There was a vocal minority that weren't happy with the Sounders dominating 3-1 victory on Sunday against Real Salt Lake, and their concerns were with possession and the fashion in which Seattle essentially killed off 70 minutes of soccer, but I have to disagree upon re watching. The last 20 minutes was rough, with the substitutions of Alonso and Gonzalez directly affecting the defensive shape, but up until then the home team did a splendid job of controlling play. Granted, much of the play was in our own half but there were solid passes around the back punctuated by quick plays forward and plenty of opportunity purposely ignored to kill the game off. Salt Lake did get the ball for long spells but rarely got deep into the Sounders half and almost never into the 18. A single shot on goal for the half was telling. This re watch reaffirmed my belief that the Sounders ran their game plan almost to perfection, only giving up a spell of poor possession with players off and increased urgency by the visiting team late.
Community - 6.8
Realio - 6
It is hard to rate a goalie who has very little work to do. I think Stefan had an average outing. He had very little action all day which was a testament to the hard work being put in defensively in front of him. Other than a kick out of bounds, I didn't see Frei do anything in error. He may even have saved the goal if Luis Gil hadn't miss-hit it so badly - he had the original angle of the ball covered.
This was an opportunity to see Frei's foot skills, and he did an above average job with the ball at his feet. In the first half he offered an outlet for some pressure situations, and in the second he was another body to pass to and kill some more clock. I only had three notable actions in the game for him, a smart play to get off his line to prevent a corner kick in anticipation, an assertive run to the edge of his box to collect a ball, and perfect positioning on a dangerous Devin Sandoval volley. Frei did everything right in this one, he just didn't have much opportunity to affect the game.
Leo Gonzalez (off 70')
Community - 6.9
Realio - 7
This game showed exactly what Leo brings to this team, and that is strong defensive positioning and tremendous veteran team integration. Throughout the entire game Leo's positioning was perfect - he knows exactly when to pinch in and stay compact as well as when to push high and overlap. Leo's defense was very strong, I especially liked his crunching tackle on Javier Morales in the 14th, earning a goal kick for SSFC.
With his experience it was not surprising to see Gonzales easily sliding next to Marshall and behind Ivanschitz with no visible communication errors. In fact, his overlapping runs on the left wing were seamless with Andreas throughout the game, offering a wide option yet never leaving a hole on the left side. Another thing I loved seeing is Leo's confidence on the ball. Never losing his cool, Leo works his tight triangles and doesn't ever make a needless chunk of the ball up field.
If there is a hole in Gonzalez' game, it's that his integration into the offense is choppy, and some of his service wasn't great. He did give up a free kick in a rough spot, but this was inconsequential in light of the tremendous all around shift he put in.
Community - 7.1
Realio - 8
I was really impressed with the game that Marshall put in against RSL. He completely erased Sandoval from the match. I didn't have a single negative mark for Chad in a dominating defensive performance.
Marshall started off with an unusual contribution to the offense with a great over the top free kick service to a willing Oba Martins that was very dangerous. After this offensive showing, Marshall dropped back into his customary brick wall mode, just stopping any RSL attacks. In the 11th minute he started his Sandoval abuse with a crushing aerial win while bodying the Salt Lake attacker.
In the 33rd minute he took time off from destroying Sandoval to turn in a sliding defense on Tony Beltran. In minute 58 he was back to ruining Sandoval's night, easily winning a header and nodding it down to Leo casually with the RSL attacker draped harmlessly over his shoulder. In the 72nd Marshall covered expertly for an errant Evans slide tackle, ushering the trouble out of bounds.
Chad was great in this game, consistently taking time out from his impressive 1v1 defense to shift over to support Mears and Evans while maintaining a 90% passing clip. I also noticed he was free on corner kicks, and this floater role for him worked well.
Community - 7.1
Realio - 7
While not as dominant as Marshall, Brad turned in an above average game in the back, consistently anticipating passing lanes and doing all the little things in the back needed to keep clean possession. This was perfectly evident in the 8th minute when his positioning on a mini RSL break ended up with a pass directly to Evans from the opponents. I shouldn't continue to be surprised when I see Brad do stuff like this, because he is consistently turning in complete veteran plays.
One of the real advantages to this center back pairing is the defined roles for each. I really like how the defense works funneling the passing to Evans, and he has responded with high percentage distribution from the back. He makes great decisions from the defensive third. What's more, Brad also directly affects the offense through both incisive passing from the back and forward runs. Evans brilliantly picks his timing to go forward, and in this game it came in the 31st minute with Brad intercepting a ball and recognizing a weak center could be exploited. Combining with a nifty Dempsey back heel, Evans neared the eighteen and almost unlocked Oba on goal. Evans may be the best attacking center back in the league.
