Travelling down to Houston, Seattle was on a high. Playing a team at the bottom of the table, getting some international stars back into the lineup, and coming off a comprehensive win, the stage was set for the Sounders to take advantage of dropped points in the East and make a push for the Supporters’ Shield. Instead, they promptly fell on their faces, giving up two early goals and only scoring one, late in the first half. Houston’s three best players showcased some excellent scoring chances, and the Sounders defense made them look fantastic. The 2-1 loss was frustrating because it exposed some of Seattle’s weaknesses when rotating players. This was a match they’ll be eager to leave behind.
Stefan Frei – 5 | Community – 6.0
Frei was credited with a single save, and if not for his goalposts could have conceded a half dozen goals. His distribution and connection across the back of the defense was rough; he was often caught with either opponents charging through at him or a distinct lack of targets to clear to when in possession.
One thing I liked: Forcing a team into tough shots is a good thing, but relying on the woodwork is usually not. While you might (correctly) say Frei was lucky that none of those shots went in, a good keeper makes opponents be perfect.
One thing I didn’t like: A terrible 45th minute clearance short and central was indicative of team-wide poor decision making. Stef not reading the game state and trying to play directly to the other team was confusing.
Going forward: He won’t want to dwell on this game, but Frei should spend some time with his defense on how to deal with dynamic individual play. Different personnel are the easiest and most likely fix.
Abdoulaye Cissoko – 4 | Community – 4.9 (off 63’ for Benezet)
Cissoko returned to the starting lineup and struggled massively. His positioning was horrible at times, and he couldn’t deal with the athleticism of the Houston attacking core. He earned a clearance and had 89 percent passing with only 30 touches.
One thing I liked: A nice job of getting his body in between Fafa Picault and the goal in the 6th minute was a tidy bit of defending that prevented an early breakaway.
One thing I didn’t like: AB was constantly at odds with his teammates on the back line. Xavier Arreaga was always motioning him into place, and after a bad pass in the 33rd minute, Cissoko casually (and infuriatingly) watched the opposing team run by his defense instead of helping.
Going forward: Seattle was unable to deal with the dynamic vertical threat of the Houston individual attackers, mostly due to the immobility and tactical positioning errors of the center backs, especially on the width.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 5.5
Xavier worked hard versus Houston but never looked comfortable with the defenders around him, consistently gesturing to maintain a defensive line that was coherent. Ultimately, he was unable to keep the defense stout, as Seattle had a number of defensive gaps that Houston was able to infiltrate.
One thing I liked: Arreaga’s 94 percent passing from the back was much needed, as Seattle was able to create their best chances in counter transition play as the Dynamo overextended. He combined this with the best 1-v-1 defense on the team, using immense effort in the 24th, 37th, and 70th minutes.
One thing I didn’t like: Whenever Arreaga was out of position, Houston took advantage, and it was a constant struggle to keep the back line together. Much of the blame must go to Xavi, who was too aggressive at times and left his less mobile outside center backs in vulnerable positions. An unfortunate bounce through Arreaga led to the second goal.
Going forward: Arreaga needed some defensive pace and positioning support from those around him, and that tactical defensive shape is more likely to exist when the other three starters in the back return.
Shane O’Neill – 5 | Community – 5.0 (off 87’ for A. Roldan)
After being excellent last match, Shane started on the right of the defense and really struggled. Unable to combine smoothly with Rowe to his right, O’Neill was also at odds with his central defense as the backline had consistent trouble with vertical runners.
One thing I liked: A nice 66th minute 1-v-1 defensive effort prevented Picault from an easy opportunity.
One thing I didn’t like: Shane attempted to deal with the speed and agility of the Houston strike force, but he lacked good communication and connection with teammates to limit the Dynamo from pushing through gaps on his side. Houston’s second goal exposed Shane’s lack of lateral agility.
Going forward: O’Neill has been strong on defense in the second half of the season, but this combination of opponent speed and teammate personnel displayed his weaknesses. He remains a good bench option but needs specific matchups to succeed.
Jimmy Medranda – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 7.0 (MOTM) (off 74’ for Nouhou)
Jimmy did his job, creating several chances and being an active 53-touch player. Whether excellently crossing the ball in the 28th, leading the team with four tackles, supporting a lagging defense, or scoring his customary banger goal, Medranda was the top-performing Sounder on a struggling team.
