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Realio’s Ratings: Road loss to runners-up as 2024 kicks off

Captain Cristian unable to spur makeshift lineup to road result.

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17 min read
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY

Seattle opened 2024 with a game against LAFC that answered some questions, but perhaps asked many more. Starting the season on the road against the team that represented the west in MLS Cup last year was a heavy lift, and while Seattle showed some positive play, they weren’t good enough to earn points. The 2-1 loss was impacted by the absence of upwards of five starters, so a plethora of backups in the lineup, plus a new formation. The tactical change didn’t quite work at times, as LAFC, who wanted to counter quickly, was allowed to do just that. On the flip side, the Sounders were able to dominate in spurts, creating as many big chances as their opponent, but failing to find that little bit of quality in key moments on both sides of the ball. The Sounders’ usual cohesion was intermittent, and this disappointing outing had pivotal moments likely resulting from a lack of familiarity with the tactics and personnel. Still, a team as deep and proud as Seattle no doubt returned home feeling points were dropped and an opportunity was missed. 


Andrew Thomas – 6 | Community – 6.0

Getting his first start as a professional Sounder on the road against LAFC was a big ask, but Thomas acquitted himself well. Never looking out of place or nervous, Seattle’s backup keeper was a solid addition to the gameday lineup. One of the team's standout players based on mostly unfamiliarity, Andrew was given a chance to show he deserved to be the next man up, and he did what he needed to do. 

One thing I liked: Definite highlights were Andrew’s quality footwork and distribution. Whether from booming punts or clean passing around the back, he served as a willing and able outlet. His confidence with the ball at his feet and decision making were impressive and an upgrade to what Seattle usually works with. 

One thing I didn’t like: In the 17th minute, Thomas came out and did just enough on a breakaway chance to prevent Denis Bouanga from having an open look, but he needed Nathan and Jackson Ragen to cover an entirely open goal. He was beaten a number of times and needed help from the woodwork.

Going forward: It was time for Stefan Cleveland to move on (although we will see him this weekend), and Thomas showed there is no dropoff in the Seattle goalkeeping pipeline. Should Stefan Frei remain out for any period of time, nothing in this outing should lead to feelings of dread. Of course, Frei is still the better keeper, but shoutout to Tommy Dutra and his staff at identifying, cultivating, and continuing the line of quality goaltenders in Seattle. Thomas looks like a quality player who can step in as needed. 


Nouhou – 5 | Community – 4.9

One tackle, three interceptions, and a clearance highlighted an uneven match for the Sounders left back who was often left to his own devices as the team shifted to the opposite side of the field. At times, Nouhou was stellar defensively, using his speed to offset the shifting team and recovering well to force the LAFC attack to focus on the other side. A struggle to defend the backside of the play, however, was evident in multiple chances and ultimately on the first goal. When not asked to play straight up on his side, Nouhou struggled to find the optimal positioning and defensive structure when combining with Obed Vargas and Léo Chú. 

One thing I liked: Multiple times early in the match, Nouhou covered across a back line that was out of shape, and he played much of the game on an island in between a central Ragen and an advanced Chú. At times his speed was able to traverse the gaps that popped up through the middle as well. He held his space well, forcing the majority of LAFC shots to come from the opposite side. 

One thing I didn’t like: There is no excuse for the defending on LAFC’s first goal, where after a transition Nouhou was in a solid position holding a defensive line but redundant with Ragen. Compounding this was Jackson clearly gesticulating for Nouhou to push up and mark Mateusz Bogusz. While Bogusz didn’t score, had Nouhou been marking him there was a better chance to challenge the eventual goalscorer, Timothy Tillman, who was a few yards trailing. Marking space inside the six-yard box wasn’t a good look, no matter how many times he has blocked shots doing this. His connection defensively with Chú and Vargas remains problematic in spurts. 

Going forward: It was immediately apparent that Pedro De La Vega is very inverted, and while Nouhou accurately understood the space created on the wing due to PDLV’s movement inside, he was ill-fitted to utilize it. Returning incumbent starters may fix this issue, but asking replacements to understand the tactical hand-holding needed to limit Nouhou taking this space was too much of an ask against a team like LAFC. Lacking a true center midfield to support this space and not intending Nouhou to be a wingback (he was deployed essentially as a third center back last weekend), Seattle has some tactics to address if this wing pairing happens again. 

