Last Saturday, a heavily rotated and injury-burdened Sounders team traveled on short rest to Rio Tinto stadium to play RSL. In a location where they hadn’t won in over a decade, Seattle played down to expectations, encountering vicious elements and a resolute home squad in a match that devolved into a slog. The weather included lightning, snow, sleet, hail, and a steady rain that added a dull veneer of ugliness to a match that wouldn’t be on any sane person’s re-watch list. A new formation and tactical setup included significant rotation throughout the match, and Seattle never clicked as a unit. After surviving through a sloppy, yet fairly even first half, and a long lightning delay, the Sounders came out in the second half with zero intensity, conceded a goal immediately, and then held on for a 1-0 loss that somehow seemed uglier than the score or the weather would indicate.
Stefan Frei – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 6.9 (MOTM)
MOTM on a team that struggled throughout, Frei alone stood between Seattle and an even more embarrassing loss. He was credited with five saves and showed excellent lateral movement and poise in the box to keep the game close and provide the Sounders a chance to come back if they chose to take it. (They didn’t.)
One thing I liked: A 7th minute save on Bobby Wood set the tone for a strong defensive effort from Stef and he continued with a tidy catch in traffic in the 33rd minute. Right before halftime he had an excellent save on a curving Maikel Chang shot.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle came out completely disorganized in the second half and the captain failed to organize his defense correctly. Even though the team was out of sorts, Frei still looked to be saving the initial Bobby Wood shot, but it was saved by Xavier Arreaga, and Stef was unable to stop the ensuing point-blank goal.
Going forward: Frei showed he can make highlight reel saves when needed, which combined with his nearly flawless positioning, will ensure Seattle is a difficult team to score on. His confidence with the ball at his feet looks better in 2022 and this is something to build upon with every iteration of the defense in front of him.
Abdoulaye Cissoko – 6 | Community – 5.5 (off 46’ for Yeimar)
Cissoko looked very strong in his first appearance for Seattle, coming in and holding down most of the left on his own, distributing well and showing excellent positioning and communication. He had 44 touches and 84 percent passing. Defensively, he had multiple tackles, interceptions, and blocked shots in a strong showing before picking up a knock and subbing at half.
One thing I liked: In the first 10 minutes, ABC showed noticeable strong defense, transitioning won possession up field to teammates. A 23rd minute line-splitting pass was excellent.
One thing I didn’t like: Without a wide full back, Cissoko was often without options up the wing, and he also missed a few opportunities to combine more cleanly with teammates on the left. He forced some passes up field into defended areas and put undue pressure on the midfield via these turnovers.
Going forward: This performance reminded us of how good ABC was in his first few appearances last season. He faded from the team’s plans due to some egregious decision-making flaws, but so far this year has looked like a player who can contribute solid replacement-level minutes on defense if he remains healthy.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 5.4
Arreaga has had a tumultuous start to the season with some highlight-level plays sandwiching a number of head-scratching defensive decisions. He was excellent in organizing the first-half defense, keeping tight in the back, and while Frei was asked to make several saves, they came from predictable sight lines and angles. Xavi led the team with three tackles and had a team-high five clearances.
One thing I liked: Arreaga’s central anchor did another great job of distributing to the width but also finding central angles, with defensive midfielders getting plenty of touches. His own 71 touches resulted in 92 percent completion in a tidy job on the ball.
One thing I didn’t like: The entire team sleep-walked through the play after the lightning break, and Sounders looked a touch slow. On the RSL goal, Arreaga had a miscommunication/misstep by drifting back away from Wood, allowing him to receive a pass deep in the Sounders penalty area. Although he recovered well and blocked the shot, an unlucky bounce gave prompt possession back to Wood who finished the only goal of the match. This was a mysterious defensive choice.
Going forward: Arreaga has had massive change around him, with different players in the lineup, playing on either side and tactical positioning, but his role in the center has remained static. Although not playing up to his top level of last season, his defensive actions and passing rates are similar, and a more consistent structure should help all involved.
Jackson Ragen – 7 | Community – 5.8
Jackson Ragen had one of the better debuts for a Sounder in recent memory, showing up and casually being the best defender on the field. His spacial awareness is fantastic, and only bested by his at-times spectacular passing. He ended with 75 touches, 91 percent completion rate, three aerials won, five clearances and pristine connection with teammates.
