After a few disappointing results, Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer finally mixed up his lineup. Playing Austin FC away on short rest, he added some young players mixed with veterans. As a result, especially in the middle, Seattle looked invigorated and played better than their recent history. The Sounders were the superior team until they scored early in the second half, then they reverted to the struggling, tentative team we’ve seen for a few months now. After Austin inevitably equalized, you thought this would be yet another disappointing match where we can’t hang on to a point. Instead, with resolve unseen this season, Seattle pushed and eventually scored a late game-winner. The 2-1 score involved some luck with gameflow and opportunities, but with as unlucky as the team has been, it was rewarding to see some good luck earned and cashed in. The players were rewarded for their heart and energy, the coaches no doubt felt some relief, and Sounders fans got to celebrate the first win since July 8.
Stefan Frei – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.3 (MOTM)
Frei was the one player who didn’t let down throughout the match. He made massive saves on either side of halftime to ensure that Seattle would never trail in this match. A vintage performance, he had five saves including multiple acrobatic efforts to keep his team in the match.
One thing I liked: Big saves in the 33rd and 62nd minutes sandwiched an absolutely spectacular moment of brilliance in the 56th as Frei pawed a ball off the end line to remove an Austin goal from the scoreboard.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle’s distribution from the back has been rough for a few games now, and Stef struggled to find targets. His 54th minute giveaway was part of the momentum that the Sounders handed to Austin, necessitating his big save moments later. He has never been a great keeper with his feet, but passing directly to the other team isn’t the thing to do.
Going forward: Playing whack-a-mole with Seattle’s defensive issues is easier when Frei can patch over some of the biggest holes.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 6.0
Nouhou had another up and down match, doing some great work as part of a rollercoaster defensive effort with a revamped back seven, but he struggled at times with decision making. He led the team with a massive seven clearances and added 86 percent passing and a key pass going forward.
One thing I liked: His 1-v-1 prowess popped up in the 40th minute as Sebastián Driussi attempted to get by Nouhou and was stuffed.
One thing I didn’t like: His decision making was rough, including a 15th minute inexplicable shot and slow reaction time to cover the back post in the 56th minute.
Going forward: The entire defense is in flux and seems susceptible to being victimized in behind.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 6.3
Arreaga got a start on the central left and quickly split the distribution from the back with Ragen, but did so from a much more central position. He had 51 touches and returned 86 percent passing, mostly playing controlled passes to the width on either side of him. He won three tackles and contributed three clearances as a physical force who stepped up often to press the Austin forwards.
One thing I liked: Arreaga was another distribution point who was able to look vertically, and he combined the ability to find a 4th minute Reed Baker-Whiting run up the right wing with staunch defense, like a critical 62nd minute tackle in the box.
One thing I didn’t like: A 51st minute foul was the overly aggressive, clattering defense that we remember all too well from Xavi, which gave away a set piece.
Going forward: People may forget that Arreaga was the best rated defender on the team last season; adding depth and the ability to change tactics is tremendous with a deep back line.
Jackson Ragen – 6 | Community – 6.5
Ragen switched to the right and played much more of a creator role, with his outside back pushing high and Jackson and Xavi combining to balance the central channels. He also had 51 touches and 86 percent passing, but his passes started from a wide position and went forward or to the middle, as Seattle made a conscious tactical adjustment that fit the defensive roles well.
One thing I liked: Ragen added his own style of physical defending, covering a lot of ground as a more offensive-minded passer. Not just going forward, Ragen defended the back post on a number of essential occasions late.
One thing I didn’t like: Sometimes Ragen was stretched defensively, and the pace of Gyasi Zardes in behind was a nuisance. He was beaten by ex-Sounder Will Bruin for an open header in the 78th minute.
Going forward: Ragen showed a flexibility to his play that offers some intriguing options moving forward.
Reed Baker-Whiting – 6 | Community – 5.8
Reed got his first start in a while and added a ton of balance to the right side. His communication and coordination with Ethan Dobbelaere in front of him was excellent, offering a number of vertical options that kept the left-leaning offense stabilized. His 77 percent passing was an intriguing combination of safe control and aggressive forward attempts.
One thing I liked: RBW offered a combination of left and right-footed crosses into dangerous areas on offense, and a high defensive work rate in the back. Time and again late, he did enough to win an essential throw in or turn the opponent back.
One thing I didn’t like: Some of his play is still too tentative, and in the 71st minute Reed took a bad angle that allowed a big breakaway opportunity for Austin as he stabbed in and missed.
Going forward: The best part of RBW this season is seeing the much improved consistency from his play and consistent growth to a legitimate MLS-level contributor.
João Paulo – 6 | Community – 6.4 (off 46’ for Rusnák)
JP got a half of play and was once again paired with a new partner in the defensive midfield. He made the most of his time, leading the team with two key passes in only 31 touches. Much of his role was a surprisingly supportive one, as his new partner, Josh Atencio, ran the show vertically with João able to float underneath and find gaps to fill defensively. This was a different role for JP, but one that showcased some of the best central cohesion from the Sounders in months.
