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Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo: Player ratings

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Local soccer man Kelyn Rowe scores his first at home.

Seattle returned to a full Lumen Field to play Houston, a squad that had been playing well. The final score was 2-0 for the good guys, but the game seemed closer than that, yet somehow also … not. Big chances from the Sounders and not much danger from Houston took time to bear out, with Seattle eventually scoring deserved goals to put it away. Seattle didn’t score the second until late stoppage time, and Houston kept it close, but the Sounders dominated the scoring chances. Some small mistakes and bad luck prevented this one from being over much earlier, but Seattle showcased some excellent team play and excellent coordination across the board.


Goalkeeper

Stefan Cleveland – 6 | Community – 6.5

Cleveland earned his third Sounders shutout with some tremendous defense in front of him. He was credited with three saves, and each was routine but required strong control to prevent rebounds. Stefan managed this well, organizing the back and being an active part of the distribution that dealt with some early pressure.

One thing I liked: Shutouts help win games, and Cleveland did his part. His positioning is top notch, and when Maxi Urruti put a hard 89th minute shot through traffic on frame, Stefan was in a perfect spot to make this last chance at an equalizer look mundane.

One thing I didn’t like: It was an adjustment welcoming Xavier Arreaga back to the center of defense, but they figured out distribution after a short time. Right around the time they had it cleaned up in the back, Cleveland again showed incredible aggression to come way out of his box and attempt to head against an onrushing opponent. Luckily, Abdoulaye Cissoko had taken a smart line in recovery and was able to clear the ball heading toward the open net, but this was another play outside of the box that seemed unnecessarily risky.

Going forward: Stefan has made a few decisions this season that are headscratchers, but the positive is they are based on being aggressive versus passive. Part of this is forced by rotation in players in front of him, and as the backline settles in, it’s likely these moments will be few and far between.

Defense

Abdoulaye Cissoko – 6 | Community – 6.5

Cissoko looks like a veteran at this point, slotting in the left central channel and defending well as part of a record-setting Sounders team. He maximized his 49 touches against Houston, completing an incredible 98 percent (40/41) of his passes, simply never losing possession for his squad.

One thing I liked: AB learns quickly, like when he took a much better recovery run in the 19th minute to deal with an over-the-top pass that Houston attempted to get in behind him. Even though Cleveland came out and whiffed, Cissoko was properly positioned throughout the play to defend and eventually cleared easily. He also covered the backside of plays exceptionally, removing any weaknesses showcased in previous matches.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 47th minute he was beaten as he overran and misplayed a goal kick from Houston, something he will want to improve in the future.

Going forward: The growth that AB shows throughout this season is noteworthy, and he’s improving on things big and small throughout his time playing in MLS. With Nouhou likely close to returning, Cissoko’s range and size should keep him as a relevant and useful tool to help close out matches and be a trusted bench option.

Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 6.6

It was great having Arreaga return, especially as Shane O’Neill was bit by the injury bug after the previous match. Xavi didn’t disappoint, as his smart forward passing and decision making complemented his strong defensive plays. He led the team with five clearances, won three aerials, and had 84 percent passing.

One thing I liked: The combination he brought to the middle opened everything for the midfield. In previous matches the top touches were by defenders/keeper, and this match was the opposite. JP, Leyva, Medranda, Montero and Rowe were the top five in touches, a direct result of having a central defender able to find forward passes and put his teammates in position to do the same. Instead of horseshoeing back around the defense, Seattle looked forward effectively, and much of that was due to positioning from back to front.

One thing I didn’t like: Returning to a defense with multiple different pieces took a while to settle in. A 33rd minute miscommunication saw Arreaga pass dreadfully square and directly to Houston. He clearly wasn’t on the same page as Yeimar, who was forced into a yellow to prevent a poor pass from snowballing.

Going forward: Xavier showed how essential passing from the center of the back is to achieving success going forward. He’s still prone to some mistakes and will want to clean up the sloppy play as he works back into consistent starts. He elevates this defense into a true offensive kickstarting unit.

Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 7.4

Yeimar continues his push as the best central defender in the league while Nouhou is out. He did a little of everything well — four won headers, two tackles, two interceptions, five clearances, a blocked shot and 85 percent passing. He also kept up his streak with another shot as he remains dangerous on set pieces.

One thing I liked: In the 58th minute there was a hint of a counterattack up the Seattle right with multiple Dynamo players breaking out versus Yeimar. He casually contained each player with great positioning before using speed and power to attack the ball, win a tackle out of bounds, and snuff any chance Houston had at beating him 3-v-1.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 29th minute Yeimar was beat for one of the first times I can remember, getting turned in the box and relying on some help from the ever-present Arreaga to shuffle the play out of bounds for a corner.

Going forward: Yeimar and Arreaga are a smooth combo on the right; they appear very in-sync and each combined to ease the burden of the other on multiple occasions against Houston. It will be up to YGA to continue this level of play without the comfort of Alex Roldan’s defensive work rate next to him.

Midfield

Jimmy Medranda – 7 | Community – 7.2 (off 84’ for Smith)

Medranda got the start at the left winger spot and was once again a catalyst for big chances, continually connecting forward and varying his service into the box with great results. He ended with a team-high three key passes, a shot and 76 percent passing while contributing an excellent eight defensive actions to support Cissoko behind him.

One thing I liked: Jimmy combines so well up the field with short and long passing and movement that has been very effective for Seattle. He added to that the final ball, first finding Montero perfectly on the 6 for a 21st minute header and moments later finding Raúl with a hard-low ball near post. Both prolific scorers missed these excellent chances, robbing Medranda of two assist-worthy passes.

One thing I didn’t like: An overhit cross in the 55th minute was part of a second half that saw Seattle’s offense, and Medranda, slow down a little.

Going forward: Performances like this are all about the consistency of creation, and Medranda showed that in abundance. Although Seattle didn’t directly score from his play, it’s clear that Jimmy adds a lot of chance creation and repeatably dangerous aggression.

Danny Leyva – 7 | Community – 6.3 (off 83’ for Atencio)

This was a massive growth match for Leyva. Hyped by some great youth play, Danny had had moments in his short career where he shined, but this was the match where he played nearly the entire game and proved he is a quality MLS central midfielder. He had the second-most touches (72) and completed 87 percent of his passes, had a shot on goal, and constantly connected with teammates in good positions or alleviated pressure with calm play in crowds and clean distribution.

One thing I liked: Leyva and João Paulo combined beautifully, continuing to move off each other while defending and moving the ball forward. The confidence Danny showed early to win an 8th minute tackle and then assertively dribble forward through the middle was huge for both him and the team.

One thing I didn’t like: A 29th minute switch was woefully under-hit, stolen easily by the only player near it, a Dynamo defender. Danny had better options and he could have taken a few touches and found a better idea.

Going forward: I’ve been wondering about his playing time for a few weeks now, and this match might be the one to force his name into more minutes. The central passing improved immensely with Danny and Xavi combining often, and more importantly, Leyva combining well with JP. Seattle looked settled and quick through the middle of the field with Danny there, and he looks MLS-ready.

João Paulo – 8 | Community – 8.1 (MOTM)

At this point it’s expected that JP is going to dominate matches for Seattle. His stat line was immense: 102 touches, 81 percent completion on 80 attempts, five key passes, three shots, two headers won, eight defensive actions, five fouls won, and one immaculate beard. He does everything for the team, in this one combining well with Leyva to move the ball quickly through the middle and into the attacker’s feet for long periods of time.

One thing I liked: João’s ability to push forward on a counterattack and pick out the right pass, then immediately hustle back and defend in front of Cleveland on the end line is incredible.

One thing I didn’t like: The only thing JP seems to consistently miss is a pass when facing his own goal, and a poor wide pass in the 52nd was quickly turned over and countered on.

