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Seattle Sounders at LAFC: Player ratings

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Alex Roldan continues to grow into new role.

Seattle went to LA to play against the FCs and, after an early blip, were the better team for 88 minutes. The final was 1-1, but the Sounders will be pleased with their recovery after giving up a first-minute goal and earning the bulk of the best opportunities thereafter. Any time you get a draw on the road, especially against a good team, you’ll take it. But for the hella greedy people out there, Seattle showed well enough to win this match.


Goalkeeper

Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.0

For all the hype about LAFC being the favorite to win everything, this was a tame match for Frei and Seattle wasn’t consistently tested. He had three saves and had to manage the game some, but the Sounders defense was again very stout and forced 6/9 shots from outside the box. This led to a quiet afternoon, and Stef did a solid job of providing an outlet for his defense, contributing 58 touches and connecting across the back as needed.

One thing I liked: This defense has impressed in two matches in a row, limiting shots to outside the area, and that is a recipe for success in MLS. Not only are you much less likely to score from outside the box, Stefan is exceptionally strong in limiting goals against when he has vision of the ball. Dealing with new sight lines as the defense positioning is shifted in front of him is a huge deal, and Frei has made this transition smoothly, with only minor communication hiccups.

One thing I didn’t like: I honestly have no idea what happened on that first set piece defense, but it was a disaster. Pretty much everything went wrong, and that is ultimately Frei’s jurisdiction. He needs to get everyone on the same page when defending set pieces, and this was a mess, a clear example of hesitation being the enemy of success.

Going forward: This defense can limit goals by denying penetration into the box and creating vision for Stef to make saves. This will be crucial against the incoming Galaxy, as they have scored all six of their goals (on a paltry 13 shots) from inside the penalty area. Creating predictable shots and sight lines for Frei was a solid attribute of our beloved Dad Marshall, and so far this season the back three have done well in providing Stefan the vision to do what he does best.

Defense

Nouhou – 7 | Community – 7.3 (MOTM)

Nouhou again showed that this formation suits him; he can patrol his side and shut down any and all attacks down the Sounders’ left. He ended with four clearances, showing off his elite anticipation and reading of LAFC attacks before stepping in to earn Seattle possession and sweep away danger. His comfort in this formation is apparent, as it both limits his duties going forward and expands his freedom to attack defensively. Nouhou is channeling this aggression impeccably so far.

One thing I liked: It’s been repeated enough to call it consistency: Nouhou’s defense is flawless in space, and he handles everything on his side of the field. One potential issue with a back three is you leave your wide centerbacks matched up 1-v-1 more often than other formations, but opposing players are finding out quickly that going 1-v-1 versus Nouhou isn’t an advantage at all. Per my notebook, he was tested seven times in this game and every time the Sounders’ left defender stole the ball or ushered it out for a goal kick or possession to Frei. Putting Nouhou on more of an island has only amplified his impact.

One thing I didn’t like: At least once Nouhou tried to dribble out of congestion after making a smart play on the ball, but with being a more central player comes more inherent risk to errors in dangerous areas. When he lost possession in the 31st minute, it was not comfortably against the sideline, but instead centrally. He will need to limit these turnovers and learn where the outlet areas are for this new position.

Going forward: Seattle is daring people to test Nouhou 1-v-1 and being rewarded with space and opportunity elsewhere due to his excellent defense. The Sounders leverage this advantage in layers, with the midfield pushing higher and adding numbers to the attack. He is quickly demonstrating “leave him out there and forget about that side of the field” level play.

Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 5.4

Despite the negative commentary, I thought Arreaga played well, organizing the defense and keeping a clean sheet after the first two minutes. He hasn’t received credit for how well he’s played centrally, keeping his shape well and reacting correctly to the movement of people in front of him while maintaining a defensive line and shape. Benjamin Harrison put it perfectly: “The impact of Arreaga’s rough edges is being vastly overblown.” This is a defense that has faced two strong teams and given up a single goal on a flukey set piece. Other than that, Seattle has limited both opponents to speculative long shots while Arreaga and Co. have shunted aside nearly all attacks. Xavi was again effective, dominating in the air, winning four defensive headers to complement his five tackles, two interceptions, and two clearances. His central leadership has been a large part of the Sounders’ single goal against.

