Welcome to 2022! Seattle started off their MLS season with a rain-soaked slog of a match against a new Western Conference foe in Nashville SC, who played a strong, first-choice lineup. The Sounders shuffled multiple players from the CCL match three days before and showed some fatigue and unfamiliarity with new parts. Like other matches a Nashville/Gary Smith team has played, the away team defended in waves and relied on quick counters or set pieces for offense. They executed this plan extremely well, playing a narrow diamond and packing in rows of disciplined defense that resisted Seattle’s equally narrow play and failure to move the ball quickly enough to penalize the tactics. Without movement vertically through the few available gaps, the Sounders struggled to create big chances and allowed one in return, which Nashville capitalized on for a 1-0 win.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.7 (MOTM)
Frei had a solid match, registering three saves against a cautious opponent who was happy to try speculative long shots without getting too overzealous in attack. Nashville had a single quality shot in the box and it came via an unmarked back post run from Anibal Godoy who scored the game winner on a tap-in.
One thing I liked: Stefan had 39 touches and showed some improved footwork. Working hard with Tommy Dutra in the offseason, Frei showcased excellent control and softer feet than in previous seasons, making many good decisions and showing an improved confidence in the back with the ball at his feet. This is something to monitor as his distribution and footwork was one of very few obvious weaknesses coming into 2022.
One thing I didn’t like: Frei wasn’t asked to make many saves, which was a good thing because he looked a little shaky on the few high-pressure moments he was faced with. In the 4th minute, a cross was pushed central into a terrible spot instead of being confidently wrapped up. Several poor clearances forced teammates into wild touches or lost possession for Seattle.
Going forward: Seattle gave up one good chance and Nashville scored, which should be expected from a skilled team, no matter how boring their style is. The Sounders were strong defensively, and Frei could again be rudely passed over for GKOTY by some Eastern Conference guy who jumps around a lot.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 6.5
Nouhou started on the left in a four-man backline and did his job well. He had 93 touches (second on the team) and his 78 percent passing was about what you’d expect given the difficulty of attempts. He completed his defensive duties with aplomb (14 duels), consistently stuffing any attempts to attack town his side, and with Nashville playing narrow he saw the ball frequently. His 1-v-1 defense remains nearly perfect, and the left back looked comfortable in possession moving the ball forward when asked to.
One thing I liked: Only 1/6 completion rate on crosses doesn’t tell the whole story, as Nouhou combined improved execution with improved decision making going forward, crossing into dangerous areas on numerous occasions. At times one of the best offensive options, he repeatedly got into deep corner positions and showed more accuracy on his crosses. In the 52nd minute Nouhou drove forward and cut back to his right foot for the first time in memory, an exciting new wrinkle on his offensive growth.
One thing I didn’t like: Nouhou and Jordan Morris didn’t look completely divorced from each other but definitely should get some couples counseling. Nouhou was more impactful going forward than Morris, and it should be the opposite. Seattle must figure out how both players can coexist on the left. With Nouhou cutting off Morris’ space in behind, or both players in redundant shape, Seattle failed to utilize the wings aggressively enough.
Going forward: Nouhou came off a successful AFCON and translated this into similarly strong play in his first MLS match. Seattle doesn’t have the targets that Cameroon has up front, so he will need to adjust to those around him and play to their strengths. Seattle’s success will depend on how quickly the team recognizes and plays to the strengths of its roster, including helping Nouhou better understand the attacking spaces in front of him.
Xavier Arreaga – 5 | Community – 5.8 (off 87’ for Leyva)
Arreaga started off rough but settled down and was a solid central defender. He finished his 86-minute stint with 53 touches, moving the ball across the back to the tune of 83 percent completion.
One thing I liked: Arreaga was clean with his touches and was willing to try to push the ball forward. He had a game-high seven long balls (completing three) as he worked to break lines and navigate Nashville’s congested midfield diamond. Having a center back who can look forward provides assistance for a team still looking to solidify some central positioning.
One thing I didn’t like: Three fouls in the first 15 minutes included a yellow card after a fumbled touch, and Xavi had a terrible start to the match. Way too aggressive, Arreaga pushed high to commit two of these fouls and had to take a huge step back from his CCL level physicality for this match. (Which thankfully he did — those were his only fouls in the game). The scramble on Nashville’s goal left Xavier marking grass and not a man, and the defense as a whole was a mess there.
