Seattle’s first playoff match in 2020 saw them up against LAFC, a powerhouse offensive squad that led the league in scoring for most of the year. Both teams were missing some key pieces, but it was the Sounders who showed more class in a comprehensive 3-1 victory. Although many of the stats were close, at times Seattle looked completely in control, nearly scoring three more times. Normally an LAFC strength, the midfield battle was decisively won by the Sounders who dominated between the boxes. LA had opportunities as well, but a solid defense combined with explosive offense put Seattle through to the next round.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.5
Frei was credited with three saves. He didn’t have a lot of action against an LAFC squad that struggled all night to penetrate a stout Seattle defensive setup. Stef was solid with the ball at his feet and mostly stayed out of the way while others did the soccering in front of him.
One thing I liked: One of the biggest moments in the match was Frei “saving” a Carlos Vela penalty kick just after Seattle opened the scoring. Sometimes doing nothing is the best strategy, and Frei calmly stood in the middle of the goal and caught Vela’s weak attempt, to earn his first PK save in the last 12 attempts.
One thing I didn’t like: Frei will want to have some video time with the defense on the dangerous chances from LAFC, which all came on wide service to the back post. Stefan was twice beat and will want to strengthen the communication that broke down on numerous occasions.
Going forward: Frei calmly does everything right, and Seattle moves on.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 6.9 (off 91’ for Torres)
Nouhou had a monster stat line against LAFC with 85 touches, 18 defensive actions including six which were important last-minute clearances to prevent direct scoring opportunities, 85 percent passing, and other than one hiccup, was great defensively. Offensively, he made strong choices and should have earned an assist.
One thing I liked: Not only was Nouhou’s defense tremendous for 99 percent of the match, he showed up offensively in the right places. A consistent contributor to superior Sounders offensive spacing, he took matters into his own hands in the 54th minute, bursting up the wing to beat multiple defenders before dropping off a great ball to Jordan Morris for
an easy finish to double the Sounders’ lead a bad miss and LAFC goal kick.
One thing I didn’t like: This was an outstanding performance from Nouhou, but it only takes a second to have a big blunder and unfortunately for him, it came inside the box. Instead of heading the ball away, Nouhou attempted to control and turn in the box, only to be surprised by Vela who then attacked the ground viciously. Being a defender, you are often judged by your lowest moment, and this was his, regardless of how terribly the PK was taken.
Going forward: Nouhou is not only the starter, but he is providing stellar play on both ends of the field.
Shane O’Neill – 6 | Community – 6.6
O’Neill got the start as Xavier Arreaga dealt with international stuff, and was a steady stand-in. He did enough strong positional defending with nine actions directly in front of Frei, shunting LAFC wide often. A strong 6th minute tackle on Vela set the tone — this was going to be another game with a Sounders left center back willing to be physical with the LAFC star.
One thing I liked: Shane was remarkably clean with the ball, maintaining a team-high 93 percent passing rate and finding teammates in 42 of 45 attempts. He had excellent touch on his long passing and showed off multiple pinpoint distributions from the back far upfield to wingers in the first half.
One thing I didn’t like: LAFC nearly scored in the 44th minute when Bradley Wright-Phillips got in behind the Seattle defense, and this showed how disconnected O’Neill can get with his positioning. He needs to maintain a better line with those around him.
Going forward: Arreaga is likely the starter, but O’Neill has shown the ability to come in and play steady, consistent soccer in spot starts.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 7.2
Yeimar had one of his quieter matches of the season, but he was very impactful on the game. He kept a steady, strong position in the middle of the field, denying any ability for LAFC to break out while racking up 16 defensive actions. His movement sliding over to the right also allowed the Seattle offense to frequently utilize the service of an exceptional overlapping right back.
One thing I liked: Instead of wowing us with big tackles and plays, he was hugely consistent on defense and constantly denied any service to Wright-Phillips. The LAFC striker was limited to nine total touches, subbing out at halftime after being completely swallowed up by YGA.
One thing I didn’t like: Each game Yeimar has a bad pass, and this one was in the 12th minute. A hopeful, weak ball square across the middle led to a brief LAFC counter.
Going forward: Yeimar has quietly been one of the top center backs ever for Seattle, and he continues to excel no matter who is around him.
