Many people thought Seattle was in for a tough match against Austin on Thursday night. Missing 10 first team players, starting (literal) teenagers by the handful. With maybe any other coach, I’d have thought this was a rout in the making. But something about the way this team plays for THIS coach, the way they have pulled out improbable results prior, the system that promotes a culture of winning, and a group that doesn’t leak goals, gave me actual hope pre-match. When Seattle left the building with my predicted 1-0 win, they had played a fantastic match in an unorthodox but effective manner. Conceding 75 percent of the ball didn’t matter. Allowing 737 passes with nearly 90 percent accuracy against didn’t matter. What mattered was the better team did the important stuff to fulfill their win conditions. The duels, the tackles, the run-through-wallness, the mentality to step up when it counted — Seattle had that. The win is huge for the Shield lead, but much more importantly, the growth shown by so many of the young players was absolutely incredible to see.
Disclaimer: The ratings numbers within are legitimate and based on my usual comprehensive re-watch. The comments may be a bit silly; they may be light on specifics or data and heavy on hyperbole. I don’t care — the game was fun and so is writing about it.
Spencer Richey – 6 | Community – 6.3
Richey got to start for his hometown club on the field with Sounder legends Obed Vargas, Reed Baker-Whiting and Sam Adeniran. He followed in the footsteps of veteran folk hero keepers such as Alex Roldan and Bheem Goyal. Was he intimidated by a dark stadium named for a “financial experience company” and the possibility that a lurking Matthew McConaughey might jump out and try to sell him a Lincoln? NO.
One thing I liked: Austin’s best chance was probably an Alex Ring header in the 52nd minute. It went right to Richey, ‘cause that’s what Seattle keepers do. They make you beat them by being in perfect position, and Ring, he wasn’t up for it.
One thing I didn’t like: To call Spencer’s distribution an adventure is like saying Megan Rapinoe is “a little outspoken.” Who knew where the ball would go? Personally, I’ll credit Richey with keeping the first few rows of fans on their toes. Did he fumble another ball once? Who cares! (Also, did I mention the shutout?)
Going forward: Joining Goyal and Roldan as the co-leaders of GAA for the Sounders, did you expect anything less from a ©Dutra Disciple? Richey wasn’t perfect, but you know who was even less perfecter? The Austin Austiners. (Are they an FC? An SC? Who knows?)
Abdoulaye Cissoko – 6 | Community – 6.6
It’s frankly hard to believe that Cissoko was a barely known Tacoma Defiance player a few months ago. He looks and plays like a veteran, and has somehow made losing THE NOUHOU for over a month okay. Seriously, he looked good for Defiance, but honestly, his highlight was the PK he took with aplomb in the first game of their season. All he did versus Austin was complete a buncha passes, get his big body in between their guy and our goal the entire match, and be an integral part of a defense that continues to only concede goals every few years (or every 1/5 Vargas, for you math nerds).
One thing I liked: When the left side was struggling a bit wide, there was the calming influence of Cissoko. He was like AB – see you later to defender’s attempts to score a goal (sorry not sorry).
One thing I didn’t like: He had a foul in the 47th minute that gave up a free kick. Since that’s kinda the only way Seattle is conceding with even a modicum of regularity, that was a bummer, dude. But Sounders cleared and everything was all right, all right, all right.
Going forward: Eventually Nouhou will return, as soon as he has…learned to run…sideways? (Don’t tell Smith that’s a requirement for soccering.) With that, Cissoko likely heads to the bench. He might be better than Shane O’Neill already, and definitely has the upside to get there. Until injured players return, having a Tacoma Defiance center back starting every match is not only fine, but a strong point of the team. Mind is boggling.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 8 | Community – 7.4
Remember when we got this guy in essentially a trade for Thomas? Realio remembers. How is he so damn good at soccer? I’ll answer that. He’s big. He’s tall. He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s smart. He’s agile. And he combines all that in order to put himself between the ball and the goal at all times with ruthless dedication every time out. He tops that off with the most glorious smile you could ask for and he’s just the dreamy center back we didn’t even know we needed.
