In a year full of record-breaking Sounders play, perhaps nothing illustrated this team’s resilience more than winning their third match on the road in seven days. After a predictably sluggish game, the home team Columbus Crew found a late goal against the run of play and looked poised to repeat their last match result against the Sounders. This isn’t last year’s team, however, and Seattle’s 2021 team scored two in the dying minutes of regular time and held the lead for a 2-1 final tally. The resilience and deep bench options spurred this Sounders team back to the top of the Western Conference.
Stefan Cleveland – 6 | Community – 6.8
Cleveland got a rest in Dallas and stepped back between the pipes to win his second start in a week. He was credited with a single save but was a common outlet for pressure along the back, and he did well to find teammates on a variety of clearances.
One thing I liked: Still holding on to a clean sheet in the 74th minute, an alert Cleveland made his only save of the night a strong one, pushing a knuckling Pedro Santos shot over the bar.
One thing I didn’t like: There wasn’t much for Stef to do in this match, but a few minor communication errors (one ending with him being bowled over by a teammate) could be cleaned up.
Going forward: Stefan Cleveland is likely to be a hot name in the offseason, as he has boosted his profile with tremendous results filling in for Stefan Frei. With Frei back soon, Cleveland likely moves back onto a ridiculously deep bench and stays ready for any team need.
Shane O’Neill – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 83’ for Bruin)
Shane returned to the left and held down his side adequately. He had a clean 90 percent passing rate and a couple of defensive actions while adding his brand of physical defending in the back.
One thing I liked: In the 41st minute Columbus had a rare push forward and an alert O’Neill slid across to nicely recover and body off an attacker, thwarting a big chance with some smart play.
One thing I didn’t like: Minute 58 saw poor O’Neill pantsed when trying to mark a man in the box, getting completely turned and falling down. Ouch.
Going forward: Seattle isn’t where they are without the defensive exploits from Shane; he’s been a willing enforcer who plugs in and gives consistent output. With Nouhou reportedly ready to go, it’s likely Shane will rotate more, offering a late game lockdown body rather than a full match runout.
Xavier Arreaga – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.0 (MOTM)
This was an exceptional showing from Arreaga, who has quietly been a force in the central defensive role for months now. Once again, he married his tough, physical defensive style with silky smooth passing and vertical integration, a combination that flourishes within this formation. His defensive stats were impressive: Eight clearances, three tackles, three interceptions, three blocks, and eight pressures.
One thing I liked: There’s a beautiful leadership quality that comes out when you shrug off multiple ridiculous and painful fouls, score a goal, and urge your team to more. Xavi never gave up, fighting for a header late and then bodying off a challenge and forcing home an equalizer. He wasn’t satisfied with a tie; he spurred his teammates on to be part of an almost immediate 20-pass sequence that saw Seattle earn all three points.
One thing I didn’t like: Xavi was the recipient of four called fouls suffered and multiple others that weren’t called, as Columbus was beating the crap out of him. (Arreaga committed zero fouls in the game.)
Going forward: Maybe this is the match that earns Arreaga the deserved plaudits his defensive teammates around him have been garnering all year. He just played every minute of three wins in seven days and was excellent in all three. The combination of defense and fluid distribution is an incredible asset to the team that may be even more effective as other players return to form.
Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 7 | Community – 7.5
After getting a small rest midweek, Yeimar returned to do exactly what he has been doing all year. His numbers were gaudy — three tackles, two interceptions, three clearances. Yeimar doesn’t get beat on defense and continues to be a target offensively on set pieces.
One thing I liked: YGA won an astounding 10 aerials, completely dominating and more than doubling everyone else in the match. He nearly scored off a header in the 5th minute, forcing a big save.
One thing I didn’t like: After nearly scoring earlier on a set piece, Jonathan Mensah got a similar good look against Yeimar and Seattle was fortunate he put his chance into the stands.
Going forward: Yeimar continues into the second half of the season as a known quantity: among the very best in MLS. His combination play with the teammates around him is improving, and he should find more time to make decisions as the midfield is enhanced.
Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 5.9 (off 76’ for Medranda)
Brad struggled for long stretches of the first half on both sides of the ball but regrouped after intermission and was able to positively impact the match going forward. Not active defensively, Smith was able to earn a key pass and forced Columbus to stretch their defense vertically to combat his wide play.
One thing I liked: Finally getting the long passes he was looking for, Smith ran onto through balls and first-timed several quality crosses in the second half, getting the ball into dangerous areas from the width. In the 70th minute he even tried to dribble at the defense.
One thing I didn’t like: Brad looked lost until Seattle started kicking the ball in front of him instead of to his feet. The ball either gets stopped and recycled or run onto and first-timed across, with very little variance.
Going forward: If Seattle can utilize Smith in the small window of his skillset, he is a valuable piece to run vertically and force teams to play differently against them. He has clear deficits in his defensive work rate but leveraging his strengths adds yet another look for the Seattle offense.