One thing I liked: In what is now a weekly expectation, Jimmy scored a terrific goal in the 41st minute. A delicate first touch set up a thundering finish far post, and Medranda gave Seattle a tremendous boost going into halftime.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 60th minute with Houston pressing forward for a set piece, Jimmy got the ball in a full breakaway and was unable to shoot, find a teammate, or threaten the goal in an enormous chance squandered.
Going forward: Jimmy has shown that he can lead the team in both defensive and offensive actions, but Seattle shouldn’t have to depend on that.
Josh Atencio – 6 | Community – 5.7
Josh continues to get experience centrally, combining with JP to patrol the central defensive areas and controlling tempo with his usual unflappable style. Atencio had a sparkling 87 percent completion rate and the second-highest touches on the team (75).
One thing I liked: Atencio had a few calm defensive plays centrally, sliding into challenges and forcing Houston to play less direct. A 34th minute play was big, preventing a rampant Houston attack through the middle.
One thing I didn’t like: Josh only had six duels, once again a limited physical impact centrally, which may have come in handy to prevent Dynamo players running unabated at goal. He was beat badly on a header in the 56th minute and only saved by the crossbar.
Going forward: Vertical speed exposed some of this makeshift lineup’s flaws. Atencio will need to adjust when playing with passive wide center backs, and even if he isn’t in this exact position again, he can learn from this game.
João Paulo – 6 | Community – 6.2
This was an average match from a very above-average player. He again led the team with 94 touches, had decent 76 percent passing, and added a few key passes from set pieces, but João Paulo couldn’t impose his will onto the opponent as we are accustomed to seeing.
One thing I liked: His 93rd minute free kick was beautiful, hitting the bottom of the crossbar and nearly rescuing a point for Seattle. The game is never out of reach when he gets chances from set pieces or attacking areas.
One thing I didn’t like: JP’s passing was uncharacteristically off. An absolute howler of a pass in the 27th minute was central, immediately stolen and turned into a Dynamo counter, as was a similar one in the 62nd.
Going forward: Seattle depends on João to shelter the backline and in this game that model was exposed a bit. Houston still only scored on two fantastic goals, but the creation centrally is what the defense will want to concentrate on. Getting more consistent offensive movement will prevent JP from overextending and trying to do everything.
Kelyn Rowe – 5 | Community – 5.2
Rowe couldn’t reproduce his superb winger efforts from last match. Instead, he had some dreadful defense and an inability to influence the game going forward. While he had the third most touches on the team, he failed to get into attacking areas, opting to play centrally and up a crowded wing to forward teammates.
One thing I liked: A nice 9th minute cross reminded us how valuable Kelyn can be as an overlapping wide option. He added three tackles defensively.
One thing I didn’t like: Instead of a dynamic pairing with Nico Benezet’s runs in front of him, Cristian Roldan completely choked off the vertical runs that Kelyn was so successful with in the previous match. This neutralized Rowe’s offensive impact and turned him into a one-dimensional defensive player, which was a disaster. He was badly beaten in the 47th and 68th minutes, offering little support for an under-siege O’Neill.
Going forward: We saw the high side of Rowe on the wing, and this was a large drop off from that. Much of this was due to the lack of space and some tactical positioning errors that limited his impact. With his offensive skills muted, Kelyn must improve his wide defensive work when playing this position.
Fredy Montero – 6 | Community – 5.2 (off 74’ for Chú)
Fredy was an excellent offensive option but just couldn’t seem to connect on the final pass, the finish, or making the play that would break the game open. He was active, moving around and connecting and led the entire game with five shots, but similar to his performance, he only managed to get one on frame.
One thing I liked: Even struggling, Montero continued to set up teammates. An early 11th minute pass got Cristian into a great spot, and often it was Fredy who took on and completed the most important holdup play forward.
One thing I didn’t like: A bit more precision and Fredy has a goal and a few assists, but he was off enough that his mistakes ruined a few of Seattle’s best chances. It’s hard to blame him for losing his mark on the first goal, but he is to blame for being off on a handful of connecting passes that might have spurred Seattle into a result.
Going forward: Fredy, Cristian, and Will did not work well together up front, lacking central directness and having limited success with spacing. Although all three are good in their own way, it was telling that some subs had more success with direct play.
Cristian Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.2
I am not sure if Roldan was tired from international play or what was wrong, but something was off. His runs were muted, he struggled to get the ball in attacking positions, and his movement was ultimately counterproductive for many of his teammates. He had two shots during his 49 touches.
One thing I liked: Cristian hustled all match, getting into central areas in the second half to support possession. His versatility allowed Seattle to sub in multiple attackers and still maintain some semblance of tactical formation.
