Seattle started off their 2020 season with a win, ultimately prevailing over the Chicago Fire 2-1, thanks to a stoppage time winner. This game was fairly one sided, and a positive result never seemed out of the realm of possibility, but there were more nervy moments than many hoped for. It was just a matter of whether the Sounders were going to find their finishing boots (or head) in time, as they squandered countless strong scoring opportunities. Failing to earn an early lead let unnecessary doubt creep in, and Seattle would have been disappointed with a draw. This match illustrated a bit of the “talent over system” mentality as the ability to change tactical positioning combined with bringing on enough game-breaking quality put the Sounders over the top.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.7
This wasn’t a great game from Frei. Although he only was asked to make two saves, there was some uncertainty to his play against Chicago, and he made some uncharacteristic mistakes. Overall the Sounders defense was strong, and the positioning of the central pair was effective at limiting chances.
One thing I liked: Seattle made a big mistake when Shane O’Neill misplayed a defender on the end line in the 82nd minute, but Frei was excellent in smothering the ensuing opportunity.
One thing I didn’t like: There were many sloppy plays from Frei. A 2nd minute clear, a fumbled 13th minute save, and missing badly on a corner kick right before half were all unforced errors that we aren’t used to seeing. After being beat near-post for the Chicago goal, Frei improved in the rest of the second half.
Going forward: It’s Stefan Frei, so there’s nothing to worry about.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.1
Jones had a very turbulent match against Chicago. He only completed three forward passes from the Chicago half of the field, yet managed to influence the game via deeper service and possession passing square and backwards.
One thing I liked: There is no denying Jones’ ability to pass the ball into dangerous areas, and it’s a unique quality from the left back position. He failed to connect any passes into the box, but on a few occasions his longer service was deadly. His best play came in the 59th minute, when his deep over the top ball found Morris in massive space, facilitating a great Sounders attack.
One thing I didn’t like: Especially in the first half, Jones was repeatedly victimized defensively. Przemyslaw Frankowski got in behind him almost at will, creating multiple perilous chances that were thwarted by other defenders or the AR. Seattle was fortunate not to give up a goal or more due to these lapses.
Going forward: Playing left back, he brought his usual verve and attacking ability from a deep position, and on several occasions showed his class in facilitating attack. Defensively he struggled early before improving in the second half. That’s what he needs to do — keep solid defense while offering quality attacking moments.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 6.4
This was a quiet, compact performance from Arreaga, with a single major defensive lapse surrounded by quality positioning and decision making. He co-led the team with 103 touches and was largely tidy with them, ending with 87 percent passing to combine nicely with some silky-smooth ball handling.
One thing I liked: Arreaga recognized Jones’ positioning issues and started to naturally step into the holes behind him, which helped the defense immensely. On multiple occasions the Fire looked to break out into these spots, and it was Arreaga who snuffed out these chances quickly, ending with 13 recoveries.
One thing I didn’t like: I have no idea what he was doing in the 46th minute, once again coming out of the locker room and failing to be ready for a game restart. Xavi’s communication with O’Neill was awful, resulting in his man being completely unmarked and able to finish a near post shot while Arreaga watched from behind.
Going forward: Arreaga looked good, working with a vastly different defensive unit than the one from Thursday. As Seattle improves as a team, it’s likely Xavier’s ball handling will shine, as his ability to dribble into space and make line-splitting passes is exceptional.
Shane O’Neill – 6 | Community – 5.9
Getting his second start for Seattle in only three opportunities, O’Neill has made the most of his chance to show he’s a dependable, MLS-level player. Like Arreaga, he was solid for most of the match, with a few small hiccups but otherwise combining well with the defense around him to limit Chicago to few tangible chances on goal.
One thing I liked: Similar to his CCL performance, Shane was, surprisingly, the leader on the back line. When Seattle pushed up as a unit they did so under his direction, and he set the line for defensive confrontation all afternoon. The organization and leadership from the new guy were pleasant surprises.
One thing I didn’t like: O’Neill can likely share some blame for the Fire goal, but he was individually responsible for a complete whiff defensively in minute 82 on the end line, and he was lucky that Frei and his teammates bailed him out.
Going forward: This guy looks like a savvy signing, ready to drop into the starting lineup and do a great job. We probably can’t expect him to earn the game-winning corner in stoppage time every week, but any bonus from depth players is something the Sounders will appreciate. He may not get many starts in the near future, with YGA returning and fixture congestion limited, but it’s a good sign that O’Neill was effective in both outings for Seattle. Seattle will need a solid, effective backup as the season wears on, and Shane looks the part.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 6.3
I was worried about Leerdam playing on short rest, but he was fine. He showed his refined attacking chops, continually getting into good spots and showcasing smart attacking instincts that led to two key passes. Defensively he combined decently on his side, limiting Chicago from doing much on their left.
One thing I liked: Leerdam was solid defensively and mixed his runs forward near-perfectly. This combination was effective in the 3rd minute (on which he deserved an assist to Ibarra) and the 72nd minute (when his layoff to Ruidíaz was pushed just wide). Kelvin made great use of his attacking plays, creating big chances without shirking his defensive responsibility.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 29th minute Leerdam had some very bad defending, and the communication from him and O’Neill was poor. Kelvin got caught inside defending, which allowed a wide-open look from the Fire.
