Finally, we got that monkey off our back and move on in the playoffs without the damn Galaxy hanging over our head. Wednesday's 3-2 win wasn't always pretty, but I definitely thought the Sounders played better than their opponents. Even though the LA Galaxy had more shots in the first half, many weren't close to the target or particularly dangerous. As usual the home team made the most of their few shots. The second half proved just how great this coaching staff is, shuffling a few players around and setting up the Sounders personnel to completely dominate the final period. Consistent pressure paid off and the victorious Seattle Sounders advance to meet Dallas Sunday. Some injury concerns remain but dammit, we beat LA. Let's enjoy that.
Community - 7.6
Realio - 7
Frei had a lot to do in this game, but he didn't touch the ball a ton. As usual the Sounders allowed very few quality shots, however LA seemed to score on just about everything they put on goal. On the first LA goal, I think Frei was hugging his line a little too much, but I can't really find any fault on the second as it took a deflection and he still almost saved it.
I noted a few miscues from Frei in this game, a poor punt in the 9th and misplayed cross in the 39th stood out in my notes. I like that even though Steven Gerrard was definitely offside in the 79th, Stefan still saved his shot.
Frei had two awesome saves, expertly stopping the Robbie Keane turn and shot into the crossbar in the 21st as well as an open look for Gyasi Zardes in the 82nd. Throughout the game Frei was in good position and made the saves he is supposed to make. As LA found out, consistent goal keeping is very important. Even though there were some communication errors with a patchwork back line, Frei made it very apparent that it was going to take something special to beat the Sounders. I wish he hadn't taken a time wasting yellow, since only 2 yellows = suspension.
Leo Gonzalez (off 36')
Community - 6.4
Realio - 6
This is an incomplete score for Leo, who only played 36 minutes before being injured and forced off the field. Prior to this, I thought he played well.
In the 4th minute Gonzales stepped to win possession nicely, and immediately found a switching pass to the far winger Valdez. His high pressure on Gerrard in the 7th was perfect, forcing the ball back and away from danger.
Leo was beat badly once, as Sebastian Lletget was able to round him on the end line and cross the ball into the box. I am so used to seeing Gonzalez force a goal kick there that it was surprising to see him beat. Unfortunately, the play ended up as a goal in the 22nd minute.
It looked to me like Leo got hurt reaching for a ball in the 29th, as he winced and then gingerly attempted to play for a while longer. It is a shame that he is hurt. Other than the one miscue he was doing well on his side and the majority of the attacks were coming through the opposite wing.
Community - 7.4
Realio - 8
Chad had a "quiet" game in which he again dominated the middle, and again was forced to work with a myriad of back line combinations. Marshall was steady, never getting beat and making very few errors. I think Scott usually plays on the left when in a center back pairing, but in this game Marshall kept his spot next to the left back throughout.
In the very 1st minute Marshall was forced to come across and save the day after Keane got on goal on a breakaway. As usual he calmly ushered the play out and while conceding a corner, he stopped this very dangerous attack. With the Galaxy attack changing to direct play over the midfield for much of the game, Marshall was tasked with winning headers and dealing with diagonal runs attempting to get behind. I thought he played these brilliantly, never allowing Keane to get in behind him while keeping his line very tight.
Marshall's distribution from the back was very good in this game, with only a 54th minute long ball going awry. He won aerials, had interceptions, and wasn't beat behind. He is really playing at a high level in the last few contests and again looks like the best defender in the league.
Community - 8.2 (MotM)
Realio - 8 (MotM)
You could easily argue that this score is both too high and too low; Evans had that sort of game. When you add it all up though, you have a guy who played great defense, completely turned the game on its head with his offensive influence, and throughout showed the leadership of a champion. That earns man of the match from me.
I'll start with the negative, and the big one is Brad getting turned by Zardes in the 7th minute which ended up as a goal. Zardes had a great game and unfortunately Brad just got beat. After changing to left back, it took Evans a while to figure out his angles, and it almost cost the team in the 38th minute, as LA found an easy look through his zone. In the 43rd minute Brad was caught chasing an opponent too high on the field. In the second half there was a bad header to the middle that almost cost us, and I thought Brad was dribbling too much at the end. He was beat by Alan Gordon on a free kick that luckily went wide in the 88th.
Brad still managed a phenomenal game. In the first half it was defense, whether putting a header high and wide in the 6th minute, stepping forward to lock the Galaxy repeatedly in their own half, or an 11th minute positional owning of Robbie Keane. Evans in the 40th minute found himself 1v1 vs. Lletget and demolished him.