One thing I liked: It’s an advantage having a slick, two-footed passer with good vision in central defense. Arreaga’s nearly 83 percent completion rate this season included several incisive attacking passes that looked to break the defensive lines of confrontation and create transition advantages. In the 17th against LAFC he anticipated a pass centrally to steal possession, dribbled through the middle and put a pass wide to where Brad Smith could have been had he not been standing still while Xavier ran 20 yards upfield with the ball. I expect this outlet to change to the always-open Nico Lodeiro upon his return, but this sequence illustrated a tactical understanding of where the outlet break pass should go, as well as an ability to put it there.

One thing I didn’t like: Xavier was victimized by a tricky move in the very first minute of the game, committing a foul on the top of the box by diving in, which LAFC converted. There was a lot wrong with the play, perhaps the biggest issue being how completely unnecessary the foul was, as the opponent was nowhere close to reaching the wild dribble that he pushed away from goal. The tackle was too aggressive for early in the match, and while that goal shouldn’t happen the way it did, it’s a silly spot to give a foul when the forward is going away from goal. Xavi has a bad tendency to lunge defensively, and needs to tone this back as a central player.

Going forward: Arreaga seems a little snakebit with some of the fouls committed and cards acquired, especially in lieu of other plays not getting the same attention. He needs to play steady for a few matches to help the team gel in the new formation and allow people to gain more confidence in an outstanding defense. His communication with Frei and the defense around him is clearly a work in progress, but during this growth period the defense has had the best goal differential in the league.

Shane O’Neill – 6 | Community – 6.0 (off 75’ for Yeimar)

O’Neill again did a solid job with a few positional issues that frustrated while supporting a very strong defensive effort. Alex Roldan spends a lot more time babysitting the defense behind him than Smith does on the opposite side, and while this impacts the offense, Shane does a good job utilizing the extra assistance to lock down his side. He ended with a few interceptions and clearances and again showed great safe passing, completing nearly 90 percent on his 51 touches.

One thing I liked: Shane showed excellent anticipation in the 36th and 65th, stepping up high to or past the midline. This aggression either wins possession for Seattle or pushes the line of defensive confrontation high. The defensive press is very well timed, with O’Neill picking his spots to come forward aggressively.

One thing I didn’t like: On re-watch, some communication issues appear to be due to Shane being caught in two minds defensively and forcing teammates to react. The end result looked like a blunder by Arreaga, but O’Neill’s 31st minute positioning forces his own team to react negatively, and he will need to find some consistency. His continued marking of spaces not occupied by an opponent or the ball introduces unnecessary chaos into an otherwise neat defensive shape.

Going forward: Shane didn’t do anything to lose the game and that is a valuable thing to say about a defender. He plays well within his limits and that’s no doubt why he keeps starting. Especially early in the season the coaches have elected to play to O’Neill’s high floor and the results are hard to argue with.

Midfield

Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 6.0 (off 75’ for Rowe)

Smith looked more comfortable this match, however he still struggled to find his positioning in two-way support. His passing numbers were not great — 61 percent completion and one key pass, but he got a huge number of touches (81 for the game, 53 and most on the field in the first half). Smith improved to three shots this match and got into better areas than the last, while creating more space for others to succeed.

One thing I liked: It wasn’t pretty but his header goal was a smart piece of finishing. First off, he got to the danger spot in support of Raúl Ruidíaz’s header, and secondly, he put it in the back of the net. Instead of forcing a volley, he headed the ball down, creating a difficult save that LAFC goalie Pablo Sisniega was unable to make. Getting to this spot and finishing, along with a few other crosses, show there is potential for Smith to grow into this role.

One thing I didn’t like: While he improved from 48 to 61 percent passing, Smith has yet to prove he is the right person at left wingback. He killed a number of attacks, like a 17th minute poor trap and even more egregious 44th minute dreadful pass behind an open run of Will Bruin. While he continues to slowly improve the rest of his position and timing, these are standard soccer plays he has to execute better.

