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Seattle Sounders at Sporting Kansas City: Player ratings

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Road warrior Sounders win pivotal six-pointer.

As disheartening as Seattle’s last two results were, going to Sporting Kansas City and beating them 2-1 was the exact opposite. This was a great Sounders team (and coaching) performance. Playing a very good, rested team away, just after losing a heartbreaking midweek match, the Sounders were the better team for most of the game, dominating big chances before parking the bus effectively and holding on to a deserved victory. Had Seattle finished a bit better, this could have been even more of an authoritative win.


Goalkeeper

Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.3

Frei was credited with two saves, and recognition is due to the defense in front of him which held strong, limiting Stef’s workload. Working well with his backline, Frei was content to clear long, stay mainly on his line, and depend on the defense to win contested headers and defend a massive nine SKC corner kicks.

One thing I liked: In the 50th minute Johnny Russell got behind the defense and shot near post. Frei was up to the save and prevented a goal. Another similar ball across the face of the goal in the 77th was pushed aside as well.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 60th minute SKC scored, and it was again a near-post shot. Somehow Stefan was unable to make what seemed to be a fairly routine save, likely by being shielded. He will want that one back.

Going forward: Frei adds a professionalism and leadership quality from the back that makes the team difficult to break down. His distribution and foot skills are perhaps a hair behind what Stefan Cleveland brought to the team, but he more than makes up for that with superior positioning and decision making. With Frei back there, Seattle refuses to give up any easy goals.

Defense

Nouhou – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 69’ for O’Neill)

Nouhou returned to the starting lineup and while it wasn’t always pretty, he was mostly effective. He led the team with four tackles, added an interception and two clearances, while completing an excellent 92 percent of his passes. He still lacks connection (especially with Brad Smith) while integrating slowly back into his starting role.

One thing I liked: Nouhou did well to limit Russell down the wing, especially in a Sounders-dominant first half. He was especially effective in coming across the field to defend centrally, as SKC ran diagonals behind Arreaga.

One thing I didn’t like: Defensively Nouhou is slowly returning to form, but his decision making and frustration pushing the ball forward is a work in progress. In the 16th he got a yellow card forcing the ball forward on the dribble, and a missed cross field pass in the 67th created a counter for Kansas City.

Going forward: Nouhou has been slow to return to his early season form but improves a little more each time out. This performance had a few of the upside moments we have come to expect, and the positioning and movement was better.

Xavier Arreaga – 7 | Community – 6.8

Xavi had another solid match, anchoring the center of the defense and showing excellent range to get across to support each center back wide from him. His passing was decidedly aggressive, finding midfielders and width with a 76 percent completion rate.

One thing I liked: With SKC stretching the team in the second half, Seattle was nearly victimized with speed over the top in behind with angled runs. In the 67th and 79th minutes it was Arreaga who used stellar pace and anticipation to cut out opponent runs, leading to two of his team-high five clearances.

One thing I didn’t like: Several times Xavier stepped high to challenge opponents, and while this idea was good, his positioning and timing were a bit off. This aggression is important to ration, as the central defender getting pulled too out of shape with his defense well behind him opens dangerous gaps.

Going forward: Arreaga seems to have cemented himself into the middle of the backline, and it’s clear his control and passing from central areas are incredibly strong tools, especially bracketed by strong 1-v-1 defenders to each side of him.

Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 8 | Community – 7.3

Yeimar did amazing defensive work, especially in a busy first half as SKC attempted to probe his side. With Alex Roldan pushing higher up the field, the entire defense shifted with Yeimar playing close to the width.

One thing I liked: What a defensive stat monster: Five more (league leading) interceptions, five clearances, three tackles, 11 duels, and a blocked shot.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 42nd minute a corner dropped into his lap offensively and Yeimar was unable to finish and give Seattle a bigger lead heading into half.

Going forward: Yeimar has pushed himself into consideration as the best defender in the league on the back of massive defensive stats and consistent production every match.

Defensive Midfield

Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 6.6 (off 69’ for Medranda)

Brad got another start and finally got back onto the stat sheet in a positive way. His overall body of work was solid, with 30 touches and a 71 percent passing completion rate. He even added two tackles.

One thing I liked: An absolutely beautiful pass in the 31st minute earned Brad his fourth assist on the season and opened the scoring via a quality Cristian Roldan finish.

One thing I didn’t like: Other than his assisting pass, Smith was mostly an observer in the match, failing to get forward while consistently getting beat on the backside of plays. When he did get forward, he was easily dispossessed.

Going forward: Brad didn’t do a lot in this match, but he got on the scoresheet and that’s enough.

