I was looking forward to the international break, and apparently so were the Sounders. In a rather lifeless game, the Austin FC expansion squad employed the tried-and-true bunker and counter against Seattle. The visitors brought the bunker half, but failed to attempt much offensively for the counter part. A misfiring Sounders offense was unable to take advantage of their big chances created, and a listless 0-0 tie at home likely wasn’t the result Seattle wanted right before the break.
Stefan Cleveland – 7 | Community – 7.2
Cleveland got his most strenuous workout for Seattle this season, coming up big when it counted and doing the little stuff necessary to earn a shutout in MLS. He ended with three saves and was excellent at facilitating a Sounders defense that played the ball well across the back, utilizing Stefan’s excellent passing (30 touches, 96! percent completion).
One thing I liked: Cleveland hasn’t had to make a ton of saves this season since filling in for the injured Stefan Frei, but when asked to keep a clean sheet, he stepped up huge in the 71st minute. After a poor giveaway in the midfield, Austin broke through the defensive lines in two passes and looked to be in on goal. Stefan stepped out quickly, cutting down the angle and then stayed big, using his face to ensure a clean sheet.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 47th minute Cleveland charged out to the edge of his box, found himself in no-man’s land, and was forced into an awkward chest trap that was the best choice, yet a risky one.
Going forward: Stefan Cleveland passed his first big save test in this match and has played near-perfectly in the back. There is a skill in allowing the defense in front of you to dominate, and to complement their play instead of being too assertive or too passive as a keeper, and he is playing this line flawlessly.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 7.8 (MOTM)
There wasn’t a lot to do defensively against a team that refused to attack with any consistency, but Nouhou and crew ensured that Seattle would earn their fifth shutout. On the few occasions Austin ventured into the attacking third, Seattle’s defense cleared the danger as fast as they could before a questionable dive could be rewarded. Dominant plays where Nouhou just crushes the soul out of an opponent were frequent, with 23rd and 96th minute plays standing out.
One thing I liked: In the 22nd and 31st minutes Nouhou looked up and nearly dialed in Raúl Ruidíaz over the top with a nifty curving pass into a directly vertical run. This is an incredibly valuable tool for Seattle if he can cultivate this touch, as it cuts out the midfield and can be an effective counter to a team attempting to bunker. He has shown increasing ability to make these over the top passes and his touch looks better vertically.
One thing I didn’t like: Nouhou at times struggles to move the ball up the left wing short, and he needs to turn those 82 touches into more support from a flagging offensive effort on the left.
Going forward: Nouhou did nothing to dampen his DPOY hype train, casually doing just about everything correctly. He has shown game over game improvement in exciting small ways, reminding us that there is still room for him to grow, and that an already impressive season can be even better.
Xavier Arreaga – 7 | Community – 6.6
Arreaga was also excellent against Austin, showcasing more quality distribution and strong defensive positioning anchoring a backline that was rarely tested. He had four clearances, several interceptions, and was consistently central to defend the solo Austin forward.
One thing I liked: Xavier only missed three passes all match, in the 19th, 21st and 96th. Nearly every pass was forward in some fashion, either putting his outside center backs into space moving ahead or vertically to midfielders or forwards holding up. When your center back is holding a clean sheet but also dropping 95 percent passing in a way that is directly moving the ball forward, he’s doing a great job.
One thing I didn’t like: A 2nd minute yellow was pretty harsh, flailing his arms back to find the opponent behind him after creating space. Although Cecilio Domínguez acted like he was shot and baited the yellow, there are now multiple occasions when Seattle defenders have been penalized for reaching with their hands behind them and finding a face waiting. Playing 94 minutes on a yellow is asking a lot.
