Seattle went into the unfriendly confines of Salt Lake City where they have struggled to get results and … struggled to get a result. They did manage to sneak away with a 2-2 draw against RSL, but both teams were likely disappointed by the final score. Seattle arrived in a new formation, a nebulous 5-1-3-1 look; on paper it showed multiple defensive midfielders but it didn’t play out that way. Confusion from player rotation and different positioning was to be expected, but RSL only found success from set pieces, and repeatedly victimized Seattle for their inability to defend them. The Sounders were the better team in the run of play but too many mistakes left both teams wondering what could have been.
Stefan Frei – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.5
It’s rare for a keeper to earn an “8” in a game where he gives up multiple goals, but without Frei’s work, this game could have gotten completely out of hand. He was constantly forced into acrobatic, sprawling saves, and those quality saves prevented at least three goals.
One thing I liked: Frei is so consistent that you sometimes forget he can pull out the spectacular. Against RSL in the 55th, 65th, and 89th Stef had enormous momentum-changing saves that prevented the home team from ever taking the lead.
One thing I didn’t like: Justen Glad had a huge game on set pieces, but Frei will wish he had done better on Glad’s goal in minute 50. Most goalies say if they can get a hand on it, they should save it, and the Seattle keeper got good contact on the header and nearly parried it away.
Going forward: It only saved a draw, but this was a great performance from Stefan, keeping the team momentum moving forward and salvaging a point on the road. Every time you forget about him, he shows he can and still will make his mark on matches when called on.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 6.0 (off 71’ for Jones)
RSL primarily ran their offense though the opposite side of the field, but Nouhou ended with 10 defensive actions through three tackles, two interceptions, three clearances and two recoveries. He had a tidy 76 percent passing completion rate going forward but didn’t create offense from a wide position in a five-man backline.
One thing I liked: Nouhou locked his side down all match as expected. I was impressed by an early pass in the 20th minute on a counterattack that showed good understanding of the attack. Instead of forcing the ball down the line for a cross, he found an early ball to Raúl Ruidíaz that nicely opened the field.
One thing I didn’t like: The Bwana/Nouhou side of the field was absent offensively, with Handwalla tucking way inside ineffectively and Nouhou having space but rarely seeing the ball. One of his few chances to attack in the 17th minute saw him misplay the ball and settle for a corner kick instead of getting a cross into a dangerous area.
Going forward: Nouhou seems to be second in the left back rankings and while he was solid defensively, there was likely nothing that stood out to bump him up in the coach’s eyes.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 5.9
Arreaga earned a start against RSL, and he turned in a turbulent performance that highlighted both his strengths and weaknesses. Defensively he struggled to keep a line with his teammates in a new formation, but he had eight positive actions while passing out of the back cleanly at a 73 percent clip.
One thing I liked: You can see the pieces that have him lightly penciled in as a starter. He possesses the ability to make a beautiful 22nd minute line-splitting pass to jump start a counterattack as well as the instincts to come across and cover behind Yeimar Gómez Andrade in the 74th minute to aggressively slide tackle away an RSL chance.
One thing I didn’t like: Xavi lacks consistency and concentration. A careless, unnecessary 18th minute yellow card put him in a hole for the rest of the match, he was spun defensively 1-v-1 by an Albert Rusnak play in the 65th minute, and he had a bad foul in the 76th. These tendencies in his play need to be improved, and quickly.
Going forward: Arreaga is ostensibly fighting Shane O’Neill for the center back position opposite Yeimar; if you want a volatile, high risk/high reward player with both upside and downside, pick Xavier.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 8 | Community – 7.5 (MOTM)
If Frei hadn’t had to stand on his head this match, YGA was an easy choice for MOTM. He looked so good in the center of defense that Seattle should take a hard look at a three-back for the future, as his size, speed, and instincts in the center of the pitch were phenomenal. He defended from sideline to sideline, covering the field with 18 actions and helping other teammates in a free role centrally.