I was somewhat worried to see a 3rd minute shoulder injury suffered on a contested header, but Brad remained in the game and played it out. He was beat a few times, notably turned by Sandoval in the 14th minute (who was then destroyed by a Mears tackle) and caught up field in the 60th. When found out of position, though, Evans hustled back with purpose. He is smart enough to track back appropriately to fill in where needed.
I did notice that as early as minute 63 Brad was no longer looking vertical for passes, settling for horizontal safe possession play. This was definitely by design, as the Sounders took their foot completely off the pedal. Brad went to ground a bit more this game than I would have liked, and I hope that isn't the sign of fatigue.
Community - 6.6
Realio - 7
One of a few distinct tactical changes in this game was the releasing of Mears. Tyrone turned it around completely this week after having his worst outing of the year against Houston. In the first 10 seconds Mears charged up the wing, offering an offensive option while locking down his defensive zone. He looked positively eager to overlap an inverted Pappa, and he did it to great effect. Not only was he a constant option, his runs opened up massive space for forwards' diagonal movement.
An example of Tyrone's impact was seen on Pappa's goal, when Mears flew up the wing to offer a wide option, pulling the defenders away from Marco and allowing him the space needed to get off a goal scoring shot. Playing both ways, I noted Tyrone early with an effective slide tackle on Sandoval after he thought he had beaten Evans, and again showed great persistence to follow the RSL striker all the way across the field to get a toe on the ball in the 45th to deny a goal scoring chance.
I thought Mears was close to committing a PK-worthy challenge in the 65th, but came back with awesome 1v1 defense on Garcia in the 75th to completely stonewall the opponent. This was a great game for Mears to bounce back from a rough outing last week and show that he is best when he is working both ways on the ball. Tyrone works well with Pappa, and while not directly putting a lot of service into the box, his 93rd minute pass to Barrett deserved an assist.
Community - 6.8
Realio - 6
I was really impressed with Ivanschitz's positioning in this game, and he played in a way that was very effective. On defense, he compacted the field immensely, venturing inward consistently to offer support and options in the middle. As soon as the ball was switched (such as in the 3rd minute) he sprinted out to the wing to get goal-side. It takes knowing the right angles to make this effective, and I was really impressed seeing Andreas lock down a side defensively using this method. It helped that Leo and Friberg moved seamlessly off his positioning to keep all areas covered. It was really remarkable.
Speaking of off-ball movement, just like Mears affected the Pappa goal, I thought Ivanschitz' darting direct run through the 18 in minute 5 was very effective in freezing the defense, allowing the forwards to connect on the first score. A lot of other players would have stopped at the top of the 18 instead of forcing the defense to react to another runner.
Andreas had his usual vision and distribution, the 7th minute pass to Dempsey being one highlight, and he connected well to an active forward pairing. I couldn't tell if the 17th minute free kick around a seven-man wall was on frame before deflection or not but I was disappointed in his 18th minute corner kick. It was pretty clear that he was tiring by the 75th minute or so, and failed to record anything positive or negative for the remainder of the game, although his defensive intensity visibly dropped. I really hope he has enough in the tank to contribute Wednesday.
Community - 7.2
Realio - 7
I loved what I saw from Friberg in this game because I think his play was the teamwork we needed in the center of the pitch. He did so many things that allowed others to excel, not the least of which was turning Alonso into a pure destroyer. Ozzie was able to sit deep and protect the back while Erik ranged defensively to support the wings. Keeping Alonso in the middle of the field is essential to the success of this team, and Erik's movement ensured exactly that. Friberg was great at double teaming on the edges, yet still managed to get both ways playing a true box to box role. (one note stated merely "FANTASTIC RANGE").
In minute one Erik received a thirty-yard pass from Alonso (!!) and found Andreas for a run into the box. I love seeing the center mids linking up with passes that matter and these two continued to connect throughout. On the 10th minute goal scoring play Friberg was an option on the top of the box, pulling the defense (just as Mears' wide run did) away from Pappa. I really loved seeing a center mid get all the way forward on that play - we had SIX attackers forward on that goal.
In the 20th, it was Friberg's high pressure and touch that started the counter attack ending in goal number three. Erik made a lot of strong tackles in the middle and again, this takes pressure off of others. I noted great defense in the 28th and 31st minutes, winning the ball and turned the midfield into a Sounder dominant path.
