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Felix Chenkam shines in Sounders 2 loss to Rio Grande Valley FC

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Chenkam’s first half performance the stand out as S2’s backline struggled to contain RGV FC.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

In the last month Seattle Sounders FC 2 has been on the losing end of some high scoring matches, but Sunday’s 3-4 loss to Rio Grande Valley FC was particularly painful. While the defense never looked too good, they did improve as the game went on. Despite this, and a 3-1 lead, S2 fell to a fluke goal and a horrendous goalkeeping error.

S2 got the scoring started in the 10’ when Irvin Parra did some great work on the sideline to get free and slide in a cross along the ground. Felix Chenkam was able to get a deft touch on the cross with the outside of his foot and sneak the ball past two RGV FC defenders and the goalie. It was a goal of pure excellence from Parra and Chenkam against the run of play.

After the goal, S2 continued to struggle along the backline. By the time RGV found the equalizer in the 23’ only the other-worldly reflexes of Tyler Miller kept it from being their 3rd goal of the night. When they did even the score it was through some truly awful defending from S2. RGV’s unlisted No. 12 dribbled past Brian Nana-Sinkam, Shandon Hopeau and Lorenzo Ramos (twice(2)) inside the 18. This left the defense completely misshapen and José Escalante sent in his layoff which was headed in at the back post by Kyle Murphy.

Around the 30’ S2 started to pull themselves together defensively. They got more control of the ball and in the 36’ Zach Mathers did some Mathers things to restore S2’s lead.

As the first half wound down, S2 kept up the pressure. In the 42’ Ramos sent in a pretty decent cross towards Francisco Narbón but it didn’t look like it had the pace to create any danger. Faced with little power, Narbón cleverly (luckily???) sent the ball looping over the RVG keeper where it floated and softly landed in the side netting.

With Chenkam just coming back from injury he came out at half and S2 were not the same without him. With the offense gone and the defense continuing to struggle the second half was just... bad.

In the 52’ Jorginho James cut S2’s lead to 1 with a rubber burning rocket from 30 yards out. Then in the 61’ a fluke floated cross/shot from Escalante went over Miller into the upper corner and in the 68’ RGV took the lead when Joseph Holland spotted Miller horribly out of position and sent the ball into an empty net from the endline outside of the 18.

Ultimately, S2 were beaten in the second half by a worldy, a fluke, and a howler, which could mitigate the pain of the loss, but really only increases it.

Lineup

Tyler Miller; Lorenzo Ramos, Brian Nana-Sinkam, Sam Rogers, Christian Koontz; Ray Saari, Francisco Narbon; Zach Mathers, Shandon Hopeau (Henry Wingo HT), Irvin Parra (Javorn Stevens 75'); Felix Chenkam (Guy Serge Edoa HT).

Notable Performers

Felix Chenkam (FWD)

Y’all, I mean, what a half. If you want to see a complete Center Forward performance, watch Chenkam in the first half. He did everything you could ask of him. His hold-up play is fantastic, as good as Nelson Valdez, and his distribution out of hold-up is quick, accurate and smart. Now, can he do it at the MLS level? It is hard to say, but I would bet that he can. He is so strong and so good at creating leverage with his body that I am not sure his ability to get himself between the defender and the ball will suffer a ton as he moves up. I am honestly trying to slow myself down on this hype a bit, but if you are looking for a surprise contributor to the first team next year, a la Nouhou, my money is on Chenkam. But I am serious, even if you haven’t watched an S2 game this year, watch Chenkam in the first half. He was the only reason S2 were able to do anything offensively. He can dribble out of a triple team, he makes dangerous runs once he lays the ball off and his finish on his goal was clever and deft. In my dreams I see him pressing with Nico, and folks, it is good.

Brian Nana-Sinkam and the backline.

With Rodrigue Ele out, the S2 backline has been bad the last few weeks. Some of it is due to missing fullbacks as well, but Ele is the biggest absence. Ele is physical and aggressive. When he is Sam Rogers’ CB partner, he allows Rogers to be the more conservative of the two and that is where Rogers has really thrived. He can read the game very well from a little bit further back and he is very good at reacting to the position of Ele and covering. But with Ele out, Rogers has tried to take up the more aggressive role and it just doesn’t suit him right now. He isn’t great reading the ball in the air yet, so he can get pulled out of position by long goal kicks he doesn’t win. When he tries to body up on a player with the ball a bit further up the field, he can get beat if he misjudges it even a little because he doesn’t have the agility to make small adjustments. None of this is a slag on Rogers—he has a great chance of being a better passing Marshall type once he learns the position, but he doesn’t yet have the strength and he hasn’t figured out how to account for his difficulty changing directions—but rather an illustration of what has been going wrong since Ele has been out.

This game started out much the same way, with Rogers trying to be the more aggressive CB but ending up out of position and beat by quicker players, but then something really impressive happened. Brian Nana-Sinkam seemed to recognize this and took charge of the backline. He became the more aggressive CB, and while he doesn’t have the strength to be as successful at this as Ele, he is quick and smart enough to keep the play in front of him. This allowed Rogers to shift back into his more comfortable, stalk-from-a-distance type of role, and everything sort of started clicking. Nana-Sinkam also became much more vocal and used his experience at right back to help Ramos stay in better positions.

This was long, but it was all to say that I may have underestimated Nana-Sinkam. I haven’t rated him all season, and perhaps ignored some of his improvements as a fullback. But the intelligence and leadership he showed in this match has made the scales fall from my eyes. I can now see him having a Zach Scott type of career in MLS, even as the league improves.

So, while the backline has struggled recently, I still believe we have two of the top CB prospects in USL in Ele and Rogers and now a solid backline flex prospect in Nana-Sinkam.

First Team call up power rankings

  1. Ray Saari (-)
  2. Felix Chenkam (NEW)
  3. Rodrigue Ele (-)
  4. Irvin Parra (↓2)
  5. Sam Rogers (↓1)