Going forward: Arreaga has a role adjustment to figure out, going from the focal distributor centrally in a three-back formation to a facilitator with advanced outside backs and defensive midfielder dropping back to him. His passing and vision remain excellent and an asset for a team that isn’t tremendous at confidently working the ball around the back. Finding the balance between necessary aggression and controlled play will help Xavi return to his excellent form at the end of last season.
Yeimar – 6 | Community – 6.3
Yeimar was solid in the back, consistently covering his side and eliminating any chances for Nashville to get in behind. Using his size and speed, Yeimar finished with two interceptions and four clearances, cutting off multiple chances with excellent anticipation.
One thing I liked: Seattle’s defense was pulled from side to side a lot and Yeimar did well to cover when other defenders pushed into the attack. His ability to slide in behind aggressive defensive (and offensive) play on the opposite side of the field is elite, often stopping counter attacks with positioning before even having to interact with the ball.
One thing I didn’t like: Although he had 88 percent passing, in the 6th minute he passed directly to Nashville, resulting in a Hany Mukhtar shot on goal. These mistakes happen every match, and combined with the struggles Seattle had with moving the ball quickly around the back to attack the Nashville formation, there is plenty to improve on.
Going forward: Seattle will continue to get pressed and bunker/countered until the defensive unit proves it can move the ball quickly and cleanly without errors that give chances or limit their own. Yeimar looks poised to again be in the running for top defender in the league, and if he can adapt a little more into the shifting defensive shape for the team, he should dominate.
Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 5.4
Alex Roldan seemed quiet live, but the re-watch and stats showed a different story. Consistently tasked with possession as Seattle attempted to figure out the Nashville defensive scheme, Alex had the most touches in the match (100). He completed 79 percent of his passes, led the team in shots with two and added a key pass, but was only 1/9 on long balls and struggled to penetrate Nashville’s defense via distribution. Defensively, he had seven duels, two interceptions, and a tackle.
One thing I liked: Alex seemed to be involved in most decent chances Seattle had in the match, whether it was switching the ball in the 14th minute, making a direct 41st minute run and cross that nearly forced an own goal, or shooting direct in the 92nd minute, forcing Nashville keeper Joe Willis to touch the ball. Seattle didn’t look clean or aggressive going forward, but the way Alex dealt with the pressure on the width was much improved as he was calm and able to navigate most issues easily.
One thing I didn’t like: There was a December game in Columbus a couple years back when Alex was beat back post a few times, and while it’s hard to fault him for being goal side on the goal in this game, it was another time when Seattle’s defense missed a backside runner in transition. Roldan isn’t entirely in the wrong here but must be more vocal in pulling defensive help and organization so the team doesn’t allow layups on the back post.
Going forward: Alex Roldan is a complete MLS player and looks and acts the part every match. It’s now expected that he’ll have excellent control under pressure, distribute cleanly, and be an integral two-way player for the Sounders. Moving to a back four may increase his need to focus on backside defensive plays, which have plagued Seattle for years.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 6.5 (off 65’ for Chú)
João Paulo put his MVP candidacy on full display. Not necessarily dominant stat-wise (84 touches, 79 percent passing, eight defensive actions) he controlled the pace of the match with his movement and coverage, at times being a center back and at others an attacking midfielder, often moments apart. JP covered up a lot of mistakes when the midfield looked uncomfortable and failed to click with consistency.
One thing I liked: A line-splitting pass in the 12th minute was exactly what Seattle needed to deal with a compressed opponent with multi-layered blocks of defenders stacked centrally. His ability to support defensively yet also be a key to distribution saw him drop deep to help get the ball forward against a beleaguered midfield. Even forced back, JP still led the team with two key passes and often tried to push the ball quicker than teammates.
One thing I didn’t like: It wasn’t what JP was doing that was a problem, it’s what he wasn’t able to do. Having to babysit both the defensive midfield and backline on various occasions (sometimes at the same time) meant he spent too much time putting out fires and not enough driving the team forward into strong attacking areas. Having a young player next to him was asking a lot but asking JP to do everything was too much. Seeing him drop back to take a short goal kick in the 49th minute, clear it up to midfield, then charge up 45 yards nearly to midfield to regain possession was hard to watch. Playing with a double pivot can’t feel like playing with a single pivot.
