Supporter’s Shield-leading Los Angeles Galaxy came into Seattle, riding an undefeated record and bringing the league’s top goal scorer. The Sounders responded by throttling the away squad, completely dominating in a 3-0 win that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Seattle created consistent pressure on the Galaxy, ending with nine shots on goal versus two for the opponent. Seattle has maintained their strong play on both sides of the ball so far this year, and rotated a few positions without missing a beat while welcoming back one big name to some playing time for the first time in 2021.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.4
Earning his second shutout in three matches, Stefan was again bolstered by a fabulous defensive effort in front of him. The entire Sounder team pressed and defended every inch of the field, and LA was limited to only two shots on goal.
One thing I liked: Frei was strongly tested once in this match, in the 27th minute when Samuel Grandsir got in behind, and he was up for it. Coming out to close the angle, he made himself big and reacted in time to parry the opponent’s shot. With everything else being forced wide or predictably at him by the defense, Stefan showed he could step up to ensure a shutout if a big save was needed.
One thing I didn’t like: I am not sure what the plan is on goal kicks, but it looks very disorganized. Frei consistently has a conversation with multiple players in the box before settling on a long wide clearance, and it’s a mystery what the thought process is here.
Going forward: This defense is playing incredibly well in front of Frei and he showed that he can do his part to clean up anything his teammates miss. So far this season it has taken a hiccup on a set piece to beat him, and Stef looks once again like a contender for top keeper in the league.
Nouhou – 8 | Community – 8.0
Speaking of top players in the league, Nouhou is the best defender in MLS through three matches. His ability to defend in space 1-v-1 is unmatched, and his wide swath of coverage is so dominant that sometimes other defenders aren’t even necessary. He has added 90+ percent passing from the back and showed off several excellent switches and terrific vision on his distribution that ultimately earned him an assist. He turned 64 touches into a display of defensive aggression including multiple tackles, pressures, blocks, clearances, and interceptions.
One thing I liked: Imagine playing all game struggling to get anything past this guy up your right attacking side and in the 85th minute you think you have finally found a gap into the corner. Suddenly a massive Freight Train not only beats you to the ball with voracious speed and casually muscles you off possession, but turns in your face and gleefully dribbles around you to pass the ball up the field. Moments later this Train drops a perfect over-the-top ball for an assist.
One thing I didn’t like: It was hard to find many errors in his play, but he may have been a millisecond late coming across to pressure Chicharito on the Galaxy star striker’s single shot. It was put wide, but finding errors from Nouhou in this one was slim pickings.
Going forward: Soccer is generally a zone-dominated sport, and Nouhou’s zone of influence is massive. He is completely controlling the entire left side of the field, and this enables the success of Brad Smith and crew in front of him, as well as limiting the work of defenders around him. Nouhou firmly tips the scales in Seattle’s favor everywhere on the field by being dominant in his sphere.
Shane O’Neill – 6 | Community – 6.7
Shane got another start for Seattle, this time as the central of the three center backs. He did average, keeping his positioning firmly in the middle of the field and contributing when rarely needed. He collected a couple interceptions and clearances and ensured that his quiet day defensively was reflected to his keeper as well. There was some talk that he might be man-marking Chicharito or otherwise playing differently than a normal center back, but this was not evident in my re-watch. He handed off the lone LAG striker typically through his zone and allowed the tremendous work rate of those around him to limit his own involvement.
One thing I liked: Shane was 14/16 passing, and while he had small contribution numbers, he was clean on the few occasions he touched the ball. His two incompletions were also the only times he attempted vertical long balls, choosing very risk averse, horizontal, or backwards short passes for distribution. This was good execution of playing safe with limited opportunities to make mistakes.
One thing I didn’t like: Passing from the center backs matters for distribution, and it was shocking to see how little Shane did. He had fewer passes than everyone other than Jordy Delem (who managed 1/3 the number in 88 fewer minutes). With the players around him making huge defensive efforts, this was a mundane performance. O’Neill’s position issues were shielded by planting himself in the direct center of the field, although I think there were spots where he could have added more to the team.