Jackson Ragen – 7 | Community – 6.3

Ragen was okay, surrounded by every new piece on the field and working with multiple iterations of backline partners. He led Seattle in touches as they held a lot of non-threatening possession in the back through Jackson’s clean passing (93 percent completion). With LAFC not interested in possession, most of these passes were around the back, (luckily not quite Magnet of Skull status) mainly to the single-named players around him. His steady play lacked any highlight transition moments other than a single aggressive dribble, and Seattle ended up in stilted tiers of back and front, with Jackson doing much of the possession for the former group. 

One thing I liked: His 1-v-1 defense in the 3rd, 34th, and 85th minutes showed how complete his game is now. The ability to effortlessly cover for teammates and turn big opponent chances into afterthoughts is now part of his game, and expected. Also impressive was sliding to the right when Xavier Arreaga entered, and combining near-flawlessly with another iteration of defensive personnel and positioning. This pairing at times looked better than the starters. 

One thing I didn’t like: It is clearly Jackson’s defense now, and he must both demand that those around him play to his standards, and enforce it. Too often in the first half Nathan was well behind Jackson’s line, even as they dropped into a three center back formation. Arreaga acquitted himself well in that leadership role and Ragen can (and should) demand similar. 

Going forward: Ragen needs to be the leader of this defense. While Yeimar may be slightly “better” overall, the leadership from the middle and structure should come from Ragen. His stability allows the others around him to float and attack and be aggressive. Jackson is no longer fighting for a spot but is an everyday incumbent, in line for league-wide defensive honors. He needs to show he can be the one people look to during the game for direction. There was an opportunity missed to get to halftime at zeroes. 

Nathan – 6 | Community – 6.2 (off 64’ for Arreaga)

Nathan had an “obvious” match, in that he did many things that were apparent on the screen. Much of it was good. He had a number of essential interventions, and he ended with two tackles and a massive eight clearances in his 64-minute introduction to Sounders play. Some of his big defensive plays were created by his own mistakes, however, as some costly errors forced him into crucial interventions. His 93 percent passing was excellent. 

One thing I liked: We are spoiled as Sounders fans when the backups are at the level of Nathan, who played well in his first match. His 16th minute clearance was excellent, and an even bigger one came just seconds later: Nathan didn’t quit on the play and was able to recover and clear off the line after Bouanga rounded keeper Thomas and shot toward a previously empty net. 

One thing I didn’t like: Sloppy play and sloppy positioning were why Nathan had to do as much work as he did, often putting himself and teammates in undesirable positions, forcing a bailout. His clear off the line, for example, came as his positioning was behind Ragen, denying an offside trap and allowing LAFC to pierce right through the center for a big chance. This positioning was a problem, with Nathan not consistently combining well with Ragen, Alex Roldan, or the defensive midfielders. 

Going forward: Nathan showed that he belongs at the MLS level, and in his first outing looked solid. While unfair to directly compare him to Yeimar, the defense on the right had a noticeable lack of cohesion and speed that we have become accustomed to. That said, the depth Nathan brings is outstanding and should only improve as he grows more familiar with teammates this season. 

Alex Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.4 (off 58’ for Baker)

I’m not sure how much Alex trained this spring, but he struggled against LAFC. With Seattle for the most part playing three center backs, Alex’s position was tactically very high. He was tasked with being much of the driving attacking force for the Sounders, yet he struggled to have any positive impact going forward. One shot, one key pass, and 81 percent completion rate is okay, but well below what was expected with the options around him. His sloppy play on both ends of the field were a lowlight, and Alex looked ill-prepared for the start of the season. 

One thing I liked: He was able to push high as the Sounders shape overloaded the right, and on a number of occasions he got into smart attacking areas which pulled LAFC away from the Seattle goal. 

One thing I didn’t like: Alex was not asked to do much defending (a single block, a single clearance) yet he didn’t show up on the offense. He had poor touches both defensively and in the attacking third, including at least two bad clearances recycled by LAFC for additional chances, one of which was saved by the post. Tasked with set piece service, Roldan offered no upgrade to what was dismal output from those opportunities last season. 

Going forward: This performance didn’t cover Alex with any glory. Although much conversation discussed inadequacies on the other side of the field, there is vast room for improvement on the Seattle attacking right. One key that must be reintroduced is midfield balance that allows Roldanery to flourish with better spacing and options. 