The second half was defined by the absolute chaos Evans and Dempsey created on the left side. Released from the positional demands of center back, Evans started the second half rampaging up and down the left wing, interchanging with Clint and creating strife with passes and dribbles alike. In the 46th he galloped past a bewildered Lletget to create a chance. in the 52nd he overlapped and Friberg found him behind the defense. In the 58th and 60th he crept far up the wing, understanding the space that Dempsey was creating for him, and both times received a great switching pass to continue probing the soft LA defense.
Brad's service wasn't great, but who cares? He completely turned the entire Galaxy defense on its head, and Bruce Arena had no counter. Unfortunately, a lot of different running than he is used to may have resulted in a hamstring injury. Even in injury Brad was huge, pulling up hurt yet managing 5 more steps to knock the ball from Keane and out. I won't sugar coat it. The Evans injury is HUGE. He happens to be proficient at all four positions we have had the lowest rated players at for this year. Having a passing option from the back was an incredible luxury. Let's hope that he can make it back soon.
Community - 6.8
Realio - 7
Mears didn't start this game out well, playing a soft pass back to Evans SIX seconds in and allowing last year's MVP a chance early. Luckily Marshall was there to save the day. Tyrone was also ball watching on the first LAG goal.
Other than that big mistake, I thought Tyrone did a good job of locking down his side, even with a sudden change of center back to his left. Most exciting was the continued rejuvenation of the attacking fullback for this team, and in this game Mears was great at getting forward with purpose. This is such a dangerous addition to the team because our forwards know how to move so well off the ball. It wasn't until the Gonzales injury that Mears was released, but he took to it with aplomb and started putting pressure on Zardes and Robbie Rogers. In the 44th minute he had a cross to Valdez which was almost converted. A telling play happened in the 49th minute. Mears was presented with a simple drop pass that he has usually been taking this season, but instead he opted to push the ball up field and cross a hopeful ball to space. As mentioned, our forwards are great at attacking this sort of play and Dempsey found space and put in a fantastic header on goal. This was key to me because I think it showed Mears he can still attack and more importantly SHOULD do so. In the 68th his fast overlap forced a corner kick and in the 72nd he won the ball and again forced the issue forward.
I will be looking to see if Mears continues this play or reverts back to being very cautious. Against a player like Fabian Castillo you might think caution is needed, however it is worth entertaining the idea of putting similar offensive pressure on Dallas as we did against LA.
Andreas Ivanschitz (off 88')
Community - 7.8
Realio - 8
Ivanschitz was stellar in this game, seemingly everywhere. When moving, Andreas keeps his head up and makes smart decisions consistently.
I made it two sentences without referencing his service which is FANTASTIC. In the 12th minute he put an eloquent free kick over the defense and onto the foot of Valdez to push the Sounders into the lead. Every single time he stands over the ball I expect great things and we get it most of the time. In the 15th he took a quick version, and almost found Dempsey alone on the back post. A cross in the 27th was dangerous as was a 48th minute corner. A few minutes later he found Oba with room to shoot. After a give and go with Friberg he put a beautiful cross in towards Oba and Valdez in the 69th, only to have Gerrard save a sure goal. Speaking of goals, he scored a beautiful far post goal that was called back.
When he wasn't serving up assists, Andreas was playing surprisingly great 1v1 defense, and his 29th minute tackle was textbook. He wasn't perfect, showing a bad 20th minute touch to kill an attack, but in the 65th he just proved what he can bring. A smart pressuring of the ball in the middle won him possession, and after pushing the ball to Oba and getting it back he burst through to get a near post shot on goal, forcing a Donovan Ricketts save.
It was obvious that Andreas was tiring as his touches started to fail him after the 85th minute or so. This was his best game as a Sounder in the biggest game of the season.
Communtiy - 6.5
Realio - 7
Andy's first playoff start was playing defensive mid against Gerrard and the LA Galaxy. Wow, congrats to the young Seattle player for doing a very nice job against a tough team in a crazy environment.
It was obvious that he was nervous when his first touch went a bit wonky, but he calmed down and played solid for the rest of the half other than a bad touch in the 21st. This caromed straight to Keane for a shot that hit the woodwork. Rose played a very deep and centralized position for this one, not straying from the middle much at all. Rose kept his position well and gummed up the middle, protecting the center backs behind him.
In the second half Steven Gerrard may as well have changed his number from 8 to 5, because every time I saw him near the ball Rose was all over him. It was a bit odd to see man marking in the middle, but that is what it looked like, and Andy in the least had to have been told to keep very good track of the former EPL star. Rose just completely blanked Gerrard and marked him out of the game. Andy also found time to stop a 70th minute Giovanni Dos Santos breakaway and put enough pressure in the 72nd minute to create a turnover that led to the Sounders game winner.