Going forward: It’s not O’Neill’s fault that the players around him did such a massive job that he had little to do. But there is room for those players to excel and have a central defender who can be another option to add dynamism from the back.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 7.1
Yeimar was excellent in his first start of the season, coming in and showing the unique size and speed that had him as one of the best defenders in the entire league last year. On 61 touches, YGA showed good vision and decision making up field while still converting 86 percent of his passes. Defensively, he was a rock, contributing seven clearances and three interceptions. His strong defending and combination with Nouhou and the midfield nearly eliminated O’Neill (and LAG’s offense) from the match.
One thing I liked: Yeimar changed the shape on his side of the field and Seattle adjusted forward to take advantage of it. His recovery speed in the 5th and 51st minutes sniffed out two attacks, and it was his willingness to trust this pace that stood out. With LA making an overlapping sideline run in the 17th minute, I was struck by the confidence Andrade showed in not immediately breaking the defensive shape to cover before it was necessary. Instead, he understood he could get to that run if LA tried a through ball, and thus Seattle maintained a strong, even back line.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 52nd minute he had a poor central pass and there was some clear unfamiliarity with the passing lanes in the new formation. Yeimar will need to find the correct angles and understanding of where players are moving forward.
Going forward: The outside center backs did a superb job defensively against LA and that is good news for Yeimar fans. He showed last year what he is capable of, and after this performance, it will be hard to justify keeping him out of the starting lineup.
Brad Smith – 8 | Community – 8.2 (off 82’ for Medranda)
This was by far Brad’s best outing this season, and although there is still much to improve on, it bodes well for an already exciting offense to add improved play from the left wing. Smith did a great job, diving forward and passing into the box and consistently creating opportunities. He ended with two key passes, four shots, a goal, and an assist. He was a pure offensive option and finally looked like what most were expecting coming into this season. Seattle was able to create consistently through his left side for the first time this year.
One thing I liked: Brad scored another cleanup goal in the 23rd minute, but it was his consistent creativity down the wing that I liked best. He was much improved taking open space on the wing, smart to look up and pick out targets and decisive when darting into the box to go direct when needed. He set up the first goal by understanding where Raúl Ruidíaz was going to stop his run and getting the ball into his radius of finishing. This head up distribution from wide is exactly what Seattle needs, and should pay off immensely.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 49th and 70th minutes when Brad got into great spots and crossed back towards Cristian Roldan, he missed his teammate’s runs by just enough to throw off any potential finish. It is a huge improvement to get to these spots, but he needs to execute more consistently and these and numerous other passes still seem a bit off.
Going forward: The backside run is often going to be open and it is a relief that Smith is finishing opportunistically like Kelvin Leerdam (rather than Miguel Ibarra) when smartly finding these spaces. This outing should greatly boost his confidence, but he will need to maintain a high level of performance with teammates looking strong around him and vying for minutes.
Kelyn Rowe – 7 | Community – 7.2 (off 89’ for Delem)
Rowe had an excellent match. I hadn’t been overwhelmed with his first appearances for Seattle; he looked to be merely a solid late game addition to hold possession and not make many mistakes. This was nothing like that. Instead, he brought a dynamic two-way central midfield performance that showed a tantalizing combination of hard defensive work rate and goal-dangerous contributions. Kelyn ended with a key pass and three shots offensively — including one that hit the crossbar and post. At the same time, he was pulling the creation strings centrally and dominating defensively with a game-high six tackles as well as 10 other defensive actions across the entire field.
One thing I liked: Rowe’s 34th minute spin-turn in traffic away from the opponents and subsequent drive into the box with the ball to eventually earn a corner was one of a number of wow moments to illustrate what he can bring. Not just settling for holding possession, Rowe instantly translated a skillful touch into offensive opportunity, something he repeated multiple times, nearly scoring twice.
One thing I didn’t like: A few times Rowe was very aggressive defensively in spaces and overcommitted, forcing the outside defenders to cover while he slid in unnecessarily. LA couldn’t victimize it, but a better team might penalize this over-aggression.
Going forward: This performance was good enough to rethink Josh Atencio having a firm grasp on any elusive central midfield minutes. Although not a starter on this incredibly deep team, I think Rowe just played his way into the conversation for any available minutes centrally, while still being an option at a few other spots. If he can maintain this level of play, his value to this team is immense.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 7.2 (off 79’ for Leyva)
João Paulo quietly went about his business in another masterful central defensive role. By quietly I mean he didn’t score a 30-yard volley golazo, but contributed a team-high 92 touches, converted 91 percent of his passes, had three tackles and three interceptions in a comprehensive defensive midfield display, and added a key pass to boot.
