I won’t sugarcoat it; this was a mess. Seattle lost 4-1 to LAFC, but it could have been even worse. Outshot 23-11 and with expected goals conceded over four, this game sometimes looked like even more of a rout that it ended up. There were huge gaps in team cohesion, seemingly zero ability to adjust tactically, and a central midfield that was outnumbered and outplayed. There was a small bit of life after some late tactical adjustments, but that was countered by additions from LAFC, who then coasted to the next round. (And then fell on their face!) After all the drama surrounding even playing in this tournament, this was a hugely unsatisfying way to exit with seemingly little gained for the experience.
Stefan Frei – 5 | Community – 6.1
LAFC had eight shots on goal and Frei only made four saves. If you are a math genius you can deduce that Stefan gave up four, which is a lot of soccer goals. The Sounders have never given up four goals and won, and this wasn’t the day that they’d make history. Stefan struggled against LAFC.
One thing I liked: It’s hard to play goalie when the defense in front of you is so porous. If it wasn’t for a 65th minute 1-v-1 sprawling save against Diego Rossi, the final score might have been even worse. This parry from Frei slowed LAFC a little and allowed subs to come in and change up the momentum, at least temporarily.
One thing I didn’t like: LAFC did a good job pressing Seattle, and the Sounders did an awful job dealing with it. Frei was responsible for a ton of poor decisions, bad touches, and frightful moments. His inability to play out of the back with his feet, yet unwillingness to stop trying, continually put his team under pressure. Even when not pressed into bad passes, Frei still managed to have some, such as his 13th minute bad pass from the back directly to LAFC at midfield. The opponents turned that bad clearance into a PK three touches later.
Going forward: Frei is a great shot-stopper and reader of the game but his footwork and decision making from the back was put under a microscope against LAFC. This is something he can work on, while also expecting more from his teammates as outlets.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 5.8 (off 71’ for Jones)
The Cameroonian left back was one of the few players hard to find issues with. While no one was great, he limited errors and was fantastic at shutting down LAFC on his side of the field. Less than 5 percent of the opponents’ shots came from the left as Nouhou diligently stopped nearly everything down his wing while also supporting the attack from a fairly high position on the field.
One thing I liked: After completely shutting down his side and limiting Brian Rodríguez to a single shot, Nouhou popped up centrally, and in the 41st minute on the right sideline, to help the struggling team defense. He also earned four free kicks, which were often Seattle’s best offense in the first half.
One thing I didn’t like: At least once Nouhou lost the ball dribbling forward in the attack, and he isn’t great on offense other than a quick counter or when in position to cross.
Going forward: Nouhou left this tournament as one of the highest rated Sounders for his consistently good play. A bright spot for the team, he now seems to be the first choice left back.
Xavier Arreaga – 4 | Community – 2.5
No Sounder had a worse tournament than Arreaga, who again gave up a goal via poor play and then failed to mentally adjust for the rest of the match. After an early PK given, Arreaga continued to make errors, clearly not communicating well with Shane O’Neill and the defensive midfielders, allowing runner after runner into the box. His risky defense also cost Seattle late, effectively negating any comeback momentum.
One thing I liked: Xavier has plenty of potential when teamed with someone who can cover for his dangerous aggression. In the 38th minute when he stepped up to press, he stole the ball and made a quality pass into the offense, showing that if Seattle had the will to counter press, he would be an intriguing piece.
One thing I didn’t like: For all their shots, LAFC wasn’t testing Frei much. And then Arreaga dove in and caused a penalty. This play was a symptom of poor positioning. He should have conceded another goal in the 65th but Frei bailed him out. A poor decision to hand the ball to Diego Rossi in the 82nd effectively ended the match. A good player can pick themselves up when they make a mistake, but he failed to do that, instead compounding errors as fatigue set in.
Going forward: Last year Arreaga showed us the reward part of his “high risk/high reward” soccer, but in this tournament, it was almost all risk and zero reward. I still think with the right partner he can work as a defender, but he needs to rethink his strategy in MLS, and O’Neill seems like a poor partner.
Shane O’Neill – 5 | Community – 4.1 (off 88’ for Atencio)
Remembering that Shane is a backup, he played like an okay one. Under a deluge of pressure all game, O’Neill had a ridiculous 22 defensive actions highlighted by a team-high eight clearances. This doesn’t describe a masterful defensive job, however, but more a player overwhelmed by a defensive burden that called for kicking the ball hard away from your own goal.