Defensive Midfield

Obed Vargas – 5 | Community – 5.1

Against LAFC, Obed was largely absent from the middle of the field, and his combination with Josh Atencio was lacking. He had 58 touches and a clean 92 percent passing rate, contributing a shot and a key pass. His three tackles highlighted a defensive effort that was largely reactionary through the middle. Again his play was slow, steady, and safe, lacking some of the attacking angles and urgency that were desperately needed in the middle. 

One thing I liked: Vargas did a good job covering ground and hustled to cover what ended up being an open midfield. He nearly found Jordan Morris in the 42nd on one of his few forward passing attempts. A bit of beauty was displayed in the 77th minute as he dummied perfectly to open up a Sounders shot. 

One thing I didn’t like: Obed chasing opponents on defense is an all-too-familiar sight, and one we saw frequently against LAFC. He worked hard to recover on the first LAFC goal, but then was completely skinned and allowed the space and cross for LAFC to score. Vargas still doesn’t look like he wants the ball. 

Going forward: Much of the same play from last season was in evidence, with Obed forcing the ball to teammates instead of asserting himself or attacking space on the dribble. His defensive positioning looked improved, but in partnering with Atencio, neither did a good job promoting the others’ strengths, and the team needs to establish more of a central identity when these two are the midfield pair. 

Josh Atencio – 6 | Community – 5.9

The Atencio-Vargas pairing was only partially effective. There was much lacking from Seattle’s usual central control, no doubt due to missing some elite players. Josh had high and low points, and ended with the second-most (79) touches, bolstering his stats with two shots and two key passes offensively, and four tackles on the defensive end. 

One thing I liked: A nice direct forward pass to Morris in the 9th minute was one of the few times anyone looked to put Jordan into space. Josh’s footwork in the 41st minute was quality, and it allowed him to navigate multiple opponents. 

One thing I didn’t like: One error for Josh was not effectively stepping to Bogusz on his 55th minute goal, a pattern that LAFC victimized on both scores. Perhaps more important was the lack of cohesion in the middle, as Seattle was unable to release Josh to combine with the Roldan brothers or find his devastating vertical runs with any consistency. His decision making against LAFC was very sporadic.

Going forward: Seattle tried to play with two forwards and didn’t appear to have the central midfield presence to make it work, at least in this iteration. While anyone is better when paired with João Paulo, Josh was caught multiple times in two minds on where to be positionally, and there needs to be more cohesion through the center if Seattle wants to compete with teams on LAFC’s level. 

Attacking Midfield

Léo Chú – 5 | Community – 4.9 (off 64’ for De La Vega)

Chú started on the left and looked ill-fitted for the two-striker tactical setup, at least with the personnel around him. A quiet 63-minute outing had only 38 touches, resulting in a single shot and zero key passes. What is even more alarming was Chú only had two attempted crosses in the entire match, almost completely absent from the attack. With the team unbalanced around him, Seattle struggled to find Léo in spots where he could cook, and the oven was cold. 

One thing I liked: Early on Chú showed some life, earning a 13th minute free kick attacking directly. He had a nice 40th minute attempt with his right foot. Surprisingly, Léo contributed four tackles, mostly in pressing positions as Seattle had some slight success pressing hard early. 

One thing I didn’t like: Léo wasn’t part of the offense that desperately needed someone to attack the opponent, take the space on the wing, and stretch the defense. Even though LAFC had him covered at times, it was disheartening to see the complete lack of offensive ideas resulting in tame drop passes and negative play from someone who needed to bring balance to the formation. 

Going forward: There often wasn’t much space for Chú on the wings, and when there was, Seattle didn’t use it effectively. This led to stagnant play for Léo who was ultimately ineffective. Lacking a central combiner, Seattle cannot rely on Nouhou or Nathan to be the only people who can release Chú into space. 

Cristian Roldan – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 6.0

Cristian was quiet and largely ineffective for much of the match against LAFC, struggling in the formation to find his normal space and not able to release down the wing as we are used to seeing. Still, he led the team with four key passes, was 3/4 on crosses, and added a shot during his 58 touches. 

One thing I liked: Cristian has been the only player who consistently releases Jordan Morris, and this was true again against LAFC. An early 3rd minute pass opened up an angled shot for Morris, and more importantly his brilliant 69th minute through ball put Jordan in to win the PK that brought Seattle back within reach of a positive result. 

