I won’t sugarcoat it, this was a debacle, a disaster, a downright embarrassing soccer match that took me over a week to process and hours to put my thoughts into words. Seattle was hesitant, tentative, and unable to deal with the intensity and pressure that the home team presented from the first whistle. The final was 3-0 and Columbus rather comfortably hoisted the MLS Cup at home, with Sounders fans left to ponder how it all went wrong. Seattle was thoroughly outplayed in the first half, failing to show much fight against the Crew, who came out pumped up, dominating with intensity and skill like the Sounders hadn’t seen this season. The “hot hand” lineup choices were not even warm, resulting in a two-goal deficit and some dreadful play. The Sounders massively improved after the half and went 25 minutes without conceding. But by the time Seattle played at their potential skill level, they were down multiple goals; no tactical changes and subs would reverse that deficit. The entire team failed to play anywhere near the quality side we saw most of the season, and they were woefully ill-prepared for this match.
Stefan Frei – 5 | Community – 6.1
Just like Frei gets extra credit for shutouts when his defense is great in front of him, he gets docked for letting in three goals in the Cup Final. You may be surprised that Seattle didn’t win any matches this year when conceding three goals; in fact, their previous match against Minnesota was the only one they were victorious in after giving up two.
One thing I liked: Columbus might have opened the scoring in the 17th minute on a scramble during a corner kick, except Frei was able to get an arm on a shot that was close to him. While not requiring an acrobatic dive, it showed his incredible strength to keep a shot from deflecting in and this was an excellent save.
One thing I didn’t like: Stefan will especially want the first goal back. He got a lot of his hand on it, and it only deflected in after contact. There’s a chance that the game would have ended differently if Columbus didn’t score that one, although it’s hard to blame Frei for not being amazing there.
Going forward: It wasn’t his fault that Seattle lost, as Columbus didn’t give Frei a chance to impact the game.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 5.3 (off 46’ for Smith)
Nouhou did his job well in the half he was allowed to play. His defense was okay, with six actions and as much two-way presence as he could muster within a team that was completely unprepared for a press. His 92 percent passing was best in the game and he consistently found teammates and kept the ball for Seattle.
One thing I liked: In the 3rd minute Nouhou roasted an opponent on the dribble, slid past another player, and played an inviting curler up the line into the run of Jordan Morris. This was one of the better first half exchanges from Seattle.
One thing I didn’t like: I understand the reasoning to get a more polished attacker into the match. But Nouhou was not the problem in the first half and removing him helped create the transition opportunities that were Columbus’ only offense after the break.
Going forward: It wasn’t his decision to be subbed off at half, but if he wants to be a serious starter and full match performer, he needs to improve his service so this substitution isn’t even a consideration in the future.
Shane O’Neill – 4 | Community – 5.1 (off 70’ for Medranda)
Shane had an awful performance. He got the first Sounders possession and promptly kicked the ball out of bounds, and it went downhill from there. O’Neill was a disaster against the press of Columbus, constantly and inexplicably back-pedaling to allow the Crew more space to exploit in the Seattle defense. This invited Columbus forward into gaps he created, eliminating possession and forcing more pressure onto the opposite side of the field. His positioning was so deep that it put incredible stress on the right to not be terrible, with decidedly mixed results.
One thing I liked: He had 12 defensive actions, many of them attempting to rectify errors he created either by bad positioning or play, but hey, he had 91 percent passing.
One thing I didn’t like: There is so much wrong with his play on the second goal it should be a Ted Talk. It starts with him running back to mark the penalty area, just in case the 18-yard box decides to shoot. Somehow that works (broken clock theory?) and he finds himself in a good spot to deal with a bad cross that is waist high. The “choose your own adventure” kicked in: Shane could a) chest trap, b) thigh trap, c) foot trap, d) clear it, e) fall down and let Frei or Yeimar Gómez Andrade get it, f) trip, fall backwards and kick it out for a corner, g) literally anything else except h) which he chose: a ridiculous falling/diving header — not wide for a throw, back toward the corner, or anywhere safe — but back to the middle of the field and the best player in the game who is wide open because, yeah, Shane just left him to try the gymnastic crap. This was an egregiously poor soccer play.
