The Seattle Sounders went to GEODIS Park to face Nashville SC on Saturday evening, and more than held their own on the road. Seattle head home with a 0-0 draw, keeping their first clean sheet since they beat the Houston Dynamo 1-0 on July 1, a span of 11 matches.
After Nashville controlled much of the play in the first 10 minutes, Seattle did well to wrestle a bit of the game back. They didn’t end up testing goalkeeper Joe Willis much, but they drew a few corners and put the hosts under real pressure as they approached the half-hour mark. With a foothold, the Sounders continued to build into Nashville’s half and started generating real chances. A significant part of the success they seemed to find came as Josh Atencio was used as an active part of the team’s press, at times appearing as one of the farthest forward players when Nashville’s centerbacks or GK had the ball.
Up until the last play of the half, Seattle looked like the much more likely team to score for the last 25 minutes. Nashville did get out on a dangerous looking counter attack, with Reed Baker-Whiting the only Sounder back, Hany Mukhtar on the ball and Jacob Shaffelburg running in behind. Shaffelburg got the ball and was headed straight for goal, but Cristian Roldan made a great recovery run to force him into a cutback to try to create space for his shot, but the move gave Jackson Ragen an opportunity to end the danger with a crucial sliding tackle in the box for the last play of the half.
As much as Seattle were the better team for a good chunk of the first half, in the second half they may as well have been the home team. They outshot Nashville 8-2 in the second half, and appeared to have taken the lead just before the hour mark. However Héber’s 58th minute goal was offside, and was called back after review.
In the end, despite plenty of chances, the game ended scoreless. The shutout is a clear positive for Seattle, who hadn’t kept a cleansheet in 11 games in all competitions coming into this one. The lack of a goal, considering the way the attack was tilted in their favor, is clearly disappointing but not entirely surprising given the absence of the first two choices up top in Jordan Morris (absent due to the birth of his first child, congratulations!) and Raul Ruidiaz who had to pull out due to back pain after warmups. The team’s lack of goals isn’t a new issue, though, and a shutout and a road point – Seattle’s first point taken against Nashville since the team entered the league – is a solid result.
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5’ – Seattle generate some dangerous possession as Reed Baker-Whiting gets into the attack on the right, but the play fizzles as Léo Chú dribbles out of bounds.
16’ — Léo Chú plays a ball between the defenders and GK with Cristian Roldan running on, but the ball is too far ahead for him to reach.
25’ — following a corner Hany Mukhtar drives into the box and cracks a hard shot, but Stefan Frei makes a big save that’s then cleared from danger.
33’ – The Sounders work their way through some pressure after forcing a turnover on the right side, setting up a shot from Alex Roldán that’s saved at the nar post.
33’ – Nico Lodeiro unleashes a curler from the top of the box that forces a dive from Willis, but the shot bends wide of the post.
42’ – Josh Atencio uncorks one from range with no defensive pressure, but the shot is caught by Willis.
45’ – Jacob Shaffelburg gets sprung on a break for Nashville with Cristian Roldan chasing, cuts back to get around him but gives space for Jackson Ragen to make a huge sliding tackle.
57’ – Baker-Whiting shows off some dribbling skills as he evades a couple of Nashville players before playing a low cross for Heber that’s put out for a corner.
58’ – Héber appears to have given Seattle the lead, but after review it’s determined that he was offside on the play.
61’ – Another good look for the Sounders, and Lodeiro puts a shot through a couple of defenders but his effort runs wide of goal.
65’ – Cristian Roldan fires a laser from the top of the box, but his shot back across goal just goes wide of the far post.
83’ – Hany Mukhtar races into the Seattle penalty area with Sounders players on either side of him trying to take the ball, but it’s Baker-Whiting who intervenes and puts it out for a corner.
90’ +5 – Teal Bunbury has a late look after a good ball from Luke Haakenson, but Ragen applies enough pressure to put him off on his shot as it sails out for a goal kick.
Reed Baker-Whiting’s coming into his own: I’m not going to try to convince you that Reed Baker-Whiting is a left back, or that he should be a locked-in starter at either of the fullback spots, but his performance tonight – following his performance at that same LB spot against FC Dallas – provides a sense of the player Baker-Whiting could be. He wasn’t perfect, to be sure. He had three successful dribbles for a 100% success rate, with some impressive plays involved, but also either missed or looked off dangerous runs from players ahead of him and opted to dribble inside where he ran out of options more than once. Where RBW excelled against Nashville was in the defensive part of his game. Baker-Whiting had three successful tackles, eight recoveries, and was a monster in his duels as he kept Nashville’s right side particularly quiet. Most notably RBW was 8 of 9 on ground duels, and had more than a few plays where he forced his man to take the ball over the end line or into a bad cross.
The backline’s back at it: Baker-Whiting wasn’t the only player shining on the back line for Seattle. In the team’s first shutout in almost three months, Seattle limited 2022 MLS MVP Hany Mukhtar to a single shot and zero chances created. Sam Surridge wasn’t much more impactful in his hour of action, and no other member of Nashville’s supporting cast can claim any better, largely thanks to impressive work from the Sounders’ back-four. Nearly every foray forward from the hosts was met by an impenetrable barrier better known as Yeimar and Jackson Ragen. The one time Nashville really got through the Sounders, Cristian Roldan made a lung-busting run to help and ended up creating enough of a delay to Jacob Shaffelburg’s run for Ragen to come plowing in with a slide tackle that stopped the attack in its tracks. If the Sounders defense can play like this in the last three games of the regular season and into the playoffs, Seattle has a much better chance of causing problems for other teams.
Play Josh Atencio and good things happen: Josh Atencio started his second straight game in midfield alongside João Paulo, and while it wouldn’t really be accurate to attribute the road results to his presence, he was a significant factor. While head coach Brian Schmetzer was critical of the angles he takes when pressing following the win over Colorado, at least in the first half he was used in part as the tip of Seattle’s press when Nashville held possession deep in their own half. His athleticism allows him to cover a ton of ground and recover when he does take a poor angle or gives the ball up. That ability to cover ground is huge when the midfield also includes Nico Lodeiro and JP, both of whom roam around a ton but don’t quite have the same ability to cover every inch of the field that they did in previous seasons. Hopefully his strong performances will continue to earn him a place in the starting lineup.
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One stat to tell the tale
1 – The Sounders have now earned 1 point in three meetings with Nashville SC.