Seattle advanced to their fourth MLS Cup Final via an emotionally charged, come from behind fiesta 3-2 win versus Minnesota United. Although Seattle dominated in nearly every statistical and visual aspect of the match, they found themselves down 0-2 after 70 minutes via two set piece goals very much against the run of play. Unwilling to go peacefully into the sunset after these unfortunate mistakes, Seattle battled back, supported by some late substitutions that increased the intensity and precision for the home squad, and scored three times in twenty minutes. This wasn’t a matter of if the Sounders were going to score but whether they would have enough time to come back in a match they dominated. Although the goals seemed inevitable, a less patient and proficient team likely doesn’t score at all, and we are all watching something else on Saturday night.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.8
Stefan didn’t have a lot to do in this match, recording three rather mundane saves on shots right to him. While Minnesota managed seven shots, only their two goals were scary, and Frei had little chance at either.
One thing I liked: Frei showed the class and maturity he brings to the game with his leadership late in the game. Every time the defense got on the ball, he directed traffic, made good decisions, and calmly found teammates. This was in stark contrast to the play on the other side of the field as Minnesota imploded.
One thing I didn’t like: He set up a wall on the first goal and then the wall failed to do its job. Emanuel Reynoso had a great match and put a beautiful ball in, but ultimately Frei needs to demand his players do the job in front of him. If executed better, that shot would have been deflected.
Going forward: Frei calmly does everything right, and Seattle moves on.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 6.7 (off 70’ for Smith)
Nouhou played great against Minnesota, completely dominating his side defensively and adding some enterprising runs upfield in support of the offense. He had 12 actions on the defensive side of the field and got forward to help overload multiple times on the left.
One thing I liked: In the 24th minute Nouhou retrieved a ball on a nice central recovery and calmly looked upfield. He spotted Joevin Jones churning up the right and delivered a perfect over the top pass right into Joevin’s run. This was a magical bit of distribution like we normally expect from João Paulo or Cristian Roldan, not Nouhou.
One thing I didn’t like: With Jordan Morris cooking so well up the left wing early, Nouhou got a little overzealous when attempting to join in. A few times his overlapping run seemed to limit the width for Jordan, and between the two I’d rather the MLS Best-XI guy get that space.
Going forward: Nouhou has solidified his starting role and continues to add consistent performances.
Shane O’Neill – 5 | Community – 5.9
Shane O’Neill started his third playoff match in a row, but his play has deteriorated each round. Against a Minnesota team that didn’t create much offensively, Shane still managed to have several frustratingly bad plays combined with more deep positioning that created gaps in the defense that were unnecessary.
One thing I liked: Shane had a good 88 percent passing clip, keeping the ball for his team and finding safe outlet passes, including a 22nd minute long ball up the left wing.
One thing I didn’t like: O’Neill struggled defensively, getting beat multiple times and keeping runs onside unnecessarily. In the 28th minute he made an overly aggressive and unnecessary yellow card-earning foul that in many matches is a game-defining red card. He then failed to jump on the ensuing free kick when the rest of the wall did, and Reynoso scored right over his head.
Going forward: Shane earned his playing time with some solid defense and a goal in the first two matches of the playoffs, but he shouldn’t start in the final as he is no longer a “hot hand.”
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 7.1
Quietly efficient, Yeimar had yet another excellent defensive match against Minnesota: 68 touches, 75 percent passing and 15 defensive actions that showcased his range and anticipation all night. He was also a constant menace on all 10 Sounders corner kicks, drawing multiple defenders and creating space his team would utilize late.
One thing I liked: Did you know Robin Lod played in this game? Surprised me too, as Yeimar completely removed his influence from the match. Lod, marked by YGA, earned a single weak shot and had 56 percent passing. He had zero passes completed toward goal, as he went from “false-nine” to “missing-nine” over 90 minutes.
One thing I didn’t like: As usual, the only blemish on Yeimar’s play was his passing, which remains an adventure. Frei and others bailed him out on a few plays, but he still needs to improve on decision making when passing across the middle from the back.
Going forward: Yeimar’s skill and ability to limit opponent’s forward play will be needed in the MLS Cup Final, and he should excel no matter who is around him.