Going forward: It wasn’t his fault that Xavier Arreaga had a baby due, but if O’Neill is anywhere near a starting lineup for this team next year, there are some big questions for management.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 5.9
Yeimar did everything he could to drag the players around him through the finish line, but couldn’t get it done by himself. He handled everything he could (which was substantial) and ended with 14 defensive actions while playing both right center back and right back for most of the match, sprinkled in with rushing across to defend the left, especially after Nouhou was removed.
One thing I liked: There’s only so much one man can do, but Yeimar was excellent. He completely removed the Crew’s leading scorer Gyasi Zardes from the game, limiting him to a single shot, three touches in the box, and a single successful attacking pass in the 75th minute.
One thing I didn’t like: A counter in the 8th minute came from YGA’s Achilles heel — the poor pass central from the back. This is something he struggled with all year and another reason to have a more dynamic passer next to him.
Going forward: Yeimar was one of the very best defenders in the league this year, and Seattle should prioritize surrounding him with people who can rise to his level, not pull him down to theirs.
Alex Roldan – 4 | Community – 3.8 (off 60’ for Leerdam)
The younger Roldan was criticized for his play in this game and while it wasn’t great, he was blamed for goals in his area that were direct results of terrible plays by teammates. He shares some blame, but there’s a reason why you play your TAM veteran player in a big game: he’s more likely to prevent those breakdowns from resulting in a goal.
One thing I liked: Alex completed 86 percent of his passing attempts completed. He recognized the issues around him, even if he was unable (twice) to prevent a goal from happening on his side of the field. In the second half he was fine, as soon as Seattle replaced the traffic cone in front of him.
One thing I didn’t like: It took multiple goals for Seattle to adjust. If the Crew’s smarmy coach can go on an interview during play and mention how out of position Seattle was getting and how easy a switching ball could find back post runners, a Sounders coach should also notice. Alex was literally screaming about the back side prior to the first goal while running back to cover after being caught high. Where was the adjustment? Another great reason to play your TAM veteran in a big game.
Going forward: This year Alex Roldan made both an argument to be in the running for the right back spot next year, and an argument for anyone but him to be in that spot.
Cristian Roldan – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 6.3 (MOTM)
Cristian was okay in the first half, clearly limited by the Sounders midfield weaknesses ahead of him and poor positioning from the back line. Because of the Crew press, Roldan couldn’t play two positions at once as he was forced to previously in the playoffs, and Seattle suffered. He had 16 defensive actions but was reactive through the middle. He improved the offense immensely after halftime, finding success on the right and turning an abject first half weakness into a strength for Seattle.
One thing I liked: Some of the best Sounders attacks came right out of the mid-game break, with Roldan crossing from the right beautifully in the 47th, getting a shot on goal a minute later, and having a header go just over in the 51st. If any of those had connected, Seattle might have made a match of it.
One thing I didn’t like: Only 71 percent passing was lowlighted by a ton of first half misses in the midfield and a dreadful 0/8 on passes into the box in the second.
Going forward: Cristian was the most consistently good player for this team in the playoffs and would greatly benefit from lineups that make sense and allow him to excel.
João Paulo – 5 | Community – 5.1 (off 60’ for Bruin)
João Paulo had his first taste of MLS Cup and apparently the flavor was just okay for him. He was also just okay, failing to impact the match in the sort of fashion he did consistently for much of the season. His stats were fine — 80 percent passing and 13 defensive actions — but there weren’t any defining moments that made you remember he is a DP.
One thing I liked: Combining with Gustav Svensson and Seattle fielding a full 11 players for the second half unlocked JP, who went 11/14, was positioned much higher up the field, and found success combining into the wide areas Seattle wanted to attack.
One thing I didn’t like: When Seattle was conceding goals, he was conspicuously absent supporting the right side, even though A. Roldan and the traffic cone consistently got caught up field. Normally, a defensive midfielder would slide into the space in the back right, and while he recorded some actions there after the goals, prior to that he was busy supporting the sagging central areas.
Going forward: JP struggled in the playoffs, whether from fatigue or injury or who knows. The promise he showed and his ability to transform Seattle into a more dynamic team going forward was awesome, but with a DP price tag come expectations that must be higher than this performance.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 5.4
Jordan seemed to be a non-factor for most of the night as the compact 4-4-2 of the Crew limited his break away moments, but the re-watch highlighted quite a few solid chances created. Jordan had two shots, two key passes, and some of the best of the few chances for Seattle to score.
One thing I liked: Morris had an 18th minute shot that nearly put Seattle on the board first, a drop to Nico Lodeiro for a key pass that was almost an assist, and rattled the crossbar with a header in the 80th minute. This game is a lot different if any of those go in.