One thing I liked: JP and Rowe worked together nearly seamlessly, and at times it was hard to distinguish which small midfielder covering massive amounts of ground just dispossessed LA. João is especially good at 1- and 2- touch progression from transition opportunities as soon as he creates a turnover. He gets the ball defensively and immediately knows where to put the ball forward and does so immediately.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle didn’t need JP to do anything spectacular, but I thought there were a few times he missed backside runners. He forced the ball a few times to Raúl when a wide ball would have opened space for Ruidíaz to run into.
Going forward: JP does a ton of work during the match, defending everywhere and facilitating possession. When he’s not doing spectacular things (which he is capable of) JP tends to not be as noticeable. This isn’t a bad thing; he’s constantly doing the work, and this showed yet again he can combine with nearly anyone central and be effective.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.8
Cristian played perhaps his last match as an attacking midfielder and showcased once again his incredible ability to read the play and dive into dangerous areas from advanced midfield positions. Against LA he was a creator, spraying passes all over the pitch and finding teammates in scoring positions often. He had a team-high six key passes, won a remarkable four aerials, and was again effective at creating direct opportunities for teammates from midfield.
One thing I liked: Roldan the elder reads the game brilliantly and is showing fantastic (and improved) chemistry with his brother on the right. Cristian consistently created by slicing diagonally to the corner, before dropping in crosses to teammates. This played to both Roldans’ strengths, and created the second goal. His combination and willingness to make winger runs from central areas is excellent, and his diagonal run across the goalmouth, drawing multiple defenders, was equally critical to create space for Raúl to open the scoring.
One thing I didn’t like: He just missed a few Smith passes and returned the favor by missing Brad in the 49th and Raúl in the 55th. Cristian is great at finding his brother, Ruidíaz, and JP, but less so Will Bruin and Smith.
Going forward: Cristian likely drops back to play next to JP with the reintroduction of Nicolás Lodeiro to the lineup. It’s exciting to think that a majority of the smart runs he’s made from the attacking mid position are places he still should be able to get to while starting as a defensive or holding mid, and that will completely befuddle opponents.
Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 7.0
This was a bit of a quieter match from Alex who still managed to show his growth within the 3-5-2 formation and his reading of the game. He touched the ball 79 times and was a willing defender in the midfield, attacking LA to create turnovers and prevent transition, leading to three tackles and two interceptions in the middle and offensive half of the field.
One thing I liked: Alex combined beautifully with his brother all match, highlighted by an underlapping run through the entire defense in the 23rd minute. This play started with Alex winning a goal kick header on the sideline, before charging through all the way to the goal, dummying a Cristian cross into the feet of Smith. This entire play was a great combination of intelligence, effort, and execution from the foot of Frei to the ball in the opposite net.
One thing I didn’t like: Alex missed a backside run in the 27th minute that led to Frei’s biggest save of the year. This vertical run in between him and the center back originating from deeper centrally is something that he has struggled with in the past.
Going forward: A-Rold is showing more and more soccer skills that are above average. This match his pressing was well articulated and his decision making is becoming much more instinctive. It’s great to see him adding tools to his skill set.
Will Bruin – 6 | Community – 6.9 (off 66’ for Lodeiro)
Bruin must be thrilled that Seattle is starting two forwards, but he is much more playmaker than finisher which must be frustrating. Against LA he had 29 largely boring (but important) touches, won a few headers, and worked hard to support teammates without finding any room for his own success.
One thing I liked: It was awesome to see Victor Bruin check to and drop an absolute dime through ball to Smith to open the scoring. This was a perfect example of Will understanding his role and using his above-average striker foot skill to facilitate others.
One thing I didn’t like: Still no shots in
two three 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 much too good of a finisher and poacher in tight areas to not find even a single shot in two three matches.
Going forward: If Fredy Montero was 100 percent healthy this might be more of a hot seat for Bruin since he needs to add more offensively to the team. 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 same returned to his benefit soon, as Montero is healing and has shown a similar ability to create for teammates.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.5 (MOTM)
I debated a few other players for MOTM but in the end it was Raúl who put together a total package of a match to earn this award. He filled the stat sheet: four shots, two goals, 38 important touches including numerous hold-up and transition support plays, 91 percent passing, a tackle, and two defensive recoveries.