Going forward: Like Lodeiro, João Paulo breaks all the ratings rules by being better than almost everyone else, every single time on the field. He does it in areas both big and small, and while his assists or incredible volleys are awesome, it’s the repetitively perfect small positioning and defending he does that is truly amazing.

Kelyn Rowe – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.5

João Paulo was awesome in this match but the MOTM went to Rowe, who did his best Cristian Roldan impression with aplomb. Tasked with being an attacking midfielder, Kelyn was everywhere. He had 55 impactful touches, constantly diving into the corners, finding pockets to combine with the forwards and defenders alike, and ended with four shots and a game-winning goal for his efforts. Not to be forgotten were his defensive efforts; he also led Seattle with four tackles as he popped up all over the field to win possession. He ran diagonals, nearly created a penalty kick, won fouls, and defended in the 93rd minute of an overall awesome showing.

One thing I liked: Rowe’s first Sounders goal was a tidy bit of soccer. First Kelyn supported an attack down the left in the 62nd minute. When he wasn’t utilized, he recycled his run and when Alex Roldan found the ball over the top Rowe dove directly at goal into space to slam home the game winner. This was a very intelligent play to create and access attacking space and a vital goal for a team that had been dominating everything except the scoreboard.

One thing I didn’t like: Kelyn was attacking through the middle but didn’t set up teammates as well as he could have (zero key passes).

Going forward: Rowe’s play was reminiscent of the elder Roldan. Kelyn’s ability to attack and defend for 93 minutes was awesome, and while he didn’t create a lot for others, he knew his role and filled it admirably. With Alex leaving, it might be time for Kelyn to do his younger Roldan impression next.

Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 7.3

Alex stayed with Seattle to get one more game in and was solid against Houston. Defensively Roldan wasn’t beat often, and his combination with Yeimar remains one of the lesser-discussed defensive walls. Offensively he had three key passes, including an assist, and an 86 percent completion rate in a workmanlike wide performance.

One thing I liked: In the 62nd minute a cross popped backside where Alex was patiently waiting. This perhaps more than any other play illustrated his growth — Roldan calmly but quickly picked out his spot and had a plan. One touch to control, second touch hard and low and to his spot. If Rowe didn’t score there, Ruidíaz would have.

One thing I didn’t like: Alex has gone to the Gold Cup to score bangers for El Salvador, and Seattle doesn’t have an obvious backup to replace him.

Going forward: Roldan is being an international superstar who scores more goals than his brother. I wish him all the success he deserves, but Seattle may struggle to replace him. Typing that out, I can only imagine what past-Realio would have thought about such a statement.

Forwards

Fredy Montero – 7 | Community – 7.2

Fredy Montero got another start next to Raúl and they again looked incredibly dangerous. With Montero dropping in a bit deeper and spraying passes wide and direct, Seattle looked vastly more dangerous directly at goal in the first half. Eventually they broke through in a match where the Sounders created many quality chances. Fredy had three shots of his own, two key passes, and completed 80 percent in a very active outing.

One thing I liked: A 7th minute slip pass was immaculate, allowing Raúl to nearly score. He created his own space for a header later from a Medranda dime. A 39th minute direct shot forced a save. Fredy was creating all match, and in the 93rd minute he again played with his back to goal, found the ball, and delivered a perfect pass to the onrushing Brad Smith to ice the match.

One thing I didn’t like: Fredy did so much well that I wish he could have finished his 21st minute header. This was a smart bit of drifting off the back shoulder to get on the end of a beautiful cross, but Montero couldn’t finish, allowing the game to continue tied.

Going forward: This match showed assertively what we already knew: that his passing and creation skills are some of the best in the league. If he has willing combiners like Medranda and Ruidíaz to run off his movement and touch, Montero can pull the right strings for this team to be effective while still getting in spots to remain personally goal-dangerous.

Raúl Ruidíaz – 7 | Community – 7.6

Ruidíaz “quietly” had five shots, a goal, 92 percent passing and an all-around excellent match. I say quietly because Raúl only touched the ball 26 times, wasn’t asked to do a ton of holdup play, or combine around midfield. Instead he was able to float offensively, getting a touch or two going forward before finding the gaps he lives in and getting his usual high volume of shots.