One thing I liked: It’s a little thing, but in the 67th minute from a wide position Ragen found Cristian Roldan central. This opened the entire field for Roldan to attack the middle, switch, and push tempo. Nearly every other Seattle defender would have played back to Frei or punted a hopeful ball up the wing, and neither of those are bad options. The reason Jackson’s pass stood out is that instead of a goalie looking for a slow switch or long ball, or a winger trapped on the sideline trying to win a 50/50 pass, Ragen’s vision and ability to execute a difficult pass gave us a midfielder with possession in space, directly attacking the opponent. Having this kind of dynamic passing from the back further increases the variety of play the team can make, adding another facet to a team that has struggled to attack this exact space.
One thing I didn’t like: Ragen wasn’t perfect, being spun in the box by Justin Meram in the 7th minute which led to a shot, and not closing down a distributor quickly enough on the game-winning goal.
Going forward: Having a high ceiling defender in his early twenties is a fantastic find for Seattle. There is plenty of room for improvement in his positioning and decision making, but his passing is smooth and high quality. This lends itself to a more modern game where everyone on the field can and will attempt complicated and attacking passes. He has incredible defensive teammates to learn from.
Kelyn Rowe – 4 | Community – 4.7
Rowe was about as polarizing as any Seattle player I’ve seen in a while. I have defended his play and value to this team, and for parts of this game that value was evident. After halftime, though, Rowe came out sluggish, ineffective, and at times imprecise and lacking effort. Although he had two tackles and a team-high 87 touches, his passing was awful, only 63 percent.
One thing I liked: The tactical switch in the first half, whether via coaches or Rowe himself, was nearly genius. Seeing gaps in the midfield and recognizing the strengths of Cissoko and Chú on the left, Rowe constantly vacated his left back position, Roweming* around central midfield to support and help create a numbers advantage. Like what the USMNT tried with Tyler Adams once upon a time [Ed. Note: Or, you know, what Pep Guardiola has done with João Cancelo], this was a tactical change that made a difference, so props to whoever made that adjustment.
One thing I didn’t like: His play in the second half was bad. He combined poor touches, abject positioning and miscommunication with an appalling lack of effort. He completely gave up in the 92nd minute after handing a 1-v-1 to RSL that only heroic defending from Frei kept from scoring. That lack of effort alone was embarrassing, and combined with 45 minutes of poor play, this was a forgettable performance.
Going forward: I still maintain Rowe offers value to a team, especially in MLS where the margins are very small and having people outperform their contract is a necessary ingredient in any successful squad. This second half performance was enough to at least re-think that. I assume he, as a veteran, will shake off one troublesome outing and remain a quality depth piece, but he may need to re-earn the confidence given to him.
Albert Rusnák – 5 | Community – 5.6 (off 66’ for Vargas)
Rusnák was moved to defensive midfield to pair with JP from a tactical plan to support the midfield and offer more deep control of possession. It wasn’t necessarily effective, and the center struggled so much that the left back was tucked inside to help control possession. Albert was incredible at connecting passes, earning 98 percent completion (42/43) but had only a single key pass, unable to create from so deep.
One thing I liked: Rusnák’s talent bursts through sometimes, like a 23rd minute splitting pass that cut out four RSL players or a 50th minute central run forward to claim space and eviscerate the opponent’s defensive positioning.
One thing I didn’t like: For a defensive midfielder, he didn’t play much defense. You don’t need to be a massive tackler or physical presence to play in front of the SSFC back line, but you do need to close space and angles in conjunction with teammates, and there were often times where Rusnák made suboptimal defensive choices that allowed gaps in the team spacing.
Going forward: Albert has shown to be a dynamic attacking force who can live around the edges of the box and create for others or finish pure in zone 14. Trying him around the midfield to see if he fits elsewhere makes sense early in the season, but so far, the defensive midfield hasn’t resonated with his skillset. A goal in any competition should help him immensely, as Rusnák appears to be pressing and making mistakes as he tries too hard.
João Paulo – 6 | Community – 6.0 (off 46’ for Cristian Roldan)
JP was a defensive and transitional filter for Seattle, attempting to do everything in the center. Paired with a less traditionally defensive player in Rusnák, João did his best to sweep behind the advanced midfielders and spread the ball around, but couldn’t open the field from deep as he normally can. He played only a half, likely to save his legs for the CCL match.
One thing I liked: JP is excellent at understanding when his team is under the gun and providing an outlet. In the 19th minute this meant getting the ball and baiting a foul, just to give the Sounders a second to breathe after being under pressure. A minute later he put Alex Roldan in on an excellent pass where he recognized a backdoor almost before the younger Roldan turned onto goal and delivered a perfect ball.
