Welcoming Atlanta United into Lumen field, Seattle looked rather sluggish for much of the match. After coming out with intensity and dominating early, the Sounders scored and then sat back and absorbed pressure, looking increasingly tired as the game wore on. This strategy worked well for most of the game, allowing the visitors the ball but limiting any quality chances on goal from the run of play. Unfortunately, a big error late gave yet another direct set piece, this time a penalty, and the third goal against Seattle from outside the run of play this season led to a 1-1 tie. The Sounders haven’t lost this season, but again will be disappointed with some passive play and attacking ineptitude that prevented another shutout win.
Stefan Cleveland – 7 | Community – 6.3
Cleveland was good, looking the part of a veteran with control of the area for the entire match. He was remarkably composed throughout when on the ball. He made good decisions, played smart, kept the defense in front of him compact with shrewd communication, and embodied the “Stefan-ness” of good Sounders keeperdom.
One thing I liked: Stefan is excellent with his feet, so the ball moves quickly through the box upon his touches. He started a break in the 23rd minute by correctly finding a central pass, incisively cutting through Atlanta’s midfield and jump-starting an attack. He finished with a stellar 81 percent passing rate, many vertical, and used quick throws to compliment his quality footwork.
One thing I didn’t like: A 46th minute short clear was the only real blemish on the afternoon, when Cleveland miss-hit a ball that almost came back immediately against him.
Going forward: Falling to third on the Sounders GAA for the season is a shame (as well as third all time), since there was nothing he could do to prevent the silly hop-stutter that Josef Martínez does on his penalty runups. Stefan Cleveland has all the looks of a quality MLS starting goalkeeper, although much of his success is due to an incredible defensive effort in front of him, and he has yet to be tested on direct shot stopping.
Nouhou – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.9 (MOTM)
Nouhou is a delight, combining overwhelming athleticism with daily improvement in personal tactical awareness and a dash of magic flair. Against Atlanta he had five interceptions, three tackles, and created two yellows by charging forward expediently on assertive attacking dribbles. No team has figured out how to stop him yet this year in any facet of soccering.
One thing I liked: Much of Seattle’s early offensive dominance arose from the defensive work of Nouhou, who in the 2nd, 5th, and 13th jump-started attacks by crushing opponents and pushing the ball up field.
One thing I didn’t like: Erik López got in behind on an over the top pass in the 15th minute and it was shocking merely because it is such a rare occurrence.
Going forward: Nouhou is one of the top two center backs in the league and the other guy might be on his own team. There is a skill in adapting to the play of those around you and Nouhou has done that near-perfectly this season in leveraging his exceptional quality soccer play into a cohesive piece of a defensive juggernaut.
Xavier Arreaga – 7 | Community – 6.8
Arreaga started in the center of the defense and the passing in the back was superb. Boasting a 90 percent completion rate on 43 touches, Xavier was a creative outlet through central channels while sliding across from sideline to sideline to cover angles any time Atlanta attempted to get in behind. He won eight duels in the back and even managed a shot on goal.
One thing I liked: His passing is instrumental to the success of Seattle’s midfield, but it shouldn’t distract from how great Xavi is defensively. Tasked with bodying up Martínez for most of the match, Arreaga repeatedly shut down plays, stepping high to deny service and recovering back in the few times wide attacks penetrated in behind. His defense in the box was particularly notable, clearing away danger multiple times while being careful not to commit fouls.
One thing I didn’t like: Xavi shows a lot of range to cover back, and he has the confidence with the ball at his feet and head up that you want to see. A crossover turn in the 35th minute, though, was unnecessary, a very high risk move as the last man back; instead he should consider a less risky pass back to the keeper. Five fouls were a lot versus a team that was attacking the ground consistently.
Going forward: I love Arreaga’s range and confidence on the ball, and he opens a new way to attack by being capable of accurate vertical passes with either foot. A mobile, tidy passing center back looks to be a perfect fit for the way this defense is set up.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 7.1
While Nouhou is deservedly gaining national plaudits (even mention of MVP), Yeimar has been nothing other than spectacular since finally earning a starting position for Seattle. He has taken the right center back position and made it his own, playing as well if not better than last season when on the smart pundit’s short list for best defender in the league. Against Atlanta he shut down his side defensively and won four aerials on crosses into the area.
One thing I liked: Yeimar is tremendous at using his body to remove opponents from the ball, and he is somehow massively physical without giving up many fouls (one foul committed). He has a great partnership with Alex Roldan, with each leading the league in interceptions due to their individual anticipation combined with trust in each other.
One thing I didn’t like: A 12th minute bad central pass was the worst, but as usual there were a few times the ball came off Yeimar’s foot awkwardly. Having the slick-footed Arreaga next to him helps with distribution, but also highlights the one part of YGA’s game that isn’t completely dominant.