One thing I liked: After a 19th minute late run into the box to win a corner, he found Morris in the 39th on a quick vertical ball that Jordan nearly converted in transition. These plays illustrate JP’s tactical acumen, as he correctly assessed when to push himself into attacking support and when to let the ball do the work.
One thing I didn’t like: A couple of unusual errors from JP popped up in the 16th and 20th minutes with the first a poor turnover in the defensive third and the second a mis-kick cross with open options.
Going forward: This pairing in the defensive midfield dominated the play and freed up the others around them to be directly dangerous, a great change from what we’ve been seeing.
Joshua Atencio - 7 | Community – 6.9
Atencio wasn’t flawless, but he did some essential things that made the team work better throughout a tremendous return to the starting lineup. His ability to tackle, his large passing range, and his tactical understanding to pair with and support JP and open up attacking opportunities was on full display. Numbers-wise he had 62 touches and 76 percent passing, six tackles and four clearances, but it was his positioning and movement that was the engine of the Sounders success.
One thing I liked: Atencio wasn’t along for the view; he was doin’ shit*. This started in the 2nd minute when Josh got the ball, worked a give-and-go and then attacked up the right wing to cross into the box. This announced his presence as an attacking force that reverberated from his movement all match. And it lasted through the 97th minute when he pressed high, tackled the ball from one opponent, followed it to another and nearly beat both, killing about 30 seconds of game time on a one-man break to help see out a win. And doin’ shit encompassed everything in between.
One thing I didn’t like: There were some definite lulls in team defense, and he missed badly in the 16th and 33rd minutes, the second of which saw him lose out physically in the midfield resulting in a break and forced save(s) from Frei.
Going forward: It wasn’t a perfect outing by any means, but this performance was exactly the reason why many of us wanted Josh Atencio to get more time.
*Close relative of “tryin’ shit” in the vein of Clint and Oba.
Léo Chú – 5 | Community – 6.0 (off 84’ for Yeimar)
Chú was part of a balanced attack that saw Seattle earn 11 shots and create multiple dangerous attempts, including a shot off the post from Chú himself. The Seattle offense was spread out and dangerous on the counter while also able to overload the offensive third when possessing the ball. With only 28 touches, Léo had a shot and a rough 57 percent completion rate.
One thing I liked: After some surprising recovery defense in the 25th minute, it was excellent creation we have come to expect from Chú in the 53rd that forced a yellow card to stop him from getting off to the races.
One thing I didn’t like: Léo’s best chance came in the 29th minute when he took a pass from Morris and ran at goal before putting a near-post effort off the post. He had Morris for a tap in had he crossed.
Going forward: Sometimes the threat of doing something is as dangerous as doing something.
Nico Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.3
It was surprising to see Nico get 98 minutes in this match, but he rewarded the patient viewer with his best performance in quite some time. With a secure defense behind him and balanced wings, Lodeiro turned 65 touches into a beautiful assist, three shots, and 79 percent passing.
One thing I liked: His 48th minute free kick was inch-perfect to the near post, and the third such pass in the last three games to create goals. It may be less frequent, but Lodeiro can still deal.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico drifted in and out of relevance in this match, fading from impact for long periods; while his effort was there, he had stretches when he was lost instead of fitting into the team setup. His inconsistency is frustrating for all, as he had some poor service and missed at least one giant chance when Atencio burst in behind in the 66th minute with Lodeiro unable to find him.
Going forward: In spurts, the old Nico is there, but his minutes should be managed to maximize his impact and highs, rather than allowing him to run himself ragged as he plays through his lows.
Ethan Dobbelaere – 6 | Community – 5.6 (off 79’ for Vargas)
Previously injured, Dobbelaere got a start on the right and did well to balance the field out. With Nico drifting left and looking to connect to Chú, it was the speed and combination of the young right-sided Sounders players that kept the entire field from shifting left. Ethan only had 25 touches but he completed 90 percent of his passes and had a key pass. The ability to understand the tactical needs of the position and work off RBW was excellent.
One thing I liked: His intelligent movement repeatedly created opportunities for others, as evidenced by a slick press in on goal that forced a foul in the 47th minute. Seattle scored off the ensuing set piece.
One thing I didn’t like: Ethan left a lot to be desired on the defensive end, recording zero contributions and struggling to track back and support at all in the 12th and 26th minutes in shockingly poor defense. Whether by design or not, Dobbeleare put too much pressure on RBW and Ragen behind him.
Going forward: Ethan was an excellent tactical decision and looks to have taken a step forward in his development. He is finding good spots to support a team full of stars.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 7.1 (off 64’ for Héber)
Morris scored a goal and nearly had another, forcing a big save in the first half. The rest of the match was fairly quiet, as Seattle conceded the momentum for quite some time after scoring early in the second half. Jordan struggled to find service, ending with only 12 touches but taking two shots (both on goal), scoring one, and adding a key pass in an efficient outing.