One thing I didn’t like: Whenever JP wasn’t saving the defense, they struggled. A massive (and exceedingly rare) 33rd minute whiff snowballed into a direct run through the middle by RSL who nearly scored. Big chances happened when JP made mistakes.
Going forward: JP is the backbone of this team, as was illustrated most of the match. It’s refreshing to see such a skilled player relish the more physical parts of the game and he competes as hard as anyone to wear the shirt. In games like this, his impact may be muted but every outing is a quality outing from this player.
Alex Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.4 (off 46’ for Nouhou)
Roldan played a forgettable match against RSL, not standing out either positively or negatively. He had 32 touches and a single key pass while failing to join the attack with regularity, and he faded into the background for most of the match.
One thing I liked: Alex consistently dribbled central, understanding the space around him, and attacked areas that put optimal pressure on RSL. A nice 20th minute backdoor run was spectacular, getting into the box for a reverse cross that perfectly set up a teammate for a chance.
One thing I didn’t like: Alex looked to be forcing play often, such as a 23rd minute cross that was ineffective and a 33rd minute dribble that ended in an ugly turnover. His effort was misguided and ultimately unproductive.
Going forward: Alex Roldan is one of the best outside backs in the league and can be counted on to fill whatever attacking and defending role the tactics demand. This match didn’t highlight his skills, but it’s notable that even when quiet within matches, he’s becoming consistently effective on both sides of the ball.
Léo Chú – 5 | Community – 5.6 (off 59’ for Morris)
Chú got a rare start and began the game full of energy. Most of his stats were earned in an active first 30 minutes, with two key passes and a shot on goal. He tired and lost effectiveness, eventually being replaced by Jordan Morris early in the second half after only touching the ball a paltry 15 times.
One thing I liked: Early in the match Chú was his normal active self, with an excellent 20th minute cross and another one minutes later. He was one of the few creative forces offensively.
One thing I didn’t like: Even though he didn’t have much support from teammates, Chú still attempted to take on the entire RSL defense at times, losing out on a 34th minute 1-v-4, for example. When not given space and long balls to create 1-v-1 situations, his effectiveness waned, and he failed to demand or earn touches while fading away.
Going forward: Léo Chú is an exciting player, but he has dimensions of his game to work on. The attacking verve when surrounded by quality players is direct and exciting, but his defensive work is lacking, and he can be marked out of matches when asked to do more than just run into space. Still young, look for Chú to continue to be an exciting sparkplug off the bench rather than a starter.
Reed Baker-Whiting – 4 | Community – 4.8
Yet another 16-year-old prospect started this game, but Reed struggled to find his role. Often lost, he nonetheless ended with two key passes and two shots from his 33 touches on the evening. Sixty-five percent passing was part of his problem, as he failed to connect with others and often didn’t see their movement.
One thing I liked: There were some positives from RBW against RSL, including a 79th minute shot from the top of the box that forced a save. At other times he had the right idea but was unable to execute the physical necessity of the play he saw develop.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 20th minute JP found Roldan behind the play, and he dropped it to a wide-open Baker-Whiting who kicked the ground and squandered a gift-wrapped chance. This is the second giant chance that he has earned for Seattle, but he brutally missed both. Had he looked, Montero had a tap-in on the back post as well. Outside of this big play, RBW struggled to be in any cohesive position with teammates, and his touch and vision were repeatedly victimized.
Going forward: Still only 16, the mental side of the game for Baker-Whiting is just not MLS level at this point (or at least in this match). He has nice touch and a stellar work rate, but he was lost in this game. He may need more time with the Defiance to understand how he can fit into a top level professional matchday lineup. Hopefully he shows he is too good to play with lesser teams and his mental game catches up to his physical gifts.
Fredy Montero – 6 | Community – 5.3
Most of the rare offense in this match came from Montero, who worked hard to find openings for Seattle but wasn’t too successful. He led the team with four shots and was one of few Sounders interested in kicking the round thing toward the fabric thing with holes in it.
One thing I liked: Fredy was the offense. It was his 11th minute holdup play from a long ball that opened space for Chú to work. He found one of Rowe’s industrious runs forward. A 56th minute shot nearly scored, forcing a tenuous save from the RSL keeper.