There are times the game looked big for Rose, taking one touch and losing possession when holding the ball would have helped more, but I was very pleased with the work and results from the middle by both midfielders.
Community - 7.9
Realio - 8
Speaking of midfielders, how about that Swedish guy eh? While Rose stayed home, Erik was EVERYWHERE. In the 3rd minute it was apparent that it was Friberg who would be roaming, popping up on the wing to double team and help defense. It was after drifting wide in the 5th minute that Friberg pumped in a quality ball from the wing that befuddled Omar Gonzales and Ricketts, dropping to Dempsey who knew what to do with it. Friberg has great service from a running ball like Mears does and multiple times dropped in dangerous passes from the run of play.
Did I mention he was everywhere? in the 10th minute after pressing Gerrard into a turnover he popped up on the left side to support the attack. In the 42nd minute when Oba went into the corner to retrieve a ball, he smartly charged directly on goal and almost scored from a cross. Friberg was so valuable helping on defense, whether it was supporting Scott in the back or double teaming with Oba in the front, he did it all. In the 69th Erik worked a slick give and go with Ivanschitz that almost ended in the net.
There were a few mistakes, some forced passes and at times he could have held the ball more to bring the team up the field. In the 61st he passed the ball to no one on the break and oh WHO CARES HOW ABOUT THAT FINISH!?!?!?! The guy is so valuable because he is smart and knows where to go to help out. In minute 73 he is floating in support of the scrum in the eighteen and hits a one time left footed knuckle ball across his body over the defenders and keeper into the top right of the net. This was all class, a perfect strike from Friberg.
Nelson Haedo Valdez (off 75')
Community - 7.5
Realio - 7
Valdez didn't have a ton of marks in my book but he brings great work rate and physicality that was needed vs. a tough team. Not intimidated by the atmosphere one bit, Valdez went to work on the left side, continually pushing the ball and picking up quite a few knocks for his troubles.
In the 12th minute Valdez got loose on a free kick and had a very slick finish for his second SSFC goal. This guy just plays so hard, in the 25th minute I had him for a nice corner kick defensive header and an offensive attacking header in the 26th. His 29th minute flick on a corner kick was reminiscent of his first Sounders goal but it went wide of the mark. In the 44th he found Mears a willing distributor and almost had another header on goal.
When pushed forward, Valdez showed good holdup play to consistently keep possession when the defense cleared long balls. In the 64th he found himself around the Sounder defensive 18 winning possession after tracking back for sixty yards. He has amazing aerial skills both jumping and anticipation and the team needs to learn to run off him more to utilize this.
I thought Nelson lost his mark on the first Galaxy goal, ball watching and allowing Lletget around him to have an unmarked look. He needs to stay on defense when playing wing; he looks forward a bit too much which he won't be able to do with Dallas coming.
Community - 7.5
Realio - 7
For the second week in a row Oba looked unstoppable for long periods of play. Motivated, fast, and taking people on all game, Oba was such a force against LA. When Oba is on, he is doing things like the 8th minute hold up and switch to Mears, which released pressure with Leonardo all over him. He followed this up in the 11th minute with a turn and pushing on goal, this won a free kick when Leonardo wacked him. Free kicks are suddenly a strength for the Sounders and this one created by Martins ended up as our second goal.
At about the 20th minute I realized how well Oba was playing: he took a complete hack to the legs, kept his balance and the ball, and still led a breakaway. Plays like these are so telling for the Nigerian superstar. In the 42nd minute Oba's hustle off an errant cross turned into a great pass to Friberg for a close chance.
Oba started out the second half strong as well, continually dropping in to the shallow middle, receiving the ball, and finding outlets, often Evans. He did this in the 48th and 58th minutes, both times pulling the Galaxy defense way out of shape. In the 50th he received the ball from Ivanschitz and created space only to shoot high with a reasonably open goal.
Oba had pretty good passing numbers (75% completion) but at times had trouble linking up with players. He still forces things, most blatantly bypassing a wide open Friberg in the middle of the field in the 13th minute and instead forcing a long ball over the top that was lost. There was one instance where he and Clint got a 2v2 late (85') and he passed directly to the defense.
These were all minor things and no errors put the home team in any jeopardy. More indicative of his play was in the 74th minute instead of dropping off, Oba pressured Ricketts into a bad clearance out of bounds. Motivated Oba Martins is the best thing we can have to support the injured team behind him, since his pressure can either break down a team, or force opponents back to help out.
