Group B Analysis: Seattle needs options at CB with Xavier Arreaga troubles

Xavier Arreaga Seattle Sounders
Photo of Xavier Arreaga against the Chicago Fire courtesy of Matthew Stith/Major League Soccer.

Editorial — “It’s not good.”

That’s how Brian Schmetzer began an answer during his press conference after Seattle’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire on Tuesday. Schmetzer and the Seattle Sounders are in a sticky situation. Right now, they’re struggling for points in hot, humid Florida at the MLS is Back Tournament.

A nail-biting draw against the San Jose Earthquakes and now a loss to the Fire. The tournament isn’t shaping up the way that Schmetzer wanted it to. Seattle’s issues could very well be fatigue, lack of fitness or having trouble adjusting to the new environment.

However, whatever the issue is, Seattle needs to resolve it before taking on the Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday. A major issue that needs resolved is the play of centerback Xavier Arreaga.

The Ecuadorian international joined the Sounders last season in the middle of the year. He was supposed to become the replacement for Chad Marshall, while Kim Kee-hee took Román Torres’ place. However, those three players are gone, and Arreaga returned this season as a starter.

Arreaga hasn’t lived up to expectations.

He didn’t last year, either. Arreaga started 12 out of 14 appearances last year, accumulating three yellow cards and two straight red cards. He was deemed reckless many times last year. He was given a yellow card already during the MLS is Back Tournament.

Arreaga’s downfall came today, though, against the Fire. He wasn’t focused on set piece plays and was caught out of position multiple times. However, the breakdown only got worse when the Fire scored two goals.

Arreaga needs to sit on the bench

It’s usually unfair and ill-advised to blame losses on one player. And, that’s still certainly true in this match. The Sounders needed to score, and crosses from Nicolas Lodeiro — who is usually sharp — were flat and downright bad.

Jordan Morris and Handwalla Bwana teamed up for Bwana’s lone goal of the match. However, the spark fizzled, as they couldn’t muster up any more chances.

On defense, when it comes to the goals, Arreaga is to blame.

On the first goal — which is shown right above — Arreaga waited too long with the ball. Robert Beric of the Fire came through and completely dismantled Arreaga, taking him to the ground and stealing the ball. Yeimar Gómez Andrade tried to keep up with Beric, and did for the most part. However, Beric’s finish was on-point and slid past Stefan Frei.

Meanwhile, on the second goal — also shown below — Arreaga was dazed. There seemed to be a major lack of focus on the Fire’s corner kick. Mauricio Pineda didn’t have to do much to lose Arreaga inside the box. Instead, Pineda simply just ran right behind Arreaga.

Do you see any other defenders with their backs toward their opponent? They are either in step with their opponent or right next to them. Look at how Kelvin Leerdam (#18 for the Sounders) is defending Wyatt Omsberg (#20 for the Fire).

Leerdam is in step with him, ready to deflect the ball or prevent Omsberg to get a touch on it. There is really no way for Omsberg to get behind Leerdam in any sneaky fashion, because Leerdam has his eyes on his man.

Schmetzer: Arreaga “will learn” from mistakes

Arreaga is still a young player. However, when anybody in Major League Soccer has that ‘Designated Player’ sticker hanging over them, there’s an added pressure. You simply have to be one of the better players.

Arreaga is not living up to that standard right now. However, that doesn’t mean he can’t. Brian Schmetzer is confident in Arreaga’s abilities and said that the Ecuadorian will learn from his mistakes.

“We will talk to him. He will learn, we will learn,” Schmetzer said. “He misjudged a bounce, and maybe we should have provided cover… If you watch the entire play, you have to ask: Can we do a better job of stopping the ball higher up the field? That was one of our intentions, pressing higher.”

However, Schmetzer flat out said that the second Fire goal was an “issue.”

“The second goal, he loses his mark. But the ball goes inside of our six-yard box, on the floor, all the way over to the back post. I have to accept responsible for that. The defending on corner kicks and set pieces need to be better. You can look at the end result, or the last play — and Xavi will hold his hand up, cause he’s an honest kid — but it’s a team sport.”

Up until the goals, Schmetzer said the defense played extremely well.

“Goals change games. There’s a common sense element to this,” Schmetzer explained. “If Stef [Frei] makes a mistake, it’s usually not good. If CBs make mistakes, it usually doesn’t bode well for your team. There’s no cover behind them… Xavi made a couple of errors. He’s going to work on it. He will be fine.”

What’s the solution for Seattle? 

Right now, Arreaga might need a trip to the bench for the next game. Of course, there’s plenty of time between now and Sunday’s match. As Schmetzer said, the club will watch film and dive deep into Arreaga’s performance.

However, right now, it’s not clicking. Something needs to change if Seattle wants to keep themselves alive and advance in the tournament. A team that’s scrambling for points needs to find a solution for the time being.

Seattle has options, despite losing out on some talent last year. I will personally stand on a hill and say the Sounders should have tried harder to keep Kim Kee-hee last year. Losing him has certainly affected the Sounders defense. It might not have clicked right away with Kim and Yeimar, but it could have worked.

But for now, Seattle has an option in Shane O’Neill. The former Orlando City SC centerback entered the match for Arreaga shortly after the second goal, in the 85th minute. Also, Seattle has Jordy Delem, who featured at right back when Yeimar was pulled out and tended to for an injury.

Now, if Yeimar does have an injury, Arreaga will have to start. There’s no question about that. However, if Yeimar is able to compete on Sunday, the Sounders should seriously look into starting O’Neill.

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