For the second time this year, Seattle played media darlings LAFC. This time it was the Sounders’ third match of a three-match week and again they were the better team in this matchup. Although the California Fighting Velas had strong possession and some intense early pressure, they failed to directly threaten goal with many chances and went home with a deserved loss. LAFC tried to high press and work the ball around through the defense instead of crossing from the width, which Seattle handled with a compact defensive shape before releasing wide attacks. The match ended 2-0, highlighted by Seattle’s stellar, league-best offense which created the bulk of the dangerous chances and by their stellar, league-best defense which sheltered a goalkeeper debut.
Stefan Cleveland – 7 | Community – 6.6
Frei Cleveland stepped into goal for his first start as a Sounder and channeled his inner Alex Roldan. Similar to his immediate predecessor, Cleveland had three saves and held a clean sheet. His positioning was great, his communication was strong, and his distribution choices stellar. A 65th minute punt nearly earned him an assist to Cristian Roldan over the top.
One thing I liked: While I am sure he was nervous, Stefan didn’t show it. He came out six minutes in and caught the ball in a crowd. Moments later he was alertly out to the edge of the box to cover an over the top ball. His best save was a 61st minute Eduard Atuesta shot from outside the box that he held cleanly. He did all that was asked of him, and he now has as many Sounder shutouts as A-Rold.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 86th minute Cleveland came out and whiffed on an attempt to punch away, clearing out a few players but not the ball. Alex would have gotten that.
Going forward: Starting your Sounders career off with a shutout against a solid LAFC team is a high bar, but the defense made the game consistent and predictable. If they keep doing that, Cleveland looks to have all the tools and instincts to play at a high level. He just needs to remind his defense that he’s left-footed.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 8.0
Nouhou keeps playing at an extraordinarily high level, showing consistent defending from the center left. His efforts this year have been completely unstoppable. Nouhou contributed nearly 20 defensive actions and did so with his usual flair. Most of his work was cerebral, anticipating plays and getting to the spot before opponents, relying on his athleticism to take it from there, winning the ball and clearing danger away calmly.
One thing I liked: Is there anyone better in MLS at defending in space? Diego Rossi in the 4th, Latif Blessing in the 18th, 30th and 60th, Corey Baird in the 62nd. Each one took a ride on the HouTrain and got a one way ticket to the 10th circle of hell.
One thing I didn’t like: Nouhou got a bit too Hou in the 55th, heading the ball back to Cleveland with pressure. It’s a bad habit to head/chest back to the keeper under duress when more pragmatic defensive actions are preferable.
Going forward: He’s playing this position so well that teams aren’t even trying to victimize him for any consistent periods of time. To take the next step towards Dad Marshalldom, Nouhou needs to add the small things — the nodded header directly to a teammate instead of the acrobatic clearance, combining up the wing instead of clearing over the top, etc. These are learnable, and with his growth rate looking near-vertical, we should expect to see them soon.
Xavier Arreaga – 8 | Community – 7.9
Arreaga finally got an entire match to man the center of the three deepest defenders, and he was fantastic. Displaying a tidy mix of strong defending and fancy vertical distribution, Xavier was a defensive force while also contributing both as a pressure relief valve and as a catalyst for the offense.
One thing I liked: Not content to just stop everything dangerous from challenging Cleveland, Arreaga was integral to the offense. His ability to break lines on the dribble or with vertical passing continually decreased pressure from LA and created space and breakouts for Seattle attacks. When given a chance with beautiful corner kick service, he rose up and nodded a header back post, giving Seattle a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
One thing I didn’t like: A couple early dribbles were somewhat risky, and short goal kicks were quickly scrapped. He will want to play to the keeper’s dominant foot if possible.
Going forward: It’s a big mental change to adjust to watching this style, and it may take some getting used to for observers. Past Sounders teams have failed to take advantage of vertical passing from the back, relying on safe, cautious, horizontal play that was stout, but not dynamic. Xavier is improving his consistency, but the chances he takes can be scary. Utilizing Arreaga’s vision and vertical passing from deep in his own half can really highlight his exceptional vision and passing skills, similarly to how the formation change has highlighted the strengths of several teammates.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 7.5
Yeimar was stellar again, solidifying himself as the best option at Seattle’s right center back. He rarely gets beat, and when he does (such as in the 9th minute) he has incredible closing speed for someone so big, allowing him to recover even after slipping or missing on a play. Against LAFC, he combined with Alex Roldan to endure the worst of the defensive work, linking up and communicating well, almost as if they played on the back line together last year.
