfect cross onto his foot that he put wide. A spectacular 93rd minute look from Lodeiro saw Roldan exhibit poor decision making, trying to pass after being put through clear, with Seattle failing to score.
Going forward: Roldan staying wide may have been more about depth at winger than depth at defensive midfield, but he will start. Somewhere. We just aren’t sure where.
Will Bruin – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 64’ for Smith)
Bruin got a start and was lively, if not super effective at times. His tireless work in the front was helpful early at getting others into spaces, but his impact on the game waned for much of the middle before he popped up and nearly scored right before subbing out. He ended with two shots and a 75 percent passing rate while doing all the little things we have come to expect from him on both sides of the ball, yet having only 16 recorded touches.
One thing I liked: Seattle scored in minute 61. In minute 60 Bruin was holding the ball up in pressure and turning to force a foul on the RSL defender. Seattle would score from the ensuing free kick.
One thing I didn’t like: While I applaud his “dummy” on the Morris goal, strikers should not miss the ball when trying to shoot inside the box. He also missed a gift-wrapped Nico cross in the 55th, although this was a well-taken chance that forced a strong save.
Going forward: Bruin seemed to get in the way of some of the attacks this match, and he will want to create positive space for teammates this weekend.
Brad Smith – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 64’ for Bruin)
Smith wasn’t too impressive as he got a half hour to stretch his legs and work his way back to full game fitness. He touched the ball twice more than the guy he replaced, but few of his passes were dangerous and his 71 percent completion rate wasn’t exceptional.
One thing I liked: Brad is best when running onto the ball in space, not getting the ball at his feet and creating. In this match he had few chances to do the former, and plenty to do the latter. Instead of forcing things, he took what the game gave him and made smart choices to find teammates and control the game to ensure a Sounders win.
One thing I didn’t like: Smith didn’t complete a single pass toward goal and once again failed to show much skill at playing as a winger in the Seattle offense.
Going forward: Smith hasn’t yet looked like a game changer since returning to Seattle.
Alex Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 86’ for Leerdam)
Alex got a few late minutes to help see out the win, and he helped hold on.
One thing I liked: A 92nd minute link up to the middle was a smart piece of vision and passing that got the ball forward into a dangerous space.
One thing I didn’t like: I am not sure why Seattle only used three subs (two very late) with another match in a few days.
Going forward: Roldan for Leerdam has become a consistent, dependable move for Seattle.
Román Torres – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 86’ for Nouhou)
Torres returned to CenturyLink as a Sounder and it was nice to see that giant man back on the field wearing Rave Green. When he subbed in it was as the center of a five-man backline, anchoring the defense late to hold onto a lead.
One thing I liked: Román was a perfect four-of-four passing and won a header in his six-touch outing.
One thing I didn’t like: I am not sure why Seattle only used three subs (two very late) with another match in a few days.
Going forward: Torres didn’t put any undue pressure on O’Neill for the first defensive sub spot, but the competition at practice for minutes must be heating up.
Dave Gantar – 8 | Community – 5.2
Gantar called 16 fouls, an even eight on each team, and he did well to run the match cleanly. It’s refreshing to see how soccer can be officiated in a manner that lets both teams play, yet still protects players from dangerous play. This ref was strong in using the whistle sparingly but appropriately.
One thing I liked: This was a palate cleanser after the last match, and I thought the yellow cards to Delem for a scissor tackle and to Nick Besler for a hard foul were both quickly given and justified. The referee did an excellent job of adjudicating the match and staying out of the way. He didn’t give out a single random red card or call a phantom penalty!
One thing I didn’t like: Aaron Herrara got away with a lot in addition to his three fouls committed and he could have been warned, and the yellow against O’Neill was an odd call that looked like it could have been on either guy during some handholding between players.
Going forward: It’s a good sign when I have to look up who the referee was after the match, because he didn’t insinuate himself into the match via preposterous calls.
Real Salt Lake MOTM
Chang subbed in and made RSL more dangerous. Or, dangerous for the first time, I suppose. It was his attacking play that allowed RSL’s MOTM runner-up, Owen Goal, to shine.
Playing after short rest, shorthanded, and on the road is always a tough task, but I see every reason to expect another positive result this weekend.