Sounders, Philly, and Léo Chu

Soccer is a delicious, multi-faceted game that can be analyzed at many layers: at the team level, one can debate player selection, formation choices, tactical choices, and so on; at the individual level, one can discuss an individual’s athleticism, fitness, ball skills, and on and on. In the attack, one key element to consider at any layer of analysis is how predictable the team or player is. For an individual player, one critical element, perhaps the most important, is how quickly they make decisions. Given two players with similar tools, the one who more quickly analyzes the options, makes their decision, and possesses with intent – that player will be far more valuable to the team than the one who does so more slowly.

Note too that the right intent will change depending on game state. Many fans decry the “horseshoe of death,” when a team in comfortable possession carries the ball down one flank, reverses to return possession to the back-line at the centerline, who move it across to the other flank, and repeat. This is fairly boring and can be frustrating to fans unless it is punctuated by sudden (and frequently successful) attacks. However, the horseshoe of death has one tremendous benefit: it denies the opponent possession. If you have a lead, especially a comfortable lead, the most important thing is to retain possession! Your opponent cannot score against you when you have the ball. Evaluating a player’s decisions must include awareness of the game state.

I will note briefly that the Sounders in 2024 have in general been too predictable. They have relied on the horseshoe when the game state demanded urgency (that is, when they’re losing and need goals); worse, the back-line has been woefully slow to move the ball, both in the horseshoe and under pressure in their defensive third. This came to a head a week ago when hosting the Vancouver Whitecaps, a true catastrophe of a game that included two red-cards and two goals against caused by avoidable turnovers by the back-line. The two games since have been markedly better, as it appears the coaches (and perhaps the shame from that game) have convinced the back-line to play one- and two-touch ball. This increased speed of play has unbalanced the opposition defenses, which has created more chances and more attractive attacking soccer.

With that context, I want to examine the play specifically of Léo Chú, who I believe is generally the weakest player in the Sounders starting eleven.

Chú has been a figure of some controversy. He has good individual tools, being blessed both with great speed and lovely ball control. Defenders show him a lot of respect. However, though it has improved over his tenure with the Sounders, his defending remains fairly tepid. He is uncommitted and slow to react. I will simply accept that his defensive involvement is poor, and here focus on whether his attacking contributions outweigh his defensive liabilities.

Given his raw speed, it is worth considering first what choices a speedy flank player has when he outpaces his team. He has several choices: he can take players on one on one; he can cut inside; or he can take the ball down the flank until he runs out of room, then turn and recycle the ball back along the horseshoe. To be blunt, in the game yesterday Léo frequently chose among these options slowly and poorly, and failed to execute after he chose.

Here is an exhaustive look at Léo’s involvement. Note that in the following notes I refer frequently to “zones;” for those unfamiliar with the concept, it boils down to the simple observation that (a) most goals come from in the box, labeled zone 17; and (b) one of the best ways to get the ball into the box is by first getting it to the top of the box, zone 14.

