Seattle went on the road to play a resurgent and somewhat respectable Austin team to a 1-1 draw after a midweek CCL match. The Sounders looked like they’d just played a massive high stakes match against a top Mexican team at 5,955 feet three days prior. A conservative game plan and some willful execution by a resilient Sounders squad managed to earn a goal in the first half, but in the end the team couldn’t withstand the immense pressure from Austin and conceded late to split the points. Seattle still struggles to find cohesive play following the starts of either half and after substitutions, and remain searching for team-wide connection in league play, which the coaching staff has been unable to instill.
Stefan Cleveland – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 7.5 (MOTM)
Cleveland started out a bit rough, as the entire team looked unprepared to play soccer for the first 20 minutes of the match. He calmed down, though, as did the Sounders, and it was the backup keeper’s fantastic acrobatic saves that held on to a road point.
One thing I liked: Stefan Cleveland has MLS elite level shot-stopping ability, and massive saves in the 67th and 77th stopped goals that likely would have resulted in a Seattle loss. Although he conceded, at times Cleveland was the only thing keeping the game close; again and again he came up with clutch saves as Seattle tired defensively.
One thing I didn’t like: To say Cleveland’s distribution was rough is an understatement. He touched the ball a massive 58 times (third-most on the team) and his 62 percent completion rate wasn’t terrible but was littered with multiple poor passes and choices. Coming out and fumbling the ball in the 66th minute was another gaffe, which luckily Austin was unable to capitalize on.
Going forward: That no team scouted Stefan Cleveland in the offseason is a severe oversight, and he showed why against Austin. His ability to keep the ball out of the net is better than many starters in the league, and it’s a massive benefit for Seattle to have such a deep goalkeeping group. As long as Stef Frei needs a break, Seattle should be comfortable running out Cleveland and expecting performances like this one.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 6.5 (off 64’ for Cissoko)
Nouhou had a great 64 minutes for Seattle, completely erasing Ethan Finley from the Austin offense, limiting him to 22 touches and no shots before forcing him to sub off. Nouhou had 41 touches of his own, earning two tackles and an interception and doing his job well defensively.
One thing I liked: Nouhou read the game well early, staying home and allowing Chú in front of him the space he desires to work. With Austin pressing forward often down the other side of the field, Nouhou smartly picked off a number of switching passes, creating a few counter opportunities.
One thing I didn’t like: It’s never clear whether Nouhou is dead and needs a coroner or just a breather, and he subbed out in the 64th minute immediately after being hurt on some level.
Going forward: Any long-term injury to Nouhou would be extremely tough on a backline missing multiple pieces already, while playing a congested schedule. Hopefully this is more a minor inconvenience than any lengthy absence, as Nouhou has been excellent so far this season.
Xavier Arreaga – 7 | Community – 6.4
Surrounded by the chaos of an ever-changing tactical system and a conveyor belt of teammates on either side of him, Arreaga stood tall in the center and was part of a resolute defensive effort that nearly hung on for the win. Xavi’s 88 percent passing from the back was excellently paired with Jackson Ragen next to him as they consistently deescalated opponent attacks and then distributed cleanly to teammates. Arreaga also had two shots, remaining an active threat on set pieces.
One thing I liked: With the team under a ton of pressure, Xavier showed excellent range, consistently coming across the defense behind any wide gaps as the outside backs moved up to support the offense. His movement in the back was smooth and he covered a lot of distance in support of teammates, earning three interceptions and six clearances.
One thing I didn’t like: Although they were resolute within the tactics given, much of Seattle’s play demanded last ditch hero plays from the defense. A better organized backline could have eliminated much of the pressure with increased communication. Especially at the start of both halves and after subs, it took a long time for Seattle to figure out where to go and when.
Going forward: Arreaga continues to be a consistent performer who has had four or five injuries on the backline and at GK around him, as well as multiple combinations of midfielders in front of him. Throughout this, Seattle has remained a stingy defense, relying on a dedicated and sturdy group to flank Xavier and deny opponents many quality chances.
Jackson Ragen – 7 | Community – 6.6
Jackson Ragen earned another start and performed admirably, stepping into the defense and combining beautifully with Arreaga. He had a sparkling completion rate, connecting on 89 percent of his game-high 73 touches.