One thing I didn’t like: This was a big chance for Roldan to step up and show his leadership capability, and while he tried (and was laughably given a card for it), he didn’t succeed. There were big moments where leadership was clearly lacking and the organization and communication from Seattle broke down, resulting in LAFC opportunity. This won't be the last chance Cristian has to exert his will on not just the opponents, but his own team. 

Going forward: The position Cristian took was largely in the channel inside the wing, ostensibly to allow Alex to overlap and Morris to run diagonally, but there were countless times where a gap was created centrally begging Cristian to take it, and the team needs to address how to get Roldan in those spots. It is from this area that he found Morris for the goal creation. 


Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 5.3 (off 58’ for Musovski) 

Ruidíaz worked hard in a hybrid attacking mid/false nine sort of role where he was tucking inside centrally and attempting to emulate some of the playmaking required of the Sounders attacking central midfielder. He had 38 touches, and a sparkling 100 percent completion rate, consistently keeping possession and finding teammates. He also put three of his team-high five shots on goal. 

One thing I liked: Dropping into the left midfield saw Raúl with his back to goal, and he brought energy to a role that’s not best suited to his skill set. Early on he was the playmaker, creating in the 4th and 13th minutes, both for himself and teammates. He managed to find a lot of speculative shots, and was a willing worker to press. 

One thing I didn’t like: After the first flurry of activity, Raúl’s influence waned. He was unable to duplicate the creative movement needed centrally, and he didn’t have the connectivity to the midfield or Morris that was necessary to unlock the defense. 

Going forward: Raúl needs to be on the end of the passes he was finding for other people, and without consistent creation from the right and almost nothing from the left, both Ruidíaz and Morris were wasted as attacking options. The two-forward formation can likely still work, but it needs vast tactical changes to be more effective than it was. 

Jordan Morris – 6 | Community – 5.6

Morris was completely starved of the ball, playing 90 minutes and only having 18 touches (half of what Raúl got). Still, he turned these few opportunities into big offensive chances, ultimately creating the lone Seattle goal. Pushed high and to the right to make as much space as possible for Ruidíaz in the first half, Jordan struggled to find any space against an LAFC team clearly happy to sit back and release attacks without dominating possession. 

One thing I liked: Jordan continued to produce chances, and he got into a good spot in the first five minutes for a shot he didn't place well. His 41st minute run was excellent, and in the 69th minute he broke the defense apart with a smart vertical burst to get on the end of a brilliant Cristian Roldan through ball. He earned a penalty on this play, forcing the defense to react to his movement and foul him in the box. 

One thing I didn’t like: Adding another forward cut more space from Morris, and he struggled to find the ball. When he did get it, good things happened, but especially in the second half his runs were dreadfully redundant. While his teammates deserve blame for not finding him on some of his excellent movement, there were other times when he wasted opportunity with incoherent spacing. 

Going forward: Creating multiple big chances as well as a penalty kick is a strong body of work on limited touches, but Jordan has to start connecting with someone other than Cristian Roldan. 


Danny Musovski – 4 | Community – 5.0 (on 58’ for Ruidíaz)

Musovski came on, likely a bit earlier than expected, as Raúl picked up a knock. He was utterly uninspiring in his 30 minutes on the field, struggling to connect with anyone. Apparently he had five touches, which is about four more than it seemed from a guy who played a half hour and was nonexistent. 

One thing I liked: He had a long shot, and 100 percent completion on his single attempted pass. In 30 minutes. 

One thing I didn’t like: Danny largely made redundant runs behind Morris and didn't touch the ball or create for himself or anyone else throughout his 30 minutes on the field. 

Going forward: People saying Musovski looked to be starter material prior to this outing were just shown 30 minutes why he may have been available. There is still much hope and expectation that he can add to the team, but this first outing was a stinker. 

Cody Baker – 5 | Community – 5.4 (on 58’ for A.Roldan)

Baker entered on the right, replacing a very ineffective Alex Roldan, directly after Seattle conceded a second goal. He was part of a tactical change that formalized some of the way Sounders were positioned prior to his inclusion. Asked to be a shuttler on the right, Cody had a tackle, two interceptions, and a clearance paired with 84 percent passing. 

One thing I liked: Immediate 1-v-1 defense on Omar Campos was excellent, and he again showed strong defensive work in the 96th minute. 