First Half

  • 8:05 – Chú makes a deep run along the flank, asking Nouhou to put the ball long over the air, rather than coming short to receive the easy pass. Nouhou’s pass was intercepted, and ten seconds later Philly had the ball in Seattle’s box and won a corner. Poor decision.
  • 9:00 – Chú puts a poor pass towards Vargas, who lets it roll through resulting in a contested ball by Atencio. Atencio wins the contest, and almost creates a 5:1, but because he didn’t receive the ball cleanly can’t get the handle on the ball and loses it. Opportunity wasted.
  • 17:44 – Yeimar puts a great ball to Chú in zone 14 with lots of space and only one defender to beat; Chú turns, pauses to think, then dribbles towards the defender and loses the ball. Opportunity wasted.
  • 21:00 – Chú receives the ball in zone 13 (after a pretty interplay between Atencio & Morris), slightly overruns the ball then recovers and carries into zone 14. He does not see a great run from Vargas behind the defense, and instead of the pass behind he is stopped, though retains the ball. He then pulls back to zone 13 and finally puts the ball over to Vargas. He then makes a run towards zone 16 which drags a defender out of 14, creating space for Vargas to enter with the ball. Vargas still has a lot to do, but delivers a cracking strike and a goal. This is good play from Chú, but marred by slow decision making; the play works out, but there was a much higher probability play he misses.
  • 22:10 Chú receives an outlet ball from Nouhou, charges down the flank into pressure, is forced to the touchline and fumbles the ball out of touch. Opportunity wasted.
  • 23:40 Chú intercepts an errant Philly pass and in panic dumps it down the line to the Philly backline. Meh.
  • 25:45 Chú receives the ball in zone 13 with space, and delivers a speculative ball to Vargas in zone 14. Vargas is well marked and immediately loses the ball, creating a vicious Philly counter that forces Ragen to take a yellow. Nouhou was available in space behind him, and the Sounders have a two goal lead at this point; as described above, given game state, the right play must be to recycle to Nouhou. Terrible decision.
  • 31:55 Nouhou carries the ball towards Chú with acres of space in zone 10 and only one defender; instead of turning to attack the space, Chú jogs awkwardly backwards until Nouhou is forced to let the ball roll to him. The lackadaisical play allows the defenders to recover, and Chú is forced to put the ball back to Nouhou, who recycles the ball to the backline. I don’t mind the recycle, but there was a far better play that Chú missed. Opportunity wasted.
  • 32:30 Chú is released down the flank with pace, space, and only one defender, with Morris making a run into zone 17 alongside him. Chú pauses, waits, then carries the ball into zone 17 himself and is dispossessed. Opportunity wasted.
  • 32:50 Vargas successfully tackles the ball along the sideline and releases to Atencio, who puts it sharply to Chú in zone 16. With back to goal, Chú one-touches it back to Cristian, a solid play. Cristian 2-touches it to Ruidiaz, who one touches back to Vargas at the edge of the box. At this point Chú has the opportunity to overlap with Vargas but is slow to react, and Vargas is dispossessed under pressure. (However, Vargas makes a brilliant play to recover the ball and is fouled as he puts the ball back to Chú, who dumps it uselessly back into the mix. This would have been two opportunities wasted, but fortunately neither matters because Vargas was an absolute monster during this game, and the foul to him resulted in a penalty. In short, two opportunities wasted, papered over by Vargas’ exceptional play.
  • 37:35 Chú is released down the wing, misses his dribble, and is forced to recycle back. Opportunity wasted.
  • 40:05 Chú receives the ball in zone 13, is double-teamed and smartly recycles back to Atencio in zone 10. Nice play.
  • 42:15 Chú receives the ball in zone 13, cuts inside and delivers a poor pass that results in choppy play before the Sounders regain clear possession. Opportunity wasted.
  • 42:30 having occupied the open space at the top of the box on the right side, Chú receives the ball and delivers a clever heel pass, which Cristian touches through to Morris resulting in a corner. Nice.
  • 43:30 receives the ball under pressure on the right flank, two-touches it through the double-team to Cristian in space. Very nice!

Second Half

  • 45:36 Chú receives a ball down the flank with space and bobbles it out of touch. Opportunity wasted.
  • 50:45 Chú receives the ball in zone 10 with space, cuts towards zone 14 and delivers a pretty pass to Ruidiaz in space. Nice.
  • 53:55 Chú receives the ball in zone 10 with space and one defender to beat. He carries it into the box where he is easily dispossessed; opportunity wasted.
  • 58:15 Chú receives the ball in traffic in zone 13, delivers a quick pass. Fine play.
  • 59:11 Chú is substituted.


In summary, Chú was involved nineteen times, of which eleven were good opportunities that he wasted, and only four times was I pleased with his decision (once very much so). It is true that he was involved in the second and third goal (well, the play that resulted in the penalty and third goal). However, both were less about his involvement and talent than about Vargas’ eye-popping performance.

Chú is blessed with tremendous tools, but he remains slow in his decision making and indecisive in his approach. Many people watching the game appear focused on the “assist” he was given for the second goal, but I am less interested in those sort of statistics than how he contributed, and I saw nothing last night to counter my opinion that he is the weakest link in the starting eleven.

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