Here is a key to the standard 1-10 scale.
7. Very good
10. World Class
Before Saturday’s 1-0 victory against San Jose I Tweeted this:
Who's up for a nice, quiet 1-0 or 2-0 @SoundersFC victory tonight?— Scott Ayers (@scott47a) May 18, 2014
I’d say the biggest difference between this game and the 5-0 loss to New England the week before is the players pulled back the reigns of the all-out attacking soccer the Sounders had been playing the previous few games. Fullbacks Leo Gonzalez and Jalil Anibaba for the most part stayed home and played defense – only occasionally making forays into the attack. Meanwhile Ozzie Alonso and Gonzalo Pineda offered a ton of defensive cover, with particularly Alonso playing further back than he had in previous games. I can’t count how many times one of the two of them made a forward pass and then took a step back rather than forward into the attack.
I know some of you might have been underwhelmed by the performance against that San Jose side. But I honestly loved it. It looked like an old-fashioned comprehensive soccer victory to me, and if weren’t for Jon Busch saving at least two goals it would have been even more comprehensive.
When the keeper only has to stop one shot in 93 minutes you are doing something very right.
Here’s how I scored Saturday’s performance:
Stefan Frei:6. One shot, one save. That’s batting 1000. Not much more to say here. He wasn’t tested much. When he was he responded.
Jalil Anibaba: 6. Jalil was good in this one, but not great. Too many of his passes went astray. He only connected on 68 percent of them, per Opta. I did like that he mostly stayed at home.
Chad Marshall: 7. I couldn’t count how many headers Chad won this game. Thankfully Opta did and came up with seven. I could swear it was more. He just dominated San Jose’s makeshift front line.
Zach Scott: 7. I believe Zach started this game because of his ability in the air and he didn’t disappoint, with seven won headers. He also played well on the ground too, with five pass interceptions and good positioning almost the entire game. I wonder whether he deserves a run-out against better competition.
Leo Gonzalez: 7. A very good performance. This team is better defensively with Leo at the back. He really combined well with Pappa as well as Pappa pinched in to become more of a central midfield playmaker at times.
Osvaldo Alonso: 8. Ozzie played further back for much of this game and completely controlled San Jose’s poor midfield. He completed 90 percent of 81 passes, playing a deep-lying passing role, switching the attack and occasionally offering up a long ball to an open player on a wing or a darting runner. This was vintage El Corazon – calm, smart, and dogged and violent when necessary. He recorded 14 recoveries, running down San Jose midfielders and attackers and turning them away from anything resembling a threat on goal. A great game.
Gonzalo Pineda: 7. Gonzalo played just above Alonso much of the game, venturing further forward and trying to link up with the strikers and wide-midfielders. He completed 81 percent of his 51 passes and made the great through-pass that Obafemi Martins somehow turned in to the goal of the year. Perhaps my favorite Pineda highlight came after a set piece, though. San Jose broke out and Jalil Anibaba was caught up field and on the left side, trying to apply some high pressure. As the ball moved past Anibaba and switched field, Gonzalo swung out wide and took up the right back position. He was effective at cutting off the attack there and forcing it back inside, where Anibaba joined Alonso in the middle for a short spell. That kind of commitment to defense from Gonzalo, and his teammates, is what won this game. A saying in other sports is "defense wins championships" and I believe a rock-solid defense is important to winning MLS Cup too. Gonzalo’s effort on that play is what cup-winning sides are made of.
Lamar Neagle: 7. Lamar was one of the most impactful players on the field, pushing the game and lodging three legitimate shots on goal. Only Jon Busch kept him from scoring. I rated Lamar a plus-8 in my impact plays notebook, tying with Marco Pappa for the highest total. But I knocked him down a bit here because his pass completion rating was 59 percent, the lowest on the squad. When you are playing a tight game like the Sounders did on Saturday, every turnover has the potential to turn the three points into one.
Marco Pappa: 8. Like Neagle, I scored Marco a plus-8 in my notebook. It seems to me he really stepped up his game in this one, joining Martins to adequately replace the passing improvisation and accuracy lost with Clint Dempsey gone. Whether on the left or stepping to the middle of the field, which he did often, Marco created chances for his teammates with accurate passing –80 percent of his 56 passes found a teammate. I especially liked his interplay with Gonzalez. Marco wasn’t as goal-dangerous as Neagle, but I thought he played the playmaker role very well.
Kenny Cooper: 6. Given an opportunity to come in and really show his stuff, I think Kenny fell a little short. He only managed one shot on goal and wasn’t nearly as impactful as Pappa, Neagle or Martins. He was good this game, scoring a plus-3 in my notebook, but he will need to be even better for the Sounders to score more with Clint Dempsey gone for a month.
Obafemi Martins: 8. MOTM. I have been watching MLS since 2005 and pretty religiously since 2007, when I first paid for MLS Direct Kick. I don’t think I have ever seen a goal anything like what Oba made in this game. It was a World Class goal from an impossible angle. If it isn’t up for goal of the year then there is some sort of fix on. Beside the goal I liked how much playmaking Oba did in this game - completing 82 percent of his 45 passes. He was all over the place trying to link up passes and pick out teammates. It was a very good performance made great by the goal of the year.
Chad Barrett (80th minute): 6. I scored Chad a plus-3 in my notebook, which isn’t bad for someone in only 10 minutes of time. I’d say he played well, but could have done much better. Let’s be honest, the fact Chad did not get his great goal opportunity on net is the reason why he has been such a journeyman in MLS. He has always worked hard, but the teams who started him at striker eventually grew frustrated with the lack of goals and let him move on. Here’s hoping the next opportunity finds the back of the net.
Dylan Remick: (87th minute): Incomplete
Andy Rose: (91st minute): incomplete.