One thing I liked: Twenty-two defensive actions is a lot, and without them Seattle gives up eight goals. He had a nice 92 percent passing rate which helped in the back where the Sounders struggled to get the ball to teammates.
One thing I didn’t like: Shane is slow and plays like he knows it. That’s a good thing, but also meant he dropped way off the LAFC attackers to not get beat behind. This wreaked havoc in the backline defense, and he had almost no connection to Arreaga who was usually 10 yards ahead of him. This shape is untenable against any solid attack. He also doesn’t mark well in the box, which led to him scoring an own goal.
Going forward: O’Neill is steady and predictable, but Seattle honestly needs more from a starter level player. As a guy who can come in and be part of a five-man back line or spot sub he is solid, but this tournament exposed some of the weaknesses that are why he isn’t a long-term starter.
Kelvin Leerdam – 5 | Community – 4.6 (off 71’ for Bruin)
After a great match against Vancouver Leerdam was much worse against LAFC. He was unable to deal with the press and was often put into bad spots. Fifty-eight percent completion and turnovers in bad spots illustrated how much Kelvin struggled to get the ball to teammates and how little connection there was on the right side. His communication and ability to combine with the midfield was poor.
One thing I liked: In the few instances Leerdam had time to look up and find a pass he was able to pick out Jordan Morris over the top, and his 46th minute ball nearly gave Seattle momentum right before half. This was a long diagonal that found Jordan in the box, needing only a control and finish.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle dominated possession, except for Leerdam, who seemed to give the ball away every time he was near it. He lost the ball in bad spots and only desperation defending saved him on several occasions.
Going forward: Kelvin had a few nice passes in the tournament but his ability to combine with teammates was rough. Some of this can be attributed to the rotating players on the wing ahead of him but if Seattle can’t take advantage of his two great passes per game, his defensive and possession liabilities might force a change if he continues to play this way.
Gustav Svensson – 5 | Community – 5.0
Svensson was one of the best Sounders all tournament but he really struggled against LAFC. Always chasing defensively, he turned in his worst match of the series and had a terrible time impacting the game in a positive way.
One thing I liked: Although I didn’t like his positioning in this match, the Goose was very tight with his passing, only missing two passes in his defensive half and completing a sparkling 93 percent. They weren’t probing or attacking, but he did make many safe connections with teammates square in the back.
One thing I didn’t like: Svensson was exposed for both poor positioning and poor cohesion with those around him, which was surprising. Especially egregious was a concentration blow up in the 89th minute to hand LA their 4th goal, the kind of mistake that you make when you are mentally finished.
Going forward: There were some concerning moments against LAFC where Svensson wasn’t quick enough to deal with pressure through the middle. I would like to see him paired with João Paulo because his defensive coverage paired with the Brazilian’s two-way play could be special.
Cristian Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.3
Like Svensson, this was Roldan’s worst performance in quite some time. The numbers looked okay — 86 percent passing, nine defensive actions, not many turnovers, but if they had a stat for “chasing the ball and being out of position while opponents run by you towards goal,” the Seattle midfield would have maxed that one.
One thing I liked: His 41st minute first-time ball over the top to Morris was fantastic and opened up the field for Seattle. Honorable mention to his 36th minute shross from the right-side end line – I think he was trying to reverse Roberto Carlos’ goal. (Honestly, just go watch highlights from him instead of finishing this article. I won’t blame you.)
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle couldn’t handle the press and Roldan and Svensson were a big part, failing to move and offer much, which forced the fullbacks to chunk the ball forward to LAFC. In the 39th minute Roldan tried a terrible pass across the field that was stolen and immediately became LAFC’s second goal. Seattle improved when he moved to right back.
Going forward: Roldan was slated to be the starting right midfielder this year so of course he spent a majority of his time as a defensive central midfielder. Sometimes I think the team should just move him to right back permanently. I know he is good enough to start somewhere, but it’s a mystery where that is for the Sounders.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 6.0 (off 87’ for Dobblelaere)
Morris, who looked so dominant just a game before, played average at best against LAFC. He didn’t get any shots off but managed two key passes in a match where he looked like a regular guy, not the incredibly unstoppable force we know he can be.
One thing I liked: Early on Jordan got into the attack and sometimes found space. Even though he didn’t control correctly in the 46th minute, his run in behind to receive an over the top pass from Leerdam was exactly what Seattle needed to take advantage of a back three.
