Here is a key to the standard 1-10 scale.
7. Very good
10. World Class
Choosing a man of the match for the Seattle Sounders thrilling 3-1 extra time win over Portland Timbers in the U.S. Open Cup Wednesday night is going to be difficult for readers.
Do they choose Stefan Frei, who made several significant saves and was called out as the difference maker by Portland coach Caleb Porter? Do they choose Brad Evans, who dominated on his wing the entire night, including smartly feeding DeAndre Yedlin on Yedlin's penetrating runs? Do they choose Yedlin, who was about as good as an attacking fullback has ever been in Seattle during the first half of the match? Do they choose Lamar Neagle, who turned on the pressure and the intricate passing when he was pushed forward and was perhaps the Sounders best player in extra time? Do they choose Marco Pappa, who completely changed the game when he arrived in the 64th minute and racked up as many positive plays in this game as many who played 64 minutes more than him?
Me? I'm choosing Osvaldo Alonso. It's not an easy choice, but as regular readers of this feature know, I have a system for ranking important plays in the match, and no one finished higher than Ozzie in this game using that system. Ozzie dominated the second half of this game, destroying any chance Portland tried to create in the center of the field, launching attack after attack as he ran out and past Portland's midfield and switched play with pinpoint passing, and of course scoring a goal that will go down in Sounders' legend - a flying karate kick redirection from outside the back post on a cross by Neagle.
That was such an enjoyable game to watch and the right team, the best team, won. When the game was on the line in the second half and extra time the Sounders simply played better and now they are in the semi-final of the U.S. Open Cup again. Bring on Chicago.
Here's how I scored the players in Sounders' Open Cut victory against Portland:
Stefan Frei: 7. Stefan had what I consider his best game as a Sounder; saving everything he had a legitimate shot at saving. I don't give half-point ratings, and my notebook doesn't quite get him up to the level where I usually give out 8s, but I have to say that I was very tempted to give him one here anyway. A very, very good performance that is probably worth a 7.5.
DeAndre Yedlin: 7. DeAndre was unbelievable in the first half. I scored him a plus-6 for his work in that half alone. He showed, in that 45 minutes, what damage a true attacking fullback can do, with his speed burning up the wing and his crosses and passes into the attack perhaps the best he has ever had as a Sounder. He slowed a bit in the second half, with less impact, but his first half was so outstanding that anything less than a 7 here would be unfair.
Chad Marshall: 7. Both Chad and Zach Scott had quality performances. Portland's new DP striker was of no consequence in this one as the center back tandem closed down the middle of the park.
Zach Scott: 7. I rated Zach just slightly higher than Marshall in terms of impact plays in this one, including two solid marks in the second half of overtime. Zach keeps being chosen to start against any team that features a big, tall, strong lone striker, and he seems to win his share of balls in the air no matter the competition.
Jalil Anibaba: 6. Jalil was solid in defense and on the wing the few times he moved up into the attack. He had a decent shift in his first-ever start as a left back for the Sounders, which bodes very well for the team going forward. Jalil has now proven he can play any four of the defensive positions at a high level. Of course we all remember the couple times he struggled earlier this year, but I would say that he continues to wipe away the concerns raised back then.
Osvaldo Alonso: 8. MOTM. I spelled out in the narrative above how impressed I was with Ozzie in this one. From the half on he was basically flawless. I scored him a plus-11 in my notebook, which is getting close to where I would hand out a 9. Of course he had 30 more minutes to rack up those positive impacts than in a usual game. I would not be at all upset to see the community go higher with their rating here.
Gonzalo Pineda: 7. The return of Gonzalo and Alonso to the starting lineup is, to me, what made the biggest difference in the Sounders performance here versus the less-impressive outing against the Vancouver Whitecaps. I guess maybe at this point in the season that is obvious, though. I scored Gonzalo a plus-7 on the night, a score that includes a negative mark for a poor turnover in the first half, but two positive marks for his impressive cross onto the head of Kenny Cooper for the go-ahead goal. That's twice in the last couple weeks that he has unleashed a ball that could only be called "perfect" and that led to the Sounders winning a game.
Brad Evans: 8. Wow. I had introduced the discussion a couple games ago about having Brad continue to play right back even after Yedlin returned. I am more than willing to admit that was a very poor idea. Brad was simply on fire on the right side in this game. Between he and Yedlin the Timbers were simply overwhelmed on that side of the field for much of the night. I scored Brad a plus-9 in my notebook, only slightly behind Alonso.
Lamar Neagle: 8. Lamar wasn't super effective in the first half, as his attempts to combine with the strikers did not work well. That changed with the introduction of Marco Pappa, which pushed Lamar up top. I scored Lamar a plus-9 in my notebook from that point on, including a plus-5 in extra time. He earned an assist on Alonso's stunner and was very successful on several intricate give-and-go passing combos once he was playing as a forward. This was Lamar at his best.
Chad Barrett: 5. Chad is the only player who scored below the 5.5 I always start players at, scoring a minus-1 in my notebook for a poor giveaway. Meanwhile I didn't mark down any positive plays for him. He was OK, but non-threatening, which is not something you want said about a game you start at striker.
Cam Weaver: 6. I have been pretty critical of Cam in his other recent appearances, but I thought he was significantly better in this game in terms of hold up play. I scored him a plus-4 in my notebook and almost all of those were for plays where he provided an outlet for the team and then controlled the ball and found the right passes to allow his teammates to move into more offensive positions. It would be nice if he could score a goal, but in any case this was a better performance from him than we have seen in the past.
Marco Pappa: (64th minute): 8. As I mentioned above, Marco completely changed the game when he entered in the 64th minute. It was fitting he scored the final goal that drove the last nail into the Timbers. There are probably a lot of plays I could point out but let's talk about the Portland red card, a play that shows the amount of determination Marco brings to the Sounders. I can recall reading complaints from a few Chicago Fire fans that Marco was the kind of player who turned off and on and that perhaps the Sounders would be disappointed. But he has been "on" for months now in Seattle, and on the red card play he fought and fought, seemed to lose the ball, and then fought again and got it back, his determination so frustrating Diego Chara that the Timbers' midfielder unleashed a horrible foul that included studs up from behind and a follow through scissor kick. Who knows what was going through Chara's head there, but all the credit should go to Marco for his extra effort and his refusal to back down and give up.
Kenny Cooper: (79th minute): 6. After the last game I was pretty critical of Kenny, but I did mention that many of his best appearances have been as a substitute. He did it again. His header goal on the perfect cross from Pineda won the game. I didn't have Kenny down for many other impact plays, but credit to him for finishing well.
Michael Azira: (90th minute): 6. It was surprising to me to see Michael come in at right back. I expected when he was introduced that Evans would move back and Michael would play in the midfield. That didn't happen. I give Michael credit then, for taking on a new position and playing it well. He didn't, of course, play the same kind of attacking role from the back as Yedlin, and didn't have that impact on the game, but he was stout and solid. A good shift.