Seattle went across the country to play a strong Eastern Conference team last weekend in Nashville. Even missing a handful of starters, the Sounders were clearly the superior team and the only one with a chance to win. Unfortunately, this matchup of the league's best and second-best defenses was a cagey affair, and Seattle was unable to convert their 13-5 shot advantage into anything other than control of “VAR removed goals,” a stat they won handily. The final was 0-0, giving the Sounders their 12th shutout and a valuable road point from a match in which they played very well.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 6.7
Frei got another shutout, his first in quite some time. He needs one more in the last three matches to tie the team record he set in 2017. Stefan was only credited with a single save, and he wasn’t tested for much of the night due to an anemic Nashville attack completely shut down by a strong outing from the Seattle defense.
One thing I liked: In the 25th minute Frei had his lone save, finally again adding to his shutout list.
One thing I didn’t like: There wasn’t a lot for him to do, but a cross in the 94th drifted away, forcing Frei into a nervy catch in traffic.
Going forward: You gotta bring a lot more offensive dynamism against Seattle or you get shut out.
Reed Baker-Whiting - 7 (MOTM) | Community – 7.6 (MOTM)
Reed followed up his last MOTM start with another, possibly even more impressive outing in Nashville. Improving every match, RBW was a force on the left. Defensively stout, offensively dynamic, and tirelessly transitioning between the two: this was a complete performance from a young player growing into his massive upside. Reed had five tackles, nine duels, eight recoveries and two clearances defensively. He had three dribbles and a number of dangerous connections going forward.
One thing I liked: This was a balanced performance, from two stellar defensive plays in the 22nd in his own box to a 58th minute run forward/juke/cross on the other end. Oh, and he trucked another dude in the 73rd, which is becoming a regular thing.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 13th minute, RBW stopped his run, which meant the pass through for him was a turnover. In the 90th minute he had a poor pass. Not much in between!
Going forward: Reed doesn’t tilt the field as extremely in the defensive end as Nouhou, but his balance and upside (especially going forward) beg the question of how much longer that will matter.
Jackson Ragen – 7 | Community – 7.5
Ragen was solid against Nashville. Although he had some errors, he was stout in the back, turning back every attack and transitioning well. His 86 percent passing even included a key pass, as Jackson looked forward with a majority of his passes. He also played a high line as Nashville was content to sit back, and this allowed a more aggressive posture from the Sounders.
One thing I liked: The 45th minute tackle he put on Jacob Shaffelburg didn’t take the winger out of the match, but it stole the soul of the Nashville attack. The home team had only two weak shots after that moment, and the tone was authoritatively set by Ragen’s complete masterclass in laying the lumber on defense.
One thing I didn’t like: Ragen had a number of mistakes that he was lucky to get away with, like not tracking a cross well in the 14th, a terrible pass in the 52nd (albeit after a beautiful central dribble) and getting beaten badly over the top in the 94th by Teal Bunbury.
Going forward: Jackson has struggled with small mobile forwards who get on the ball a lot, and it was nice to see the defense invisible-ize Hany Mukhtar.
Yeimar – 7 | Community – 7.4
Yeimar was again tremendous, and he’s been consistently turning in stellar performances for the entire second half of the season. Time and again against Nashville it was the big Colombian who snuffed out any half chances for the home team before they had a chance to percolate. Three tackles, three interceptions, and a giant seven clearances highlighted how effective he was at denying Nashville any offensive push.
One thing I liked: Yeimar’s defense was fantastic all match, but especially noteworthy was a 24th minute defensive stop. Matched up 1-v-1 with star DP Mukhtar, Yeimar demolished his opponent, dominated the matchup, and set up a night of failure for the guy leading the league in goals.
One thing I didn’t like: A few missed passes and being notably absent at the end of the first half, necessitating heroics from first Cristian Roldan and then Ragen, were the few, minor issues on the night.
Going forward: Yeimar is dominating, especially in the second half of this season.
Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.4
Alex fit seamlessly into the system Seattle wanted to play, and it looked exciting and free-flowing, even though the Sounders struggled to find that final ball. Much of this was again a high xR score as the Roldan brothers combined to find the right balance of offensive push and defensive commitment. Alex had seven recoveries and plenty of offensive connections on the right.
One thing I liked: A 33rd minute shot on goal forced a save and reminded Nashville that Seattle has options from multiple players in the attack.
One thing I didn’t like: The younger Roldan made a few mistakes, such as a 36th minute cross from distributor Héber that was missed, and a 1-v-1 defensive assignment blown in the 47th.