One thing I liked: Raúl makes it look easy, but closer inspection shows hard work and beautiful execution on high difficulty plays. On his first goal, he supported the offense, stopping on a dime on the penalty area before calmly finishing a tricky waist-high cross from Smith that wasn’t a great ball to deal with. He later combined in the midfield in transition for the second goal and kept running hard for 94 minutes to score Seattle’s third. He never stops working and continually puts himself in areas to finish.
One thing I didn’t like: CRoldan looped an over the top ball that found Raúl in behind in the 92nd minute and he will want that one back, failing to finish on a 1-v-1 with the keeper.
Going forward: Ruidíaz keeps finding space and the ball, and keeps scoring — something unlikely to diminish with Nico back.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.7 (on 66’ for Bruin)
In the 67th he immediately released Cristian on goal, and in the 70th he found Smith. Nico was back doing Nico things.
One thing I liked: In the 75th minute Lodeiro tackled the ball defensively at the top of our own goal box, and seconds later popped up at the top of theirs and had a shot on goal forcing a save. Just your average defensive action turned 60-yard sprint turned shot on goal.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico looked a little slow as he knocked some rust off and failed to chase down a few balls he normally reaches.
Going forward: This was the effective Lodeiro we were used to, and he hasn’t missed a beat and gelled nearly immediately with the players around him, which bodes well for Seattle and should terrify opponents.
Jimmy Medranda – 6 | Community – 6.7 (on 79’ for Smith)
Medranda was impressive on the left, taking over for Smith and showing zero let down as he subbed on. He ended with four defensive actions, two key passes including an assist, and several excellent runs in a short but very dynamic appearance.
One thing I liked: After just missing an assist to Rowe earlier, Medranda sprinted up the side in the 93rd minute and latched on to an excellent Nouhou through-hou. I was particularly impressed with Jimmy’s first-time cross, inch-perfect at full sprint to Ruidíaz, who calmly finished.
One thing I didn’t like: This was an effective 28 touches, but there is still room for improvement working the ball through the middle third.
Going forward: Medranda finally got healthy and showed some of the promise that I’ve been looking for after his MLS Cup appearance. This effort should keep the pressure on Smith to continue to produce.
Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 6.3 (on 79’ for Joao Paulo)
It was awesome to see Leyva return to the field following a bit of a lost year, and he looked bigger, stronger, and more assertive.
One thing I liked: Danny belonged on the field and did everything you should. Presented with a chance in the 80th he struck a shot well and forced a save, earning a corner. His slick passing included an 85th minute outside of the foot ball up the line with perfect weight.
One thing I didn’t like: His first time passing was great, although there were a few times he could have shown some dribbling as well.
Going forward: First Atencio, then Rowe, and now Leyva have all played in various amounts of time and shown quality. It’s likely that is the hierarchy now, but Danny showed in brief minutes that he isn’t to be quickly forgotten.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 89’ for Rowe)
Delem came on and played well for a few minutes of game time.
One thing I liked: In six touches he managed a nifty interception, diving into passing lanes.
One thing I didn’t like: Jordy missed an over the top pass in the 92nd minute that was likely an assist.
Going forward: It’s a luxury that players the caliber of Delem are late game subs. He keeps showing his high floor when he arrives, does his job, and should continue to maintain the coach’s confidence.
Jair Marrufo – 6 | Community – 6.4
Marrufo was pretty much how he always is, allowing a lot of physical play without carding. Luckily both teams played relatively cleanly and the game didn’t devolve into anything physical.
One thing I liked: Jair was willing to blow the whistle a lot early, calling several fouls and setting a tone that limited physical and dangerous confrontations.
One thing I didn’t like: After calling a lot early, he lost his whistle midway through the match and only 16 total fouls were called. Nick DePuy deserved a yellow for a hard foul on Bruin in the 57th.
Going forward: As far as Marrufo games go, this was tame, which is a testament to the teams playing more than the ref.
LA Galaxy MOTM
Fascinating results on this one, with both Víctor Vazquez and Jonathan dos Santos nearly coming away with the award. Ultimately, it was Samuel Grandsir who gets the nod. He had LA’s best chance of the match, the aforementioned run that split a Roldan and YGA, ultimately forcing Frei into his best save of a young season.
A (hopefully tired) Portland Timbers team welcomes an in-form Sounders to Portland next weekend. Seattle needs to play to its ability as currently there aren’t any teams in the league playing better.