One thing I liked: Another massive output in the stat book for YGA, who had 25 recorded actions, highlighted by eight clearances, five interceptions, and three tackles. Bearing the brunt of the LAFC offensive attack, Yeimar repeatedly denied Rossi and Baird from penetrating the Sounders’ goal box.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 34th minute Mark-Anthony Kaye attempted to dive his way to a penalty after some contact, and Atuesta similarly tried to bait a red card for hands to the face after being struck in the 52nd minute by Yeimar. He has a habit of defending with his hands up and attracting contact — he needs to be careful when confronted with other theatrical MLS opponents looking to take advantage.
Going forward: Yeimar Gómez Andrade once again looks like one of the top defenders in the league. His speed, size, and anticipation look well suited to play in the channel on the right, and he’s been a defensive monster who should continue to start and get consistent playing time. Yeimar’s ability to defend in space has freed up Alex in front of him to jump passing lanes and defend in the gaps, creating turnovers consistently.
Brad Smith – 7 | Community – 7.4 (off 83’ for O’Neill)
Every time it seems Brad is having a rough game, he scores. With a new formation there is a learning curve on each position’s expectations, but Smith has firmly cast his vote for “judge me on the few big moments, not the many small ones.” In this one, he struggled for much of the match (72 percent passing on 32 mostly ineffective touches) but was great when it counted.
One thing I liked: If there’s one thing we know about this formation, it’s that Seattle can get the ball in the right channel and drop absolute dimes on the far post. This is where Smith has taken up residence, with great success. His 73rd minute goal came from a deep lying position where he followed the play into space and a Roldan found him. Teammates have had inconsistent success with the back-post run in the past, but Brad is putting it away when it counts.
One thing I didn’t like: For most of the match Brad was stuck on the sideline, unable to get in behind or connect well with teammates, adding little defensively (four total actions) and failing to complete a single pass toward goal. When given a much earlier opportunity to score on a great chance, Smith flubbed a perfect 43rd minute cross when he took it first time and put it wide.
Going forward: The Sounders have this beautifully asymmetrical system where Smith is carried defensively by Nouhou and the midfield, freed up to get forward and be directly goal-dangerous, while the other side shares the defensive workload and is distributor-focused. If Brad keeps hustling to the spot and finishing the chances he gets, he will rack up the big stats.
Kelyn Rowe – 6 | Community – 5.6 (off 68’ for Leyva)
Rowe started yet another match in the middle and he showed clear fatigue. He was solid, not bad, but there were a number of occasions when he struggled to get his feet right. These crucial situations showed his tired legs and his mind fighting the fatigue. Even tired, Kelyn still mixed it up with the LAFC midfield and was part of a tremendous team defensive effort.
One thing I liked: Rowe gave this team not just workmanlike minutes, but veteran savvy in the midfield. Although he didn’t create a lot, he was solid defensively. He was always covering defensively first, and was a big part of weathering pressure in the first half.
One thing I didn’t like: The tired legs caught up with Kelyn on the offensive side of the field, where he really struggled. Some poor passes and failure to get forward in a few instances showed a bit of sluggishness. Missing a wide-open Raúl Ruidíaz in the 6th minute after a bad touch was inexplicable — he clearly looked to see the open man, then fumbled the ball and played it to the opposite side.
Going forward: If you had told me Rowe would be forced to start three games in a week in central midfield and we would get nine of nine possible points, I would have been more than skeptical. That fatigue made him “only” MLS average shows how well Rowe has been playing and what incredible depth this team possesses.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 7.0 (off 92’ for Baker-Whiting)
JP got back in the starting lineup and immediately brought a structure and intensity that was greater than LAFC could match. He was everywhere across the middle, defending from sideline to sideline before turning and getting touches to move the ball away from the press. His 18 defensive actions had a game-high five tackles and his 15 duels won was a main reason that Seattle won that stat 64-49 overall.