One thing I liked: 10’, 12’, 13’, 15’, 34’, 38’, 48’, 49’, 50’, 56’, 61’, 82’, 85’, 95’, 97’. I lied — I do have some stats. Those are all the times I recorded Yeimar doing something good to great on defense. All game, he did what was needed. He probably took AB and Josh Atencio out for ice cream after the match.
One thing I didn’t like: He lost Cecilio Domínguez once on defense and got sorta close to a PK conceded, which, with Seattle’s luck this year, was more likely to be called than not, and I guess he should be better at avoiding people who are going to pull the landing gear up and dive face first at the ground at any given moment.
Going forward: Yeimar Gómez Andrade is a man of three names but a single purpose: to stop you from doing what you want, steal your ball, and give it to a friendly friend on the good green team. He does that better than most anyone in the league.
Josh Atencio – 7 | Community – 7.5
Some players played good. Atencio played goooooood (my kids love that). After seeing him dominate the midfield, you might think that was his best position, but this outing at least opens the door to some center back ideas. Big, mobile, strong in the air, tackles well, distributes near perfectly? That is a very intriguing thought as Seattle uses the three-back system with lots of flexibility.
One thing I liked: Some people handle stress by freaking out, shouting, gesticulating, yelling, rushing, or increasing the stress by feeding into it. Then there is Atencio, who is the coolest cucumber this side of, well, McConaughey. Josh just oozes chill, and it translated into a defender who did everything nearly perfectly and calmly. He came across to support when needed, and handled the pressure by casually flipping it the bird and passing the ball to the midfield.
One thing I didn’t like: Cecilio got a header in behind him which was clearly just Atencio feeling bad for the guy and giving him a chance to pad his stats (two shots, four flops, for a frightening 0.5 shot-to-flop ratio).
Going forward: There may not be room for Atencio to start in the midfield or the backline with a healthy team this year. He is making a case to start at both in the upcoming years. Can he play forward? Inquiring minds must know.
Brad Smith – 5 | Community – 5.8 (off 53’ for Medranda)
Brad Smith pulled a Brad Smith and managed to show just enough glimpses of what could be, but then covered those moments with fairly underwhelming work. I suppose if he was too young to get his driver’s license, I might be tempted to bump his score up for potential, but he helped ruin the Sounders average age (along with fellow olds JP, Richey, and YGA) and the expectation is just a smidge higher.
One thing I liked: The moments are there. A 29th minute volley. Some surprisingly nice defense, like in the 45th minute in the middle of the area.
One thing I didn’t like: Smith was beaten in the first minute (but shutout). He handcuffed JP with a bad pass in the 11th (but shutout). He had a bad foul and was beaten badly a few other times. (But the Sounders earned a shutout).
Going forward: Smith is a depth piece on a team of very young depth pieces. Also, his middle name is Shaun, something I learned while looking up his age. So, that’s nice. I like a good Shaun. There were twins I went to grade school with named Jeff and Shaun and I preferred Shaun. Not a fan of the name Jeff tbh, which is a bit troubling due to, you know. Lol. Brad is fine. He will play when minutes are available and be okay.
Reed Baker-Whiting – 7 | Community – 7.3 (off 94’ for Villanueva)
Reed Baker-Whiting was COOKIN’. That’s a baker pun, y’all. I say y’all when I write about Texas teams, BTW. Anyways, back to this incredible beast of a player named for a … plant? The thing that goes in an oboe, I think? I digress, and I shouldn’t, because RBW was transcendent with his performance. Gone was the tentative nature of his first few appearances. Gone was the off touch or trying to make up for positioning errors with blind hustle. Instead in its place was a fully formed soccer machine. He was SO GOOD. He ran the channels. He found the ball, he pushed it forward, he held space. This was a great outing.
