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Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake: Player ratings

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João Paulo played one of the best matches you’ll see that didn’t involve a goal or assist.

Still using a rotated and depleted roster, Seattle handed a full-strength Real Salt Lake team their second loss on the season, a 2-1 Sounders victory that could have been much larger. Seattle outshot their opponents 16-4 and had numerous quality chances but needed a late penalty kick to ensure they left Lumen Field with all three points. The Sounders only conceded via a penalty of their own, continuing their season-long streak of refusing to be scored upon from the run of play. Led by their usual strong defense, Seattle limited RSL for much of the match and created many chances, only let down by a lack of smoothness in the final third that prevented a bigger score line.


Goalkeeper

Stefan Cleveland – 6 | Community – 6.4

Cleveland was again good in this match, organizing the defense and distributing well. He was asked to make a single save, which he did well, and was active coming off his line to catch in traffic or clear in support of the defenders in front of him.

One thing I liked: Fearless in the back, Cleveland showed no hesitancy coming off his line to catch in traffic or clear balls outside the box. This helps Seattle keep a high line and the team clearly has faith in his ability to clean up behind them, especially centrally.

One thing I didn’t like: Fearless in the back, Cleveland showed no hesitancy coming off his line in the 78th minute and although he attempted to pull his arms in, clipped Rubio Rubin enough to concede a penalty kick. This was a case where his aggression wasn’t necessary, and it nearly cost Seattle two points.

Going forward: Cleveland had his first big error for the Sounders and they still won, and I’m sure he’s already learned from the play. With the defense playing so strongly it may behoove the goalkeepers to play a little more cautiously and allow them to sweep away attacks, although there is plenty of reason to continue playing aggressive and fixing that minor error.

Defense

Abdoulaye Cissoko – 7 | Community – 7.0

Abdoulaye recreated his weekend defensive effort in another fantastic outing, once again starting on the left of the back line and offering a consistent, dependable defensive effort but also sprinkling in some very exciting new skills and abilities.

One thing I liked: Not content to just defend well, AB introduced two new caveats to his game against RSL: dribbling and dynamic passing. Clearly feeling comfortable in the back, Cissoko on multiple occasions confidently dribbled up the wing to take advantage of space. He also had a number of line-splitting creative forward passes, the best being a 16th minute switching clearance that found Cristian Roldan open to immediately press goal.

One thing I didn’t like: Backside was somewhat of an adventure on a few occasions, with communication between Shane O’Neill and Cissoko not perfect. A daring dribble in the back was borderline arrogant and could have been victimized.

Going forward: AB has immediately thrust himself into first-team minutes, and unlike many others who have split time, he looks fully MLS-ready. The only thing limiting his time going forward will be the return of more established starters. This looks to be another scouting and development success story for the Sounders.

Shane O’Neill – 6 | Community – 6.5

Shane got a second straight start in the middle and again showed his version of consistent, controlled defense and safe passing. Not asked to do a lot defensively (six total actions), this was a game where O’Neill’s soccer IQ shined. He was excellent centrally and organizationally, and when he had possession, he didn’t lose it (96 percent passing).

One thing I liked: O’Neill’s game plan again was “pass safe square and get out of the way,” and he did that nearly perfectly. He completed every single short and square pass, and the only times he didn’t hit a teammate were on his two tries remotely attacking or long. His conservative choices kept him out of trouble.

One thing I didn’t like: When not sheltered by his teammates, Shane can be exposed by his inability to defend well in space, like in the 42nd minute when he was completely turned while 1-v-1, requiring a heroic recovery by his teammates behind.

Going forward: O’Neill’s penchant for not marking tight across the area has contributed to two penalties in two games, and he will want to work on how the team deals with diagonal runs through his zone going forward. Always steady, Shane is a smart bet to continue starting for a winning Sounders team as needed.

Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 7.5

Yeimar was again very active, with 15 defensive actions overlapping with O’Neill to his immediate left. He also had a stellar passing completion rate, earning 88 percent on his 56 attempts. He added a team-high five clearances as well as multiple tackles and interceptions.

One thing I liked: Yeimar defends stoutly but also showcases his incredible range each match. Reading the play well, YGA pushed forward to defend high and lock in RSL time and time again. When he had a chance to directly threaten goal in the 28th minute, he stepped up and nearly shot. This was a strong play on its own, but was even more impressive when he warped back into his own box before any other defender to push away an RSL counter seconds later.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 41st minute Yeimar played one of his customary poor passes centrally and to no one. When he drops too far inside to support the middle, teams can pass into the box easily to diagonal runs (and then fall and get PKs), which is something to watch.

Going forward: This defense lately has been the Yeimar and JP show, with a whole cast of strong supporting members. He is as good as anyone in the league on the defensive side of the ball, and if he remains healthy, should play every match and be competing with teammates for DPOY.

Midfield

Jimmy Medranda – 7 | Community – 7.3 (off 66’ for Smith)

After seeing Medranda play well in MLS Cup, I’ve been impatient to see whether that translates into a wingback in this formation. The schedule finally forced him into action, and he responded in a big way, exhibiting pace, precision, and an attacking verve that instantly transformed the left into a constantly dangerous attack. Medranda ended with 12 defensive actions, 70 percent passing, two key passes, and a whole lot of creative play that could have easily created goals. His tenacious recovery tackle earned possession that jumpstarted Seattle’s 58th minute score.

One thing I liked: He was fantastic, showing off an exciting combination of wide runs, cutbacks to the inside, distribution, and smothering defense. Especially relevant was his ability to both run up the width to cross but also cut inside and play with his right foot and find diagonal balls, like the 39th minute pass to Raúl Ruidíaz that should have been an assist.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 36th minute he lost his mark on a corner kick and almost undid all the great work he’d accomplished up to that point.

Going forward: Short stints this season were tantalizingly productive, and it was great to see him take advantage of finally being healthy and starting at this spot. Seattle needed someone from the left who could create for others and himself and Medranda looks to be that guy.

Kelyn Rowe – 7 | Community – 6.5 (off 85’ for Atencio)

Rowe does a lot of underrated work in the middle, the best of which is his defensive work rate moving into spaces in support of João Paulo. His intelligent movement and combination in the middle is superb, continually blocking any gaps and doing the little things you need to succeed in the midfield and turn back opponents by smart positioning. Against RSL he had 43 touches, 77 percent passing, a shot, two key passes, and a surprising four aerials won.

One thing I liked: In the 38th minute Kelyn had an excellent combo through the middle, as the ball pinged forward with one touch passing at an absurdly fast rate, resulting in a big chance after Will Bruin slipped him into the box vertically.

One thing I didn’t like: Rowe only missed on eight passes all match, but five of them were in his own half, and losing the ball in dangerous places is a big no-no for a midfielder.

Going forward: Kelyn keeps outperforming any reasonable expectations from pre-season, quietly being an important hero in the middle for a team missing some big pieces. He did appear to tire late in each match this week, and with the return of Josh Atencio there is likely some split time in his future.

João Paulo – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.0

João Paulo had one of the best matches you will see from a player that didn’t have any immediately notable actions. His ability to absolutely dominate a game by doing a million small things perfectly is incredible, and this was maybe one of the best Sounders matches you will ever quickly forget about. Jeremiah Oshan wrote an entire post that explains just how exceptional this performance was.

One thing I liked: Aside from what Jer said (seriously, read it, it’s nuts the stats JP put up), I especially loved how João got into the box defensively in the 57th minute and started a counter attack so efficiently, quickly turning his own dominant defensive play into a similarly exciting attacking one.

One thing I didn’t like: When you have 95 attempted passes, some are going to go awry, and a 5th minute one was luckily not capitalized upon.