One thing I liked: Ragen played calmly once again, absorbing waves of pressure with a stoic resolve that was impressive. He led the team with 12 clearances and was a consistent obstacle in the way of any of Austin’s 22 cross attempts.
One thing I didn’t like: A 29th minute clearance was a rough one, trying a pass that had little chance of connecting and putting his team right back into pressure. He also earned a 58th minute yellow card.
Going forward: Pairing Ragen and Arreaga creates one of the best passing centerback units Seattle has ever had, and they showed off near-perfect distribution from the defense. There is a lot of ceiling for Jackson to still grow into, and he’s been an incredible signing for the Sounders.
Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.4
Roldan had a quiet afternoon by his standards, choosing to stay home next to Ragen for a majority of the match and help with the immense pressure Austin created throughout the evening. Only touching the ball 35 times, Alex nonetheless completed 91 percent of his passes while contributing two key passes.
One thing I didn’t like: Without the aggression and overwhelming physical presence of Yeimar next to him, Alex’s impact felt muted, staying home rather than bombing up the wing in support of his brother. His yellow card came after some messy play.
Going forward: Alex Roldan is apparently nursing a sore foot and having him play a little more reserved was likely by plan. Due to his impressive improvement in the last few seasons, the younger Roldan is an essential player who must be healthy for Seattle to play at their best.
Obed Vargas – 5 | Community – 6.3
16yearoldObedVargas returned to the site of his first MLS action and struggled to combine with teammates for much of the match, often finding himself caught out in transition in both directions. Although he played 90+ minutes, he only registered a single tackle, no interceptions, and two clearances.
One thing I liked: Obed’s best play came late, surging forward into the box in the 80th minute displaying excellent tenacity to challenge a ball on the end line, earn possession, and drop the ball to Fredy Montero who nearly scored. This amount of hustle late was exceptional.
One thing I didn’t like: Vargas has struggled in MLS play to connect to teammates, and he puts an enormous burden on other Sounders to support him while he figures it out. He repeatedly lost his marks, and, especially when Rusnák subbed out, put a strain on João Paulo’s ability to pull the weight of defending centrally in front of the backline.
Going forward: Obed Vargas continues to grow and mature, and it was good to see him learning to lean into contact, earning a number of important set pieces for a team that didn’t create a ton of offense from the run of play. He is learning quickly, but especially in his MLS matches, his youth has been exposed, likely due to fatigued players around him unable to support as much as they have during CCL matches. His touch and composure remain elite and he should be an integral part of the Sounders’ short- and long-term plans.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 7.1
Sixty-three touches, two shots, two key passes, and 84 percent passing combined with a team-high four tackles highlighted a stellar all-around effort for JP, who did everything he could to push this team onto the front foot.
One thing I liked: Although he was massive defensively, it was excellent vision on the Sounder’s goal that saw JP recognize a trap-beating run from C-Roldan, and immediately execute the over-the-top ball to put Cristian in behind.
One thing I didn’t like: João clearly tired after playing heroically in both matches this past week. His work rate and effort were immense, but as soon as Rusnák was subbed off (nine connections between these two in this match) much of the ability for him to release through the middle disappeared.
Going forward: While Obed and JP have combined well (especially when fresh), Seattle has experimented with Rusnák and others next to João and they should, as the options are plentiful. Finding the right balance between defensive connection and offensive possession is vital in deciding who starts next to JP.
Léo Chú – 6 | Community – 5.9 (off 56’ for Morris)
Chú got the start on the road and came out with his usual aggressive and direct style, earning two shots and being amidst some of the best Sounder attacking play up his left wing.
One thing I liked: Chú displayed excellent defensive effort against Austin, showing that his reputation for not defending is not completely deserved. I noted him in the 32nd and 42nd minutes, coming all the way back to his own penalty box to defend, winning possession, and turning the ball up field.
One thing I didn’t like: It was unfortunate that he subbed almost immediately after messing up, but Chú missed a golden opportunity in the 51st minute. He should have done much better, and may have cost the team all three points.