Josh Atencio – 7 | Community – 7.0

Atencio returned to the starting lineup and had a stellar positional match, playing the more attacking of the two “defensive” central midfielders. He was active moving forward and even combined to start the first Sounders goal, pressing high and pushing the ball forward to Smith.

One thing I liked: Josh plays with a calm that belies how much he works to get into good positions. His soft touch and 84 percent passing were a safe harbor in a midfield that got pressured greatly in the second half.

One thing I didn’t like: As effective as Atencio was to actively cover lots of ground, he was not as effective dispossessing and stopping SKC attacks. He was only credited with three duels (compared to Will Bruin’s 14) and was largely absent from defensive enforcement, which was victimized in the second half.

Going forward: Atencio played a little in front of JP and it worked well, especially in the first half as Josh was able to leverage his range. While not featuring much defensive bite, his positioning and effort allows JP to really shine, and this pairing gets results.

João Paulo – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.2 (MOTM) (off 85’ for Leyva)

JP was a defense and transitional beast for Seattle, personally overwhelming SKC in a dominant first half before tiring some and eventually subbing late. He made the most of his 55 touches, moving the ball quickly in tight quarters directly in front of the defense while shielding Seattle from central attacks.

One thing I liked: His defending was nearly flawless. João can play ultra-aggressive without fouling due to incredible agility and anticipation. His physical play was the perfect shield to the Seattle center backs, and his range (especially in the second half) saved the Sounders on multiple occasions.

One thing I didn’t like: While defending like a banshee, JP still has the touch to drop a perfect line-splitting dime to A-Rold and did so, setting him up in the 73rd on goal in what deserved an assist.

Going forward: JP is the backbone of this team, and it was terrifying but ultimately important to sub him off late and see the Sounders hold on without him. With his good behavior bonus earned, only fixture congestion should necessitate his missing any more time.

Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.4

Alex again showed how solid the defensive right for Seattle is, combining with Yeimar to provide some excellent two-way support in the first half. He contributed five clearances to the defensive effort, being a firm last line of defense and watching backside runs all evening.

One thing I liked: Surprisingly, Alex led the Sounders with 64 touches, and his 84 percent completion rate only trailed Nouhou for accuracy. He did well settling into his role tactically.

One thing I didn’t like: He didn’t get forward much, preferring to defer to his brother on runs up the wing. When he did in the 73rd, he also inexplicably attempted to pass back after João Paulo put him through clean on goal.

Going forward: Alex has shown that he can defend with Yeimar next to him and offensively work well with strong pieces in front of him. He remains very steady, rarely makes monumental mistakes, but fails to show a ton of flashy plays.

Attacking Midfield

Cristian Roldan – 8 | Community – 8.0

Cristian played a roaming attacker across the midfield, showcasing his effort and skill, driving the offense forward and combining through the middle. His ability to dive into the channels and follow up tactically on complex movement around him was excellent, and Seattle plays much better when he is “on.”

One thing I liked: Even with multiple forwards ahead of him, it was Cristian who correctly understood the spacing of teammates to drive into the box in the 31st minute. His first-time finish was strong and clean, giving Seattle a deserved lead. A fantastic left-footed cross six minutes later should have put the Sounders up 2-0.

One thing I didn’t like: I honestly forgot that Roldan was on the field for long stretches of the second half, as tactical changes from SKC removed his space and forced Cristian to a quiet 45 minutes. Seattle plays much better when he is involved, and it showed.

Going forward: Cristian was able to display exactly why he is so hard to game plan for, as his movement and touch from creative angles and ability to use speed and power to get in behind create imbalances all over the defensive shape. With multiple Nicos out, it will be incumbent upon the elder Roldan to provide the creative spark for Seattle.

Forwards

Will Bruin – 7 | Community – 7.0 (off 72’ for Rowe)

Paired up front with Raúl, Will was excellent in combining and moving among the defense. He stayed active even though his game impact was limited. He was ultimately rewarded for his efforts with the game-winning goal and it presented a return of Seattle’s success with a two-forward formation.

One thing I liked: He’s only scored twice this year, but both ended up being game-winners and this one showed his finishing chops. Confronted with a loose ball and options, Bruin found a perfect far post reverse header back across goal. We know there’s only one keeper who saves that kind of header. (Spoiler: it’s not Tim Melia.)

One thing I didn’t like: Aside from the goal, (admittedly a big aside,) Will was ineffective for much of the match. His 53 percent passing showed a failure to connect with teammates, and this was most evident in the 59th minute when he had a wide open Ruidíaz that he missed with a poor cross.