One thing I liked: This was the total package. Aggressive play to the width, 1-v-1 defending, making line-splitting passes. Oh, and being goal dangerous in the air in the 21st and again in the 69th to score a back post go-ahead goal.
One thing I didn’t like: If there was anything to dislike it was the shape of Seattle’s backline, with both Arreaga and O’Neill consistently behind Yeimar. The team needs to move forward as a unit, and the central player should most often be the fulcrum others pivot around. His 65 percent passing demonstrated these cohesion issues.
Going forward: YGA is putting together a comprehensive resumé in his first season at Seattle and looks to be a player you can build around for the long term.
Shane O’Neill – 6 | Community – 6.2
The new formation didn’t play well to several players’ strengths and Shane looked uncomfortable for most of the first half. He struggles to play on a line with his teammates, and often this is to cover for his lack of speed. (He made Justin Meram look fast, somehow.) His typical last-ditch defense was on display, with a strong 12 actions in his right central position. He had 80 percent passing and settled into his role after a rocky beginning.
One thing I liked: Shane’s desperation defending worked. Again, he put it all out there to lunge, dive, slide, and jump into passing lanes to prevent RSL from getting through. Not pretty, but effective.
One thing I didn’t like: While O’Neill completed a high number of his passes, they often put teammates in rough spots, and possession was often lost even though he was finding a Sounder. Multiple difficult back passes put Frei under pressure, forcing him to clear with his off foot under duress.
Going forward: O’Neill is ostensibly battling Arreaga for the center back position opposite Yeimar; if you want a predictable, consistent, methodical player who isn’t going to lose the game for you defensively but isn’t likely to elevate those around him, pick Shane.
Alex Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.0 (off 83’ for Leerdam)
I’ve been high on Roldan in this new position this year and he showed the complete package against RSL. Defensively he was under siege but hung in there, with 12 defensive actions.
One thing I liked: Alex picked his spots to get forward and he made each one count. In the 34th and 35th minutes he showed excellent vision to pick out dangerous Ruidíaz runs. In the 69th he had a sequence that involved juking Corey Baird out of his shorts and delivering a masterful cross to the back post and the waiting forehead of Yeimar.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle got pounded down Alex’s side for much of the match, and he and O’Neill rarely looked calm and in control. Their marking and communication were a mess and Alex only completed 65 percent of his passes from being forced into poor options by frantic play.
Going forward: Roldan has bumped around but always held on due to his athleticism and vision. The right back spot looks like a fine landing spot, as he offers good defensive size and speed with excellent service from wide areas.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 5.5 (off 71’ for João Paulo)
Delem was on an island for much of this game, abandoned by Nicolás Lodeiro and running the central defensive area mostly alone. He was the defensive stopper in this match, getting into hard tackles and relying more on positioning and physicality than control and distribution. This showed up in his relatively low numbers of touches (31), and defensive actions (six).
One thing I liked: It wasn’t pretty, but Delem had a job to do and that was to gum up the middle and force the ball wide into the strengths of the Seattle formation. He did that well, especially in the second half when he was able to step up and pressure the RSL clearances, keeping the ball in the opponent’s half for Seattle attacks.
One thing I didn’t like: Although he didn’t have many chances to impact the game offensively, there were too many distribution mistakes. His 67 percent passing from the center of the defensive midfield led to way too many turnovers and opportunities lost on both sides of the ball when Delem just couldn’t find the right pass.
Going forward: Delem hadn’t been playing a lot, but this is what you get from him when he does: strong defense that requires more help to be a facilitator. Doubtful he is going to be marking the opponents’ best aerial threats on set pieces going forward.
Handwalla Bwana – 4 | Community – 4.8 (off 56’ for Morris)
Bwana got thrust into the starting lineup for a road match and struggled. He had a hard time getting touches, and at times looked lost when dealing with the movement of teammates around him. In 55 minutes, he only had 17 ineffective touches.