Going forward: Alex is comfortable combining with his brother, and they offer a balance and partnership with which Seattle thrives.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 6.9
JP was the engine for Seattle, leading the Sounders with 87 touches and completing a tidy 89 percent of his passes. As usual, he did a little bit of everything for the away squad, with multiple interceptions and tackles, multiple shots and a key pass as well.
One thing I liked: João made sure to get Reed and Josh Atencio involved early, feeding RBW forward multiple times in the first five minutes, and combining throughout the match smoothly with Atencio. Oh, and he added 10 recoveries as a menace across the middle.
One thing I didn’t like: A few miscommunications led to pointless turnovers, notably an over-the-top 7th minute pass to no one in particular.
Going forward: The difference in the Sounders’ effectiveness when the midfield plays together and combines both offensively and defensively is massive.
Josh Atencio – 7 | Community – 6.7 (off 77’ for Vargas)
Atencio was again fantastic, showing that his skillset is a great fit for the tactical aim of the Seattle Sounders. His ability to press forward and force opponents to be predictable combines wonderfully with JP’s ability to win the ball. While Josh didn’t earn a lot of defensive stats, his range and angles made things easy for teammates. Offensively, he was a consistent vertical threat, and he added two shots of his own to the team’s attempts.
One thing I liked: Atencio shifts the Sounders towards more attacking tactics in a lot of ways. Two obvious ones are his progressive passing, which looks forward and spurs attacks quickly and efficiently; and his counter-pressing angles, which utilize his length and anticipation to create havoc and transition immediately forward. A great example of this came in the Sounders’ goal-scoring sequence, when Josh pressured on the width, won a ball back from the opponents, beat a man via a nutmeg, and found an attacking pass that led to a (removed by VAR) goal.
One thing I didn’t like: He started the match off with a turnover, and had an awful 37th minute pass, which are small, fixable errors that he should be learning from.
Going forward: Atencio unlocks the midfield by creating central thrust both for himself and by releasing teammates, and it's consistently creating opportunities while retaining the defensive presence expected.
Léo Chú – 6 | Community – 5.8 (off 82’ for Rothrock)
Léo started on the left and took a while to figure out the deep-lying block of Nashville. The home side organization and cover made for few opportunities for Chu to get released into space on the left. He had an efficient 40 touches, creating a chance and earning two shots of his own as he consistently probed the defense on his side.
One thing I liked: Chú played within himself, and had an excellent cross in the 16th minute that nearly found the backside run of Cristian Roldan.
One thing I didn’t like: There wasn’t a great connection between Chú and Héber, as Chú consistently looked to stretch the field, and Héber was playing a withdrawn role so their combination play wasn’t optimal.
Going forward: Chú hasn’t combined well with any forward not named Jordan Morris in a while.
Nico Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.2 (off 91’ for Arreaga)
Nico played in the middle and was excellent, understanding his role and finding a way to fit nicely amidst the parts around him. He seemed to stay more central, and to enjoy connecting with Héber, as these two combined well a number of times. This gave a possession advantage as Seattle combined through the middle instead of passing over the top into the defensive block of Nashville. Lodeiro led the team with three shots.
One thing I liked: While not dominating the ball, Lodeiro still had 58 touches and a magical 98 percent completion rate as his accuracy in connecting and possession was amazing.
One thing I didn’t like: Nico was great in passing but not so great at serving the ball from set pieces, as he missed on multiple dead ball options. Perhaps more egregious was a 34th minute shot from the top of the box that was set up perfectly but wasn’t hit on frame.
Going forward: There is a different mentality around Lodeiro lately, as he seems to accept his role and thrives in spot starts or clutch sub appearances.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 6.9
Roldan at times looked like his vintage self, combining with his brother to work intricate passes on the right, defending across the field, making dangerous runs on the backside of plays, and sending in tantalizing service from wide areas. It's no surprise he led Seattle with four key passes, and he added a shot of his own in 51 active touches.
One thing I liked: As much as Cristian was a glue option going forward, it was an incredible hustle play in the 45th minute that saw Roldan chase down a breakaway, force a cutback into freight train Ragen, and save the exact sort of counterattack goal that Seattle has conceded far too many times in the last few years.
One thing I didn’t like: For a while Roldan was nonexistent, failing to make an impact as the offense shaded towards the left and Chú. With possession through the middle-left channels, Cristian wasn’t finding purchase on his wing.
Going forward: Seattle just plays better when Cristian is in the lineup. Maybe it's his runs and balance to the wings, maybe it's his defensive intensity, maybe it's his scoring or assisting, maybe it's a combination of all that and his leadership and intangibles. It's not a coincidence that he improves everyone around him.
