The Seattle Sounders have done a lot right so far this season to be sitting atop the Supporters’ Shield standings.
Ironically, I still think they haven’t put together their best 90 minutes and they probably won’t until Nicolás Lodeiro returns. That’s great news for the Rave Green, and ominous news for the rest of MLS.
With that said, there are a few things they’ve done consistently well, and those strengths were on show in the latest win against LAFC.
Use of Cristian Roldan
I recently wrote a column for MLSsoccer.com where I praised Cristian Roldan for his ability to play multiple roles at a very high level. In the absence of Lodeiro, he’s been asked to occupy higher positions on the pitch, and I love the way he’s gone about it. He hasn’t tried to do what Nico does — no one can replicate that. Instead, he’s morphed the role into one that best accentuates his greatest strength: his relentless running.
Teams have struggled to track his runs into wide areas and in behind their back line. The timing of his runs is clever, and once he gets the ball in space, he usually makes the right decision. Typically, playmakers in the No. 10 role will dictate the game with their passing, dribbling, and overall creativity. Cristian is doing it in a unique way — he’s forcing opposing midfielders to track him into areas they don’t want to find themselves in, which in turn creates space for his teammates and disorganizes the opponent.
It’s weird to say he’s still somewhat underrated. But so far in 2021, he’s been reminding us of his greatness on a weekly basis.
I love everything about the way Nouhou plays the game. Judging by the reaction of the fans every time he is near the ball, I’m not alone in that sentiment. With that said, I’m still extremely surprised and impressed by how well he has adapted to his new role as a left center back in a back three.
He’s been so good there is because he has the speed to chase down balls in the wide areas and then recover back to the middle, where he’s often needed to make last-ditch interventions. In the early minutes of Sunday’s game, Latif Blessing found some joy down LAFC’s right-hand channel every time Brad Smith was caught up high. It didn’t take long for Nouhou to recognize this danger and for the next 70 minutes, he was somehow able to do his job centrally, while also finding the time to cover for Smith and neutralize Blessing. His speed was never in doubt, but his decision making regarding when to be aggressive and when to stay connected to his center back partners has been top class so far this season — especially on Sunday.
It should come as no surprise that I always pay special attention to what the Sounders are doing in the wide areas — at least from an attacking sense.
It took Alex Roldan and Smith a while to figure out how to be effective wingbacks, but once they did, there’s been no looking back. To put it eloquently: the Sounders are killing teams in the wide areas. Alex’s crossing is as good as anyone’s in the league right now, as he consistently delivers pinpoint balls in a variety of ways to his teammates. And there aren’t many players you’d want in full flow running onto balls ahead of Smith.
They played the role a little too conservatively early on in the season as they focused more on their defensive duties. But now that the shackles are off, both are finding themselves involved in most of the Seattle’s best sequences. Look no further than Smith’s goal against LAFC. It was made by Alex, who channeled his inner Messi, to bamboozle two defenders before setting up the attack that culminated in him playing a beautiful cross onto the head of Smith. Wingback to wingback — you love to see it.