Going forward: Arreaga headed out to international duty on a high note, part of a dominant defense that is allowing zero goals through the run of play and contributing with excellent passing. While the other two center back spots appear to be set in stone by many, Xavi continues to be doubted, and all he can do is keep dropping near-perfect passing and defensive shutouts.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 8 | Community – 6.8
Yeimar had another excellent match, filling the stat book with gaudy numbers as part of a fifth shutout. He had a massive 20 defensive actions, staying busy on the right. Six tackles, four interceptions, five clearances highlighted a match where Austin attempted to attack his side more than anywhere else yet had zero success. While the defense is not giving up any goals, they also are keeping the ball well (88 percent pass success across the center backs).
One thing I liked: In the 13th and 84th minutes Yeimar made a play on the left sideline behind Nouhou and his range is just incredible. YGA reads plays so well, instantly recognizing need and using his speed to get all the way across the field if necessary, closing and preventing anyone from victimizing the minor shape issues this defense allows.
One thing I didn’t like: Jon Gallagher got in behind Yeimar in the 74th minute, one of the few times Seattle’s defense was beaten vertically.
Going forward: YGA keeps defending almost perfectly, joining his defensive teammates to create amazing numbers. Seemingly comfortable with getting the brunt of the defensive workload, he is nearly impossible to get around and is tremendous at limiting any consistent threat down his wing.
Brad Smith – 5 | Community – 5.1 (off 86’ for Leyva)
Smith had another match where he struggled to do much of anything, getting into a few quality offensive spots without producing, and not being particularly notable on defense. Brad had no shots or key passes, with 79 percent passing on 56 touches.
One thing I liked: Smith attacked aggressively up the line in the 5th minute, earning a free kick after beating an opponent off the dribble.
One thing I didn’t like: Brad struggled to support attacks, ruining a few promising plays either with poor passes or unnecessarily stepping on the ball and recycling possession. The worst example was a horrible pass in the 26th minute after Fredy Montero had put him clear in behind. With Ruidíaz wide open centrally, Smith had multiple chances to find a pass into Raúl’s run, instead taking extra touches, and eventually putting a cross behind the striker and into the defense.
Going forward: Brad Smith must take advantage of the big chances he is a part of, but unfortunately, he’s failed miserably on several huge game-changing moments. Unless he starts showing the ability to make these passes more consistently or scores another backside goal or two, it’s reasonable to wonder whether there are better options.
Kelyn Rowe – 6 | Community – 5.7 (off 66’ for Medranda)
Rowe did what he was supposed to, moving the ball around and connecting with teammates while defending stoutly when needed. There was little flashy, as Kelyn worked hard but was unable to get on the ball in his pushes into the offensive third. He ended with 54 touches and 84 percent passing, but only a single key pass and six defensive actions.
One thing I liked: Rowe had lots of energy early, and his 17th minute switch was fantastic, opening Alex Roldan into huge space up the right wing. Five minutes later he had a vertical run and cross that showed a deep attacking run that is intriguing.
One thing I didn’t like: Kelyn’s distribution was okay but a bit off in the big moments. His 50th minute pass went awry and a 59th minute through ball could have been a huge play had he connected. These little bits of class are missing and preventing him from having a standout impact.
Going forward: It will be interesting to see what happens with Rowe’s time when Seattle gets some players back. He has been solid and perhaps underappreciated with his work rate, but there are enough rough edges that the staff might see his role as more suited off the bench, especially with a couple of exciting young players developing quickly.
João Paulo – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.1
João Paulo has been incredibly solid this year, quietly doing massive amounts of work on both sides of the ball, at times carrying the midfield nearly single-handedly. Against Austin he had a huge impact, touching the ball a game high 117 times, completing a mind-boggling 93 percent of his passes, adding two shots and a game-high four key passes. JP did everything at a high level.
One thing I liked: Every time Austin broke a line; it was JP who popped up to deny any further infiltration. He had 12 recoveries, many near midfield where he continually denied any ability of the opponent to break out and attack with cohesion.
One thing I didn’t like: His passing was excellent, but a few important touches went wrong, specifically a 60th minute switch to Alex Roldan that would have opened the field nicely.
