As far as regular-season openers go, it’s hard to imagine Sunday’s going any better for the Seattle Sounders. Their 4-0 win over the Colorado Rapids was every bit as decisive as the scoreline suggested and there were no shortage of impressive performances on both sides of the ball.
Here are the things I found most encouraging from the game:
Jordan Morris looks like he rediscovered his 2020 form
I don’t want to make too much out of one performance, but it has been at least two years since we’ve seen Morris put together anything like we saw against the Rapids. Morris, of course, scored two goals, but he also was directly involved in setting up another and had several other dangerous moments. We saw a lot of this stuff in 2020 and that’s why he was a MVP finalist and attracted a loan to Swansea City, but even when he was at his best last year it did not look like this.
I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself, but if this is indicative of Morris’ 2023 form, the Sounders are going to be very hard to beat.
João Paulo fits back in nicely
The way João Paulo was patrolling the midfield, it was easy to forget that this was his first competitive start eight months. It wasn’t that he filled up the box score or had a bunch of obvious highlights, it was just that he seemed to fit in so neatly. João Paulo has always excelled at the little things, stabbing away a dribble here, breaking pressure with a line-breaking pass there. João Paulo ended up logging 80 minutes, connecting on 50 of 63 passes, winning 6 of 11 duels and collecting 15 recoveries. None of that is especially impressive, but he also seemed to just bring a general calmness to everything.
A perfect illustration came on the build-up to the Sounders’ first goal. João Paulo doesn’t touch the ball until Nouhou has already broken the first wave of pressure, but the Brazilian does a good job of making himself available as an outlet. Once the Sounders are able to calm things down, it’s João Paulo’s pass that starts the attacking sequence. It’s just beautiful.
Alex Roldán is going to be a handful
There’s been a lot of understandable talk this offseason about how this new tactical approach is designed to highlight Nouhou’s strengths while limiting his weaknesses. To the degree we saw it actually used, it did a great job of that. But the less talked about change has to do with Alex Roldan, who is going to end up looking almost like a third forward a lot of the time. For that to pay off, though, he’s going to have to contribute to goals and assists.
He got neither against the Rapids, but he was consistently in dangerous areas and came inches away from scoring an absolute banger in the opening minutes.
I just loved how he pushes into space and then aggressively looks for his own shot. The left-footed rocket beats the Rapids goalkeeper only to hit off the underside the crossbar and stay out. It was very encouraging and at least will help keep defense’s honest.
Nico Lodeiro looks extremely fit
I’ve been noticing this ever since training camp opened, but it was really apparent how fit Nicolás Lodeiro looks these days. He’s always been in very good shape, but his shoulders and arms look like he spent some extra time doing weights in the offseason.
I’m sure Lodeiro has heard the whispers about whether or not the Sounders would have been better off buying him out than letting him play out his contract and seems to have taken that a bit personally. This is the exact kind of reaction I think we should all want from him.
As for his actual play, I was pretty encouraged by that too. Lodeiro helped set up several good chances, most notably Morris’s first goal, and seemed to practice a bit more positional discipline. His heatmap still showed a lot of movement, but it was mostly flaring out to the wings. that he was actually third on the team in attempted passes — behind João Paulo and Alex Roldán — suggests he was more willing to allow the game to come to him. He’s another player I’m expecting a big season from.
Héber is exactly what Sounders needed
One of the more frustrating narratives over the offseason was how the Sounders “didn’t do anything” to address their various issues. I definitely understand where that’s coming from — and even heard it in the pressbox before Sunday’s game — but also think it ignores just how important the addition of Héber was.
We saw that pay off big time against the Rapids. Héber was not perfect — he missed two “big chances” — but was very influential in both his hold-up play and around the box. Héber was constantly dropping back to help relieve pressure and did a great job occupying the centerbacks while still being able to get into the box. I wish he’d have been able to finish the chance Morris put on a platter for him, but that’s a relatively minor complaint in the grand scheme. That he was even in position for three “big chances” is pretty significant and it’s notable that his 1.29 npxG was a mark Raúl Ruidíaz only exceeded once last year. I don’t think he’s going to supplant Ruidíaz as the starter anytime soon, but I do think the Sounders are now much more capable of weathering their starting forward’s absence.
Shoutout for Léo Chú
One of the bigger disappointments last season was not just that Léo Chú didn’t produce a ton, it’s that he apparently wasn’t showing enough in training sessions to get onto the field more. Brian Schmetzer has gone out of his way to praise Chú’s progress this preseason and rewarded him with about 20 minutes of playing time.
Chú’s made good use of that time. He was active defensively with a tackle, an interception, two recoveries and going 2/2 on duels, but also was constantly pressing the action despite the Sounders already holding a 3-0 lead. His best moment came on a cross he put in that likely would have connected with Dylan Teves if he hadn’t been pulled back by a defender. Hopefully this is where we see Chú turn the corner on his development.
Everything else you need to know
- Matt Doyle said on ExtraTime that the Sounders are actively shopping Xavier Arreaga. My Sounders sources have put it a little differently, that they’re open to trading him but not in any hurry or interested in doing it at a cut rate. There aren’t really any glaring holes on the roster and Arreaga doesn’t seem to be angling for a move, so this all makes sense.
- I wrote a bunch about how the Sounders needed both a physical and mental refresh this offseason. The physical part came in sprucing up the Starfire training facilities, while the mental part came in the tactical tweaks.
- I’m curious to hear what everyone thought about the AppleTV debut. Personally, I was kinda blown away at how good it all looked. There are some definite areas for improvement — the commentary for the Sounders game was not good — but it’s mostly in details. The broad-stroke stuff was all exemplary and I think will make the price tag feel much more affordable.
- The Sounders return to action on Saturday against Real Salt Lake, who beat the Vancouver Whitecaps on the road in their season opener. That continued their unbeaten streak in season openers to an almost unbelievable 14 matches. Like the vast majority of games this year, the game kicks off at 7:30 PM.
- Programming note: We are hoping to start getting back to doing at least one podcast a week. We’ll likely be using more of the talent from the Sounder at Heart team as well, but be sure to be checking your podcast feed more frequently!