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Five things we saw when Sounders beat St. Louis CITY SC

Josh Atencio has arrived, Ruidíaz has returned, and the CBs are set in stone.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

The Seattle Sounders are perched atop the Western Conference through seven games after what proved to be an assertive 3-0 win over St. Louis CITY SC on Saturday. The new expansion side came to town with a new wrinkle to their approach in the hopes of rebounding after a 1-0 loss to Minnesota United, and instead the Sounders showed them what top teams in the league are capable of. Here are five things that we saw in this match:

Moves and counter-moves

After the game, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer discussed how St. Louis coming out in something of a 5-2-3 threw the Sounders off a bit and resulted in some difficulties during the first half. Their pressing front-three and back five limited space for the Sounders attack to operate and cut down the time the midfield and back line had to unlock them. Seattle dominated the ball throughout, but in that first 45 minutes St. Louis generated more shots and had arguably the best look of the half when João Klauss struck the outside of the post from close range in the 16th minute. The xG graph from lays it out pretty clearly.

Seattle Sounders vs. St. Louis CITY SC xG graph

The game shifted dramatically in the second half after assistant coach Freddy Juarez provided some tactical adjustments gleaned from his view of the game from up above. Josh Atencio and Albert Rusnák found a little more room to operate in and Seattle started finding it easier to exploit the space that STL offered them. It was largely one-way traffic after the second half started, and Atencio’s goal only accelerated things for Seattle.

Ragmar? Yeigen?

I accept that those both seem like possibly the names of new Pokemon you’ve never heard about, or maybe characters from Vikings or Game of Thrones or something, and maybe that’s appropriate. Jackson Ragen and Yeimar seem locked into the starting center back spots for good reason, and they’re an absolute monster pairing in front of Stefan Frei. Together they stifled what had been, up until last week, a high-flying attack, forcing Klauss & Co. to largely settle for low-percentage shots and making the more dangerous looks a bit more difficult.

Beyond their defensive contributions, Ragen and Yeimar are important to how the Sounders possess the ball and progress from their defensive third into attack. The two combined to complete 105 passes, had 9 passes into the final third between them, and went 11 for 20 - Ragen went 7/9 - on long balls. They’re a duo that blends size, skill and intelligence into a dangerous concoction for opposing teams, and deserve a fitting monicker.

Raúl Ruidíaz’s return

The questioning and debate over whether Schmetzer should stick with Léo Chú in the Starting XI and keep Jordan Morris up top were made all the more reasonable by some of Raúl Ruidíaz’s recent performances. Coming back from a muscle injury Ruidíaz looked a bit rusty, at best, and while away with Peru he put in a real stinker of a performance against Germany. Coach stuck with what was working, with a clear plan to bring Ruidíaz on at the hour mark.

Chú made way for Ruidíaz in the 60th minute as the game tilted towards Seattle. Ruidíaz may have benefited from the changing circumstances of the match, but in his 30 minutes he looked much more like his old self. He scored his first goal in typical fashion, capitalizing on a ball in the box with the quickest of reactions after Roman Bürki failed to catch a cross. Beyond the goal, Ruidíaz also created two chances and floated around in St. Louis’s half helping to maintain possession and unsettle the defense. His touch was a bit cleaner, and his movement was sharp, and I’d bet that he’ll be starting against the Portland Timbers this weekend and finding his way to the scoresheet yet again.

Spoiled for choice

The Sounders have a lot of good players. Like, a LOT of good players. Late in the game we saw Ruidíaz and Héber on the field together for the first time, as Héber entered for Alex Roldán in the 82nd minute. The two showed that they’re more than capable of sharing the field and combining well as both featured in multiple little exchanges as Seattle played out of pressure around the field. What was maybe most surprising was exactly how the team took shape with both of them out there. With his brother leaving the field, Cristian Roldan dropped to the back line and Héber essentially took up a spot in the band of three in Seattle’s 4-2-3-1. With Héber in the mix along with Lodeiro, Morris and Ruidíaz - and frankly Atencio and Rusnák as well - there was even more fluidity to the front six of the formation than we usually see.

Some of that is certainly a result of the game state and what St. Louis was offering as they pushed to get back in the game, but at any given moment any of those six players could be found through the middle, operating on the wing, or dropping in to pick up the ball. The ability to plug and play so many different players and show teams a completely different look without significantly changing anyone’s role or responsibilities and maintaining an incredibly high level of play was on display in this game, and bodes very well for this team going forward.

Josh Atencio

One of those many players who can seamlessly slot into the lineup is Josh Atencio. After starting alongside João Paulo against Sporting Kansas City and the LA Galaxy, Atencio started in place of the Brazilian midfielder who was rested as a precaution in this game. Since first breaking into the First Team in 2021, Atencio has been sturdy and a solid depth piece with flashes of something even greater here and there. Against St. Louis he was fully that “something even greater” for 90 minutes.

The performance was highlighted by the game-winning goal, a frozen rope into the roof of the net from 20 yards out. There was so much more to Atencio’s Man of the Match game, though. He had 15 recoveries and 4 interceptions, won 2 of 3 tackles and 2 of 3 aerial duels. He had 3 successful dribbles, more than once popping up on the left wing and beating a couple of defenders to get into space; he completed 54 of 66 passes, had 98 touches and 8 passes into the final third. He was immense, and showed just how bright his future could be.

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