Going forward: Kelvin has improved in each match this year, getting his fitness back up and becoming tantalizingly close to the dynamic player he was early last season. His ability to read the game and know when to pop up in forward attacking positions allows him to be a tangible offensive threat, even if he’s not constantly bombing forward.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 6.1 (off 86’ for Nouhou)
Delem got his third straight defensive midfield start in the absence of Gustav Svensson, and once again was good, not great. He displayed both some patient, tough midfield play as well as showing some of his limitations on both sides of the ball. His 83 percent passing did include a key pass.
One thing I liked: Delem was a calm midfield presence and worked solidly with first Leyva and then João Paulo. He played very differently with each, looking a bit more vertical and up the wings in the second half after playing conservative and physical in the first.
One thing I didn’t like: Almost all 63 of Delem’s passes were safe, short, and square. On numerous occasions Leerdam crept into excellent attacking spaces and Jordy either missed or ignored a penetrating, line-splitting pass that would have put the right back into a very dangerous area.
Going forward: Delem is the most likely player to be moved when Svensson returns, but I expect to see a lot of Jordy this year. He has earned the trust of the coaches for his solid defensive play, and if he can continue to improve his passing and distribution there may be more time for him as Seattle shuffles players around.
Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 4.9 (off 46’ for Morris)
Leyva stepped into his first start in 2020 and played a solid, but methodically boring half in the defensive midfield. He passed the ball well, did a good job to retain possession, and stayed somewhat higher than Delem. Defensively he was more of positional deterrent, only recording two recoveries.
One thing I liked: Leyva is remarkably clean with the ball. He makes smart choices, as evidenced by his team leading 21/22 (96 percent) passing completion rate. Leyva’s ability to come in and connect with teammates was excellent.
One thing I didn’t like: Although he passed to teammates well, his choices were too cautious, and it hurt Seattle’s ability to move the ball into attacking areas. Often Danny settled for short wide or back passes, not willing to push the ball vertically into optimal attacking areas.
Going forward: It’s great that a teenager can be criticized for “only” being safe and solid as a central midfielder and not creating more vertically. I don’t think the Sounders yet know where Leyva will end up as a player, but if he wants to be a deeper playmaker, he has a few great examples on his own team to emulate.
Miguel Ibarra – 6 | Community – 5.5 (off 73’ for Shipp)
Ibarra got his first Sounders start and rewarded the fans with some very exciting plays. While not being a factor defensively, he was very active in the offensive third of the field, easily leading the team with six shots. He paired that with the worst completion rate (67 percent) on the field and failed to complete a pass towards goal all match.
One thing I liked: Miguel gets a bit of a pass in ratings this week, as I graded him highly on potential and positioning and less on end results. He showed excellent ability to get into scoring position in the 3rd, 10th, 24th, and 60th minutes. It takes talent to get into great spots with a chance to score, and he showed this ability repeatedly.
One thing I didn’t like: Ibarra had some amazing chances but must do better with them. His 60th minute open net miss was especially egregious, as he slid into the ball to put it over instead of running through it and scoring the easy goal.
Going forward: Ibarra shouldn’t be depended on to carry a team, but he is looking like a sneaky solid signing as he has a nose for goal and can provide a different wide look throughout the season.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 7.4
I was again extremely impressed with João Paulo. He seemed to be involved in everything good for Seattle, connecting with teammates and putting in hard tackles when needed. He filled up the stat sheet, including leading the team with 103 touches, three key passes, four tackles, and five fouls. His 84 percent completion rate encompassed a wide variety of short, long, diagonal and attacking passes, and set piece service.
One thing I liked: JP was solid as a 10 and was instrumental in Seattle nearly scoring many times, but when he dropped into the defensive midfield his genius stood out. His ability to pick out the first time line-breaking pass is exceptional, and an 84th minute diagonal was exactly the kind of breakout vision Seattle had been missing.
One thing I didn’t like: João committed a lot of fouls and ended up getting carded late. Some of these were warranted, but others looked to be due to poor judgement or slow feet. He will need to adjust to the physicality standards of MLS, as well as their referee tendencies.
Going forward: JP’s ability to control a match from a deeper position is perhaps a glimpse of what’s to come for Seattle. This is immensely exciting to see, opening up a new Sounders playstyle unlike what we’re used to.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.6
A completely different Roldan played against Chicago than in the CCL matches, and we got to see how refined his offensive instincts have gotten. Cristian did a little bit of everything, with two shots, two key passes, two clearances, a tackle, 75 percent passing and both assists. Throughout the match he was very active, covering a lot of ground and getting into dangerous areas.
One thing I liked: Roldan the facilitator is exciting to see, especially this early in the year. His first assist was just the pure desire we have come to expect from him, combined with a quality wide service. The second goal, along with his CCL tally, are the kind of goals that help Seattle in the long run, as now teams have to mark Cristian on set pieces every time or they will pay.