One thing I liked: João Paulo was the key protector in front of the Sounders defensive back line, and he was excellent as a destroyer. He didn’t get many opportunities to impact the game offensively, but when he did it was through impeccable set piece delivery, which earned him a second assist in a week.
One thing I didn’t like: While his defensive intensity was high as usual, his forward passing was rough. He ended with 68 percent passing and was lucky that most of the failed attempts came in the attacking half. A 45th minute poor tackle allowed a set piece against.
Going forward: JP is perhaps Seattle’s least heralded player this season, and yet he’s played at a very high level every match. His production with a revolving cast around him has been consistently great, and he is finding unique ways to influence matches from scoring, assisting, and rampaging the midfield defensively.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.8
Cristian got another chance at attacking midfield and was again sharp, drifting in to the right offensive channel to serve in a team-high three key passes. He did a little bit of everything by defending around the pitch, relieving pressure by dropping in to help break the press, and relentlessly running into space to create chances. The elder Roldan combined smoothly through the middle, connecting on 80 percent of his passes, creating scoring chances by drifting wide and serving impeccable crosses, or hustling into space to in turn create space for teammates.
One thing I liked: Seattle broke the press of LAFC to devastating effect a few times, and in the 43rd it was his diagonal run and perfect cross to the onrushing Smith that should have earned him an assist. His passing accuracy from full sprint is magical.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle struggled to turn the space LAFC left in the corners into chances in the first half, and at times Will Bruin and Cristian made the same diagonal runs to the right without exploring the left side.
Going forward: Roldan just does a little bit more every season, and this year he is showing a blast from the past and his college creator days. Cristian is attached to almost every good thing that has happened to the Sounders this season, and his overall play has been phenomenal.
Alex Roldan – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.2 (MOTM)
Alex followed up a great performance mid week with his best all-around match of the year. He filled the stat book with defensive actions in an active first half before combining that with an offensive outburst after the break. He was incredible, with a team-high 83 touches.
One thing I liked: A. Roldan had a nifty lift of the ball in traffic to start a breakout that he punctuated by serving a perfect back-post cross for Smith to head for the second goal. However, his defensive work was even more amazing. He led the team with five tackles and added six more interceptions to his league-leading total. That’s right, Alex leads the entire league in interceptions, showing a brilliant ability to anticipate and jump passing lanes effectively, killing opponent attacks and jump-starting counters for Seattle.
One thing I didn’t like: Alex worked hard defensively and had two key passes but struggled for stretches to connect with teammates. He had a low 64 percent completion rate on passes, contributing to Seattle’s possession issues in the first half.
Going forward: Alex has now tied his brother for most MOTM awards this season with two, quite surprising for a guy who wasn’t even a guaranteed starter in the offseason. The most exciting part is that Alex shows tangible growth every outing, and we see the improvement in real time. Having the speed and range of Yeimar behind him has freed him up to be even more aggressive defensively, which he is taking great advantage of.
Will Bruin – 6 | Community – 6.4 (off 84’ for Montero)
While Ruidíaz was quiet, Bruin was the beneficiary, finding his first three shots of the season. He added two aerials won and a tackle and showcased some excellent runs that created for others. When the press forced Seattle to go long, Will was the likely target.
One thing I liked: Will tripled his shot output for the entire season, aggressively shooting on goal when he had the opportunity, the best being a 76th minute try that forced a save. Seeing Bruin finally get some goal-dangerous tries was a relief, and his runs were integral in making space for others.
One thing I didn’t like: His first shot of the year may have been a Brad Smith goal had Will let it go instead of attempting his own header, and he had a dismal 56 percent passing completion rate, failing to create for others as he had done in prior games.
Going forward: This was another average match from Will who worked hard but wasn’t able to produce results. Seattle can (and has) won with him in this role of facilitator, but unlocking him with a few quality looks would add another head to the Sounders attacking hydra.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 6.4
Raúl worked hard in this match, but again failed to get too much going. While he was effective in running off the ball and holding up play, he wasn’t his usual directly goal-dangerous self.