Alex Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.8 (off 70’ for Leerdam)
Like O’Neill, Alex struggled early in the match, showing too much aggression, perhaps due to excitement. He cleaned up his play after a near-disastrous start and ended with a couple of key passes and 87 percent completion rate before subbing off in the 70th.
One thing I liked: A 14th minute overlap and cross was a brief glimpse into what A-Rold can provide, and even though he had a quiet match after the early struggles, Alex ended with multiple shot creating passes from his right back position.
One thing I didn’t like: The younger Roldan started off way too hyped, committing a yellow card-worthy foul two minutes into the match and earning that yellow in the 9th minute after diving in recklessly on Kevin Molino. This was a disappointing start for Alex, who never seemed to get into the flow of the match afterwards, likely because he had the specter of the card looming over his head.
Going forward: Alex had some amazing growth this season and a breakout playoff match, but he should be a substitute option in the final.
Cristian Roldan – 8 | Community – 7.5
Cristian Roldan was outstanding against the Loons, creating from his deep defensive position with excellent direct vertical runs and wide service. He found the ball 89 times and distributed at an 80 percent clip. He wasn’t remiss in his defending, adding 10 actions across the entire field, showing range and consistently recovering to protect the back line.
One thing I liked: Cristian was relentless about attacking the Minnesota defense. Time and again he victimized Ozzie Alonso who couldn’t keep up with Roldan’s vertical runs. Cristian attempted a dozen passes into or from within the opponent penalty area and had three key passes and a disallowed assist. His ability to add another body to the attack was crucial for Seattle, and he continually drove into the right channel and distributed.
One thing I didn’t like: Although he ran around Alonso all night, Roldan struggled to find the final pass (as many Sounders did). A few times he got into good areas but chose the wrong ball and he forced it a few times.
Going forward: Roldan managed to play both defensive midfield and right mid at the same time against Minnesota. Perhaps he will just be on the right for the final.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 6.7 (off 73’ for Bruin)
JP had a busy time patrolling the middle, combining with Roldan to help limit Minnesota from quality chances. He filled up the stat sheet with two shots, a key pass, 87 percent completion rate and 82 touches to help Seattle completely control the central midfield areas.
One thing I liked: João Paulo didn’t get forward to directly attack a lot, but he inched up his line of confrontation throughout the match, slowly packing Minnesota into their defensive third. When he did get into the box, pressing in the 27th, he nearly scored. By the time he subbed out in the 73rd minute, he had run his opponents into exhaustion, and the away team wasn’t even trying to counterattack after having been rebuffed so often.
One thing I didn’t like: JP missed a few great chances to spring Seattle from deep areas, either choosing to be less direct or failing to complete the killer pass. In the 34th he left his pass just short of the onrushing Morris, who was central and flying toward goal unmarked.
Going forward: João has taken a bit of a back-seat role the last few matches, but look for him to break out in the final, especially if paired with Svensson in a more attack-minded role.
Jordan Morris – 8 | Community – 7.0
Morris was a dominant wide player all match, creating at least 10 chances through attacking the box and looking direct or for teammates. His final line was three shots and three key passes, but that fails to illustrate how much he influenced the Minnesota defensive shape on each run up the field.
One thing I liked: Morris was brilliant in creating chances on the left, driving into space and crossing or finding his own shot. Nearly every touch was toward goal, like his startlingly hard 65th minute left-footed rocket that hit the post and sadly bounced out. This was a near-perfectly taken chance and Minnesota keeper Dayne St. Clair could only watch and pray that the ball would stay out of the goal.
One thing I didn’t like: For all his creation, Jordan was a tiny touch off or a split second late with his attempts, coming tantalizingly close but missing on chance after chance. Some more precision on a few touches and he would have had a greater impact on the score line.
Going forward: Morris didn’t score or assist again, meaning he is due for four of each in the final.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 8 | Community – 8.1
This match was the embodiment of Seattle’s captain Nico Lodeiro. Seattle constantly moved, pressed, forced the ball forward, probed, and eventually leveraged its superior talent into willing the ball into the net. Lodeiro was everywhere.