As the team transitioned to a "play it out" tactical design, Friberg became less needed, merely moving a lot and opening space for others, while keeping possession with crisp passing combinations (96% passing). I was very impressed with the central midfield play.
Osvaldo Alonso (off 73')
Community - 7.0
Realio - 7
Friberg completely unlocked Alonso, and instead of being forced to run around putting out fires Ozzie was allowed to just play perfect positional defense and shuttle the ball forward. I can't stress enough how nice it was to see him find Friberg in the 1st minute with a pass and continue to move the ball through the midfield multiple times more without bypassing it throughout the match.
In the 7th minute Alonso showed his great acceleration to win the ball off Morales' foot and start an attack, and in the 34th he showed impressive balance to win the ball in the box without fouling an attacker and move the ball forward.
When I mention how Alonso was allowed to be a deep playmaker, I mean specifically to do things like the incredible cross field laser pass he unleashed in minute 39. What a pass, fifty yards on a rope to both alleviate pressure, and jumpstart an attack down the wing. This is the sort of thing Alonso can do when he isn't being asked to dribble through the midfield or try to cover 95% of the pitch.
Alonso did have a risky pass across field in the 7th minute, and was nonchalant inside his own box and slipped in minute 24 with Morales lurking. I noted a few bad passes and off plays but he still ended up with the same awesome passing % as Friberg (96%) and until a cynical foul from Morales, Alonso looked great in this somewhat different role I'd love to see him continue in.
Community - 7.8
Realio - 7
Pappa has looked energetic and involved in every appearance lately and it's such a luxury to have a player of his skill to link up with the current lineup. Marco doesn't play your typical winger role, instead preferring to roam around and find pockets of space throughout the opposing defense. With a right back like Mears working well with him, Marco is a deadly force who pops up in odd places and puts immense pressure on defenses.
The game didn't start well for him though, with his first touch being bumbled out of bounds conceding a throw in. In the 7th minute, however, Pappa drifted inside and and found his opposite teammate Ivanschitz on the left wing with a great pass and then followed his run to the left. In the 10th minute, Marco popped up on the right, receiving a Dempsey pass and after setting up the defense with great patience, calmly slotted home a goal into the side netting. I watched this goal a lot of times; it was perfectly weighted and placed, and a lot tougher than Marco made it look.
Pappa made a poor choice to back heel the ball in transition in the 43rd that annulled a dangerous attack off a corner kick AND put pressure right back on the defense and had another in minute 56: the same pass with similar results.
I was perhaps most impressed with Pappa's defensive intensity throughout, and his possession holding is quite amazing. For a not very large man he can shield the ball as well as anyone in the league and combined with his foot skills is a nightmare to dispossess. I really liked what he brought to the game both ways and if fit he should be a possible starter for the rest of the playoffs.
Community - 7.6
Realio - 8
An active Obafemi Martins is a nightmare for defenses to handle. Oba was very active against RSL, but not just on the offensive end. In the 2nd minute I noted Martins dropping into the central mid and double teaming with Friberg. This was a consistent theme for the forwards who were lively and willing runners throughout the match.
One way to deal with a giant center back like Jamison Olave is to draw him away from goal and make him defend smaller, quicker strikers far from goal. Oba did this masterfully all game, and none better than in the 5th minute. Unlike last week vs Houston where Oba was content to be pushed away from goal by David Horst, Martins faced up vs Olave and put him on his heels. After creating space Oba lifted a perfect cross to the goalmouth that was finished for the 5th minute lead. Olave's nightmare continued in the 9th minute when Marshall sprung Oba over the top from a free kick into space.
Active active active, the operative word here for Oba was ACTIVE. Constantly moving, drifting in between channels and finding space for others to get him the ball in dangerous spots. A smart diagonal run was rewarded with a pass from Dempsey in minute 20 but I thought Martins could have done better with the shot (although it was on frame and forced the save that went towards Dempsey). In the 40th minute Oba almost reached the end of a Pappa feed on the back post and he didn't let up with the movement in the second half. Although the direct play evaporated, Martins still got on the end of some passes and had a number of dangerous flicks to spring his teammates late. This was great to see, Martins still pushing and creating in the 80th minute up big and coasting.
He had a few missed back heels and bad passes (62% passing) but as I have said before, if he is turning the ball over going forward and being dangerous and creating for others, it's a non-issue that his % isn't super high.