One thing I didn’t like: Big players need to show up in big games and this match needed him to be better. That means better offense as well as defense, something he normally gets a pass for. The first goal of the match came when Morris failed to close down a wide attacker, instead allowing the opponent an open look to dial up a back-post cross.
Going forward: Jordan continues to be this guy who doesn’t reach his potential, mostly because that potential is world class high and climbs every year. If he keeps improving at the rate he has in the last few seasons, he is a definite MVP candidate, but I’ll settle for playing better in the MLS Cup Final.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 5.5
Something was clearly off with Nico. Maybe it was the grass, or the travel, or the away fans blowing their pandemic breath around, or the calf knock he apparently had, but he wasn’t his normal self. While Lodeiro was still okay, he touched the ball 20 to 40 fewer times than I would expect with the amount of possession Seattle had, and he struggled to find spaces to link up with teammates. Some of this was the lack of a right wing and a struggling defense in the first half, but Nico fought the entire match to present service into the box.
One thing I liked: Even less dynamic than normal, Lodeiro still had a game-high five key passes and continuously put the ball to others’ feet to be redirected towards goal. He also had a nice shot himself, pushing the ball just wide in the 71st.
One thing I didn’t like: Unfortunately, Seattle really needed Nico to step up and be much more than average. His service was subpar, with the captain struggling to figure out the grass for most of the match. This was the biggest game of the year and he wasn’t the best player on the field.
Going forward: Lodeiro signed an extension and Seattle will contend as long as he’s on the team.
Joevin Jones – 3 | Community – 2.9 (off HT for Svensson)
“I was astounded at the complete lack of aggression from Jones, especially in a game that needed exactly that.” Why the quotes? That’s what I wrote the last time I gave someone a 3 in an MLS Cup Final, which was also Joevin Jones three years ago. He was ineffective this year in 45 minutes of soccer that was completely unflattering and perhaps deserved an even earlier substitution. He repaid the faith the coaches had in him with his second dreadful match in a Cup final.
One thing I can’t help but throw my hands up about: He earned a 10th minute free kick for Seattle, with a rather impressive amount of acting that even Carlos Vela would be proud of. That he tried harder to sell this completely non-contact foul than play any semblance of soccer is ridiculous.
One thing I didn’t like: Nearly everything he did in this match either stopped a Sounders attack, enabled a Columbus attack, or both. The first goal was the best example, as he had a great view of A-Rold both playing his position up the right and sprinting back to cover the hole, which Jones ignored and Lucas Zelerayán did not. This wasn’t the first time this happened, as in the 8th minute Joevin couldn’t even be bothered to cross midfield to come back defensively. Time and time again, he had a great view of everyone around him playing soccer while he stood or jogged around. I’ll make myself crazy if I try to analyze it more, so I’ll leave it at this: He was by far the worst player on the field.
Going forward: He is out of contract and there was nothing in this playoff run that made him worth another one.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 5 | Community – 5.6
Ruidíaz was for the most part stifled against Columbus, as the Crew defended him by choking off any midfield supply. He was limited to 23 ineffective touches and was constantly forced away from goal to support the midfield that was struggling to deal with pressure up the field.
One thing I liked: There were a number of “almosts” for Raúl, including a 27th minute Lodeiro cross and a 47th minute Roldan one. Ruidíaz also was the main outlet to alleviate the press, as he consistently dropped to give options for a beleaguered defensive block.
One thing I didn’t like: Other than a nice 92nd minute shot on goal, he had nothing on frame and all his touches were around midfield. Last I checked, it’s hard to score from midfield, but he did inexplicably try one from there to start the second half, because that worked one time in a high school match.
Going forward: Ruidíaz is one of the top strikers in the league and if Seattle can add another piece or two to convert possession to him in dangerous areas, he will lead the league in goals.
Brad Smith – 4 | Community – 5.3 (on 46’ for Nouhou)
Smith came in at half, removing Nouhou and opening the left a little more. You could see the intention, subbing the offense-minded Smith in to connect with some play up the left. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a small Spaniard in front of him and failed to get into any open attacking spaces, instead settling for hopeful crosses to the 5’0” striker blanketed by two 6’2” center backs.
One thing I liked: Smith found some space on the left and found four crosses from near the end line that I suppose is what the coaches wanted when they subbed him in.