One thing I liked: He scored a nice effort goal to finish the match but worked incredibly hard all game to be dangerous. Raúl hit the post in the 7th minute, nearly got another on frame in the 53rd, missed a near-post run, and was so dangerous that he tilted the offense in Seattle’s favor, contributing to the first goal by being Raúl Ruidíaz, freeing up Rowe.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 24th minute Ruidíaz robbed Medranda of an assist by pushing a near-post shot just wide after some excellent movement in the box.

Going forward: Raúl creates such huge chances that while he is an incredible finisher, it shouldn’t be surprising that he’s leading the golden boot race. Ninety percent of the work is done in his head and with fantastic off-ball movement, creating huge chance after huge chance. This is repeatable in a Seattle offense that can get him the ball in spaces to achieve.

Substitutes

Josh Atencio – 5 | Community – 6.0 (on 83’ for Leyva)

Atencio arrived to close out the last 10 minutes of the match and did his job defensively. He had 75 percent passing on a mere six touches as well as a clearance.

One thing I liked: Josh is big and won two headers late. Seattle looked for him on goal kicks as a long ball target.

One thing I didn’t like: Leyva looked a little tired, and there may have been an earlier window to get Atencio into the match where he could do more than fill in late.

Going forward: Leyva may have passed Atencio as a starting partner for JP, and it’s yet to be determined if that is due to Danny’s improved play, Josh still recovering from injury, etc. All said, Josh has shown to be a trusted part of the team and will effectively eat as many minutes as the coaches deem him worthy of.

Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 6.7 (on 84’ for Medranda)

Seattle’s bench was Brad Smith and a bunch of teenagers. He came into the game and did veteran stuff, like defend first. When presented with a chance to get forward late, he did excellently to charge forward and cross into Raúl’s radius to finish off the match.

One thing I liked: A 94th minute assist pretty much sums up Brad’s strengths — he read the play expertly, ran into space without the ball, didn’t take any extra touches, and crossed square to a forward to dunk.

One thing I didn’t like: Sorry, people who think I have a Smith bias, but that pass wasn’t great. Brad was very lucky that the ball megged Tim Parker, or it just goes out for a corner or throw. Passing through center backs isn’t super repeatable.

Going forward: Enough naysaying, Brad did everything right and got lucky to boot. Even though his play hasn’t been consistently amazing, Smith continues to be a part of the most important thing in soccer — goals! He did everything you want from a sub, read the play, and contributed, and this may be his role going forward.

Referee

Robert Sibiga – 5 | Community – 5.1

Sibiga and crew were messy in this one, making odd calls (and non-calls). Houston was called for 19 fouls (Seattle eight) yet only a single 80th minute yellow was given to Fafa Picault. When there are multiple players committing three-plus fouls, it makes sense to give the yellow like you gave Leyva for consistent infringement, in my opinion.

One thing I liked: In the 26th minute Sibiga allowed play to run for advantage, but after it was determined there was no advantage, he brought it back for the original foul, something so rare for refs in this league.

One thing I didn’t like: How Maxi Urruti failed to get called for more than one foul, let alone multiple yellows for 35th and 42nd minute infractions, confuses me. Not even a look at the 66th minute play when he has a chicken wing blocking a shot in the box? If you call Picault for a deserved yellow earlier, maybe he doesn’t bash Ruidíaz in the head later.

Going forward: Sibiga reffed a bit of the game state, and this was too rough a match for the losing team to get away with it.

Houston Dynamo MOTM

Picault probably had Houston’s best chances, though they were few and far between. He got the better of Cleveland in the 19th, but should have done more with the opportunity, as his effort was easily dealt with by a recovering Cissoko.


While the Roldan brothers are off scoring goals and riding the pine (knowing which is which in this scenario is wild), the next man up will have to replace them in a rematch against Minnesota away next weekend.