João Paulo – 7 | Community – 7.2
João did a little of everything against Columbus, working as a deep playmaker who was mostly destroyer behind multiple creative options ahead of him. It took a while to figure out the central midfield shape, but there were glimpses of amazing linkup play, usually started by a JP defensive action.
One thing I liked: Even with Nico on the field, João still took many free kicks and earned a team-high four key passes from his distribution, showing he can positively impact the match from anywhere.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 49th minute João Paulo followed up a dangerous Sounders attack and found a first-time shot from the top of the box. His curling left footed effort was tantalizingly close, bouncing off the crossbar and preventing Seattle from taking a lead they likely wouldn’t have relinquished.
Going forward: JP plays physically and his impact on games is constant but not flashy; he’s almost always in the right place at the right time. His connection with Roldan and Nico will be essential to the Sounders success in the future.
Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.9
Cristian was dropped back into defensive midfield in the first half and was fairly quiet. After halftime he was tactically shifted forward and found more space and success linking with teammates. He had a shot, a key pass, and 86 percent completion rate in a steady, consistent outing.
One thing I liked: Cristian assertively took the central space given on multiple occasions, something our defensive mids need to do. His ability to charge into attack from deep and dissect the defensive shape in the middle is excellent.
One thing I didn’t like: His pairing with JP wasn’t as electric as expected, and the growing pains of a revamped central group showed on a few ugly misses and positional chaos.
Going forward: It looks like Coach wants to have Cristian next to JP which would be an extremely mobile defensive mid pairing. Seattle will need to figure out Nico’s positioning, however, as the team looked improved after flipping these two.
Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 76’ for Rowe)
Alex played his customary right-wing position and was great defensively but average on offense. His connection with Yeimar is excellent, and they move off each other like a well-oiled machine. Columbus had little success down the Sounders’ defensive right, instead opting to cut inside before testing Roldan.
One thing I liked: Even on a quiet night A-Rold still dropped in two key passes, dialing up crosses and making smart passes into dangerous areas.
One thing I didn’t like: His 63 percent passing completion rate was worst on the team, and several early crosses went harmlessly to Eloy Room instead of multiple dangerous Sounders runners.
Going forward: Alex got some rest at the end of this match and may do so more often, as Schmetzer looks for ways to bring Kelyn Rowe on for pure offense late. It’s easy to overlook his input in the match as other players do more spectacularly good (and bad) things in other areas. Look for the younger Roldan to continue connecting vertically and grow into the new midfield look.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.6 (off 83’ for Atencio)
Nico got his first start of the season against Columbus and looked like he was in preseason form. Always a willing runner, his movement was active but a little slow in gelling with teammates. After a first half getting his feet under him, Lodeiro was pushed back into a deeper lying position and the increased mobility of Cristian Roldan in front of him helped Nico connect with more space. He was also able to find runners vertically in the second half.
One thing I liked: Even struggling (on the Nico scale) he still managed two shots, two key passes, and 83 percent completion rate on 70 touches.
One thing I didn’t like: We are spoiled, because we expect more creation from Lodeiro, who at times looked to be tired and a weak link.
Going forward: It’s rare that subbing Nico Lodeiro off improves a team, but in this case the change opened some space and got some fresh legs in for some clearly tired ones. That might be the last time subbing off Nico is a good thing, as we know he is capable of much, much greater play than this.
Fredy Montero – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 64’ for Benezet)
Montero started as a withdrawn playmaker across from Nico Lodeiro and was the more effective of the two in the first half, displaying his chemistry with Raúl Ruidíaz and consistently linking up through the midfield. He completed 91 percent of his passes and helped create most of the best chances in the first half.
One thing I liked: Fredy reads the game so well. In the 13th minute he stepped into a central passing lane to steal the ball before instantly releasing Ruidíaz for a shot that forced a save. He had a great strike of his own 12 minutes later that Room could only parry aside.
One thing I didn’t like: Montero has never played with Nico before and that was in evidence as these two Sounders legends failed to connect through the middle.
Going forward: Fredy and Cristian have a great partnership underneath Raúl and it showed when Seattle moved to this formation in the second half. Familiarity will likely build between Fredy and Nico, but it looks to need a bit of time.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 7 | Community – 7.2
Raúl did some of everything, playing both lone attacker and as a focal point of creation for the team. He casually led the match with five shots, maximizing his 27 touches while showing off great range and creativity to be involved in build-up as well as making backside runs.
One thing I liked: Raúl gives his full 90, and once again it was his effort late that made a huge difference. While not scoring himself, both goals had an essential touch from Ruidíaz as a “hockey assist.” After winning the corner that led to the first goal, his tricky quick touch opened Jimmy Medranda for the assist. A flying control against multiple center backs earned Seattle possession late and saw Raúl get the ball to the hero Bruin prior to the game-winning goal.
One thing I didn’t like: There were several times Raúl had to come back deep and put Smith, etc. through, which meant he couldn’t be on the other end of the cross.
Going forward: Raúl started with Nico and didn’t score eight goals, but have no fear, the glimpses of their chemistry were there. Even when he’s not scoring, Ruidíaz is part of a potent attack that should only get better.