One thing I didn’t like: He had 56 percent passing and a high elbow that probably gets him booted in a non-final. Are you telling me Nouhou couldn’t offer better than that? Oh, and he got pantsed defensively on the third goal.
Going forward: Smith never had a strong match since his return to Seattle, and he will need to come to camp fit and ready to prove something next year.
Gustav Svensson – 6 | Community – 6.0 (on 46’ for Jones)
Svensson played excellently in his half of the match, tilting the field in the Sounders’ favor and making those around him better. (A novel concept!) He won four aerials, had a shot and a key pass, and helped make the second half at least somewhat interesting.
One thing I liked: The Goose immediately enabled Seattle to handle pressure better and to influence both sides of the field. He arrived as a halftime sub and immediately changed the match. His ability to support the defensive channels pushed JP forward into the attack and calmed down the defense, while his passing and vision created diagonal space that opened up the field.
One thing I didn’t like: Svensson was forced to sit out the first half due to playing too well the previous game.
Going forward: Gustav can hold his head high if this is his last season as a Sounder — his play in his final games was as good as any in his career here.
Kelvin Leerdam – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 60’ for A. Roldan)
Leerdam arrived early in the second half, and while he didn’t have the immediate positive impact of the last match, he was solid and dependable, two things lacking in the opening phase of the match, as Columbus built their 2-0 lead. He had 25 touches, 80 percent passing, and a shot in a shift that wasn’t as impactful as hoped.
One thing I liked: Kelvin looked longer and more offensively than Alex, probing deeper and switching the field in some nice tactical alertness that saw the right back look past the short, square ball that was a problem against the press prior.
One thing I didn’t like: Maybe he could only play a half of a game, fitness-wise, and if so, hindsight showed he played the wrong half.
Going forward: Leerdam is clearly a good player still, but his play and the play of those around him have raised reasonable questions about his value.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.4 (on 60’ for João Paulo)
Bruin came in and banged around with the center backs, giving Seattle another dedicated body up front and some different options for a team that seemed content to launch crosses and see what happened. He had seven touches.
One thing I liked: Although he wasn’t on the ball a lot, Will hustled, earning a key pass and winning a header and being willing to mix it up and create chaos that Seattle attempted to capitalize on.
One thing I didn’t like: Seven touches and 67 percent passing in half an hour is very low output and highlighted the Sounders’ struggles to create offense.
Going forward: Bruin is still a great back-up, but this playoff showed the consistency issues that likely keep him as such.
Jimmy Medranda – 6 | Community – 4.9 (on 77’ for O’Neill)
In his first dedicated sub appearance with any substance to it, I thought Medranda was excellent. Not afraid to mix it up, he planted himself in the attacking third and controlled the match as a false 10. He made the most of his 13 touches, sitting in the gaps centrally and moving the ball to teammates.
One thing I liked: Medranda looked great with the ball on his foot, smoothly dribbling through traffic and finding clean, attacking passes.
One thing I didn’t like: He only tried one pass toward goal, and it was unsuccessful.
Going forward: Seen as a throwaway move late in the season, Jimmy has a lot of promise as a guy who can be replacement level plus at numerous positions.
Jair Marrufo – 5 | Community – 5.1
Marrufo wasn’t great; there were a few pretty bad calls and some okay ones. Seattle got away with some poor plays that were high profile, and Columbus got away with a lot of little plays that happened behind the ball and it all added up to a “meh” referee job.
One thing I liked: He tried to keep the match flowing, often allowing advantage very smartly and the game was fairly adjudicated on both sides for the most part.
One thing I didn’t like: JP got a yellow on his second foul. A foul on Ruidíaz in the box offensively in the 34th was suddenly not a foul for Roldan in the Columbus box in the 61st (which would have been a PK). Advantage being played but no cards for the behind-the-play hacks on Nico were particularly aggravating, as he was playing on a bum wheel. The final goal came on a foul that went uncalled at midfield. Sigh.
Going forward: As far as referees in the MLS Cup go, this was fine.
Columbus Crew MOTM
We considered offering Zelerayán as the only voting option in the poll. That’s how dominant his performance was. He found space back post to score the opener via a one touch finish. His composure and clarity of thought to set up the second goal (thanks to whatever O’Neill was doing) was sublime. And, of course, on the third he holds space, knows exactly what he wants to do before the pass arrives, and executes perfectly. Well played.
That it. That’s the season (except for my recap post).