Going forward: Yeimar Gómez Andrade has competition across the backline to be the best defender in the league, and the team defense is mind-bogglingly good so far this season. Whatever prevented him from starting early in the year looks to be behind him, and as more players return to the lineup this defense should only improve.
Brad Smith – 4 | Community – 5.0
Like other matches this year, Smith struggled for much of the game, but instead of a goal to boost his score he gave up a stupid penalty, which cost the team a win. He had a dismal 58 percent passing rate, did little defensively, and was the reason for the end of promising attacks in the 19th, 43rd, 68th, and 89th minutes.
One thing I liked: In the 17th minute Brooks Lennon overlapped down the Seattle left and with Nouhou inside, Brad alertly covered this run.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 86th minute Brooks Lennon overlapped down the Seattle left and with Nouhou inside Brad failed to cover the run. With four defenders back covering two targets and Lennon reaching for a hopeful (at best) cross into that defense, Smith inexplicably chopped him down, offering Atlanta a penalty kick and chance to tie the match. Lennon also led Atlanta with four key passes.
Going forward: There are several metrics, like goals, that Smith is absolutely excelling in this season. Unfortunately, when Brad isn’t scoring, he doesn’t do much else to help the team and, in many games, he is the weakest link. Jimmy Medranda has only played a few minutes this year but earned a great assist in that time, and maybe he should get more than a stoppage time run out if healthy, especially if Brad being tired is contributing to his defensive deficiencies.
Kelyn Rowe – 7 | Community – 5.9 (off 81’ for Montero)
Rowe was very good in this match; he played a bit under the radar but fit admirably into the defensive shape. He ran the middle of the field tirelessly, mixing it up and connecting on 77 percent of his passes, while showing important energy early and having a team-high four dribbles.
One thing I liked: It isn’t always noticeable, but Rowe does a ton of defensive work. Against Atlanta he had the most tackles (four) and a phenomenal 20 duels. He won two headers and in the 33rd minute forced a yellow card on Emerson Hyndman by dribbling circles around him (or through him).
One thing I didn’t like: Rowe did a lot of defensive work and got into good offensive positions but was unable to translate that into decent chances for Seattle, either failing to get on the end of a pass or being unable to connect to teammates with the incisive ball.
Going forward: Kelyn has done well in the last few weeks starting matches. I don’t think it’s a given that Josh Atencio will be handed his minutes back should he be ready to go next weekend. While you don’t want to lose your spot due to injury, Seattle has the luxury of working injured players back slowly, and this should benefit Rowe.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 6.7
João Paulo did it all, providing excellent two-way play and being all over the field all the time. Defensively he was rock solid in front of the back line, with two interceptions, a clearance, a tackle won, and eight recoveries. Offensively he was the main facilitator, with six key passes to lead either team.
One thing I liked: Seattle has become lethal (in both directions ☹) on set pieces, and much of that is due to excellent service from João. He now leads the league in assists, earning another on a perfect corner kick early that gave the Sounders a lead they shouldn’t have relinquished.
One thing I didn’t like: Other than set pieces, JP had a few struggles getting the ball into scoring areas, with a middling 70 percent completion rate even though he led the team with 65 touches.
Going forward: JP quietly goes about his business and does just about everything right. With Nico returning soon, it will be interesting to see how much of the set piece duty reverts to the captain, or if Seattle keeps some of JP’s excellent right-footed service in the rotation.
Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.5
Cristian didn’t have a great match. He struggled visibly time and again, grimacing and looking upset with the way he and the rest of the team were playing. A few times he seemed tired, and some sluggish plays were out of character. All that aside, he was by far the biggest attacking engine from the run of play for Seattle, leading the team in shots (three) and both progressive passing and carries (seven each).
One thing I liked: Even struggling somewhat, you gotta love seeing Roldan defending inside his own box in the 59th minute before supporting 95 yards directly up field by getting on the end of a through ball, driving all the way to the end line, and crossing back toward the spot, earning a corner kick. Unreal passion.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 33rd minute Cristian had numbers in the box and had a bad cross, and two minutes later put a shot wide with Will Bruin unmarked back post. This short time was representative of a match where C-Roldan was just a bit off.
Going forward: Even not playing at his best, Cristian was still better than most players on the field. It’s likely that his best position is deeper down the field with the left side struggling, and the return of Nico Lodeiro should offset Roldan’s right sided play well.
Alex Roldan – 5 | Community – 6.1
Alex did an okay job against Atlanta, flying under the radar with a performance that was solid enough but failed to impact the game positively on the offensive side. His 75 percent passing was fine, as were his 52 touches.
