SEATTLE — In case you’re keeping track at home, the Seattle Sounders’ 3-0 win against LAFC gives them a +9 goal difference over the last two matches. It’s a small sample size, sure, but there’s no question that Brian Schmetzer’s squad has looked every bit as dominant as their lopsided wins imply. Even after facing a barrage of second-half pressure from LAFC’s notoriously potent attack, Stefan Frei only had to make two saves all match. In the end, LAFC put up an xG of 0.6. And, oh yeah, the Sounders scored three goals for the fourth time in six matches and now leads MLS in scoring as well as goal-difference. This team is rolling.
Best Sounders XI ever???
Trophies aren’t won in September (even in COVID seasons), but from a pure talent perspective it’s fair to wonder whether Friday’s lineup was the best XI the team has ever had. On paper, it’s not too different from the lineup that won MLS Cup last year (and there may even be downgrades at left back and one center back spot), but in reality, the additions of João Paulo and Yeimar Goméz Andrade have given the team an entirely new look. João Paulo’s five tackles and one assist showed once again that he may be the best two-way holding mid the team’s ever had, and Yeimar’s dominant performance against one of the league’s best attacking sides proved FIFA was on the mark when they rated him as the best defender in the league last week. Not to be forgotten, Joevin Jones has shown marked improvement as a right mid.
A whole new (holding mid duo) world
Speaking of new looks, the pairing of João Paulo and Cristian Roldan gives the Sounders a skillset they’ve never had at holding mid before with both players as capable going forward as they are defending. That extra skill on the ball has helped the team play out of the back even against high pressing squads such as the San Jose Earthquakes and LAFC. (Though, to be fair, LAFC looked like an entirely different beast when Eduard Atuesta joined the fray to start the second half.) Moreover, defensively, both João Paulo and Roldan play with a level of mobility and tenacity that may relieve the team of needing a purely ball-winning midfielder. Of course, they’re both a little short on height, so if opposing team’s start launching long balls from the back (certainly not San Jose or LA’s style), Gustav Svensson may still be the man for the job.
Xavier Arreaga keeps getting better
LAFC is not supposed to be a good matchup for Arreaga. Unlike San Jose, who give one centerback the freedom to roam upfield and pick out passes relatively uncontested, Bob Bradley’s team presses relentlessly and somewhat unpredictably so that no one has time to get comfortable on the ball. That intense pressure more or less neutralizes Arreaga’s greatest strength: the skill and vision to pass into and through a crowded midfield. With LAFC limiting the second-year Sounder to only 70% passing accuracy, he was forced to earn his keep on the defensive side of the ball, which he did very well. Despite a few questionable moments in the second half, Arreaga helped anchor one of Seattle’s best defensive outings of the year with a stat-stuffing performance that included three tackles, three interceptions, and six recoveries.
Difficult lineup choices ahead
In addition to the Roldan-JP pairing possibly edging Sounders anchor and Swedish international Svensson out of future minutes, new signing Brad Smith brings yet another international quality player into what (as described above) may be the most talented Sounders XI ever. Making the lineup decisions even more complicated is that many of the Sounders’ key players (Jones, Roldan, Svensson) are comfortable playing multiple position so each individual battle for minutes ends up presenting myriad different lineup possibilities. Plus, the three Sounders from Friday’s lineup who are the most likely to lose their spot (Nouhou, Jones, and Arreaga) seem to be the three players who are improving most rapidly. Or to hear Brian Schmetzer put it, “How we move forward will certainly be a storyline for you guys at Sounder at Heart. I’m sure you guys will write about it, and I’ll just say that’s TBD”.
Nico Lodeiro has ice in his veins
Though he is easily one of the most endearing Sounders in team history, Lodeiro is, without question, a cold-hearted killer. His two PKs against LAFC raised his tally to 14-for-14 as a Sounder, which is also an MLS record for most penalties without ever missing. To be that excellent at PKs requires three key skills: composure, technique, and deception. With that in mind, is it any wonder that the Sounders’ most creative and consistent attacking midfielder is deadly from the spot?