Going forward: João Paulo showed his class as always, distributing cleanly, defending everywhere and doing a little bit of everything. There were massive opportunities for the midfield to be more direct and move quicker into attacking spaces that should be fixed with some tape review. Seattle relies heavily on JP, and he always returns excellent results.
Obed Vargas – 5 | Community – 6.3 (off 75’ for Rowe)
Judging by the voting on the after-game threads, this is a controversial rating, so I want to start by saying I love this player and he has the highest ceiling I have seen from a youth player in our organization, ever. He is absolutely fantastic. But he was not the MVP of this game.
Looking at the stats, Vargas was great: 48 touches, 81 percent passing, two blocked shots, six duels, several solid defensive actions, and multiple dribbles. These were all part of a workmanlike midfield effort where Obed facilitated others and showed some excellent control and composure centrally. To the eye test, he was also mostly solid, finding safe passes and never looking overly outmatched by the physicality and speed of the competition.
One thing I liked: I don’t rate based on age, but Vargas’ poise at age 16 is incredible. A 36th minute dribble into the box was a nifty attack-minded play and netted the Sounders a corner kick. A few notable recoveries on defense showed his willingness to be physical centrally that has been lacking in other prospects Seattle has played. While stealing the ball off the foot of a DP teammate who has made a killing from the top of the box in MLS wasn’t advisable, it does show an aggression that frankly some others on this team would be smart to adopt.
One thing I didn’t like: Unfortunately, Vargas’ positional awareness has a long way to go, and it was detrimental to the Sounders’ ability to attack the Nashville alignment. His inability to move the ball quickly and/or vertically through the center of the field and facilitate to the width or open through balls directly shunted much possession into mundane repetitive recycling. This had a cascading effect on those around him, especially JP, who had to cover a lot. An example was in the 52nd minute when Albert Rusnák had possession and there was a big gap in the midfield due to an excellent Lodeiro run opening Nashville’s defensive shape. Obed could attack with movement either into it for himself or away to open it up for Roldan. Instead, he sucked in towards João Paulo, and even though Rusnák still finds Obed who is the open man nearest the space, Vargas then passes backwards to JP. Understanding where the space is and attacking it is essential against organized teams, and Vargas missed stuff like this all match and put consistent extra pressure on teammates.
Going forward: Obed has highlights every game that you look for in legitimate star players. He does things naturally that stars twice his age don’t even consider, and the ceiling on Obed Vargas is massively high. He also didn’t even look at the ball on a free kick, ran backwards into his own team Shane O’Neill-style, got run over by Yeimar, knocked over Alex, fell onto the ball and nearly conceded a penalty, and injured himself due to a lack of spatial awareness and positioning. He’s not there yet. But he’s already good enough to step on an MLS pitch and contribute, and his growth, even within the first few matches of this season, has been outstanding and shows no indication of fading. Right now, his play is more reactive than proactive, but that should change as he continues to improve.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 5.1 (off 75’ for Montero)
It’s hard to rate Morris on his match against Nashville because he didn’t get to play much soccer. He got exercise and made some excellent runs off the ball, but he only touched it 16 times and was clearly not on the same page as Rusnák, Nouhou, or Adeniran. When he did get the ball, Nashville collapsed around him and quickly forced him off possession, while also limiting his chances to get in behind.
One thing I liked: Jordan tried valiantly to stretch the defense and pull Nashville out of their carefully crafted defensive shape. Several of his diagonal runs were perfect, and often his movement created space for others without directly helping himself. He was active when pressing.
One thing I didn’t like: Morris seemed neutered on the side, either being too redundant with Nouhou or unable to work cohesively with him. Coming back to help on defense was nice, but he also gave away a few terrifying back passes that were more detrimental than helpful. Add in the lack of a connection with Rusnák and no Ruidíaz to create space, and this was a nightmare scenario for him. Much of his movement ended up being pointless, and no one consistently found him in space; he eventually moved up top and got banged around by center backs.
Going forward: Jordan Morris is a dynamic player who can create for himself if given space, or can stretch defenses, creating space. Nashville did a great job limiting his space and eliminating his impact on the match. Besides good defense and other teammates’ inability to find him, Morris himself struggled to read and adjust tactics. This may not happen again, especially with a full-strength Sounder’s lineup, but it’s worth watching how Morris plays, especially considering the formation changed around his specific game-breaking talents.