Clint Dempsey (off 65')
Community - 8.3 MotM
Realio - 9 MotM
What a luxury to sub off a star player this early in a game. Clint had 92% passing, 2 key passes, 3 shots, 2 goals, an assist and a curtain call by minute 65. I can't remember the last time I saw a Sounder get such an early curtain call, but boy did Clint deserve it. He was everywhere in the first half, first dropping into midfield to link up with possession, then pushing into the box to score, and again dropping to put others in on goal.
The 5th minute goal shows what this player can do when goal hungry. He just wants the ball more than the defense. Such a crafty play, Clint drifts away from the goal, pulling the defender and then bursts towards the ball to beat the defense and score. This was such a smart, tricky play and great service from Oba. In the 10th minute I was again impressed with first his touch to control a rough pass, and then Dempsey's pass to Pappa. It is perfectly weighted and in stride for Marco to attack the goal. I noticed this same excellent touch on his pass in minute 20 which opened Oba in on goal. Not content to admire his perfect pass Clint outraces everyone on the defense to get an insane touch on the rebound for a goal. That was a much harder shot than it looked, running full speed and volleying a ball over your waist is no easy task - Clint makes it look easy as he pushed the lead to three. In the 31st Clint showed Marco and Oba how to complete a proper back heel, perfectly setting up a rampaging Evans run through the middle and into the RSL 18 yard box.
It was clear that Dempsey had more energy, and none more than by his defensive actions. In minute 19 Andreas mis-passed the ball to the middle looking for Pappa but it was well behind him. Dempsey hustled to intercept the ball and keep possession. The angles taken by the forwards and Friberg cut down the entrance to the middle of the field and forced everything wide. I really like how well Clint brings the ball out of the back when necessary, such as after a defensive corner kick. Three times early in the second half he dribbled the ball out, alleviating pressure by finding an outlet or earning a free kick.
Clint did have one negative mark in my book - an offside and mistouch in the 7th minute after an Ivanschitz pass put him in on goal, but otherwise this was a tremendous display of how deadly Clint can be in all facets of the game.
Chad Barrett (65')
Community - 6.0
Realio - 6
Chad was the first player off the bench and looked adequate at running up top, although he immediately made the same run as Oba. I liked to see his great hustle after a Pineda foul in the 80th minute, covering the middle of the field for the Sounder midfielder. An 82nd minute flick almost unlocked Obaflips. I think he could have done much, much better with a wonderful Mears cross in minute 93.
Oniel Fisher (70')
Community - 5.4
Realio - 5
I didn't see much from Fisher, although it is good to see the young player back from injury. He had a nice overlap in the 72nd minute soon after coming on, but his cross left much to be desired. He showed the under-utilized suplex defensive move in minute 82. It was readily apparent that the communication with Ivanschitz and Marshall just isn't there, and he struggled consistently with positioning.
Gonzalo Pineda (73')
Community - 5.3
Realio - 4
I wasn't impressed at all. Pineda immediately tried to find Oba over the top for a turnover and it went downhill from there. At one point in the 77th minute I had to laugh as Gonzalo was just chasing the ball aimlessly. While Alonso is adept at working with this style, he was off the field. This left way too many holes, and even though Friberg was up for hustling and trying, he was unable to do much to help. This put a lot of pressure on the players behind Pineda while Gonzalo did a lot of watching.
Community - 6.5
Realio - 7
Very good job from the ref in this one. He kept it tight and clean. I noticed his great positioning in the 5th minute and he maintained this throughout. I felt all his yellows were reasonable (Martinez hack of Leo in the 43rd, Stertzer multiple fouls in a minute, and Jaime cynical hack from behind).
My only complaint is I felt like two RSL players could have been yellow carded earlier which would have keep the game safer. First off, Beltran got a warning after a 16th minute foul, yet committed another in the 29th and at least two more later with no card. This wasn't nearly as egregious as Javier Morales, who somehow got off without a caution. He committed his second foul in the 12th minute and tried to hack Oba before a talking to after the third. His fourth foul was in the 30th, fifth in the 39th, sixth in the 62nd, and he committed a 7th that went uncalled in the 71st. That's just too much leniency for one player, and that last foul forced Ozzie Alonso out (possibly) hurt. This alone docked Stoica a full ratings point and slightly tarnished a nice match from the ref.
This was the feel good performance that the team needed to springboard them into the playoffs. A home match against L.A. is another chance to build upon the momentum that the team has been creating for the last 8 games. I will be looking for a continuance of the flowing attack and forwards motivated to move without the ball and I really think if this team continues to use the midfielders as they were positioned in this game we are in for a long postseason. Hay Fe