One thing I didn’t like: I’m used to seeing Roldan touch the ball a lot, but his 54 touches were ten fewer than Leerdam and 20 fewer than Delem and O’Neill. These few touches then highlighted that every other pass into the box (excluding his assist) was incomplete.
Going forward: Roldan might just be great anywhere you put him, including both right wing and center attacking midfield that he played against Chicago. When other players return from injury Cristian has the service and decision making to be a solid winger, and it’s likely he will be part of a more amorphous attacking group.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 6.1
Ruidíaz misses Nico more than anyone else on the team and it showed against Chicago. Raúl only touched the ball 22 times all match, and only attempted 12 passes. He did a good job in completing 11 and also managed an impressive three shots and two key passes even though he barely saw the ball.
One thing I liked: Raúl’s willingness to come back and help out is a given, but in minute 54 we saw Ruidíaz post up and work a quick give and go in traffic with Roldan that nearly earned an assist. This little bit of gentle touch in a crowd to release a teammate was beautiful.
One thing I didn’t like: We have to get the most lethal striker currently in MLS the ball in dangerous positions more often than we did against Chicago. That being said, he had a layup via a nice Morris/Leerdam setup in the 72nd minute that may have been a tiny bit behind him, but he should still score that chance every single time.
Going forward: I’m not worried about Raúl not scoring every game. If Seattle continues to get the chances they did against Chicago, I am fully confident that Ruidíaz will have plenty of goals.
Jordan Morris – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 9.0 (MOTM) (on 46’ for Leyva)
Jordan Morris has been awesome for Seattle for a year now and shows zero signs of stopping. He scored two goals and should have had at least two assists against Chicago. The Fire were completely unable to contain his explosive speed and power, continually being victimized by Morris as he charged up the left side to create chance after chance.
One thing I liked: He was a complete offensive machine. In the 58th minute he had an assist taken back for offside. In the 60th minute Ibarra choked on a perfect pass for another. Morris scored in the 62nd minute before being robbed of a secondary assist finding Leerdam in over the top in the 72nd minute. Jordan scored the game winner in extra time.
One thing I didn’t like: Two defensive actions left Joevin alone on the left at times in the second half.
Going forward: In MLS you need guys who are just better than the other guy. Morris is one of those Sounders who should be counted on to produce merely via effort and ability, and it’s glorious to see when he does it.
Harry Shipp – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 73’ for Ibarra)
Shipp saw action against Chicago but was mostly a nonfactor. With Roldan inside him, Shipp played mostly defensively with Leerdam and tried to keep possession for Seattle, with mixed results.
One thing I liked: Harry did some smart things, pinching inside and helping overload some of the midfield areas, which opened up Leerdam to attack wide spaces late.
One thing I didn’t like: Six of nine passing isn’t nice and Shipp could have been much cleaner with the ball.
Going forward: Shipp didn’t exactly light the world on fire in his first 2020 match for Seattle, and will need to show why his soccer talents translate better than people like Ibarra, Leyva, Delem, etc. in order to be consistently selected for matches.
Nouhou – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 86’ for Delem)
The Nouhou show entered just in time to usher in a late Sounders victory. He didn’t do much, having his one deep offensive foray blocked.
One thing I liked: The energy he brings when he enters the field is palpable and it was evidenced by teammates like Jones getting well forward and into the attack late.
One thing I didn’t like: Nouhou gave up a free kick in a bad spot right after Seattle had gone ahead, and you just can’t give up late set pieces like that.
Going forward: Nouhou and Jones offer such disparate skillsets at the left back position it’s hard to tell who has the starting spot next match. With Schmetzer often riding the hot hand, we may see Nouhou again as a late sub.
Alex Chilowicz – 5 | Community – 4.0
After CCL, this seemed very lightly officiated, with 24 fouls called and three yellows. There were a number of very high-profile referee actions throughout the match but the majority of the calls were correct or could be interpreted that way. This refereeing crew kept the game running smoothly but missed some calls that should have been made.
One thing I liked: The east AR was impressive on close offsides calls, getting every single one right. I appreciated Chilowicz making his VAR and conferences with assistants quick and concise.
One thing I didn’t like: The lack of cards was rough. Starting with a 4th minute kick to the face, the ref also didn’t card deliberate “professional” fouls on both teams in the 50th, 65th, and 79th minutes.
Going forward: On re-watch the refereeing was not great, but not terrible. I disagree that the offsides against Morris removing a goal had enough to warrant a VAR, but understand why it was done. I disagree that the handball in the 48th minute didn’t have enough to warrant VAR, but understand this interpretation of the new rule, even if I don’t agree.
Chicago Fire FC MOTM
Robert Beric is a new face to MLS, and wasted no time in showing his class. He caused issues for Seattle’s defense throughout, but it was his near post finish coming out of intermission that won him this award.
A win is a win is a win and Seattle has a lot to build on as another Midwest team comes across the country to play here. Last week Columbus struggled to score, up a man for 87 minutes at home, so let’s hope the Sounders score first and run them out of the building.