One thing I liked: I loved Roldan’s defense in the 74th minute, coming back strongly to support on the back side. His recognition of defensive space in combination with Yeimar is top notch, and their ability to cut off passing lanes is the best in the league.
One thing I didn’t like: A-Rold was nonexistent offensively, failing to register a key pass or shot. While Seattle sat back and defended well most of the match, the younger Roldan needed to pick a few more times to get forward and support the attack.
Going forward: Alex creates goals and forward pressure in his own way, but he might be the biggest beneficiary of Nico’s return. Not only because Lodeiro can open the defense, but his brother might not always be running into his space. Either way, Alex needs to find a way to get into attacking areas more often.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 6.0 (off 70’ for Leyva)
Bruin ran a lot in this match but ultimately had another disappointing outing. He isn’t finding much luck combining through the middle, and his holdup play remains hopeful more than fruitful. Against Atlanta he had 24 touches, only 50 percent completion rate passing, and was unable to link with teammates other than a 30th minute first-time through ball and another holdup five minutes later.
One thing I liked: In the 40th minute Will got into the box and appeared to be fouled, his foot being stepped on; apparently that wasn’t a foul because of where it was on the field. This was one of a few times he did good things in the box without being rewarded.
One thing I didn’t like: Both Arreaga and Yeimar had more shots in this game than Bruin. For all his activity, he wasn’t part of creating shots for others or himself in many meaningful moments.
Going forward: Will was pulled out for Leyva in this game and while his starting spot is probably still safe, it’s telling that Seattle dropped a forward to increase midfield possession and had better chances after the switch. This opens the door for potential single-forward lineups that might limit Bruin’s playing time.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 7 | Community – 7.0
Raúl was the main offensive threat against Atlanta, moving around and finding 29 attacking touches. He did a good job finding what little space there was, converted on his big chance, and found a key pass to help a teammate.
One thing I liked: A gorgeous curl run, and an even better corner kick found Raúl open in the 6th minute and he did excellently to finish cleanly. This wasn’t a simple header, and Ruidíaz’s footwork was beautiful, curling his body so his momentum was directly at goal, allowing him to head home pure.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 47th minute Raúl put another hopeful shot into ECS and while I applaud his effort, there were better options.
Going forward: Raúl is second in the league in goals and missed a PK and a sitter this season. He is incredible at finding spots to score and uses every tool available to finish. He still produces even without a lot of natural service.
Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 70’ for Bruin)
Leyva entered to try to keep more possession in the middle and once again looked like he belonged on the field, finding the ball and covering ground well.
One thing I liked: One hundred percent passing completion rate — Danny didn’t turn the ball over.
One thing I didn’t like: Brought in to help possession, Leyva only had eight touches. That is the same number of touches Fredy got in half the time, and Danny needs to be more assertive when he enters.
Going forward: Danny has been a solid substitute player for Seattle but hasn’t done anything that looks exceptional or demands more field time. He has a high talent ceiling and hopefully will grow as he gets playing time nearly every game.
Fredy Montero – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 81’ for Rowe)
Fredy came in and was very active, getting touches and helping Seattle out of a few midfield roadblocks.
One thing I liked: One hundred percent passing completion included a lovely first-time 84th minute touch that put Smith into his best attacking space all match.
One thing I didn’t like: Fredy does so much for possession, but his defensive work rate isn’t high and while not his fault, it’s relevant that Atlanta scored after he arrived.
Going forward: Montero shows high skill every time on the field, and he must wonder when he’ll get more than these short sub appearances, especially while Bruin is struggling.
Kevin Stott – 4 | Community – 4.7
Stott reffed a contentious match, with 35 fouls called and seven yellows. This match started with a yellow in the 2nd minute and didn’t get cleaner. Both teams were physical, but the away team repeatedly baited set piece after set piece in the attacking half, taking advantage of a referee who seemed to be reffing the score at times.
One thing I liked: In the 91st minute Stott pulled back the ball after allowing advantage and gave a yellow card to Franco Ibarra.
One thing I didn’t like: Multiple Atlanta players committed three fouls, got a yellow and then seemed immune to another foul, which allowed them to be physical with zero repercussions. Bruin should at least have had a PK look. In the 60th and 80th Stott was suckered by blatant dives. This was a mess, and that is putting it mildly.
Going forward: Stott was never going to pull two yellows on a player, so showing one ended up being worthless.
Atlanta United MOTM
Josef did nothing all match when Seattle had defenders on the field, but when given a chance to score without Nouhou, Yeimar, and Xavi in between him and goal, he did that — albeit with a ridiculous Willy Wonka hop PK finish.
Seattle plays an expansion team at home next weekend with a chance to pad their Supporter’s Shield lead going into a nice break. This is a great time to raise that goal differential, but a win should be the minimum expectation.