Going forward: Scoring his first goal shows that Smith has the ability to be the left wingback needed, but he has to either keep producing goals or play much better in the run of play. Seattle needs creativity from his side and there are glimpses of what Brad can bring, but he needs to show more with other players lurking.

Josh Atencio – 7 | Community – 6.7

Composure. I was struck again by Atencio’s incredible composure against arguably the best central midfield trio in the league. Atencio has stellar balance, great weight on his passing and a work rate that belies his size and smooth movements. He combined all this into another excellent performance centrally, with 70 percent passing on 57 touches. His ability to first-time pass and weight the ball perfectly onto teammates’ runs using either foot as well as the outside of his foot (and even a chest pass) is fantastic, and he does it all calmly and smoothly.

One thing I liked: Josh had excellent forward passing numbers, consistently putting the wide players through or finding link up play centrally, but his defensive duties are highly underrated. Against LAFC he had 17 defensive actions, including five tackles. With deceptive speed and reach, Atencio doesn’t get dribbled around yet also positions himself brilliantly to lock down passing lanes. His passing is unexpectedly smooth, and compliments his excellent defensive positioning. It’s surprising how comfortably he executes complex tactics and wins nearly every duel (88 percent).

One thing I didn’t like: Atencio only found JP twice in this match, and he didn’t have the defense-splitting switches that he showed last match. While he was great linking down the left and put in Smith on a number of occasions, there is room for improvement connecting with the opposite side.

Going forward: There is a maturity to Atencio’s movement, a tantalizing combination of size, speed, touch, and vision. In two matches he has covered a ton of ground, faced superstar midfielders, and not only held his own but excelled in his own right. His ceiling is sky high, and Josh should already be in the conversation for starting minutes even after Lodeiro returns.

João Paulo – 7 | Community – 6.8 (off 83’ for Delem)

João Paulo did a little of everything and did it well. He worked tirelessly across the middle, adding an aggression and toughness that matched what LAFC provided.

One thing I liked: After scoring a banger last game, this one was quieter offensively for JP but his defense was excellent. He led the team with six tackles and consistently pushed the ball forward to Cristian, Alex, and Brad. João took up residence in the center of the pitch and ranged from side to side, overloading defensively and winning challenge after challenge. His ability to dribble through a packed midfield was important to create space and alleviate the press.

One thing I didn’t like: Some of the communication issues we saw from last game were still apparent, the worst being a 33rd minute LAFC runner who strolled down the middle and got a shot off. Tracking vertical attacks through the lines is something he will want to improve on.

Going forward: JP is a two-way force who does a lot and does it well. The central midfield so far this year has shown a great ability to create via the dribble, something both João and Cristian are using to provide opportunities for the players up front. Hopefully Nico can return to add another technical galaxy to combine with.

Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 7.2

Cristian followed up a stellar opening night match with another quality showing as an advanced central midfielder. His stats were less stellar — 69 percent passing, one shot, no key passes — but he still created opportunity for teammates with incisive offensive movement and consistent midfield composure.

One thing I liked: A gorgeous piece of soccer went sadly unrewarded in the 25th minute, as a nifty dummy run from Bruin opened Cristian into space with the ball. He chose to drive at the goal and put a hard, low, obstructed shot that beat the keeper. Unfortunately, it hit the post and went wide. This was great recognition of the space and opportunity.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 50th minute Seattle nearly allowed a goal when Cristian slowly pressured a wide run to double team alongside his brother. This tentative movement allowed Mark-Anthony Kaye to run directly into the space he vacated and get a shot. Both Roldans will want to press the ball quicker, hand off the space better, or both.

Going forward: Cristian plays the 10 as a 3rd forward at times, diving into the channels on the edges of the box to create crossing opportunities or driving into the middle to look for direct shots. This is completely different to how I expect Nico to play the position, but it’s something for Seattle to learn from as these runs and spaces are there for the taking. Roldan continues to excel wherever he plays.