Going forward: JP is quietly playing at league-best level, but since a lot of what he does isn’t flashy or immediately apparent, he doesn’t get a lot of press. This is unlikely to change as he appears content to just do his job, keep clean sheets, support offensively with excellent set piece delivery, and be one of the best players in the league.
Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.3
Cristian had his second middling game in a row, appearing a little tired and playing without his usual impact on the match. He had 64 touches and 81 percent passing, but most of his touches came in combination on the right side and through midfield. His stellar work rate was somewhat muted, with some puzzling mistakes we aren’t used to from him.
One thing I liked: In the 42nd minute somehow Roldan forced his way into the box for a cutback pass wearing an opponent like a backpack, and Cristian was active and effective everywhere but in the box.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle needed offense from Roldan, and while he got into position for a game-high five shots, he failed to put any on frame, the biggest an open 22nd minute volley that went into the Hawk’s Nest. It wasn’t just his shooting; the usually reliable elder Roldan blundered crosses in the 28th and 32nd minute on cutback plays with targets he usually doesn’t miss.
Going forward: Cristian was amazing when Seattle was earning three wins in a week, yet these last two weeks appeared a bit fatigued on full rest. His touch has been off and the extra energy he usually brings to the end of the match was muted. A rest is likely to recharge his batteries, although injury news likely means he will remain in an attacking role for the short term.
Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 5.8
Alex had another less effective match against Austin, getting pinned around midfield for most of the game and settling on allowing his brother to run into advanced spaces. A-Rold managed a shot and a key pass as well as 80 percent completion rate, but was not a factor offensively. Defensively he was quiet but effective, combining two tackles and a handful of recoveries to support a stout defensive effort.
One thing I liked: In the 28th minute Roldan attempted a pass through three players, perfectly splitting the defenders and just missing the outstretched leg of a vertical Ruidíaz run. This pass was incredible, and the kind of pass teams cannot defend against. I was surprised to see him even attempt it, let alone be only inches away.
One thing I didn’t like: This was a very unclean match from Alex, who missed some defensive assignments, putting pressure on Yeimar, and he didn’t find strong attacking positions in the offense. He had a single completed pass into the box on seven tries.
Going forward: Alex needs to find more of the ball in attacking areas instead of ceding the entire offensive third to his brother’s diagonal runs. The younger Roldan has great tools for distribution and early crossing that are underused. His defensive combination with Yeimar is excellent, and the right looks comfortable and settled in possession.
Fredy Montero – 7 | Community – 6.1 (off 79’ for Bruin)
Montero was excellent as a withdrawn forward, alternating holdup play and linking with nifty through balls and flicks on. He played everywhere in the attacking half, crossing the field to consistently offer an outlet for the defense and connect the back to the front. After connecting in the middle, Montero was always lurking around the box in support as well, and nearly everything good offensively came from his movement and connection. He scored a goal, which was unfortunately removed via VAR.
One thing I liked: Fredy’s control of the midfield was huge for Seattle, enabling Raúl to stay much higher in this match as Montero connected with runners. On multiple occasions it was Fredy who put Smith in behind for huge chances that should have created goals, whether an over the top ball in the 26th or cheeky flick in the 37th, both of which Brad fumbled.
One thing I didn’t like: He had one awful pass in this one, a central drop in the 71st minute that missed any teammates and created the one big chance for Austin all night. He will want that one back.
Going forward: Fredy had a great game, and had an offside call gone Seattle’s way, we might be talking about him starting more frequently alongside Raúl. There was enough creation and offense from Montero to at least entertain the idea. Especially notable was how Fredy’s touches activated Raúl in more attacking areas, something that Seattle was unable to take advantage of.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 6.0
Raúl got to give more of the holdup role to Montero this match and had only 25 touches. He did excellently with those touches, earning three shots and a key pass and keeping a tidy 92 percent passing clip. Most of his struggles in this match were due to a lack of service, as he was consistently in good spots.