One thing I liked: Everything. Seriously. Reed tackled well. His poisoning and movement were silky smooth. He pushed the ball forward consistently (two key passes). His touch is that magical thing (Atencio has this) where somehow the ball just drops after bouncing around his big frame to his feet. It did this in the 32nd minute and by the transitive-Danny Leyva-first-match-goal-property, the soccer gods refused to let him score.
One thing I didn’t like: Cramping? CRAMPING took you out of the game? Beasts don’t cramp. If you are a 6 foot 8, 290 pound 16-year-old rock of soccer magnificence, there’s no cramp alive that is taking you out of the game. Eh, more likely RBW had to throw Austin a bone, and faked it to get Villanueva some time. Team player, that kid. Oh and MLS play, USL hairdo.
Not going to lie, Baker-Whiting needs to up his hair game. This is where veteran leadership is key.— Jason Zittel (@OlySounder) July 23, 2021
Going forward: You know who he reminds me of? Josh Atencio. (Did I say that already? Hush!) The way the ball sticks to his foot, the way he glides through traffic, movement and composure and reading the game are so similar that I am convinced somewhere in Tacoma there is an old salty sea mariner who fought off a Kraken for a rave green pearl that he buried somewhere in Fircrest and its magical powers are creating perfect soccer players. Is RBW going to make you forget Nico Lodeiro? He did last night. (NO. the answer is very emphatically NO I am so so sorry, Nico. We love you, get healthy pleaseeeeeeeee <3.)
Danny Leyva – 6 | Community – 6.4
Leyva is 18 now, clearly the old man of the younger guys, having gotten lots of work with the MLS Sounders in the past few seasons. Even so, him starting multiple games in a row and looking like an MLS level distributor is shocking, yet somehow also not a surprise. He wears this veteran status well, and against Austin he was great finding the right spots to get into a tackle, supporting the “youngsters” around him, and partnering with João Paulo.
One thing I liked: Leyva directed traffic, relishing the fact he was whole months older than the kids to his right. He found the right passes when he needed to, including a slip pass vertical to Kelyn Rowe who then assisted via a defender in the buildup to Raúl’s goal. Yeah, I mentioned Leyva and Raúl. That’s the power of friendship, and it’s ageless and universal, ya’ll.
One thing I didn’t like: His angles on defense aren’t great, and he’s not the kind of hard tackler that some of the other Sounders players are. Both are learnable.
Going forward: All you comment warriors who said he needed to gain 20 pounds of muscle can pat yourselves on the back because he did that and it has helped. Leyva in the middle with JP opens things up nicely for passing lanes, and he has a long future ahead of him if he can continue to improve. It’s never a bad idea to get in good with the guy who scores all the goals, and that also shows he wants to learn and grow, and if his return this season from a lost year is any indication, the sky is the limit.
João Paulo – 6 | Community – 7.5 (off 54’ for Rowe)
Is there anyone more ready to deal with a buncha rowdy youngsters than bearded, jort-wearing, stern eyes and fierce-tackling Father João Paulo? He single-handedly raised the average age a year or so, and Seattle may have played so well in the first half, not because they thought he’d be mad at them, but rather fearing he’d just be disappointed. He managed his daycare well, knowing perfectly when to feed the ball to a player and get him a touch and as importantly when to ground them, take it himself, and get the ball out of danger.
One thing I liked: Play half the game? No problem, still lead the team in tackles. JP did his job well, got the team where they needed to be, and then took a rest to research how to protect his ankles from SKC this weekend. His composure set the tone for everyone else on the field, and his ability to control frantic passes that came his way was great.
One thing I didn’t like: OMG! JP only touched the ball 39 times! Coulda used his set piece service in the second half. (Sorry Jimmy, you are not João. There’s a Jimmy-João’ns joke here but I can’t seem to sandwich it into the message.)