Alex Roldan – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 7.1

Alex Roldan is the second player (along with Nouhou) who has taken his role in a new formation and upped his game. His recognition of positioning is excellent and he remains relevant to the offensive creation while also greatly helping O’Neill. Even being a consistent creator, Alex had a fantastic four tackles and four interceptions defensively. His ability to play two ways has been integral in nearly every chance created by Seattle so far this season.

One thing I liked: A-Roldan had two key passes in this match and both were spectacular. His ability to curl a ball from the angle onto the six-yard box is near-perfect, freezing a keeper on his line and providing a tantalizing angle to attack for the Seattle forwards. Also important is the consistency with which he delivers this pass, allowing a forward (Ruidíaz against LAFC) to find the ball in space. Seattle scored on the first cross after a keeper saved the initial header, and Raúl likely should have finished the second. Seattle is always dangerous when Alex has his head up looking mid- to far-post.

One thing I didn’t like: Alex struggles to create any kind of separation for himself and isn’t a standout dribbler. This forces him to rely on others to create space for him to run into; it also limits him to being single-dimensional as a crosser. While his crossing is elite, he will need to add more weapons and some elusiveness within his game outside of transition moments.

Going forward: Alex and Shane have split much the defensive duties on the right side and while this works, each needs to take more ownership of their respective offensive and defensive roles for Seattle to improve. If Roldan can become a direct threat in addition to his superb crossing, there is space for him to shine in this offense.

Forwards

Will Bruin – 7 | Community – 6.5

If I had written ratings after first viewing, Will would have been MOTM, and he was for the first half. Nearly everything positive that happened for Seattle before intermission was due to Bruin. His movement was wonderful. Every time they struggled to get the ball out from a pressing LAFC, there was Will to hold the ball up, win a foul, turn and distribute, or create space for Seattle to break out. He ended with only 41 percent passing completion on 35 touches, but this masked a stellar job winning four aerials, distributing two key passes, and making tireless runs to create space for others and relieve pressure.

One thing I liked: This was Valdez-level impacting the match without getting on the scoresheet stuff from Bruin. Time and again he checked to the ball, relieved pressure, found teammates and did all the dirty work. A sublime dummy in the first half created acres of space for Cristian Roldan to nearly score, and when Seattle finally did score it was no coincidence that Will had made a conspicuous near post diagonal that dragged two to three defenders out of position.

One thing I didn’t like: Still no shots in two games is a concern for a player ostensibly playing forward. Nico Lodeiro should help some, but Seattle and Bruin need to find ways to get him the ball in the box in shooting areas, and not relegate him to creation from midfield. He is too good a finisher and poacher in tight areas to not find a single shot in two matches.

Going forward: If Fredy Montero was 100 percent healthy, this might be more of a hot seat for Bruin, since he definitely needs to add more offensively. Currently, he is the starter and brings a tremendous work rate up front that is paying off for nearly everyone around him. He will want to see the efforts pay off for himself soon.

Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 6.6

Ruidíaz had a rather “quiet” match against LAFC. That included game highs in shots (four) and shots on target (two). His movement and willingness to combine deeper in the field was helpful against a very strong LAFC midfield, and he found a number of excellent scoring opportunities.

One thing I liked: While not a tall guy, Raúl somehow consistently wins headers in the box and this is due to nearly perfect movement and anticipation. Smith scored in the 54th minute after Ruidíaz linked up outside the box and then dove through the penalty area to split the defense and get a strong header that forced a fumbled save. It’s a great example how positioning and movement created a goal.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 89th minute the win was there for Seattle. Raúl again combined and got into the box with a free header and mistimed his jump, unable to head the ball down. I had visions of Nico’s 96th minute winner versus Columbus a few years ago, and it’s a shame that Ruidíaz couldn’t do similar.

Going forward: Ruidíaz is getting shots, which is the most important thing for Seattle. He hasn’t missed a beat in being involved in goals, and there is plenty of room for the midfield service behind him to improve. The defense he will face this week is very porous, and he should look to re-take his league scoring lead.