One thing I liked: Seattle needed defensive support and possession against LAFC, and Raúl brought that. His holdup play was essential to alleviate pressure, and he responded with 93 percent passing and only a single incompletion.
One thing I didn’t like: I can’t remember the last time Raúl was held without a shot, and Ruidíaz was kept entirely too quiet offensively against LAFC.
Going forward: It’s unlikely that Ruidíaz will be held without a shot too often, and it’s a great sign that even when he was, the Sounders won. Switching game plans to accommodate pressing teams or other formation changes is a sign of a mature team, and Raúl won’t be held scoreless long.
Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 68’ for Rowe)
Leyva came in the match and did exactly what he was supposed to do: keep the ball, defend in space, and hold the score.
One thing I liked: Eighty-nine percent passing, two clearances. Danny was brought in to do a job and he did it.
One thing I didn’t like: Leyva fouled golden child Carlos Vela in the 85th minute, giving a free kick late in the match — and everyone held their breath.
Going forward: I have already forgotten to call him by his real name, “18-year-old Danny Leyva,” because while he is young, he plays like a talented player in a roster that is full of them. No longer a rookie, Leyva is a known quantity and doesn’t need to be labeled as anything other than MLS player.
Shane O’Neill – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 83’ for Smith)
O’Neill came in to help hold on to the win.
One thing I liked: Shane had five touches and went two for three passing, helping hold the shutout.
One thing I didn’t like: I don’t understand breaking up a defense that is shutting out the opponent to push Nouhou and Xavi into positions they are less comfortable and effective at in order to get Shane into the game, but it worked.
Going forward: Shane may have been passed over by the superior upside and talent of the incumbent back three. He does make smart, conservative choices and if he’s not breaking franchise keepers in half, that’s a quality piece to have on the bench who will be extremely valuable this season.
Fredy Montero – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 84’ for Bruin)
Fredy got a little exercise, coming on for Bruin late in the match.
One thing I liked: He won a header and a tackle, dropping into the midfield to support as needed.
One thing I didn’t like: Montero only had two passes, missing the one in the defensive half of the field.
Going forward: There wasn’t much for Montero to do as the Sounders saw out the game, winning by multiple goals. There are lots of minutes with his name on them in the future.
Reed Baker-Whiting – 5 | Community – 5.4 (on 92’ for João Paulo)
Welcome to the team, RBW!
One thing I liked: Reed’s body and athleticism look MLS-ready.
One thing I didn’t like: A 94th minute tackle went all the way back to Cleveland and was a little awkward.
Going forward: Seattle finds time for youth, and the youth look both hungry and capable. It’s an exciting time for the team’s present as well as its future.
Joseph Dickerson – 8 | Community – 6.2
This was the second time this season that Dickerson reffed a Sounders game, and he has shown well both times. The game had a lot of intensity, but he controlled it with his whistle (30 fouls called) but only pulled out the cards when warranted (three yellows).
One thing I liked: Things were called promptly and assertively. VAR was referenced without excessive time used. He ignored dives in the box from Kaye and Atuesta searching for dubious penalties. His positioning was great.
One thing I didn’t like: There wasn’t much complicated to officiate, with few controversial calls, although a deliberate hand ball was called on Atuesta in the 75th and I’m not sure why that wasn’t a yellow. Smith (five fouls) and Atuesta (four) could have earned persistent infringement bookings.
Going forward: That’s twice this referee has done well this year for Seattle, a great improvement over much of the rest of the referee stable.
Atuesta wins Man of the Match, and I’m not exactly sure why. Someone had to. He provided a well-worked two-handed shove to Yeimar’s back, which eventually earned Yeimar a yellow in the 52nd. He provided a tame shot from distance in the 61st which Cleveland handled easily. He allowed himself to get split by Alex Roldan at the beginning of the sequence that led to Seattle’s second (a play on which he absolutely jogged back). Great stuff. I don’t know, he probably pressed well when they were doing that.
Seattle welcomes the Atlanta Football Club into Lumen field this weekend and it’s time to send them home sad.