Alex Roldan – 8 | Community – 7.6
This was the best performance I’ve ever seen from Alex, who continues to make a fool of me and others who thought he wasn’t MLS quality after last season. His improvement this year has been amazing, and he continues to show growth in nearly all facets of the game. Against LAFC he was stellar, exhibiting a calm and steady defensive presence. He ended with 16 actions, tracking back well and limiting LAFC on his wing. Offensively, he was dynamic and constantly dropping in excellent service from the width.
One thing I liked: A-Rold has always had nice touch, but against LAFC he was incredible. Nearly every time he got into the attacking half of the field, he had his head up dialing up crosses perfectly into dangerous areas. He led Seattle with four key passes, continually creating offense from right back and showing massive growth in decision making and execution. His ability to find Raúl Ruidíaz from curling wide service was transcendent.
One thing I didn’t like: Although he was excellent for much of the match, LAFC did sneak behind him for a goal in the 77th minute. Roldan was slow to react to the movement of Eduard Atuesta, who scored in front of him. Got to defend better than that.
Going forward: This was the kind of complete match performance that makes people wonder whether he’ll soon be the right back starter.
Cristian Roldan – 8 | Community – 7.4
Cristian was a defensive force for much of the match and turned up in a few good spots in the second half to support the offensive side of the ball. His 21 defensive actions included a massive 15 recoveries, blanketing the field with defensive actions. He paired this with 80 percent completion and a key pass while combining with João Paulo to lock down the middle.
One thing I liked: Although quiet offensively up to that point, in the 61st minute Roldan created some space up the right wing via nifty dribbling through two and had an excellent cross to Morris, who dropped a sweet pass to Nicolás Lodeiro, who
scored easily into the wide-open net pushed his shot inexplicably wide for an LAFC goal kick.
One thing I didn’t like: It took a while for the elder Roldan to get involved in the attack. Much of his first half play was safe, wide passing and he missed everything going toward goal. Although he was defending well, it took a while for him to start connecting dangerous passes.
Going forward: Roldan’s ability to combine with JP in the defensive midfield has led to the best soccer Seattle has played this year and they neutralized LAFC’s central midfield strength.
João Paulo – 8 | Community – 7.4
João’s pairing with Cristian was a defensive fortress, and he added 21 actions of his own across the little area that Roldan didn’t dominate. JP led Seattle with 97 touches and completed 93 percent of his passes. Together that was 42 defensive actions and 187 touches combined from your defensive midfielders, and this is where Seattle won the match.
One thing I liked: When LAFC least expected it, João popped up in the box in minute 65 and earned a corner for Seattle. Ruidíaz scored off that corner to give the Sounders a 2-0 lead.
One thing I didn’t like: This was a quiet offensive game for JP. He didn’t have many actions in the attacking third and spent most of his time thanklessly defending through the middle. Luckily, Seattle didn’t need him to help overload the box.
Going forward: João’s ability to combine with Cristian in the defensive midfield has led to the best soccer Seattle has played this year and they neutralized LAFC’s central midfield strength.
Jordan Morris – 8 | Community – 8.2 (off 90’ for Delem)
Morris looked very comfortable against LAFC, working hard on both ends of the field and being goal dangerous nearly every second he was involved. He touched the ball 48 times, turned that into four shots and two key passes, and won four aerials. He ended with a goal and an assist and could have had at least two more goals.
One thing I liked: Morris scored a great transition goal and hit the post, but it was his excellent vision to pick out Lodeiro in the 18th and 61st minutes that really impressed. The second was a delicate first-time touch to find the always-moving Nico free in the box, and it deserved a better finish.
One thing I didn’t like: Nouhou beautifully set Jordan up with a wide-open look at goal in minute 54 which Morris pushed wide. This was his easiest chance of the night and he blew it.
Going forward: Remember what J-Mo did last year at home against Dallas in the playoffs? Realio remembers.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 9.2 (MOTM)
Looking at stats, you might think that Nico struggled against LAFC. He was “limited” to 86 touches, had only 74 percent passing and didn’t complete a single pass into the opponent penalty area all night. A clown once said, “you can put your hand up the puppet of stats” and well, that guy’s still a clown. This match saw Nico score, create time and time again, while being fouled mercilessly by an opponent who had no answer to his movement and distribution.
One thing I liked: The first goal started with Lodeiro somehow on the far-right sideline getting a touch and ended with him scoring from the left corner of the box. How do you defend a midfielder who makes a 60-yard cross-width run, but then first-time finishes near post by wrapping his shot around a defender into the corner? (Spoiler: You don’t.)
