While the Sounders dominated Atlanta in the xG battle — 3.19 to .89 — the visitors strung together several dangerous sequences that were nullified by Gustav Svensson and Román Torres before a shot could be registered.
“Román had a couple of tackles late in the game that broke up plays, he stepped well into the midfield to break up some plays,” Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer said in his post-match press conference. “And Gustav does what he always does. He may not be on the scoresheet here, but he’s effective at the things that he does well.”
One element of Svensson’s game that remains extremely underrated is his switching the point of the attack.
Seattle’s ability to create chances through intricate, quick-tempo combination play down the left-hand side has garnered attention throughout the league. With Svensson occupying the pocket in the middle, he repeatedly drew the opposition’s defensive shape to the left through sustained possession before pinging accurate diagonal passes to release Kelvin Leerdam down the right channel.
With Seattle’s international players all returning prior to Sunday’s game, most of the prematch narratives focused on key attacking players reintegrating into the group. Yes, the attack was more fluid and potent than it has been in recent league matches, but the defensive performances from Svensson and Torres deserve recognition.
Defensive action maps for Torres (left) and Svensson (right) against Atlanta United | MLSsoccer.com
Facing reigning MLS Golden Boot winner Josef Martínez, Torres supplied arguably his best performance of the season. The imposing center back racked up four aerial duels won, one tackle, three interceptions, seven clearances and four recoveries.
Svensson, tasked with containing Pity Martínez and the rest of Atlanta’s talented midfield, registered two tackles, two blocks, one interception, two clearances, two recoveries and won all five of his aerial duels.
Protecting a 2-1 lead, Torres came up with two clutch defensive plays, denying Martínez a point-blank volley and cutting off a tap-in for Brandon Vasquez in stoppage time.
As Schmetzer noted after the match, the team struggled to dictate tempo in the first half, too often giving away possession to Atlanta. But with Svensson and Torres putting in solid shifts defensively, the team was able to limit one of the most talented attacking corps in the league to just two shots on target all afternoon.
With the Portland Timbers coming to town on Sunday (6:30 p.m. PT; FS1, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360AM; TICKETS), Svensson and Torres will need to replicate their defensive showings in order to pick up three points in the Cascadia derby.