One thing I liked: We had to find a way to rest some players, and Bwana ate up some minutes at the wing, neither helping nor hindering the team. Showing trust in young players to do this can only help in the future.
One thing I didn’t like: His 54 percent passing was dreadful, he never completed a single pass toward goal. Worse than that, on at least one occasion his movement ran right into space that Ruidíaz was running into with a much better chance to score.
Going forward: Bwana looks good when he has time and the ball at his feet so he can attack others on the dribble, and he needs specific game states to allow that to happen.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.7
Lodeiro was very busy, touching the ball 20 more times than any other Sounder and while the lineup card had him back further, he played as a straight “10” for most of this match. He had two shots and no key passes but was an important part of buildup, covering tons of real estate.
One thing I liked: Lodeiro had multiple defense-eviscerating passes in the first half, including a 17th to Nouhou and a 35th to the right wing. The penalty Seattle earned was due to Nico’s pressure to create a turnover in the midfield and quickly transition that into the box where mistakes were forced.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico scored, but he struggles to find non-Morris players in space and clearly missed some of the subs for the first half of the match.
Going forward: Lodeiro looked somewhat winded, and for as much as he hustles every game, I hope he has energy to play at home this weekend.
Cristian Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.9
Roldan had his brother behind him in this game but struggled to get on the same page on the right wing, hustling up and down the sideline yet failing to break through offensively. He tied his brother with the second-most touches on the team with 59, showing how right-sided Seattle played for most of the match.
One thing I liked: Raúl, Nico, and Roldan have started to counter press teams and it’s very effective. Cristian, especially, is such a strong defender that when he presses, he almost always disrupts the play if not actively creating a turnover, and when he does get the ball, he usually finds the right pass.
One thing I didn’t like: Much of what the elder Roldan does isn’t quantifiable with stats, but 62 percent passing is pretty awful. He couldn’t seem to find the right pass to connect with teammates, resulting in few completions into dangerous areas. He also turned down a wide-open shot from 10 yards out in the 56th minute, instead passing to … no one.
Going forward: Roldan is doing okay on the wing, but Seattle needs more and it remains to be seen if he’s the full-time answer out there.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 6.5 (off 83’ for Bruin)
Ignoring any injury concern, Raúl started and played strong, constantly harassing RSL into mistakes in their defense. He had two shots, completed every pass he attempted, and made the most of only 21 touches.
One thing I liked: Although he scored an offside goal and was dangerous on multiple occasions, I was especially happy to see Ruidíaz defending all over the field. This effort prevented RSL from ever starting up an offensive flow, forcing them to choose long balls and questionable attacks.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle set up a perfect training ground set piece that resulted in a wide-open shot for Raúl who put it into the stands in the 66th minute.
Going forward: Ruidíaz shrugged off his injury and looked strong, however he needs more service to maximize his quality play.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 56’ for Bwana)
Morris subbed in early in the second half and had a quiet, ineffective match from the width. He was just sort of there, with 71 percent passing and a few defensive and offensive moves.
One thing I liked: Morris stretched the field and even though he wasn’t directly making things happen, his indirect influence through movement helped switch momentum to Seattle who dominated for a long stretch of the second half, culminating in a deserved 2-1 lead.
One thing I didn’t like: Expected to be an impact sub, Morris had nine touches in nearly half of the game, and was best remembered for being offside in the 82nd minute when he fed Ruidíaz for a goal that should have sealed all three points.
Going forward: Morris is much, much better than this and we can and should expect more.
João Paulo – 6 | Community – 6.3 (on 71’ for Delem)
João Paulo arrived and immediately upgraded the distribution through the middle of the field. As usual he was very active, managing nearly 20 trackable actions and creating a central strength for Seattle.
One thing I liked: The team just looked better with João on the field. Whether it was his 83 percent passing or his defensive presence in the middle, inserting him was a huge upgrade in distribution through the center.