Héber – 6 | Community – 5.5 (off 77’ for Montero)
Héber was active and quite unlucky not to have more to show for his 77 minutes on the field. Time and again it was an essential touch from Héber that saved possession, and he pulled many of the offensive strings as a withdrawn forward, splitting playmaking duties through the middle with Lodeiro. This was evidenced by 32 touches, 87 percent passing, a shot, and three key passes in a creative outing.
One thing I liked: Nearly every success that Seattle found offensively went through Héber. Whether it was a flick into Chú forward on the width, combining with Nico to link up, or holding up the ball to drop off to Alex for a near-post blast, things ran through Héber in the center. He nearly scored on a header, then did score seconds later, only to have heartbreak after being denied by both the post and VAR in under a minute.
One thing I didn’t like: Héber seems snakebit in that he’s finding good chances but can’t seem to dial in the final touch that will end up as a goal. One side effect of all his holdup and combination is he is unable to support the verticality that Chú and others want to push.
Going forward: Héber does many little things that seem perfect for the Sounders, but those things aren’t adding up to enough tangible, scoreline-changing statistics.
Obed Vargas – 5 | Community – 5.1 (on 77’ for Atencio)
Obed came into the game with 15 minutes to go and just … existed. He had six touches and an interception.
One thing I liked: Vargas’ 100 percent passing completion meant he didn’t turn the ball over.
One thing I didn’t like: How could he have fewer touches than Montero?
Going forward: Obed seems to be playing to “not mess up,” and he did that well, which maybe was the hope for this appearance. It sure isn’t exciting, but fits with trying to hold on to a road point.
Fredy Montero – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 77’ for Héber)
Fredy came in and brought exactly what Seattle needed, defensive intensity from the front. His desire helped Seattle weather a bit of pressure from Nashville via their own set of subs.
One thing I liked: Montero had multiple massive defensive recoveries, coming back into the defensive third to win possession for Seattle. He combined this with some of the best service in the entire match, with an 87th minute free kick sublime.
One thing I didn’t like: An 80th minute shot was a bit presumptuous and nowhere near connecting.
Going forward: Montero isn’t known for his defense, but he has that veteran's ability to read what the game needs and make smart decisions.
Paul Rothrock – 5 | Community – 5.2 (on 82’ for Chú)
Rothrock came in to spell Chú, who had lost some defensive intensity. Paul brought that, but little else. He did have six touches and 100 percent passing.
One thing I liked: A nice touch in the 86th minute off a sharp pass was classy, and he followed that up with a won free kick moments later.
One thing I didn’t like: A miscommunication with Reed in the 85th lost an opportunity for two guys who should be familiar with each other.
Going forward: Using Rothrock as a defensive sub later in matches makes sense, as he’s a smart, dependable player and a steady presence.
Xavier Arreaga – 5 | Community – 5.4 (on 91’ for Lodeiro)
Human shutout-holder Arreaga came in to hold onto the shutout and, as usual, did that. He only had a single touch.
One thing I liked: Always bringing intensity, it was fun to see Xavi stay forward in the 93rd minute to press the Nashville backline and nearly force a mistake.
One thing I didn’t like: With a five-man backline, there is room to defend in lanes, and Arreaga took that a little far when he aggressively jumped a potential pass that didn’t materialize, momentarily leaving a gap in a more dangerous area.
Going forward: Arreaga has handled his reduced role about as well as hoped, and he has been quietly effective as a late-game stopper.
Chris Penso – 6 | Community – 6.1
Penso was okay in this match, with a few surprising choices but mostly a fairly straightforward, mundane refereeing job. The match wasn’t particularly physical, and only 15 combined fouls were called. Nashville earned all three yellow cards shown, although there were a few moments that could have used extra adjudication.
One thing I liked: An early offsides call was excellent. Mukhtar dove into the box in the 9th minute and was rightfully and completely ignored.
One thing I didn’t like: Some small things were more annoying than anything else, like a questionable handball in the 56th minute, or when JP was fouled in the 79th minute but no yellow card shown.
Going forward: It's a shame that the goal was disallowed, but unfortunately it looked to be the correct call.
Nashville SC MOTM
In a vote that was more divisive than decisive, Nashville right back Shaq Moore comes away with the honors. He had a scrambly play in amongst Nashville’s early flourish of chances, winning a ball back and poking it for Sam Surridge to first-time just wide in the 28th minute. Otherwise, he limited the explosive Chúker-Whiting tandem to minimal impact.
Next up: Winnable games.