Albert Rusnák – 6 | Community – 5.6
Rusnák started his first MLS match for Seattle and did a little bit of everything. He filled up the stat sheet with 55 touches, 84 percent passing, 35 carries, multiple dribbles, pressures, and interceptions, even a corner kick taken. He was a bit nomadic in the match, playing across the attacking band before dropping back into the defensive midfield to close out the match as a deeper connector.
One thing I liked: There were so many little things, like a sketchy Frei clearance that Rusnák casually trapped with the outside of his foot in perfect spinning control, that can be overlooked in a sloppy game against a strong team. He makes smart decisions on the ball. His positional flexibility allows him to pop up in creative spaces and contribute, allowing others to be more active in comfortable areas.
One thing I didn’t like: Although the team’s been practicing for weeks, there were some surprising moments where Rusnák was clearly on a different page than his teammates. It wasn’t just bad passes; it was thought-process-breakdowns between players. There were times when Albert was clearly looking for a different offensive tactic than teammates, and while the defense was good, there were areas to attack that were missed. Moving him all over the field to try to find effectiveness was confusing.
Going forward: Like with Nico, asking Albert to do it all creatively isn’t going to work against a team as strong as Nashville. A force multiplier needs something to accentuate, and Rusnák will need to get on the same page as his teammates to help facilitate their success. The good news is he does so many little things with such high class that this should only be a matter of time.
Cristian Roldan – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 6.4
Cristian started at the outside attacking midfield role where he was so successful last season and again put in a good shift, creating most of the Seattle excitement in the first half. He did a little bit of everything, from winning headers to attacking up his wing to being the most proactive player for the Sounders for much of the match.
One thing I liked: The tactical adjustments he made in game were phenomenal, including cheating central in the 20th minute to help an overwhelmed midfield. This earned him a steal and central dribble and opened the width for his brother to advance. His consistent ability to move around the field and fill in space and directly move the ball was lacking in some teammates and he created more chances than were utilized, which bodes well for the future.
One thing I didn’t like: I would have loved to see how Roldan looked next to JP. His direct play and ability to both get forward and work from deep areas may have unlocked the center of the field for a team struggling to utilize it all match. He should have earned a PK for his efforts.
Going forward: Cristian is great as an attacking midfielder, but especially in a four-back, seems better fitted to be a central player who can attack the width and still facilitate. Seattle has a multitude of great attacking parts and while they are busy shuffling DPs around up front, they should also remember how dynamic the width can be if used correctly.
Samuel Adeniran – 4 | Community – 4.7 (off 46’ for Lodeiro)
Sam got an MLS start and underwhelmed. In his half of play he had 19 touches and a dreadful 57 percent pass completion rate. He did have a shot and won three headers while showing some defensive intensity from the front.
One thing I liked: Once he was moved wide, Sam looked more comfortable and combined with Nouhou a few times. Active and powerful on his left foot, Adineran was a problem in the few opportunities he had to drive at the defense from the wide left. Two of these plays came in the 33rd and 36th minutes as he created well.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle wasn’t interested in launching long balls to Adineran, and wasn’t able to play him in space either, leaving big Sam invisible for most of the match. Instead of demanding the ball and out-physical-ling the opponents, he was dispossessed in the few chances he had to receive the ball in advanced positions, and he underwhelmed with his holdup attempts.
Going forward: I could see the thought process in starting Sam over Fredy in the hopes he would press and be a big physical presence for a team that is rather small. It didn’t work against an organized defense, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t still a good option to play up front. Seattle and Sam need to learn to play to his strengths in the channels, and he should be a great change of pace option off the bench.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 46’ for Adeniran)
Nico came in and worked hard to help Seattle penetrate the Nashville defense. He was his usual active self, getting 40 touches and earning a key pass and a shot in his half of play.
One thing I liked: Lodeiro touched the ball a ton in his half, clearly showing he is returning to fitness and showing his ability to get on the ball early and often. Attempting an 87th minute cross from a deep angle was missing from the attack, and he nearly tied the match with a late header.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico was still a little off in this match, completing 68 percent of his passes and missing teammates often. His set pieces underwhelmed, especially considering other options.