Going forward: Léo Chú is an exciting player, but there are still dimensions of his game to work on. The attacking verve when surrounded by quality players is direct and exciting, but he can be marked out of matches when asked to do more than just run into space. Still young, look for Chú to be an exciting spark plug off the bench more often than a starter.
Albert Rusnák – 6 | Community – 6.0 (off 64’ for Rowe)
Rusnák had another cohesive two-way match for Seattle that featured a good deal of strong play but another large miss, and expectations for the newest Sounder DP are mounting. Although only touching the ball 27 times, he had an impeccable 95 percent passing rate to go with two shots and positional defense that was abruptly evident after his removal from the match.
One thing I liked: Albert continues to do all the glue-work movement and defending in channels for Seattle, this time sheltering in front of the defensive mids to both make play predictable and also offer a possession outlet. His play especially supported the movement of young Vargas, who felt Rusnák’s removal most.
One thing I didn’t like: For all the chances Albert Rusnák is a part of, he will definitely regret his 26th minute effort after a great positional run. Popping up in exactly the right spot, Rusnák found himself unmarked on the end of a fumbled Will Bruin dribble in the box and was only able to muster a weak shot right at the keeper. A player of his caliber has to make this a tougher shot to stop.
Going forward: With as many big chances as Rusnák has gotten, you have to like the odds of him getting onto the scoresheet sooner rather than later. It’s great that he finds such opportunities, but it’s also frustrating that there hasn’t been payoff in the form of goals. He needs to find the mark soon.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.4 (off 88’ for Atencio)
Roldan has been the MVP for Seattle so far in this short season and was again a standout performer. His effort and hustle up the right wing were instrumental in the team’s best offensive success, and Cristian led the team with three key passes.
One thing I liked: Breaking the trap in the 43rd minute, Roldan moved expertly into space and patiently waited for the play to develop. When it did, he put a perfect pass that basically forced the ball into the goal with a touch from anyone.
One thing I didn’t like: Roldan was clearly tired midway through the match, but soldiered through almost to the end. His 34 touches became more and more defensive, and he was removed late in one of his few substitutions as a Sounder.
Going forward: Roldan has been part of nearly every single goal the team has scored this year and is an irreplaceable member of the team. Although he is capable of playing at a consistently high level, it will be important not to burn him out with a long, busy season and multiple competitions to contest.
Will Bruin – 7 | Community – 6.7 (off 56’ for Montero)
Bruin had a nice runout in his first MLS start for Seattle this season, showing off excellent holdup and connection play with his teammates. He scored the only Sounders goal after some hard work, but otherwise struggled to find touches and create consistent scoring threats. Although he only had 17 touches, Bruin was much improved in his passing, connecting on 91 percent of his attempts in a tidy display of possession from the front.
One thing I liked: His goal wasn’t pretty, but Bruin showed his experience on the play. Quickly understanding Roldan had space, Will drove his defender toward the end line before darting away toward the far post to create a disconnect. With his opponents off balance and one crossed up to leave Will and close down Cristian, Bruin then flashed in front of the goal to get a piece of a low driven cross and was able to redirect it towards goal. A lot of tactics went into the execution of a blind nutmeg goal that was ultimately the product of quick thinking and smart movement.
One thing I didn’t like: Will doesn’t seem close to full fitness yet, and it showed in his halfhearted pressures prior to being subbed. His effort is usually much more active, but he was absent defensively in a match where Seattle needed field-wide commitment.
Going forward: Seattle has some of the best depth at forward they have ever had, and now with Bruin joining Jordan Morris and Montero on the scoreboard this year, he offers yet another option for tactical switching at striker. Last year Will did not score his first goal until the end of August.
Fredy Montero – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 56’ for Bruin)
Montero came into a match when Seattle was pinned in defensively, and he had a hard time finding space and/or the ball. He ended with 10 touches but nearly scored on his one shot, forcing a save.
One thing I liked: His 90th minute holdup and foul earned gave Seattle a chance to set up a dead ball play with mere minutes remaining.
One thing I didn’t like: After some great Vargas hustle in the 80th, Montero got the ball in a great spot but was unable to beat the keeper, instead putting a strong shot within reach.