Going forward: Goal scorers just need to be great in the big moments, and Bruin did that against KC. The two-forward formation worked well and if Will can build off this game, there will be plenty of chances going forward.

Raúl Ruidíaz – 7 | Community – 6.8

Raúl worked extremely hard and found himself in great positions to score on multiple occasions, but was unable to convert, making this match a lot closer than it needed to be. He led the team in shots (four) and was his usual self: creating big chances with stellar movement; he was just missing that final piece of finishing.

One thing I liked: On multiple occasions a lurking Ruidíaz found a defensive mistake from SKC and made them pay with direct attacks. The best example was a steal in the 55th minute he followed up by splitting three defenders and nearly scoring himself before Will scored the game winner.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 37th minute Raúl missed an open header and in the 70th minute he missed a 1-v-1 with goalie Tim Melia. Both should have been fairly routine finishes for someone of his caliber and would have helped my blood pressure enormously.

Going forward: Raúl isn’t going to be penalized for missing his finishing boots because of how many huge chances his movement and anticipation create for himself and for others. Would make these games a bit easier if he found them, though.

Substitutes

Jimmy Medranda – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 69’ for Smith)

Brought in to help shore up a lagging left side, Medranda started out poorly but grew into the match and was part of a “bend but don’t break” defensive effort to close out the game.

One thing I liked: Conscious of the defensive holes, Jimmy was excellent at guarding the backside of plays, something he did well in the 79th minute.

One thing I didn’t like: There were some nervy moments after Seattle switched out their entire left side, none more so than the 77th when communication issues between Medranda and Shane O’Neill led inexplicably to Johnny Russell being unmarked with possession on the end line.

Going forward: The defensive bar isn’t high for the left-wingback position, but Jimmy will need to show better than he did here.

Shane O’Neill – 5 | Community – 6.1 (on 69’ for Nouhou)

Brought in to help shore up a lagging left side, O’Neill started out poorly but grew into the match and was part of a “bend but don’t break” defensive effort to close out the game

One thing I liked: Shane improved later in the match and while his spacing wasn’t great, it worked well as he was able to drop into pockets that SKC had been attacking.

One thing I didn’t like: The nervy moments mentioned above after Seattle switched out their entire left side.

Going forward: Shane was solid and remains a great option for the Sounders in this kind of situation, or as need arises due to congestion or injury. He is showing incredible value as a consistent performer who can fill in across the defense.

Kelyn Rowe – 5 | Community – 6.0 (on 72’ for Bruin)

Rowe entered as a more defensive option and helped to hold on desperately to the win.

One thing I liked: Twice late the veteran Rowe was able to find possession, earn a foul, and slow the match down. In the 84th and 94th he burned minutes from the match with clever positioning and decision making.

One thing I didn’t like: A midfield sub who only had eight touches and 33 percent passing was disappointing.

Going forward: Rowe continues to be a valuable player who can play in multiple positions and tactical setups. He remains a solid option to start centrally, but also a great sub both in the middle and wide.

Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 85’ for JP)

Leyva made a surprising appearance, dropping into the middle to close out the match with a lead.

One thing I liked: Danny immediately got involved, fearlessly getting into tackles and making his presence felt, including blocking a shot from SKC.

One thing I didn’t like: Leyva looked slow to close on a few occasions and had at least one turnover.

Going forward: Ending a six-point game against a rival on the road with 18- and 19-year-olds in center midfield was both stressful and exhilarating. The confidence shown in Danny to replace a DP in crunch time and do his job will hopefully pay off in the future.

Referee

Joseph Dickerson – 5 | Community – 4.9

It’s always a testy affair between these two teams and it was the players (and surprisingly less violent SKC team) instead of the referee who controlled the match. Dickerson was inconsistent with his calls, which had potential to lead to dangerous tackles and physical escalation.

One thing I liked: Cards made sense when given, and the combination of players and referee kept an intense match from getting out of control.

One thing I didn’t like: I am not sure what constituted a foul, and even less so what was a card. The teams looked similarly confused, and this had potential to degrade into a more dangerous match, especially on a soft field that had injury written all over it. A questionable foul led directly to SKC’s goal.

Going forward: With the referee all over the place, I saw multiple players jump out of hard tackles and that was nice to see. Since no one got hurt and the match ended up relatively clean from a dangerous play perspective, it was an improvement on many referees this season.

Sporting Kansas City MOTM

Johnny Russell won Man of the Match and nothing else. Like, dude is pretty good, but he’s also a lot.


Next up: short rest and travel to play a San Jose team that may be terrible. Or amazing. Who knows?