Going forward: Healthy and fit Nico appears to be near. After that comes effective Nico. Then khakis. Then profit.
Léo Chú – 5 | Community – 6.0 (on 65’ for JP)
Chú came into the match and showed his usual penchant for direct, attacking play. His 16 touches included a shot and 75 percent passing.
One thing I liked: After watching Seattle nibble around the edges, Chú walking into the game and taking a giant bite out of the middle was nice to see. His 79th minute shot went wide and left Montero annoyed, but I can’t fault this guy. Léo Chú wants to score and is direct about doing so.
One thing I didn’t like: Immediately after pumping up the crowd in true Vargas style, Chú lost the ball. While he is fun going forward there eventually needs to be more depth to his abilities.
Going forward: Chú for now is a super active, direct, fast, goal-dangerous player who is perfect surrounded by similar players, and he’s the kind of player great teams must change up tactics for.
Kelyn Rowe – 5 | Community – 5.2 (on 75’ for Vargas)
After Obed hurt himself, Kelyn came in and played … somewhere. He was all over the place, in a mostly good way. Very active, he touched the ball 23 times.
One thing I liked: Oddly enough, Rowe was second on the team in tackles, showing excellent defensive work rate in a mostly central role that earned Seattle possession in a few essential moments.
One thing I didn’t like: Rowe didn’t close the passer tightly enough in the 80th minute which contributed to the goal against.
Going forward: Rowe has a lot of detractors, but this match was a great example of what he can give. A solid veteran bench option, he can plug into a ton of different positions, which is flexible for him but also releases the Chú’s and others to play more advance roles that support their success.
Fredy Montero – 6 | Community – 5.3 (on 75’ for Morris)
Fredy got into the match late and took a while to get into the flow before turning into a dynamic offensive catalyst. He turned 10 touches into a key pass, a shot on goal, and several facilitating hold-ups and creative plays.
One thing I liked: Everything late was created via Fredy, who found teammates time and again in attacking areas. It was his pass that Nico nearly headed in.
One thing I didn’t like: I get the thinking behind Sam starting, but hindsight makes you wonder, because it didn’t work.
Going forward: Fredy is suited to a backup role and has the kind of skillset that doesn’t deteriorate with age, instead relying on ever-present silky touch and creativity. Seattle is still looking for its identity, but with Ruidíaz out, Fredy is a trusted veteran who will likely get more time.
Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 5.3 (on 87’ for Arreaga)
Danny Leyva came in late in a sort of hail Mary play. He responded well, in limited minutes.
One thing I liked: Ten touches, 100 percent completion.
One thing I didn’t like: Obed has been good, but if Danny got minutes, has he fallen that far behind someone who played three days prior?
Going forward: Leyva has been somewhat forgotten, passed over last year by Rowe and Atencio, and now seemingly Vargas and potentially a tactical-shifted Cristian Roldan. Don’t forget Danny, he is an immensely skilled player who still has a high ceiling.
Alex Chilowicz – 7 | Community – 5.5
When you barely remember any specific calls in the game you know the referee did well, and this match will ultimately be remembered for the players and not the referee. Almost all the calls made sense, the cards were appropriate, and you could see the thought process easily on why things were whistled.
One thing I liked: It was clear in the stands that this referee would allow advantage then move the ball back for a free kick if there wasn’t any, and if I could obviously see it so could the players. That’s an underrated trait for a ref and the sign of someone who is transparent about his calls, when everything is adding up. This match center was excellent at this and translated through to the teams coherently.
Things I didn’t like: I’ve looked at it a bunch of times, and I honestly think Cristian Roldan was undercut attempting a header from a spectacular Nouhou cross in the box and should have been awarded a penalty kick. The defender makes zero play on the ball, instead shoving Roldan with an extended arm. I have no idea why the VAR didn’t even ask the center to take a look, and well, gee, I would say that’s a pretty big call to miss.
Going forward: Chilowicz remains one of the best referees in the league and he did nearly everything right in this one.
Nashville SC MOTM
No surprise here as Mr. goalscorer, Mr. back post run, Mr. Aníbal Godoy walks away with the award. Beyond the goal, his workmanlike performance complimented those of his teammates, consistently forcing Seattle to attempt to break down solid defensive positioning.
RSL is up next, and the storylines write themselves. Just win.