One thing I liked: As everyone tired around him, Nico kept knocking on the door until it broke and the Sounders burst through. Pumping ball after ball into dangerous areas, Seattle eventually scored from two late set pieces expertly taken by Lodeiro. Adrenaline only gets you so far, after that it’s instinct and fatigued muscle memory, and somehow Lodeiro found a way to create set piece scoring opportunities. Having the mental ability to concentrate after 108 touches and 94 minutes of soccer and execute perfect set piece delivery to win the match is other worldly.
One thing I didn’t like: Like Morris, Nico seemed a touch slow or just a smidge off on a few key passes that could have broken the match open much earlier. Some through balls were a little too long, and a sloppy touch stopped Lodeiro from punishing Minnesota earlier.
Going forward: I’m going out on a limb here, but I suspect he will start the MLS Cup Final.
Joevin Jones – 5 | Community – 5.7 (off 77’ for Svensson)
For the second game in a row Joevin struggled to combine with the teammates around him. His 46 touches and 82 percent passing were part of another underwhelming match, and the coaching staff moved him around in the second half to try to unlock some value from his play. To his credit, Joevin played hard and supported teammates, but he struggled to find his part in an offense that was playing around him for most of the game.
One thing I liked: Subbing out Jones got the game winner, Gustav Svensson, on the field.
One thing I didn’t like: Jones forced both of his shots, and was consistently missing several overlapping teammates. When he had a chance to showcase his crossing from his strong left side, he missed multiple runners in the 60th minute. Not a strong showing.
Going forward: It’s hard to see how he has earned another MLS Cup Final start.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.2
Ruidíaz had a great match, showcasing parts of his skill set that often go underrated, such as near-perfect hold up play. Multiple times, Seattle entered the attacking third via Raúl’s touch and turn, and when Bruin subbed on, they seamlessly combined as well. Stat-wise Ruidíaz was impressive, having a game-high eight shots, 87 percent passing, a score disallowed, hitting the post twice, and scoring the game-tying goal.
One thing I liked: His 89th minute goal saved the season for Seattle, rescuing the team and preventing a season-ending Sounders loss. On this corner kick, Raúl drifted off the far post, and his footwork is especially notable. He backed up as the cross came in, anticipating the deflection space and allowing him to charge forward onto the loose ball and not backwards, and his finish was incredible. Ruidíaz struck the ball somehow near post, with less than an inch to spare, a very difficult shot he made look easy.
One thing I didn’t like: In extra time of the first half, Raúl had a chance to tie the match, once again drifting off the far post, and his volley went over the goal. Had that chance gone in, I think Seattle would have run away with the game.
Going forward: Knowing Raúl is good for a playoff goal per game, Seattle starts the final up 1-0. Nice.
Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 6.5 (on 70’ for Nouhou)
Coach Schmetzer waited until the 70th minute to make subs, and that seemed late, especially in hindsight with how dramatically they drove the Seattle comeback. The first to enter was Smith, who replaced Nouhou as a more polished attacker up the left side. Brad had a tidy match, with 20 touches and perfect passing, including a key pass.
One thing I liked: The first thing he did was charge up the left and earn a corner. This direct play on the left helped spur Seattle to play more quickly.
One thing I didn’t like: Of all the subs, Smith was the least notable, and he wasn’t an offensive impact sub like the others.
Going forward: Smith is a bit of an enigma, apparently missing Víctor Rodríguez’s creativity to play from. He remains a quality soccer player who can come in as a sub and offer skilled play.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 7.2 (on 70’ for Alex Roldan)
Leerdam had excellent impact as a sub, entering for Alex Roldan and completely changing the way Seattle played up the right wing. He was direct, aggressive, and singularly attack-minded. While forcing the play into the opponent’s area, Kelvin still managed an impressive 93 percent passing clip, diving into the box to combine with Nico and Cristian as Seattle looked to find late goals.
One thing I liked: Playing as a “right back” Leerdam had only two touches in his own half and a single defensive action, instead understanding the 0-2 game state and showing a determination to change it. And he did exactly that, aggressively attacking up the right with Class A precision, and his direct play in the 73rd led to Seattle’s first score. Kelvin continued to glide into the box and poke and prod and create, ending with two key passes.