One thing I didn’t like: Morris’ passing map in the attacking third was ugly. He ended with a 55 percent completion rate on the evening but that was because he went 6/6 near midfield and only 5/16 everywhere else. Jordan is a monster of size and strength and we rarely, if ever, got to see him show it in this one.
Going forward: Jordan Morris needs to bring positive impact to every match he plays — he is that good. He needs to eliminate games like this where he just fades away and isn’t able to do much, even if the team around him is struggling.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 5 | Community – 5.9
This was an exercise in futility for the center midfielders, who struggled all match. Nico was overrun in the middle by himself and pushed wide often which forced pressure behind him. Seattle seemed to be waiting for Lodeiro to create something on his own, and against multiple players he struggled to connect with teammates in the attacking half. He worked hard on both ends of the field, though, with nine defensive actions coming way back to help against the press.
One thing I liked: Throughout it all Nico ran his ass off and tried to combine with teammates. He was surrounded by multiple players with LA tucking into the middle of the field and any possession success was often had through Lodeiro and his team-high three dribbles and 104 touches.
One thing I didn’t like: With LAFC often playing with three in the back and overloading the defensive midfield, Nico’s wandering style hurt the Sounders. His ability to play on the wings only works if Seattle takes advantage, and removing him from the middle of the field gave the opponents a number advantage to press from. Every single pass Nico had in the middle of the field was backwards against LAFC.
Going forward: It’s Nico Lodeiro and one meh performance doesn’t mean a lot, but it does show that Seattle desperately needs someone else to help creatively. That player might already be on the roster, and I think what we saw from Nico in this tourney was his preseason.
Handwalla Bwana – 5 | Community – 4.5 (off 56’ for Hopeau)
Bwana got another start and this one was very mundane. He had a poor 64 percent passing rate from his side and failed to create much offensively for himself or teammates before being subbed early in the second half. Handwalla had three tackles and an interception as he attempted to support a sagging right side of the field.
One thing I liked: Bwana makes thoughtful runs off the ball, something that has immensely improved since he started playing with Seattle. On multiple occasions when Morris and Nouhou charged up the left wing, Handwalla made excellent supporting far side runs that maybe on another day have more impact.
One thing I didn’t like: Bwana reverted back to a tentative player who wilted at times under the LAFC press. When not pushing towards goal on the dribble or in support of a wide attack, Bwana looked lost, and he consistently put Leerdam in tough defensive spots.
Going forward: There is competition for the spot Bwana found in this tourney, and while his highs were a nice addition, they look like substitute things, not starter things, at this point.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 5 | Community – 5.0
Oddly enough, Ruidíaz might have run more than anyone against LAFC, but he was always blanketed by multiple defenders. With the opponents overloading the middle and leaving the high width open, He constantly checked to space at an angle and made diagonal runs that Seattle never utilized. He ended with 40 touches and 83 percent passing, mostly holdup and drop-offs.
One thing I liked: Raúl nearly tied the game in the 77th, controlling a misplayed clearance and forcing a nice save on a short volley. He was constantly getting into good spots but not seeing service, and it’s a shame this didn’t go in.
One thing I didn’t like: Although he easily led the team with five shots, only one was on target and again he seemed to force things, beginning with a 6th minute left-footed shot from 25 yards away that was very hopeful and didn’t challenge Kenneth Vermeer.
Going forward: Raúl won’t be happy with his performance in this tournament, as he can be so much better. Part of his lack of patience offensively likely comes from a lack of service, something Seattle must address prior to their next game, whenever that may be.
Shandon Hopeau – 6 | Community – 4.7 (on 55’ for Bwana)
Hopeau came into the game and Seattle played better after he arrived. Not all of that was due to him, but he was active with his 25 touches, becoming a catalyst for an offensive resurgence.
One thing I liked: Shandon was the team leader in shots on target with two of his three attempts forcing a save. This is excellent production from the bench.
One thing I didn’t like: Hopeau still gets lost when he doesn’t have an obvious play, and in the 77th and 78th lost possession by dribbling into pressure or passing badly to the other team. These are fixable issues, but a recurring struggle.
Going forward: Hopeau was a bright spot for the team in this tournament, getting some consistent playing time and doing well, showing he has a future as a pro.
Joevin Jones – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 7.1 (on 71’ for Nouhou)
It was great to see Jones back in the 20 this match and boy did he make an impression when he subbed on. His immediate offensive class was apparent, and he had a sparkling stat line: 89 percent passing, three key passes, an assist, and multiple chances created in only 30 touches. He added two defensive actions as well in a very tidy job.