Going forward: Resting JP and still getting three points is like winning the lottery if the reward is JP gets to stomp all over Kansas City. Does a half of soccer matter for a Brazilian monster like João? Maybe. Will I be there on Sunday to see in person? You bet.
Obed Vargas – 5 | Community – 5.8 (off 77’ for Montero)
Full disclosure: I started playing soccer at 15. So, I clearly can relate to Obed Vargas starting for the MLS Seattle Sounders against the Austin FC-ers on the road in front of 20,000 people at the age I was learning what a wall pass was, or how to slide tackle, and what offside was. Was he great? Nah. Was he in completely over his head? Also, nah.
One thing I liked: Vargas grew into the game like any poised veteran with seven minutes MLS professional experience does, and he earned a nice free kick in minute eight by shielding the ball and earning a foul. This gave him the confidence to do exciting stuff like dribble up the field in the 37th and he even took a few touches in a row at once, clearly showing off.
One thing I didn’t like: Obed obviously didn’t want the ball and did what I would do if put in a similar situation: kick it in the vicinity of Father JP. It worked well enough and while not the most elegant solution when in trouble, definitely not the worst.
Going forward: He’s not coming for Roldan or Lodeiro’s job anytime soon, but the skill is there. How absolutely friggin’ amazing must it be to be the third youngest player ever to start an MLS match and be part of a win that you can own and help spur you on to further things. This game, while not great for Vargas output-wise, raised the bar of expectations, and he’s solidly in the future of this team.
Ethan Dobbelaere – 6 | Community – 6.5
Ethan didn’t look like an MLS player in any appearance until this one. That complinsult is a good thing, as he may have finally found a way to fit into this team. I mentioned before that moving back simplifies the game for the Alex Roldans and Nouhous of the world, and it did the exact same thing for Double Dare. He had a shaky start defensively but weathered the storm and then put in his best shift as a Sounder in his young (and suddenly much more promising) career.
One thing I liked: Kekuta Manneh has made Sounders look silly a number of times and he got the better of Ethan all of maybe twice before Dobbeleare figured something out. You know what he figured out? He is just as fast as Manneh, and as soon as Ethan realized that he could kick the ball into the stands every time his opponent tried to run past him, defense got easy. Once he checked off defense from his to-do list, Double Dare started venturing into offense and, hoo boy, does he suddenly have great service from a full sprint just oozing out of his game. You might say he took the physical challenge and was up for it.
One thing I didn’t like: Ethan clearly was sandbagging Sounders fans with his frantic running and lunging and fouling efforts in prior appearances.
Going forward: One solid performance doesn’t make him a great MLS player but it does show he has the capacity to be an MLS player. That is exciting. He’s young and this game could be a jumping off point to solid contributions. It could also be just a nice story to tell from Nashville or Hungary or wherever. (Sorry, that got dark.)
Samuel Adeniran – 7 | Community – 6.4 (off 54’ for Ruidiaz)
One starting striker’s numbers: 2 shots, 1 key pass, 11 duels, zero tackles. The other starting striker’s numbers: 4 shots, 1 key pass, 13 duels, 1 tackle. The first is a DP. The other? He put up those numbers in A HALF. He’s just getting started.
One thing I liked: Big. Strong. Fast. Direct. Goal dangerous. Holdup play. Connecting. Heading. Shooting. Sam showed potential to be great.
One thing I didn’t like: This guy battled the entire time he was on the field, taking on two and three guys and pulling the defense around and giving space to his midfield and breathing room to his defense. But he didn’t score from 41 yards out. What a loser.
Going forward: I don’t know how the Sounders staff do it. They find these guys who drop into the starting lineup and look like legit MLS pros. The tools are there. Imagining this guy learning from Will Bruin about how to use his body, and from Fredy Montero about where the spaces are to drift into, and from Raúl Ruidíaz on how to casually score from midfield in addition to all the incredible talent he already has is astonishing. Will he be a star? Maybe. Can he be a star? Definitely.
