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Bielsa Report: Five things you should know about Seattle Sounders

We analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the Sounders ahead of the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League Semifinals

SOCCER: MAR 12 MLS - LA Galaxy at Seattle Sounders
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Photo by Jeff Halstead/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Bielsa Report is named for manager Marcelo Bielsa, and the comprehensive if legally suspect research he conducts on opposing teams.

UPDATED APRIL 11, 5:21 PM ET: Seattle’s star center-back Yeimar Gómez is recovering from an injury and won’t travel to New York for the second leg. The defender also missed the first leg.

The Sounders allowed just one goal in four CCL games

The Seattle Sounders have put up one of the most impressive runs ever for an MLS team playing in the CONCACAF Champions League: Two wins and two draws, with nine goals scored and one goal allowed. Put simply, Seattle’s outstanding form in the CCL is built on the strength of their defense.

Besides, that goal basically doesn’t count. A 91st minute strike by Club Léon’s Fidel Ambríz wasn't anything more than a consolation goal that gave the home crowd at Estadio Léon something to cheer about seconds before their team was knocked out of the tournament on a 4-1 aggregate score.

The Sounders midfield and defense bunkered down in that game, ceding possession but grabbing the lead with a first-half penalty. Seattle came away with the draw despite having just 27% possession and a pass accuracy of 65% to Léon’s 73% possession and a pass accuracy of 85%—those numbers should strike fear in the souls of NYCFC players and fans.

The Sounders know how to lose the battle of the stats but come away with a result.

The Seattle Sounders allowed six goals in five MLS games

The story is different for MLS league games: Two wins, one draw, and two losses, with six goals scored and six goals allowed. The Sounders have allowed at least one goal in every MLS game this year.

A defense that looks solid in the CCL has been shaky in MLS.

Albert Rusnák might make this the best midfield in MLS

Seattle’s big offseason acquisition was the 27-year-old Albert Rusnák, an attacking midfielder and Slovakian international signed from Real Salt Lake—he was the first Designated Player in the history of MLS to switch teams via free agency. Rusnák joined a midfield already stacked with talent: United States international Cristian Roldan, United States international Jordan Morris, former Uruguayan international Nicolás Lodeiro, and the Brazilian João Paulo.

Rusnák and João Paulo usually sit deep in a double pivot with Lodeiro pulling the strings in front of them. While not a pure creator like Lodeiro, Rusnák combines with his teammates and picks his passes, patiently waiting to create goal-scoring opportunities. With Morris and Roldan on the wings, and Will Bruin or Raúl Ruidíaz as a lone striker, Rusnák has plenty of options.

Seattle’s top scorer is easing back into the lineup

Speaking of Ruidíaz, he made his first appearance of the 2022 MLS season on Saturday when he came in as a halftime sub. The 31-year-old Peruvian international, who injured his hamstring on February 24 playing Motagua FC in the CCL, took three shots from the top of the box. He has yet to score in 2022.

Raul Ruidíaz heat map in 2021, after the end of the MLS season

Still, Ruidíaz scored 17 times for Seattle last year, accounting for nearly one-third of the club’s goals. A textbook No. 9 who runs straight down the center and likes to work the ball inside the box, Ruidiaz will face off against New York City FC’s Thiago Martins and Alexander Callens should he play.

One to watch: Obed Vargas

While Rusnák might be Seattle’s marquee signing this year, the most exciting Seattle player to emerge in 2022 is Obed Vargas, a 16-year-old midfielder from Anchorage who plays on the right. Fast, technical, and composed, Vargas is having a breakout season after playing for the Senior Team just once last year—he looked particularly strong against León after coming on as a substitute in the 1-1 draw at Estadio Léon.

As a dual citizen, Vargas is eligible to play for both the USMNT and Mexico, but the Americans are doing their best to cap-tie the midfielder. In March, Vargas participated the USMNT U20 training camp—he was the youngest player there.