Going forward: Somehow Seattle has three guys who are serious DPOY candidates and JP might be the best of all three, yet he gets little fanfare. Based on how he plays, João likely doesn’t care, just wants to kick ass, take names, wear some sick jorts, and win games.

Cristian Roldan – 8 | Community – 8.0 (MOTM)

Cristian was the offensive barometer in this match, and as he went, the Sounders went. For long periods of time, he was dominant and Seattle’s attack reflected this success. Roldan the elder lit up the stat sheet with four shots, two key passes, a run-of-play goal and even 11 defensive actions.

One thing I liked: Roldan was everywhere offensively for Seattle, repeatedly diving into the channels to find shots or to set up teammates. His goal came off a smart vertical run to offset Raúl; when Ruidíaz crossed, Cristian dropped a perfect first-time pass into a Bruin run that should have been an assist. Instead, Will flubbed the shot, but an alert Roldan pounced to finish and give Seattle a lead.

One thing I didn’t like: Cristian tired at the end of each half and with his work rate fading, so did Seattle’s teamplay. Missing his end-to-end play, Seattle struggled to maintain possession at the end of the first half especially.

Going forward: Cristian showed incredible work rate but also exposed some tired legs at the end of halves. We know he will play Saturday, but hopefully the team doesn’t rely as heavily on him as they did versus RSL.

Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.6

Alex has found his rhythm playing next to Yeimar and has become incredibly consistent on the right wing. One of his best attributes is the ability to read the play of those around him, creating space for his brother to dive into the corner but also supporting centrally as needed. Alex remains relevant for the team via excellent distribution choices and tenacious wide defense. He had 89 percent passing, three tackles, an interception, and two clearances.

One thing I liked: In the 33rd minute with Seattle putting numbers in the box on a corner kick, RSL got possession and pushed forward in a 2-v-1 break. Unfortunately for them, the one was Alex Roldan, and he promptly snuffed out the attack, expertly hustling back and cutting both off, preventing a big chance from pressuring Cleveland.

One thing I didn’t like: Alex missed 12 passes on the night and nine of them were into the area. He had only a single completed pass into the box and needed just a tiny bit of precision to be goal dangerous.

Going forward: Alex has found his role in this team, and it’s a combination of wide defender locking down any opposition winger, plus an early diagonal crosser and combiner in the right channels. It’s working for him and the team, and there’s no reason to change something that works so well.

Forwards

Will Bruin – 6 | Community – 6.7 (off 85’ for Montero)

Will got a start up front next to Ruidíaz and worked hard to be involved and relevant. He had some luck doing so, garnering his best offensive statistical outing while also displaying some unfortunate decision making and lack of precision. Bruin had three shots, a key pass, and a stellar nine defensive actions, starting the press from the front consistently.

One thing I liked: Seattle seems to play faster with Bruin on the field, and his movement and combination does a good job supporting others. A cheeky backheel to Rowe in the 47th minute up the middle is the kind of pass that a confident Will Bruin adds to the team. His movement was contagious.

One thing I didn’t like: For all his running, there wasn’t much evidence that Bruin enabled Raúl into better spots, and Ruidíaz was forced into a ton of hold-up play of his own. When handed a golden chance to score, Will flubbed a 58th minute layup and Seattle was lucky the rebound went to an alert Roldan.

Going forward: A lot of the offensive improvement in this match was due to better quality on the left side, but Bruin deserves credit for his activity in the middle and willingness to run on anything. The ability to interchange pieces in the offensive end has been lagging their defensive counterparts, and if Will can repeat this effort consistently, Seattle will be even more dangerous.

Raúl Ruidíaz – 7 | Community – 7.3 (off 94’ for Leyva)

Raúl was active against RSL, which was both good and bad. Averaging around 30 touches a game, Ruidíaz had 41 against Salt Lake, but many were holdup plays and around midfield. Half, in fact, were drop passes back toward his own goal, in his own half, or in the central third. The other touches were in advanced attacking spots, and he turned those into a team-high five shots and two key passes. When asked to step up and win the game from the spot, he did so with aplomb in the 88th minute.

