The Seattle Sounders welcomed expansion side St. Louis CITY SC to Lumen last weekend and sent them home after a comprehensive 3-0 thrashing. While the first half remained close and the away squad created a few half-chances via their press, CITY tired and were completely picked apart in the second half as the Sounders scored three goals and were close to a few more. Starting a lineup missing both João Paulo and Raúl Ruidíaz, Seattle used strong halftime adjustments and a breakout match from Joshua Atencio to take the top spot in the Western Conference with a dominant victory.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.2
Frei added another clean sheet to his resumé this week, stuffing the highest scoring offense in the league. He’s now — after game 7 — 90 percent toward his shutout total from last season. With a strong defense in front of him, Stefan controlled the match from the back and didn’t take any unnecessary chances against the press.
One thing I liked: A comprehensive defensive effort across the entire team meant less work for Frei, and he did well to cleanly control both of his saves on the evening. This let him be a calm outlet when needed, and his decision making on distribution was excellent.
One thing I didn’t like: An early pass to Yeimar was an adventure, requiring quick adjustment and a pivot to more direct play.
Going forward: The dream of 31 MLS shutouts is alive.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 7.5
Nouhou returned to the starting lineup and was his defensive dynamo self, locking down his side of the field for most of the match. He had a massive 96 touches as the opponent filtered pressure over to his side often, and the left back handled it well. Eighty percent passing was added to four tackles and five clearances.
One thing I liked: Playing within himself, this was an excellent match to show the growth and maturity of Nouhou’s game. On multiple occasions he took a line-breaking dribble to the center to bypass the first line of St. Louis’ press, and then distributed cleanly to teammates.
One thing I didn’t like: On St. Louis’ best chance of the night, Nouhou was nowhere to be found, and the away team took advantage of the space in behind for an eventual chance that hit the outside of the post.
Going forward: Nouhou reminded everyone what a lock down left back looks like, and his growth in controlled distribution is notable.
Jackson Ragen – 8 | Community – 7.5
Ragen had a tremendous match, shutting down the previous number-two scorer in the league, João Klauss, limiting the forward to two shots on the night. While erasing Klauss, Ragen managed 80 touches, 94 percent passing, four tackles, three interceptions, and five clearances. Offensively, Jackson pressured St. Louis into an own goal that he likely would have scored himself.
One thing I liked: Time and again, Ragen stepped forward under control to distribute through the lines, annihilating the St. Louis press attempts, and this recognition to use the dribble and not just look for long switches was smart.
One thing I didn’t like: Ragen deserved a goal for his great positioning and play on an 88th minute corner kick, and was denied when Jake Nerwinski rudely stole it from him.
Going forward: The control that Jackson Ragen shows on the field is nearly perfect, and he consistently shows excellent decision making, flawless positioning, and impeccable defense.
Yeimar – 7 | Community – 7.4
Yeimar combined beautifully with Ragen in this match, moving across in unison and finding new angles to possess forward. He had 74 touches and eight important recoveries to highlight a strong defensive outing with a sprinkling of improved passing.
One thing I liked: Not known for his fancy distribution, surprisingly, it was Yeimar who dropped a dime over the shoulder of Alex Roldan in the 71st minute that even Geno Smith would be impressed with. Six touches later it was in the net for the second Sounders goal.
One thing I didn’t like: On St. Louis’ best offensive opportunity in the 16th minute, Yeimar was caught in no man’s land watching Ragen guard a wide player, and he was a moment slow to react as Klauss cut in behind him, requiring backside defensive help.
Going forward: Neither Yeimar nor Nouhou have been known for their passing, but both are showing improved instincts moving the ball forward with the dribble and are distributing well, both incredibly valuable traits from an already strong passing back four.
Alex Roldan – 7 | Community – 6.8 (off 82’ for Héber)
Alex had a strong outing, first defending well and navigating the first half press and then opening up more in the second half, getting forward and combining with his brother in front of him. His fantastic touch and alert cross into danger forced the second goal.
One thing I liked: In the 16th minute, after St. Louis sprung a long ball down their right, in behind Nouhou forcing Ragen and Yeimar over to cover, it was the ever-alert Alex Roldan who recognized the defensive shape necessary and pulled inside to help defend Klauss. When the forward got a contested ball in the box, Roldan was there to force a wide shot.
One thing I didn’t like: Alex caught some of the Roldan physical play bug, as he nearly had his ankle broken in the 8th minute on a play that didn’t even garner a whistle.
Going forward: If the go-to substitution pattern is Héber for Roldan in the 82nd minute up 2-0, sign me up.