One thing I liked: The curve that Jones can put on a cross allows him to serve back post from the corner of the 18 extended, and he repeatedly put inch-perfect passes into dangerous areas. He was good at getting his head up and looking for the early ball, which led to repeated chances.
One thing I didn’t like: When not given an obvious cross target, Jones was lost in the attack and lost possession at least once dribbling around aimlessly.
Going forward: Who knows how Seattle would have looked with a few more healthy bodies in this tournament. We do know Jones can still serve incredible assists from the width, but how to utilize that with the current roster remains a mystery.
Will Bruin – 7 | Community – 7.1 (MOTM) (on 71’ for Leerdam)
Bruin came back from his injury last year and showed he is just as good as ever. He was active, working to hold up the ball and making smart runs back post. His goal brought Seattle a chance in this match, and he missed another similar that would have tied the game. His instant impact was excellent.
One thing I liked: Although he often wants to play with the ball at his feet, Will really excels at running off the ball and finishing clean when most others would fail. He did exactly that in the 75th minute, taking a wonderful cross and scoring a goal that most others would miss. His concentration to redirect the ball into net was perfect and brought Seattle back into the game.
One thing I didn’t like: Bruin had to come back to the midfield multiple times and wasn’t super clean on the ball, nor did he pair well with Raúl.
Going forward: Will Bruin is a proven goalscorer and he made a difficult shot look natural. He is an incredibly valuable piece for this team to have, as he showed in his limited time in this tournament.
Ethan Dobbelaere – 5 | Community – 4.9 (on 87’ for Morris)
Welcome to the Sounders, Ethan. Dobbelaere got on the field for a few minutes and looked pretty good.
One thing I liked: He turned one of his seven touches into a key pass. If Nico did that, he would average about 15 a game.
One thing I didn’t like: Like the other young guys, he was a bit lost when not having a set and obvious role, something that should improve in time.
Going forward: Ethan looked tactically ready for MLS level play, and it remains to be seen if he can add enough to that positional play with execution and continue to earn more substitute minutes.
Joshua Atencio – 5 | Community – 4.8 (on 88’ for O’Neill)
Atencio came in late and got 12 touches.
One thing I liked: Ninety-one percent passing was good in a very short substitute appearance that saw him touch the ball a lot compared to the time he was on the field.
One thing I didn’t like: LAFC scored right after he arrived, and while it wasn’t his fault that Svensson flubbed Josh’s pass, I think there was a communication error.
Going forward: Josh got valuable experience in this tournament and he can build off the time he got on the ball without making mistakes.
Jair Marrufo – 5 | Community – 5.7
This was the worst refereeing job Seattle had in the tourney. He let too much go, enabling a pressing team to foul instead of play defense and failed to show a card from 27 fouls combined. There were more fouls that were let through, and again no persistent accumulation even though guys were fouled four-plus times. The far side AR was slow to make calls, or simply neglected to make them altogether, which seemed to rattle the Sounders back line in the first half.
One thing I liked: No one got hurt.
One thing I didn’t like: Marrufo lets tactical fouls happen. It’s frustrating to see LAFC press high and then every time Seattle tried to break out, a foul behind the play would be ignored, especially central midfield obstruction. It’s not a coincidence the guy playing against Morris and Nouhou committed four fouls, as his job was to stop any momentum they could get before they even started.
Going forward: It’s nothing new with this ref. Sounders didn’t play well and this is no excuse, but it was helpful for LAFC to be allowed physicality in the middle.
Diego Rossi, he of the two goals, penalty earned, and all around stellar attacking play, is your man of the match.
This is it. The final for Seattle. The end of the “MLS is Back” Tournament for the Sounders mirrored in many ways the April 2019 match between these two teams. In both, a defender (last year it was Torres) made a massive error to put the team in an early hole. In both, Seattle scored to bring itself back into the match and even had chances to tie/go ahead before ultimately ending back towards a blowout. You had the feeling last week’s game was a complete mismatch. It was for much of the match, given the Sounders’ play and effort, but after a week to cool down, I believe Seattle isn’t as astronomically far behind LAFC as that game led us to believe, just as we weren’t last year.
Moving forward, the holes are apparent but fixable – Seattle isn’t much of a system team and depends on skilled players to outplay their opponents. If the Sounders play more games this year, I hope to see them with a full complement of talent.