One thing I didn’t like: Constantly running into the right channel suffocated a successful wing attack evidenced in the last match. Even when Cristian adjusted some, he still was off on many passes and was disconnected, often ending with redundant movement to both other forward attacking players.
Going forward: Cristian’s communication with his brother and Raúl is a known quantity, and this combination paled by comparison. Once again, an international break ruined a quality run of form from the elder Roldan, and he will need to regain the confidence that saw him scoring in four straight games.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.2
After playing excellently for a few weeks, Will fell back against Houston. Although he was active, his play up front failed to connect well with the attacking midfielders behind him, and he often dropped possession while trying to support more direct play.
One thing I liked: He matched JP and Benezet with multiple key passes for the team lead; a 59th minute cross was one of them.
One thing I didn’t like: Bruin again played big minutes in a match and failed to register a single shot. He was ineffective in challenging the backline of Houston, which condensed the field and allowed the Dynamo to push their skill players into winnable 1-v-1 matchups.
Going forward: Will remains a strong attacking choice with Raúl hurt, but this match showed his limitations. Bruin wants more vertical play and while he’s a big body, he doesn’t consistently make runs for header chances, instead preferring through balls. With the right personnel this is a devastating option, but against Houston it was stale.
Nicolas Benezet – 5 | Community – 6.1 (on 63’ for Cissoko)
Benezet was exactly what this team needed — a fast, dynamic, and direct player willing to dribble into space and connect centrally. His introduction added a spark to a lagging Sounders team that had sleepwalked out of the locker room after halftime.
One thing I liked: He led the team with two key passes, and his 76th minute run and pass were excellent, followed by skinning Maynor Figueroa two minutes later and earning a set piece and card.
One thing I didn’t like: A poor set of plays in the 66th and 67th led directly to Houston opportunities; the latter ended with the Dynamo’s shot striking the post.
Going forward: Benezet is active and quite underrated in how well he reads the movement of teammates and supports their success on the field. Seattle could have used his energy and positioning earlier. Nico2 remains a quality option to add creativity on the offensive side of the ball.
Léo Chú – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 74’ for Montero)
Léo Chú came on for Montero and added some more pace and direct play. He was active, making many off the ball runs but only touching the ball a handful of times.
One thing I liked: Although Léo didn’t see the ball a lot, he managed a shot on goal in limited time and this came in the 76th minute off some excellent and much needed direct play.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 90th minute with a chance to create something he airmailed a valuable cross attempt.
Going forward: Chú has been a late match attacking change of pace and continues to provide exactly that.
Nouhou – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 74’ for Medranda)
Nouhou came in to spell a beleaguered Cissoko and immediately improved the defense on that side.
One thing I liked: Nouhou is big, fast, strong, and just the kind of defender to limit Houston’s fast, skilled players. In the 91st he showed that against Picault who thought he had gotten in behind.
One thing I didn’t like: He was beaten in the 82nd minute and gave up a dangerous free kick.
Going forward: Alas, having Yeimar or a full game of Nouhou would have gone a long way to limit Houston’s wide attacks.
Alex Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.3 (on 87’ for O’Neill)
Apparently, Alex Roldan played, something I barely registered.
One thing I liked: 100% passing on limited touches was nice to see.
One thing I didn’t like: Alex showed that maybe he should have subbed in at least a few minutes earlier.
Going forward: With Rowe showing inconsistently at the right side and Atencio having some mixed play centrally, it’s unlikely that Alex’s starting position is in any jeopardy. His ability to play strong defense and unlock teammates around him should ensure he starts games when rested and healthy.
Nima Saghafi – 7 | Community – 5.1
Saghafi had a boring, slightly above average showing where he didn’t make any egregious mistakes and neither team was overly aggressive. It was a fairly officiated match that saw both teams earn a dozen fouls and multiple yellows.
One thing I liked: The refereeing made sense. Cards were given correctly, advantage was played, and any AR/4th official/VAR usage was quick and efficient.
One thing I didn’t like: Montero was fouled in a great spot but didn’t earn a free kick in the 28th.
Going forward: Seattle didn’t show much fight in this match, and that translated to a boring and unremarkable refereeing job.
Houston Dynamo MOTM
Darwin Quintero had it in this one: the moment of the match that exposed Seattle’s shuffled back line, highlighted his superior close control, and gave Houston a (temporary) cushion that would ultimately prove to be the match winner.
No time to dwell on that disaster, with a midweek match coming next. Hopefully it’s a better showing.