Joshua Atencio – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.6 (MOTM) (off 90’ for Vargas)
Atencio was the entire package: smooth dribbles, controlled possession, pinpoint passing, and accurate shots, the first of which came in the 14th minute. He ended with three shots, a key pass, 82 percent on a team-high 98 touches, three tackles, four interceptions, a clearance, FIFTEEN recoveries, oh, and the game-winning goal. Every time the ball was near him it stuck to his foot, as Josh showed off his exquisite touch and made great decisions again and again. He knew exactly when to play short, when to go long, and when to glide past the defense and open space via the dribble. He was fantastic.
One thing I liked: Atencio started his goal sequence off with a long switching ball that opened up the field and allowed some Roldanery to maximize the space and find Nico Lodeiro. Not content to watch his handiwork from afar, Josh followed up into the space created. Most critically, as Nico found him, Atencio got his feet right, actually stepping back to then push forward momentum and stay over the ball, striking a fantastic blast that froze the keeper and opened the scoring.
One thing I didn’t like: Josh forgot his homies, needing a forceful push from Nouhou to realize and run over to the younger/sub players and celebrate his goal with his fellow “youts.”
Going forward: After playing well next to Gustav Svensson a few years ago, Atencio has battled injuries and competition for playing time. This was the second-best outing I have seen from him, and there is every reason to think this performance is repeatable.
Albert Rusnák – 7 | Community – 6.9
Two shots, two key passes, 84 percent passing on the stat sheet for Albert, but the majority of his best play won’t show in numbers. Rusnák’s ability to deal with pressure and combine with Atencio was excellent, and he continually pushed the ball forward to Lodeiro or wide to the wingers quick enough to bypass the press. Albert ended with six recoveries.
One thing I liked: It was essential for the midfield to play composed when presented with the frenetic press of CITY, and the key to Seattle’s success was the calm and precise play of Rusnák. The Sounders were able to play through the middle due to Albatross’ ability to control in traffic, turn to space, and distribute cleanly. He was the pressure release valve for much of the match.
One thing I didn’t like: A 38th minute left-footed shot from outside the box forced a save, and at some point one of these has to go in for a player who is making good choices, but failing to execute — he seems snakebitten when it comes to scoring (or being barely offside on beautiful assisting movement).
Going forward: Seattle is nearly impossible to successfully press when they have Rusnák, João, Lodeiro (and now Atencio) in the center of the field. This both alleviates much of the defensive pressure from opponents, and creates opportunities forward.
Léo Chú – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 61’ for Ruidíaz)
Léo Chú didn’t have as much of an impact in this match as the previous two, as Seattle spent a lot of effort dealing with the press and wasn’t able to spring Chú into forward positions with consistency. With no key passes and very few defensive actions, there were opportunities for Léo to be more involved in the match. Especially on the defensive end, he didn’t contribute as much as necessary before being subbed.
One thing I liked: Even without being put into dangerous attacking areas, this match showcased a Chú who played within himself. He put his one shot on frame and converted 88 percent of his passes, willingly playing his role.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 44th minute, Nouhou had a beautiful over-the-top ball that put Chú in behind and all of Lumen was ready for the Chorris connection to once again develop on the left. Morris did his part, but this time it was a weak shot instead of the expected cross to the far post, and St. Louis easily covered.
Going forward: Léo Chú isn’t a fluke and his play gives incredible versatility to the Sounders offense. As a role player, his unique wide play offers a different look that may better fit as a second half addition or road match tactical move.
Nico Lodeiro – 8 | Community – 7.4
Lodeiro was everywhere. He had multiple shots and key passes, including multiple assisting balls as he popped up in dangerous areas in support of teammates’ runs in order to play link-up man. With 87 touches, Nico saw a lot of the ball, and he did well to combine cleanly with teammates, not settling for crosses but instead working intricate balls through the middle and setting up scoring plays.
One thing I liked: For all that he did offensively to create for teammates (including an assist on the first goal and secondary assists on the second and third), and in possession (87 touches), it was Nico’s commitment to defense that stood out. He repeatedly dropped into the defensive third to support the backline, and his three tackles and three interceptions showed an incredible defensive presence.
One thing I didn’t like: The captain went to celebrate with fans instead of hugging Atencio. Rude.
Going forward: Again, Lodeiro only shows up in the final boxscore with a single assist, but he was instrumental in the necessary work on and off the ball, which is integral to the Sounders success. Nico has settled into an impactful role this season that is unlike previous ones.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.0
Cristian returned to the right wing and heated up in the second half. Combining nearly flawlessly with his brother and the omnipresent Lodeiro, Roldan surged up the right wing many times to find areas to cross into the box or combine through on goal.
One thing I liked: Usually content to flick on the near post header from corner kicks, in the 23rd minute Cristian mixed it up and shot near post, almost beating the keeper. This was part of a masterful job by Roldan of taking what the opponent gave him. He consistently made the right choice to pass, dribble, or in this case, shoot.