One thing I didn’t like: Supported by two young players with immensely disparate playstyles, Montero tried to juggle Chú’s direct play and RBW’s meandering. Ultimately, he was unable to connect with either, settling for several speculative and almost pointless shots from distance.
Going forward: Montero is a quality player but he shouldn’t be asked to both create for others and score, which is what happened a lot in this match. With Ruidíaz out yet again, having a backup who is a proven goal scorer in this league is massive, and Fredy should continue to log high minutes until Raúl returns.
Nouhou – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 46’ for Alex Roldan)
Nouhou came in and immediately played very advanced.
One thing I liked: He tried to push the offense forward, in his usual handwaving and wildly gesticulating way, on the wing.
One thing I didn’t like: Nouhou didn’t recover at all in the 46th minute prior to the goal, and at times there was a massive gap between himself and the defense, perhaps by design.
Going forward: Nouhou remains a treasure, and even though there wasn’t much notable from him in this match, at least he is likely rested for an active week.
Yeimar – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 46’ for Cissoko)
Yeimar apparently wasn’t scheduled to play in this match, but Cissoko got a knock in the two minutes after they returned from lightning. He came in cold and was okay.
One thing I liked: Asked to defend against a beleaguered right side that made me GRowe’n out loud on multiple occasions, Yeimar was especially strong in the 72nd, 73rd, and 79th minutes, ferreting out opponent attacks.
One thing I didn’t like: A 57th minute switch was puzzling, and nowhere near any teammates.
Going forward: There isn’t much to take from an injury sub in a snow/hailstorm after a lightning-delayed match.
Cristian Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.2 (on 46’ for João Paulo)
Roldan replaced JP in a swap that gave each of them a half in the center, and he had about the same amount of luck combining with teammates going forward.
One thing I liked: His effort centrally was excellent, and he consistently found space in the middle, especially a 59th minute connecting pass that breathed a bit of life into a plodding game.
One thing I didn’t like: He lost possession in the 46th minute and RSL immediately scored.
Going forward: I still wonder what a Roldan/JP central defensive midfield pairing would look like, but it’s unlikely we’ll see that anytime soon as the myriad of injuries and tactical changes mean Cristian plays elsewhere. Wherever he plays, he’s excellent.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 4.9 (on 59’ for Chu)
Morris arrived wide for Chú and had similar luck getting into the match. Combined, they had 24 touches, nine of which were earned by Jordan in a half hour of play.
One thing I liked: In the 62nd minute we saw the “Jordan Morris push to his left, beat the defense for pace, and perfect cross central” move. It’s still unstoppable.
One thing I didn’t like: There were chances for Morris to be much more proactive, including an 84th minute shot into the side netting that could have been even better had he just put his head down and RRBH.
Going forward: Morris looked immensely dynamic in his first appearance of the year and since has reverted to a more cautious, conservative gameplay that doesn’t fit his skills. If Seattle can find space for him to run into and leverage his movement and strengths, he can tilt an entire match in their favor.
Obed Vargas – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 66’ for Rusnák)
Vargas entered the match to also share in the frigid disappointment of playing soccer on a frozen wasteland amidst brooding teammates and plodding play.
One thing I liked: Any experience is good experience for someone who just needs time wherever he can get it.
One thing I didn’t like: Somehow, he managed more touches than Morris, (10) — but that’s not a good thing when its still only 10.
Going forward: Vargas has all the skills to be a superstar but needs to adjust some positioning and decision making that limits his impact and forces teammates to compensate. If he can do that, he may force himself into a starting spot, especially with schedule congestion and constant injury problems from teammates.
Nima Saghafi – 6 | Community – 6.0
Saghafi was fine, rather quietly going about his business. He called only 14 total fouls and correctly stopped the match for lightning-induced safety measures.
One thing I liked: His calls and cards all made sense.
One thing I didn’t like: Twice RSL had egregious dives that went unpunished, the worst being Bobby Wood in the 38th minute in the box attempting to draw a penalty. A 77th minute dive simulating a punch to the face after an errant hand was similarly ridiculous and unpunished.
Going forward: Refereeing in a lightning storm and then snowstorm is hard, and this referee did well to mitigate the environmental factors while keeping players safe. Refereeing at this level should be expected from all MLS referees.
Real Salt Lake MOTM
Robert Wood scored an effort goal in a game that was devoid of much effort.
Next up: Short rest, and the darlings of the league enter Lumen this weekend. Don’t believe the narrative that we suck.
*Dave Clark patent pending.