Commutity - 8.2
Realio - 8
After a quiet start, Dempsey found a fumbled ball in the 5th minute and calmly finished it. Many players would take a touch, but Clint jumped and one timed it, giving the team an early lead for the second game in a row. Seattle is so hard to beat when it scores first and getting these early leads is HUGE. In the 20th minute Clint demonstrated an underrated trait of his which is understanding game state. Often when we are struggling with pressure, suddenly Clint will have the ball after a corner and will hold it, earning a free kick or finding Oba on a break to give our defense a break. He did this again in the 27th.
It was at Clint's urging that Andreas picked up the loose ball and scored what I thought was a good goal, and I like that he was so dialed in that "play till the whistle" was the rule - it was a heads up play.
I have to hand it to the Sounders' staff and Dempsey, the move to winger was just genius, and Clint played outstanding there. In the 47th he was already controlling the game from a wide position, cutting in and working perfectly with Evans overlapping. In the 49th he viciously attacked a twelve-yard header getting great power and forcing a save out of Ricketts. In the 50th Clint controlled the ball in the middle, found Evans overlapping with a perfectly weighted pass to spring an attack. Dempsey wasn't all offense either, I noted a tremendous hustle play and great defense in the 52nd.
Dempsey had a bad pass on a break that hurt a goal scoring chance and needed to hold the ball better in the 85th when killing time. But it was Clint again who was hustling after a lost ball in the 86th that forced a bad touch from Omar Gonzales and earned a late throw to kill some more time. This kind of energy from the forwards is going to make us a very, very hard out in the playoffs.
Zach Scott (35')
Community - 6.6
Realio - 6
If he'd played a whole game, I would be tempted to give Scott a 5. While he was thrust into a tough position, it's one a veteran has to be prepared for and I thought he did only an average job. Positionally he did well to stay attached to Marshall and Mears (such as a 39th minute trap) and he didn't get blatantly beat too many times.
Scott was beat though, notably in the 42nd by Keane forcing a Marshall save. In the 61st minute I felt a little sick after another scary cross field pass (STOP DOING THAT). Scott chased his mark very high in this game and gave up bad fouls in the 77th and 93rd on players who were dribbling harmlessly away from goal. He can't continue to just foul and give up set pieces, especially late. In the 82nd he completely lost Zardes who luckily was unable to beat a prepared Stefan Frei. His 91st minute touch to the middle started a LAG break.
Scott is Scott, and he will give you maximum effort. But you just wait for the inevitable struggle point and hope that Marshall or Frei can save the day. In this game, Zach did minimize this, and I hope he can do similar if he plays more in the playoffs.
Chad Barrett (75')
Community - 6.0
Realio - 6
Chad immediately got in a hard tackle and won possession, only to have a similarly hard tackle dispossess him. Welcome to the game sir. I thought Barrett did fine supplementing the defensive effort after the game winning goal, and other than a poor foul in a bad spot in the 87th did well to keep Zardes from joining the attack.
Cristian Roldan (88')
Community - 5.7
Realio - 6
Surprised to see Roldan, and in hindsight really happy about it. Even though the summer sucked, we got players like Roldan, Rose, Fisher, etc. time to learn, mature, and get real game experience. This paid off when Cristian smartly took the ball to the corner in the 90th like a seasoned veteran. There were no signs of nerves and he supported the left side well.
Community - 4.8
Realio - 3
I can't even.
Marrufo had some calls that I agreed with in this game, like the late tackle vs. Friberg in the 10th or Leonardo hanging a leg out in the 11th. But this is Marrufo so unless there is bone showing, it's not a card. In the 2' Leonardo viciously leads with his elbow to the back of Valdez's head, NOT EVEN CALLED A FOUL. This is a yellow every day of the week and probably a red with a majority of refs. Targeting the back of the head needs to be addressed. In preparation for this game I dedicated an entire page in my notebook to the ref and he filled the entire thing. I won't bore you with all 22 notes in my book for the ref, but here are the cliff notes:
Marrufo allowed a ton of physical play to happen early with no calls, creating a dangerous environment and more animosity between players and referee alike than needed. No one knew how far to go so it became a game of kick and be kicked.
Marrufo so incredibly botched an advantage play that the Galaxy just quit even though there was no whistle and the ball was live, and while the Sounders continued to play and eventually score, Marrufo called it a goal. Then took it away. Because Marrufo.
There were at least 3 red cardable offenses against the Galaxy that seriously endangered the safety of players. They got 2 yellows total for the game. I also saw Dempsey completely and blatantly clean out DeLaGarza off the ball and not get so much as a foul called. Leonardo had 5 called fouls among about 10 altercations worth of fouls. No card, yet Baggio Husidic got a card on his first touch of the game, on a kick that was light for game state.
Even with all the injuries, this Sounders team has enough depth to win it all. It will come down to a few role players stepping up while bigger stars heal, and we need our big time players to show up consistently. Onward to the cup!