One thing I liked: Ruidíaz was always there, making smart runs in the box, and Seattle struggled to find him. The big chances Brad messed up are only big chances because Raúl also made great runs to create the space he was in.
One thing I didn’t like: Raúl probably should have won the match in the 62nd minute. About eight yards out and alone on goal, he took a beautiful Montero pass off his shin and blundered it out of bounds. Fredy’s ball got Ruidíaz in behind, but his touch let him down, and it was surprising to see such a big chance go wanting.
Going forward: Raúl is second in the league in goals and has about four that he would expect to score in addition to the half dozen he has dispatched so far this year. He looks as good as any striker in the league and will be dependent on Seattle continuing to get him the ball in good (or even okay) spots for him to make a run at the golden boot.
Jimmy Medranda – 6 | Community – 5.5 (on 66’ for Rowe)
Jimmy returned to the field after some injury time and was a sparkplug, creating chances and being active on both sides of the field. I’m not sure what position he was playing, as he subbed in for Rowe and then played a hybrid central midfield spot.
One thing I liked: Seventeen touches, 100 percent passing (8/8). A key pass. A shot. Medranda came in and did everything well, pushing the ball forward and connecting cleanly.
One thing I didn’t like: I was confused on why he was subbed into the center, and while he was okay there, Jimmy was clearly excited and slipped a few times in overzealous play centrally.
Going forward: Eventually Medranda was moved to the left with the inclusion of Danny Leyva. It was disappointing to see him get only five minutes on the wing where he was so effective his first appearance. I would still like to see what he can do with increased sub minutes from the left side.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 79’ for Montero)
Bruin arrived off the bench for a different look, attempting vertical runs with some success.
One thing I liked: He managed a shot in his short time, something he has struggled to earn all year. The energy he brought to the match was excellent.
One thing I didn’t like: Will had six touches but only a single completed pass and didn’t offer anything that created danger for Seattle (his shot was blocked).
Going forward: Neither his nor Montero’s appearance made a concrete case for themselves to be the starter, and this may not matter with Raúl out for international appearances.
Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 86’ for Smith)
Leyva came on late to play centrally and got 12 touches in an active midfield role.
One thing I liked: Danny played super aggressive in his time on the field, pushing the ball high and pressing. His 93rd minute run saw him get into the action and combine up the right in attacking areas.
One thing I didn’t like: Leyva had a lot of action in short minutes, but only completed half of his eight attempted passes.
Going forward: I was confused to see Danny, who had been getting 30 minutes a game, inserted with five minutes left to go. It might have made more sense to make this move early, pull the ineffective Smith, and give Medranda more time at the wing simultaneously with Leyva’s central minutes.
Rosendo Mendoza – 5 | Community – 4.5
Mendoza was quite active and called 24 fouls in the match to go with three yellow cards. This was a very turbulent game, as it took quite some time for the teams to get a feel for his random carding choices. VAR was used effectively (unfortunately) and this referee was strong in allowing advantage as best he could with midfielders limiting transition tactically.
One thing I liked: With Austin actively attacking the ground at any opportunity, Mendoza wasn’t fooled in the 34th and 80th minutes when Domínguez attempted to bait him into a card.
One thing I didn’t like: With Austin actively attacking the ground at any opportunity, Mendoza was fooled in the 2nd minute into giving a soft yellow, and Alexander Ring somehow had three studs up tackles, none of which earned him a card.
Going forward: Mendoza has a long way to go to be a “great” referee, but he wasn’t terrible and that’s an improvement.
Austin FC MOTM
Matt Besler edged out Ring to come away with MOTM. Both combined throughout this one to hold a rambunctious Sounders attack, and earn themselves a road point in a hostile venue.
Seattle has a nice long break and frankly, I need one too. After this we are back to a stadium that is fuller, and hopefully continuing to hold defensively, finding some answers to offensive issues, and never losing a game all year.