Going forward: Montero has had a massive impact for Seattle so far this season, leading them in goals and spearheading their offense. With Bruin adding a goal in this match, the Sounders have a deep forward line where each can add unique skills, depending on game state.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 56’ for Chú)
Morris came in to add fresher legs in a match that was wide open and had opportunities for counter attacks, but he was unable to get untracked.
One thing I liked: His 80th minute pass and 82nd minute vertical run showed a great grasp of where the weak spots were to attack.
One thing I didn’t like: A 92nd minute breakaway went wanting and you would expect Jordan to do better there. He was unable to get full contact on a shot after Josh Atencio put him in between the center backs.
Going forward: Morris had a breakout, impactful half against Club León at home, but has otherwise looked tentative and is still seeking a definitive role in this version of the Sounders.
Kelyn Rowe – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 64’ for Rusnák)
Rowe played 30 minutes and had 17 mostly defensive touches, completing 60 percent of his passing attempts.
One thing I liked: Rowe nearly put the game away in the 74th minute, with a supreme individual effort getting through the defense before putting his potential game-clinching shot off the crossbar.
One thing I didn’t like: Two interceptions and three clearances were adequate defensive stats, but the defense was reeling late. The communication on the wings was a struggle, with Seattle players not on the same page.
Going forward: Rowe is a dependable sub who can play all over the field and has proven ability to fit into whatever tactical spacing is desired, which is a huge advantage for the team attempting to win everything.
Abdoulaye Cissoko – 4 | Community – 5.3 (on 64’ for Nouhou)
Cissoko replaced the apparently injured Nouhou, and was not prepared to jump into the match at that moment. He touched the ball 11 times and didn’t look particularly comfortable when connecting to teammates.
One thing I liked: Three clearances and a tackle were evidence of a busy night for a defensive substitute.
One thing I didn’t like: Three clearances and a tackle were evidence of a busy night for a defensive substitute.
Going forward: After earlier solid appearances, Cissoko looked shakier this outing and likely has been jumped by Ragen for centerback minutes. Abdoulaye’s ability to play on the left and Schmetzer’s propensity for dumping on defenders late should keep Cissoko as a late option in the back.
Josh Atencio – 5 | Community – 5.4 (on 88’ for C. Roldan)
Atencio got his first play for the Sounders in 2022 after rehabbing an injury picked up in preseason. He got a few minutes, touched the ball six times, and completed 75 percent of his passes.
One thing I liked: An absolutely beautiful pass over the top in the 92nd minute was a bit of magic that deserved so much more after controlling, recognizing Morris, and curling an inch-perfect pass into his teammate’s stride.
One thing I didn’t like: Atencio joined the match at a right wide position, something he may not be well suited for.
Going forward: Since Atencio was out for the start of the season, he’s dropped down the depth chart at a number of positions, but hopefully he’s still in the picture for them. There are plenty of minutes to go around, and Josh offers a clear connection with JP as well as flexibility to drop a line.
Łukasz Szpala – 6 | Community – 5.9
This was the first match Szpala has done for the Sounders and he did an overall fine job that had some highs and some lows and averaged out to okay.
One thing I liked: Ignoring Austin’s attempted dives made a huge difference, especially with regards to Cecilio Domínguez. This forced actual soccer to be played, and the world was a better place for it.
One thing I didn’t like: This ref missed a number of fouls, most notably a 49th minute rough hack on Arreaga that somehow was ignored. With the home team committing twice as many fouls as the away squad, I thought Alexander Ring deserved a card for numerous borderline infractions.
Going forward: Although there were plenty of questionable calls going both ways, this was a decent match by MLS standards, and the VAR was quick and efficient in confirming the Sounders goal, which wasn’t immediately and obviously onside on the television broadcast.
Austin FC MOTM
The introduction of Diego Fagúndez into this match seemed to coincide with Austin shifting into a higher gear. Seattle quickly found themselves up against it as the substitute generated chance upon chance. He put himself about, as they say, and ultimately followed up a rebound from his initial attempt to secure a point at home for his side.
Next up: With the team finally getting a small break for international play, let’s hope for healthy bodies and rest before Minnesota.