Jimmy Medranda – 6 | Community – 6.3 (on 53’ for Smith)
Medranda entered to shore up the defense on the left and he was much needed.
One thing I liked: Defensively, he’s no Brad Smith, and that’s a good thing. In the 56th he defended well and distributed clean up the wing. Who knew a left back could do both, and on the same play even?
One thing I didn’t like: He had a 94th minute foul that gave a free kick to a team against Seattle, and we all know what that means. (A shutout, you fools!)
Going forward: Medranda got some exercise, but hopefully is rested to reprise his role as starter on the left this weekend.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.8 (MOTM) (on 54’ for Adeniran)
You already know.
One thing I liked: Just watch the goal. Then watch it again. One more time.
One thing I didn’t like: Scoring a goal with a two percent expectation rate means he has been slacking with pretty much every other chance he’s had this year.
Going forward: This guy has a lot of potential. I think if he stays humble, works hard, and learns from the veterans on the team, he can supplement what incumbent starter Adeniran brings, and there’s a possibility he can crack a starting lineup soon. Also, go watch that goal again.
Kelyn Rowe – 5 | Community – 6.4 (on 54’ for João Paulo)
Rowe came in to satisfy little known AARP regulations for Seattle. His entrance helped solidify some of the left channel defense, and he brought his usual two-way energy to the match.
One thing I liked: In the 62nd minute, he showed newcomer Raúl Ruidíaz how to crank a long, speculative shot, something that clearly played a part six minutes later in the game notes.
One thing I didn’t like: He kicked his first touch out of bounds, actively lowering expectations for those around him and showing some unity with the Austin players.
Going forward: Rowe does a lot of unheralded little things in the midfield for Seattle. He might have had his starting right back position pipped by Dobbelaere, which is something I clearly knew preseason I’d be writing in this column.
Fredy Montero – 5 | Community – 6.2 (on 77’ for Vargas)
Montero came in to show how ridiculous it can be when you sub in a guy almost NINETEEN years older than the dude he’s replacing.
One thing I liked: You want a guy who’s going to hold possession for you, make plays going forward and give you an outlet? Call Fredy.
One thing I didn’t like: There was a bad pass there somewhere. I also just remembered his 35-yard rocket shot so I’m going to go watch that again. (“Plenty of options ... one of which is the absolute fantastic strike!!!!” Suck it, LA.)
Going forward: Fredy is such a fun security blanket to put in late with a lead. I like to imagine him and Raúl driving the young guys around, sneaking them coffee from Santo that their parents told them not to have “cause it will stunt your growth” and just living his best life.
Alex Villanueva – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 94’ for Baker-Whiting)
Seattle subbed in a 19-year-old for a 16-year-old to get some needed veteran leadership on the field.
One thing I liked: Alex got his first MLS time!
One thing I didn’t like: I don’t remember him doing anything.
Going forward: Youth youth youth youth youth youth.
Alex Chilowicz – 8 | Community – 5.0
This was a well-refereed match, as the center kept play moving and used the whistle and cards very well.
One thing I liked: VAR was used multiple times quickly. Advantage was played. Fouls were fouls. Cats and dogs, living together. What even was this after that Minnesota match?
Things I didn’t like: It wasn’t perfect, with a particularly egregious miss on a Cecilio dive that turned into a goal that was luckily called back for mean cheaters being offside.
Going forward: This was a nice palate cleanser after the last debacle, and I’ll even go so far as to say I’ll take this guy again.
Austin FC MOTM
Diego Fagundez may no longer be a teen, but he’s had something of a resurgence with Austin Soccer Club. He showed it in this match, delivering a clipped ball for Central Texas Soccer’s best chance of the night — a header that Alexander Ring put right on Richey.
BIG home match against the Sporks this weekend, and with the possibility of Vargas, Dobbelaere, RWB etc. coming at them, they are already finding reasons not to play (or coach).