One thing I didn’t like: In the 83rd minute Baker had an open cross and instead turned the ball over, and did similar in the 85th. His passing and creation were not strong enough for a team that put him in position to make an impact on the offensive end. 

Going forward: Cody showed he has some solid two-way play in him but shouldn’t be expected to be a service provider similar to some others on the roster. 

Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 5.9 (on 64’ for Nathan)

Arreaga subbed in for Nathan and was an upgrade to the defensive shape, instantly taking charge centrally and pushing Ragen and Nouhou in front of him on either side. His command and assertiveness was excellent, organizing Seattle in the back. 

One thing I liked: The leadership and direction he gave others was good, as were some of his usual strong tackles and defensive interventions. Xavier had three tackles and two interceptions in his time on the field. 

One thing I didn’t like: Too nonchalant on a number of occasions, Arreaga gave the ball away a few times, dribbling or passing across the field in dangerous areas. There is a fine line between composure and craziness, and it's often defined on where the ball ends up after the play. He took some unnecessary risks in the back. 

Going forward: Arreaga did nothing to lower his trade value, if that is indeed the direction Seattle is looking at with him. He truly looks like a finished product, and the things he does well (organization, physical play) and struggles with (unnecessary risk taking, some poor decision making) are generally the same as they have been his whole career. 

Pedro De La Vega – 7 | Community – 7.4 (MOTM) (on 64’ for Chú)

Welcome to Seattle, Pedro. What a fantastic introduction to the league for PDLV, who showed intent, skill, and production in his substitute appearance in LA. A willing runner, at times he looked to be playing at a different speed than those around him (granted it was against tired legs), and he showed dynamic movement and skills that you want from a player of his caliber. Directly influencing the attack, Pedro had an influential 21 touches, including a shot, and he confidently stepped up to take and convert the penalty. 

One thing I liked: PDLV wanted the ball, and was willing to float anywhere on the field to get it. This meant he dropped deep for touches, moved central, and was able to get there with the dribble or with dynamic off-ball movement. His energy and drive were incredibly exciting, as there are few people in this league (Riqui Puig?) who are willing and able to directly drive through the defense with the ball strapped to their foot. 

One thing I didn’t like: The connection with teammates wasn’t there yet, and his 67 percent passing was largely due to trying stuff that either Sounders weren’t ready for or he failed to execute. I am all for him taking penalties if he is the guy, but that take wasn’t particularly impressive. 

Going forward: This was everything you could want from a DP signing in their first outing. PDLV has incredible upside and his ability to create on his own with the ball is something that is hard to come by in MLS. Figuring out how to leverage this skill with those around him will be a big ask. The answer, until Seattle can get their tactical band-aids (JP and Albert Rusnák) back, may be just starting PDLV central and letting that man cook. 


Wesley Costa – 3 | Community – 3.7

It's hard to rationally rate the referees, especially this early in the year and with new faces as the referee situation gets figured out. That being said, this was absolutely infuriating officiating, with a complete lack of any referee control. The number of non-whistles, fouls without associated cards, and missed calls was appalling. It was an incredibly uneven match, with ultimately everyone losing due to the lack of cohesive control through the refereeing staff. 

One thing I liked: Yes, Costa and VAR got the penalty right, which was obvious within about five seconds of the replay. Did it somehow take TWENTY FOUR REPLAYS TO COME TO THAT CONCLUSION? Unfortunately, also yes. 

One thing I didn’t like: The ref was bad. The number of poor calls, missed advantages, dangerous play, etc., was ridiculous. The most perplexing part was that somehow LAFC had 16 fouls called against them before being issued a yellow card. Of course a “dissent” call against captain Cristian Roldan was the first card of the match. Many calls went un-whistled, but even more mind-boggling was seeing repeated fouls get called with zero cards shown, even after egregious contact, professional fouls, or deliberate foul play. This benefitted the team willing to commit 17 fouls and sit back without being penalized for it more than the team that had five total fouls all match.

Going forward: Just pay the real guys. They aren't always great but this was a travesty. 


Bouanga was his usual constant threat, and depending on who you ask, could have had about seven goals in this one. Instead, he had the 17th minute cleared-off-the-line attempt, his first touch of the crossbar in the 23rd, a 25th minute attempt that was searching for the far corner, his second bar-ball in the 47th, and finally, his assist on what would end up being the match-winner. So yeah, he was active.

Next up: Austin comes to Seattle as the only team who lost at home last week.