Substitutes

Kelyn Rowe – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 75’ for Smith)

Rowe was fine; he came in and was active. His 18 touches weren’t notable.

One thing I liked: A tackle, an interception, and a blocked shot showed a very active defensive effort for Rowe, who helped hold on to a road point.

One thing I didn’t like: Sixty-seven percent passing is not enough to meet expectations and be impactful.

Going forward: Rowe was neither good nor bad, and that’s probably fine for a sub. If he has designs on starting, he’ll need to show more than he has so far, albeit in very limited minutes.

Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 5 | Community – 6.0 (on 75’ for O’Neill)

Once again Yeimar was a curious late game sub and he was very active in his time on the field.

One thing I liked: Three interceptions, two clearances, a tackle, and 75 percent passing from the right defense highlighted a strong defensive effort to close out the match.

One thing I didn’t like: Someone this talented needs to find a way to start games.

Going forward: Yeimar played well, but it’s hard to judge a player or defense when the staff overhauls most of the back line with 15 minutes left in the match. Based on past performances this guy should be a shoo-in to start, and he apparently needs to prove that. This 15-minute stint likely didn’t move the bar.

Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 83’ for João Paulo)

Delem saw his first action this season for Seattle. Perhaps surprisingly, he came in as a center back (in what looked to be a back five). He was fine, only touching the ball three times and not attempting a pass.

One thing I liked: This is an intriguing positional depth move. While maybe not as spectacular as Nouhou, there are definite advantages to having Jordy’s defensive grit and passing moved back a line.

One thing I didn’t like: Delem appears to have been passed in the defensive midfield depth chart by two U-20s.

Going forward: It was a bit risky to change out a bunch of defensive pieces on the road in a tied match, but Delem likely earned confidence from being put in as a centerback. If he can continue to show well in his reserve time, Seattle may have found another converted defender who can offer important depth.

Ethan Dobbelaere – 4 | Community – 4.9 (on 83’ for Bruin)

Ethan came into the game ostensibly playing “hustle attacker” and did too much hustle and almost no attack.

One thing I liked: Dobbelaere is all energy; he brings a massive spark to the game with his sheer force of sprinting everywhere he goes.

One thing I didn’t like: I don’t think it was a red card, but he certainly had a very reckless challenge less than a minute after entering. Even if he got the ball first, his attempt was reaching with studs exposed and many a referee would reach for the back pocket there. In a tie match with 10 minutes to go, he must play smarter.

Going forward: Ethan is still learning to play within himself, and it’s been a bumpy road so far. While his attacking instincts are good, the execution on them appears to be overzealous and at times misguided. He needs more time, but in order for him to earn this time the play must slow down for him internally.

Referee

Armando Villarreal – 6 | Community – 5.6

This match was refereed fairly typically for MLS. By that I mean it was very loose early and much tighter late. As long as your name isn’t Arreaga, you likely get away with plenty in this match. I would have liked to see VAR checked on a kick to the face, as this potentially huge no-call was casually ignored.

One thing I liked: For a match with 30 fouls, Villarreal did fairly well avoiding the big mistake. Some advantage was played, and I was happy to see him defuse some potentially big confrontations with words instead of cards.

One thing I didn’t like: The consistency wasn’t there, and Will Bruin was the recipient of most of the non-calls on LAFC’s defenders. On multiple occasions Will was chopped down holding up the ball, and had this been reciprocated as a no-call the other way, it might have been fine (spoiler: it wasn’t). Kwadwo Opoku deserved a card for a hard and late foul on Smith in the 18th and Eduard Atuesta was called for a soft foul in the 34th. More consistent application of foul rules would have been better.

Going forward: This was an okay referee job but nothing exceptional either way.

LAFC MOTM

Atuesta had a very clever and well executed free kick, which gave LAFC something to hold on to for the remainder of the match. Aside from that, he led both teams in touches, dictating much of LAFC’s play.


LA Galaxy come in this week boasting the best record in the league and the top scorer in MLS. Scouting LA is easy — Chicharito is their main scoring threat and he scores from inside the box by poaching and finishing well. Stopping him is another thing altogether.