One thing I didn’t like: In the first half there was a lack of Roldanery as Cristian and Alex took a while to get on the same page. It was noticeable because there are rarely chemistry issues on the right.
Going forward: With an embarrassment of riches at the defensive midfield position, it’s likely that right winger with late game tactical switches to a hybrid fullback is in the lineup card for Roldan. His backheel opened up the field for the first goal, and he does so much right so often, no matter where he plays.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 7.0
MLS scoring leader Jordan Morris was held off the scoresheet by an offside infraction and a team that spent so much time marking him that other teammates scored easily. With 26 touches, Morris did a lot of his work off the ball, but St. Louis should be credited for defending Jordan’s verticality well in the first half.
One thing I liked: Jordan consistently did the right thing, and that bodes well for the future. His runs created the best chances in the first half, he was thwarted by Ruidíaz and Rusnák (scoring and offsides) on two chances that were goals, he had an assist denied by Owen Goal, and moving back to the wing did little to lessen his impact.
One thing I didn’t like: Although Seattle had a lot of the ball, in the first half Morris struggled to find it, making strong vertical runs but not finding space and the ball. He ended up only completing 50 percent of his passes while not displaying the quality holdup desired.
Going forward: Seattle was already on the front foot when he moved back to the wing, but Morris and the team were immediately impactful with this move. Getting a more comfortable forward to hold up while retaining Jordan’s field-stretching ability from the wing may be warranted.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 7.2 (on 61’ for Chú)
Raúl dropped into the center forward position and was dynamic, supporting the team with holdup and back-to-the-goal play as well as making darting vertical runs.
One thing I liked: Ruidíaz has a nose for the goal, and when a cross bounced around the area in the 71st minute it was a perfectly positioned Raúl who fought off a strong challenge from Jordan Morris and poked it home for his first goal of the season.
One thing I didn’t like: No celebration after his goal was likely due to being frustrated with his health so far this year, but we love a Ruidíaz smile.
Going forward: Scoring and being as dangerous as he has been in limited minutes so far this season forces a tough decision from Coach Schmetzer.
Héber – 5 | Community – 6.3 (on 82’ for Alex Roldan)
Héber returned from injury and looked fantastic, immediately reminding everyone how much he can add in build up play. The Brazilian played centrally, with Nico moving wide and Héber slotting into a playmaker role in the middle.
One thing I liked: Starting wide and dropping into the channel to hold the ball in the 94th minute before turning and lifting a great switch to Cristian Roldan, Héber then hustled to the far post and was a great option should Seattle not have scored near post (offside).
One thing I didn’t like: There was at least one point with all those attacking options on the field when Héber was a little redundant on his runs, overlapping with Morris, but at this point I am just nitpicking a guy who had 100 percent passing on his 10 touches.
Going forward: I am not sure what position Héber was playing, but the CAM/withdrawn center forward look he gave when on the field was intriguing, and it looked to be an absolute matchup nightmare for the opposing defense.
Obed Vargas – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 90’ for Atencio)
Vargas came into a won match and got to stretch his legs a bit.
One thing I liked: I love Obed, but his best moment in this match was allowing the incredible Atencio a much-deserved ovation.
One thing I didn’t like: He completed only two of his three passes.
Going forward: As far as the young defensive midfielder debate goes, Atencio has thrown down the gauntlet.
Rubiel Vazquez – 5 | Community – 5.5
Presented with two top teams and a ton of pressing from both, it’s surprising that only 16 total fouls were called and three yellow cards handed out. Starting out strong, this referee crew faded faster than the St. Louis press in the second half, leaving many to question a multitude of missed calls.
One thing I liked: Giving a 6th minute yellow card is almost unheard of for a common obstruction foul, but it was 100 percent the right call. It gave us short-lived hope that the game would be adjudicated firmly and fairly off the bat.
One thing I didn’t like: This game was way too physical for the number of fouls given, and the center ref and VAR flat out missed an 8th minute red card foul. Numerous other hard challenges were ignored, especially from tiring St. Louis midfielders in the second half, as players started to ramp up the physicality to offset Seattle’s midfield dominance.
Going forward: This match will be more remembered for the opportunity lost, as it wasn’t a completely terrible refereeing job, but many chances were missed to improve the match.
St. Louis City SC MOTM
João Klauss easily walks away with this MOTM award. He was several whiskers wide of providing a very different game state in the 16th minute, and continued to throw tricky situations at the Sounders, whether he was in possession, working off-ball, or leading CITY’s vaunted (but quickly fading) press.
Next up: Seattle is one of the best teams in the league and Portland one of the worst. So of course this weekend will be a war.