One thing I didn’t like: He had a poor pass in the 84th minute, one of only two misses on the night.
Going forward: Leerdam was able to show his class and distinguish himself as Seattle’s top right back. As long as he is healthy and fit, he should start.
Will Bruin – 7 | Community – 8.1 (on 73’ for João Paolo)
Bruin entered and two minutes later Seattle scored. Will himself found a loose ball in the box and put it into the far side netting to start the Sounders’ comeback. Later he chased down a through ball with speed rarely seen. His effort and skill drove Seattle into great chances, and he was incredibly impactful in a short time. Will turned 10 touches into a goal and a key pass, and he won three important headers.
One thing I liked: The way Will combined with Raul was absolutely fantastic. He understands Ruidiaz, and the ability to run off his forward partner was sublime. On numerous occasions it was Will drifting off the back shoulder of Raul, finding a loose ball to score or heading into the path of a teammate. His tactical intelligence and positioning were almost perfect.
One thing I didn’t like: A silly backheel turnover was one of few mistakes from the bear.
Going forward: Hopefully Seattle doesn’t need that next match, but Bruin is an incredible asset to add when you need skill and execution from an attacking role.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 8.3 (MOTM) (on 77’ for Jones)
Gustav didn’t enter until the 77th but enabled Seattle to push even more attackers forward, patrolling everywhere from midfield to the Minnesota 18-yard box. This was a nearly flawless appearance as Svensson defended well, had a perfect passing percentage, two shots, and a game-winning goal in a short time. He was everywhere, popping up all over the field to positively influence play and his insertion unlocked even more attacking capability from the Sounders.
One thing I liked: Repeatedly, Svensson patrolled in front of the back line, trapping Minnesota in deep and setting up … who am I kidding? THE GOOSE WAS LOOSE in the 94th, as he soared into the box and majestically flicked home the game winner. It takes a star to get into that position and execute, and Svensson found a gorgeous Lodeiro corner and went nothing but net to send Seattle on. This was the second goal directly attributed to his aerial danger, as he forced the error on Raúl’s goal moments before.
One thing I didn’t like: lol right.
Going forward: Svensson reminded the staff what he brings to the middle, and with Jones struggling wide, there’s a strong chance that a healthy Goose gets an MLS Cup start.
Ismail Elfath – 5 | Community – 5.5
Elfath’s refereeing wasn’t horribly poor, but it was infuriatingly inconsistent. The final tally was 11 fouls against Seattle and 15 against Minnesota, which passes the eye test but fails the sniff test. It was hard to tell what was foul-worthy throughout this match, and especially what was card-worthy as only three yellows came out, with lots of fouls behind the play forgotten, and VAR having a big part in the game state.
One thing I liked: Elfath tried hard to play advantage, and for the most part it worked. At least five times he allowed play to continue after an evident foul, and this helped the flow of the match.
One thing I didn’t like: In a vacuum, I can see the big plays being each called correctly on an individual level. Alex fouling at will deserved a yellow. O’Neill getting a smidge of ball and following through could also be called yellow. Ruidíaz did bump the defender’s back. Cristian was already falling. But the accumulation of all these calls when in comparison to each other in the same match was awful. After giving the younger Roldan a card, also give one to Chase Gaspar for a similar foul. If you call Ruidíaz for something Lucas Cavallini got a PK for earlier this year, then the contact on Roldan is a clear penalty. Unfortunately, this referee changed his methodology for calls depending on the game state, and while technically each call can be defended, the whole adds up to a bit of a mess. A referee should tell a coherent story with his calls, and this one was randomly singing Jingle Bells in the middle of War and Peace.
Going forward: He should ref less to the score or the moment and more to the rules.
Minnesota United MOTM
Emanuel Reynoso gave Minnesota a 2-0 lead through 67 minutes in the Western Conference Final, but it wasn’t enough. His free kick to open the scoring was pretty damn near perfect. His dead ball delivery for Bakaye Dibassy wasn’t bad either. He won’t be playing for MLS Cup, but maybe he can console himself with a well deserved Man of the Match award.
The only thing better than Nouhou with the Western Conference cup on his head is Nouhou with the MLS cup on his head. Make it happen.