One thing I didn’t like: Likely playing for the first time in Salt Lake, JP got a yellow for a bad tackle and missed on a few more, which I am chalking up to elevation .
Going forward: This team may not fully realize it, but they need João Paulo back there spraying passes around.
Joevin Jones – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 71’ for Nouhou)
Jones came in and played poorly. His 57 percent pass completion, none completed toward goal, defined his appearance. He did little on either side of the ball and had only 15 touches, none particularly dangerous.
One thing I liked: Jones switched briefly to the right after a set piece defense and had his best play of the night, connecting forward in the 90th minute.
One thing I didn’t like: I was asked to monitor how many times Jones got forward with a chance to attack and stood on the ball before going backwards. The final tally: Jones entered the attacking third with possession twice and both times stopped and passed backwards, which were half of his completed passes on the night.
Going forward: Joevin can be a dynamic offensive presence on the left, but being a Jones fan is like remembering pre-Covid times. I know it was better, but I am slowly forgetting what it was like.
Kelvin Leerdam – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 83’ for A. Roldan)
Leerdam had a brief sub appearance late against RSL. The team was attempting to close out a win with veteran players, but unfortunately they were unable to hold on, with the home team scoring soon after Leerdam arrived.
One thing I liked: Leerdam did his job, tucking in on the right and keeping compact defensively.
One thing I didn’t like: 50 percent passing is a little misleading as he only had four touches, but there was a 93rd minute chance to play forward that he missed, and with that chance went Seattle’s potential for a full three points.
Going forward: Leerdam probably isn’t feeling much pressure from Alex Roldan yet, but it’s great that he’s getting actual rest these days.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 83’ for Ruidíaz)
Bruin didn’t arrive until late and was unable to bring his customary magic to a team that lost the lead shortly after he entered.
One thing I liked: There is no denying the effort from Bruin, and he continually gets into strong positions both individually and as tactical support for teammates.
One thing I didn’t like: In hindsight, this sub was late. With Raúl nursing some sort of injury, Portland coming to Seattle this weekend and an in-form Bear prowling around his den looking for goals, Will had more to offer than the time he was on the field allowed.
Going forward: Bruin has a lot of gas in the tank and if given a chance will factor this weekend.
Malik Badawi – 4 | Community – 4.3
This was Badawi’s first MLS match in the center and it was all over the place. It started well, with quality calls, but when the players adjusted to his leniency the refereeing became very inconsistent. This snowballed into an unnecessarily contentious and dangerous spat between two teams that each shared gratuitous fouls that wouldn’t have occurred had this ref kept better control of the match.
One thing I liked: An early yellow on Arreaga was the correct call, as was his quick, decisive penalty call. He runs a great diagonal and was in solid position all match.
One thing I didn’t like: All the position in the world can’t make up for swallowing your whistle, and this ref was awful when it came to adjudicating the match. The biggest beneficiary was Corey Baird, for whom I counted cynical/egregious fouls in the 57th, 61st, 68th, 71st (“last warning”) and 90th (yellow card issued). Others who benefitted were Albert Rusnak and Damir Kreilach in the 22nd and 42nd respectively, who had nearly the same professional fouls committed as Arreaga, but neither received a yellow. In the 49th Marcelo Silva tried to break Roldan the elder in half and got a “stern talking to.” Failing to issue a single card for these fouls showed a terrible lack of consistency and inability to referee to a reasonable standard.
Going forward: It’s his first game, and just like anyone else he deserves some time to get experience. It’s a bummer it had to come at the expense of the potential health of guys like Cristian Roldan though.
Real Salt Lake MOTM
Justen Glad was dangerous on numerous RSL set pieces, converting one into a match-tying goal. Defensively, he paired well with Silva to by and large contain Ruidíaz.
Seattle’s opponent this weekend is again Portland, a team whose record is going in the opposite direction from ours. Remember what happened last time we played them? Yeah, let’s do that.