One thing I didn’t like: Zero key passes is a startling stat for someone who had so much influence on the match.
Going forward: Nico Lodeiro is pretty good at soccer stuff. He needs to not get another silly yellow, though.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.1 (off 70’ for Smith)
Jones returned to the right midfield and did a nice job balancing the space. This is very effective for Seattle, adding some possession and pace to the field even though Jones doesn’t appear to be doing anything exciting. He had 32 touches, showed his usual excellent possession with 91 percent passing, but didn’t add a lot to the game on either side of the ball.
One thing I liked: Joevin is so hard to dispossess, which was again on display, but he added some direct off-ball runs and some long-distance shooting, which was effective at keeping the defense honest and limiting their ability to collapse on Ruidíaz.
One thing I didn’t like: While I like the initiative to stretch the defenses out, both of Jones’ shots were poorly taken; luckily Seattle didn’t have any fans in the stadium who could have been injured by his wayward attempts.
Going forward: Sometimes the best thing to do is get out of the way and allow more effective players like Alex Roldan to get on the ball. (Did I just write that?!?)
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 | Community – 8.8
Ruidíaz is again a beast in the playoffs, creating and scoring and defending and being everywhere in support of his team’s best interests. He had 29 touches and turned that into three shots, two assists, and a goal, while also supporting centrally with defense (even popping up at left back to defend once) and hold-up play. LAFC had no answer to his movement and when they did, he found a teammate going forward.
One thing I liked: The scoring plays all had a little (or a lot) of Raúl. He started off with an excellent wide run and cross to Morris on the first goal. Ruidíaz followed this up with a high degree of difficulty shot that he made look easy in the 66th, calmly finishing a half volley into side net through the defense. After LAFC had scored to make it close, Raúl took an over the top ball, beating the offside trap, before finding Morris charging through the midfield to ice the match.
One thing I didn’t like: A-Rold dialed him up a few times, and a 38th minute cross was one that Raúl often scores on. A score there would have been huge momentum going into half, but he was unable to control the bounce.
Going forward: We might need to rename the playoffs the Ruidíazes, since he owns them.
Brad Smith – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 70’ for Jones)
Brad Smith came on and helped Seattle see out the win. He pushed Morris across the field and combined with Nouhou to patrol the left. He had a few defensive actions and looked to break several times without success.
One thing I liked: Smith and Nouhou on the left is an incredibly fast combination, and they did well to keep LAFC honest on that side after he entered.
One thing I didn’t like: Only 43 percent passing showed some struggling play from Smith, who wasn’t asked to do much other than not give the ball to LAFC.
Going forward: Smith hasn’t impressed since returning to the team.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 90’ for Morris)
Delem arrived to help see out the end of the match and did what was needed. He got Morris off the field and killed some clock.
One thing I liked: Zero touches. I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing.
One thing I didn’t like: Zero touches. I am not sure if that is a good or bad thing.
Going forward: Delem got a bit of exercise and remains fresh should he be needed next match.
Román Torres – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 91’ for Nouhou)
Torres came in to end the match.
One thing I liked: Román’s single touch was a won header, showing he is still a force in the air for Seattle.
One thing I didn’t like: There was a golden opportunity to bring Román in for Ruidíaz that was missed.
Going forward: Torres got a bit of exercise and remains fresh should he be needed next match.
Kevin Stott – 6 | Community – 6.4
Stott at times looked to have forgotten his whistle, but in the end did a fair job of refereeing. He ensured the safety of the players while, for the most part, letting the game play out. There were a few calls that I disagreed with, but the referee team did a decent job adjudicating the match.
One thing I liked: Stott went to the monitor and found Mark-Anthony Kaye offside late, a close call that he and his team got right.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico Lodeiro was fouled seven times, with a handful more that weren’t whistled. When an entire team’s strategy to stop a guy is to foul him, there is a persistent infringement rule that you can invoke. Stott should have.
Going forward: Playoff refereeing is always a crapshoot and a good way to make the refs less relevant is to score early and often.
Atuesta did well to maraud forward and get on the end of Vela’s service into the box to make a game of it in the 77th minute. Outside of that, he and his fellow midfielders struggled to impose their will, and spent most of their time wondering just where Lodeiro was lurking.
Next up: a home game against a team that gave Seattle fits in last year’s playoffs. I think getting an early score against Dallas would really help.