One thing I liked: Ruidíaz was dangerous in several ways, finding new spots to combine with Medranda and Roldan. When the game called for him to drift wide and put in a dangerous cross, he did that in the 58th minute and Seattle scored.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 39th minute Medranda found Raúl in space, but after cleverly beating the keeper, he took too long to fire on the open net and was denied. A silly handball goal was pointless and he may even have been able to head it instead of buying himself a yellow.

Going forward: Raúl gets into good spots again and again, and although he doesn’t seem to get a lot of touches, he’s a volume shooter who is finding four or more shots a game. His ability to produce with a revolving cast around him is bad news for the rest of the league.

Substitutes

Brad Smith – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 66’ for Medranda)

Smith came on and didn’t do anything great, nor anything poorly. He had 12 touches in a quiet sub appearance.

One thing I liked: Eighty-eight percent passing is what you like to see from guys brought on to hold a lead.

One thing I didn’t like: Twelve touches is not many when the team has so much possession, and Brad was ineffective going forward.

Going forward: Medranda may have leap-frogged Smith with his performance against RSL, but with another game looming on short rest, Brad likely has a chance to prove he deserves to keep his starting spot.

Fredy Montero – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 85’ for Bruin)

Fredy came in and got a few touches and stayed fresh for the weekend match.

One thing I liked: A 93rd minute midfield tackle was excellent and helped ensure the win with a bit of defensive effort.

One thing I didn’t like: Only five minutes plus extra time wasn’t a lot of time and Seattle could have used subs earlier to rest players.

Going forward: Bruin worked hard in his minutes but was clearly tired and could have been subbed much earlier. It’s unclear whether Will can play back-to-back with that effort, so it’s possible Fredy and he switch minutes for the weekend match.

Josh Atencio – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 85’ for Rowe)

It was great to see Atencio back on the field for some late minutes against RSL.

One thing I liked: Josh showed his impressive range and has a knack for reaching around opponents and dispossessing them that doesn’t look like it should work, but consistently does.

One thing I didn’t like: Only five minutes plus extra time wasn’t a lot of time and Seattle could have used subs earlier to rest players.

Going forward: Seeing Atencio return is great, and he should start to get more sub minutes, offering Seattle increased depth. As he returns to full fitness, he will push Rowe for time in the middle.

Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 94’ for Ruidíaz)

Leyva came on late to play centrally and got three touches to hold out the match.

One thing I liked: This sub appeared to be entirely for giving Ruidíaz an ovation, and I love it.

One thing I didn’t like: Not much time, subs earlier, rest players, yada yada.

Going forward: I was surprised not to see Leyva more this week; perhaps this weekend is his time to shine.

Referee

Ted Unkel – 7 | Community – 5.6

It was hard to find much to criticize from the referee in this one. A few missed calls and rough play aside, Unkel did a good job monitoring the entire field and got all the big calls right. His cards were appropriate and although he only called 19 total fouls, he gave out four cards to keep the game in check.

One thing I liked: He immediately ignored a 4th minute Justin Meram dive, gave smart cards to players who deserved it, and was in good position to make two tough PK calls.

One thing I didn’t like: He was baited a few times by JP and others to call some soft fouls, and his method of calling penalties is entirely too dramatic.

Going forward: Unkel had an up and down history with Seattle, but this was definitely a quality refereeing job. Both PKs were hard to call, but he did well to call them; while he could have not called them and it’s unlikely VAR overturns either no-call, he got them both right.

Real Salt Lake MOTM

Thanks to some new and improved (and let’s be honest, completely necessary) data visualization, you can clearly, clearly see Justen Glad has won Man of the Match this time around. But enough about Glad; look at that chart! Or is it a graph? Look at that visualization element!


Nine points is still on the menu this week, and on Saturday we should expect to beat the Whitecaps at home. Stay cool, friends.