Nicolas Benezet – 6 | Community – 6.4 (on 64’ for Montero)
New Scent Nico came in and brought the energy. His 17 touches were attacking, link-up, and vertically pushing as Benezet urged the team forward. He completed 93 percent of his passes, finding teammates with an exciting array of flicks, off-footed passes, crosses, and switches.
One thing I liked: Not just content to buzz around the offensive third, Benezet was protecting the entire field late, popping up in Cleveland’s box to defend.
One thing I didn’t like: An embarrassing whiff on a cross in the 72nd minute was a whoopsie.
Going forward: Nico has already earned trust from the staff to be the first sub into this match, and he is rewarding their faith with some exciting linking play. His ability to instantly join the Sounders’ culture and playstyle is awesome.
Kelyn Rowe – 5 | Community – 6.2 (on 76’ for ARoldan)
Kelyn came in moments before Columbus scored, as a straight sub for Roldan, playing on the wing and looking to link up on the right with more attacking verve.
One thing I liked: In the 82nd minute his tenacity to attack the ball and win possession earned Seattle some space.
One thing I didn’t like: Only 11 touches for Rowe in this one, with limited impact.
Going forward: This was a bit of a surprising sub, but it shows the flexibility of a team that can add Rowe’s creativity and service from wide areas late in matches. Rowe appears to be the odd man out as a starter in a talented midfield, but may be a great energy sub on the width.
Jimmy Medranda – 7 | Community – 7.7 (on 76’ for Smith)
Jimmy subbed on to see Columbus immediately score. He seemed to take that personally, rocketing up and down the left side and creating chance after chance. He made the most of his 18 touches, completing 100 percent of his passes and being directly involved in both goals.
One thing I liked: Medranda dialed up great crosses in the 79th, 82nd, 87th (goal), and set up goal number two in the 89th with a no-look drop pass. His production from 15 minutes of play was spectacular, tallying both assists.
One thing I didn’t like: He had another GOTW nominee shot blocked in the 83rd minute.
Going forward: Smith started to play better when people found him in space in the second half. Jimmy took that idea to a whole different universe, dominating his side and putting immense direct pressure on goal. The coaches will have to juggle fitness and minutes, but Medranda looks like he should get as many minutes as his legs will handle.
Joshua Atencio – 5 | Community – 6.3 (on 83’ for Lodeiro)
Atencio came in for Nico, allowing the team to shift formations again and push even more numbers forward, which spurred Seattle into an unstoppable attack. He only had five touches, but completed every pass and did his job, even when that was “get out of the way.”
One thing I liked: It’s not often that removing Nico helps the team shape or play, but in this game it did, and having a ready and trusted piece like Atencio to fill this role is amazing.
One thing I didn’t like: It may be blasphemy, but this sub was perhaps 10 or more minutes late.
Going forward: Atencio has a role on this team even while it is firing on all cylinders and that is exciting. He is no longer a “get the youth minutes” guy; he is a tactical tool to be wielded when necessary. He has come a long way this year and should continue to find minutes.
Will Bruin – 7 | Community – 7.7 (on 83’ for O’Neill)
Will Bruin came on late as an offensive sub and for the first time brought his offense with him. He was outstanding, buzzing around the field and linking up with teammates, finding spots to probe the defense, and ultimately scoring the game-winner.
One thing I liked: In the 87th minute he was a key part of the buildup and then had a nifty run, and it just felt different for Will in this one. Two minutes later he again was in the right spot and when he got a drop pass, he curled a beauty into the side net through traffic. No hesitation, this was an unstoppable shot.
One thing I didn’t like: It shouldn’t take more than half the year for a striker to score.
Going forward: Maybe he is back. If so, Seattle just found another proven goalscoring threat and another change of pace option in a tactical system that is so varied and deep as to be nearly impossible to game plan against. I hope so.
Joseph Dickerson – 6 | Community – 5.7
Dickerson was okay, calling 28 fouls on the night, giving each team a yellow and keeping control of a match that at times got tense. There were a ton of things to improve upon, as he let borderline stuff go and fell into the usual “play advantage no matter what” that seems to be in MLS referee handbooks.
One thing I liked: I thought the cards Dickerson did give were correct, and he did a good job in the second half to keep his calls consistent.
One thing I didn’t like: Waylon Francis came out and earned about three yellow cards in the first 20 minutes, and Pedro Santos committed four fouls without so much as a warning. Arreaga got absolutely beat up and although Luis Díaz was carded late for it, none of that happens when the early card is given for unnecessarily rough play.
Going forward: As the game opened in the second half the refereeing got easier, and the ref didn’t impose himself into the match or ref to the scoreboard, which was nice.
Super-sub Bradley Wright-Phillips came on in the 65th, then scored in the 77th, giving Columbus what could have been the game winner. Standing six yards out on a corner routine, the ball fell kindly to him, and he did what he does, giving the Crew a 1-0 lead to try to hang on to.
The All-Star Game might change the lineup, but this is an incredibly deep team at every position and should be expected to crush the Timbers this weekend.