One thing I liked: Jordan never gave up, constantly making aggressive runs at the opposing goal, pulling the Austin defense apart as he was hugely impactful without the ball. The few times he received the ball he found Chú for a big chance in the 29th, had one of his own in the 39th, and finished a nifty touch for a free kick goal in the 49th.
One thing I didn’t like: Expecting Morris to score with so few touches is a tall order, and Seattle didn’t have a good way to release Jordan into space and let him cook.
Going forward: Morris up front in this formation made sense and paid off.
Albert Rusnák – 6 | Community – 6.9 (on 46’ for JP)
Rusnák arrived in what looked like a scripted substitution at halftime. Albert wasn’t massively impactful in possession with only 20 touches, but he completed every pass he tried and added two shots and a key pass, including the game-winning goal.
One thing I liked: As part of a resilient effort in the waning moments, Rusnák followed up an attack through the left and when the ball popped out to him, slammed home the game-winning half volley. His form and positioning was perfect, with Seattle earning three points as a result.
One thing I didn’t like: He had an absolute howler of a defensive gaffe, failing to mark his man on the back post and allowing a point-blank and game-tying header to score in the 72nd minute. He also registered zero defensive actions.
Going forward: Albert now has 3g/3a and is doing a little bit of everything.
Héber – 5 | Community – 5.0 (on 64’ for Morris)
Héber arrived and got more touches than Morris did (15) in a more possession-minded role that still saw the Brazilian forward get a shot and complete 89 percent of his passes.
One thing I liked: He almost scored in the 97th minute, his 37th “almost” of the year, adding to his league-leading aG.
One thing I didn’t like: He almost scored in the 97th minute, his 37th “almost” of the year, adding to his league-leading aG.
Going forward: It was hard to tell whether this was a defensive sub or what.
Obed Vargas – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 79’ for Dobbelaere)
Vargas entered and played … right wing. To say he played it differently than Ethan is an understatement. It wasn’t bad, in fact he had some nice moments, but it was confusing to see him out there. For stretches this sub seemed like a defensive way to add another player to clog the midfield.
One thing I liked: Obed was impactful, with nice control in the 90th minute before finding a ball to Nouhou and overloading the box. His run into the middle put him in the mix, and it was a Vargas attempt that bounced out to Rusnák who finished the game-winning shot.
One thing I didn’t like: With only six touches and minimal defensive influence, this position was an odd one for Vargas.
Going forward: Obed shows that little spark nearly every match, but the midfield difference was apparent.
Yeimar – 5 | Community – 6.0 (on 84’ for Chú)
Seattle added their 19th centerback to the field in the 84th minute, and you might think this was as a defensive sub to hold onto a road point. You would be right, except that Seattle scored the game-winner after this sub, so apparently defensive pressure allows offensive freedom.
One thing I liked: In the 88th minute Yeimar reminded the rest of the defense that the incumbent started on the bench, as his 1-v-1 skill forced a throw-in.
One thing I didn’t like: Maybe Seattle was playing for the win, but I doubt it. And if so, why was Yeimar all the way up by the 18 asking Nouhou to cross it to him from midfield at one point?
Going forward: If the Sounders want to play a back nine, they showed it's possible. They even have a +1 gd with it. Can’t fight the facts.
Drew Fischer – 4 | Community – 4.4
This is why the previous match was rated higher than many wanted. Players want consistency, even if that means a more physical match. Instead of the teams learning what was a foul and then being able to play with the knowledge this would be applied throughout, Fischer seemed to check his magic 8 ball before calling anything, allowing some fouls, calling others, dropping the old mustard on a few guys and not others, and generally keeping the entire match under constant suspense over what he would do next. He called 21 fouls and gave each team two yellow cards, while keeping everyone guessing on what silly thing he would do next.
One thing I liked: Ignoring an early Dobbelaere dive in the box and carding Zardes and Jhojan Valencia in an eight minute stretch starting in the 46th minute were good calls.
One thing I didn’t like: The lack of consistency was infuriating. People pulled down on breakaways for one team was a foul, yet a card (or nothing!) for the other team. Hard fouls were simply ignored, but winning a free header was possibly a foul on the person heading the ball. Both teams were penalized and not in seemingly random ways.
Going forward: At least one of the VAR moments would have certainly gone against Seattle on any other day this year, and perhaps all three. Not sure who to credit for that.
Austin FC MOTM
Ah, yes. Another match, another opposing number 10 giving the Sounders grief. Sebastián Driussi seemed to spend the first half hour sussing out the Seattle setup. Once he had, he was involved in a plethora of chances, and ultimately tapped home Austin’s only goal of the match in the 72nd.
Next up: Just beat Portland. At home. For once. Please.