This Portland match wasn't as high-flying or spectacular as a few from the past, but still drew 409 raters to the community poll. Lots of good defense and an off night for some attackers on both sides led to some slow stretches, and that is reflected in the numbers. The community (and Realio) gave solid marks across the back line but saw faults in the Sounders wing play. Darlington Nagbe took the plurality in Best Non-Sounder voting with about 38 percent, with Alvas Powell at runner-up, earning just over 24 percent of those who named a Timber. With that we turn it over to our rater-in-residence, Realio.
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Full disclosure: I watched this game next to a Portland fan. He happens to be one of my very best friends, and while he obviously has poor choice in teams to support, he definitely offered a different perspective on the game. It also meant that rewatching I caught a lot more Sounders-specific stuff (when FS1 actually showed the game instead of cutaways). There was a lot to love and hate about this game.
Community - 7.21
Realio - 7
Frei had a very quiet game until the end, and was more of a game manager than a shot stopper for much of the contest. I think it's important for goalies to keep their concentration and Stefan seems to be able to do this even when he is getting very little action. A 33rd-minute step out and quick punt led to a quality attack on some quick decision making from the back. This showed me that Frei recognized the strategy that Portland was deploying and he was countering by moving the ball long and quick before they could re-park the bus.
Stefan did have to make a few saves, one notable one coming when Evans made an ill-advised slide attempt and missed, allowing a shot that was covered smoothly. The Adi header that went over Frei was covered onto the bar, and his positioning was solid throughout. This made the few saves he did have to make very simple and routine.
Watching live it seemed that every kick was going out of bounds, however on second watch I was actually quite happy with his distribution. Even though I counted two kicks that were met with boos after going awry, I am encouraged by Stefan's improvement in his decision making. He knows when to throw, when to kick, he varies his punting style for differing needs, and is working fluidly with the back five.
Community - 6.39
Realio - 6
There weren't very many notes this week on Dylan Remick. I have him marked down for some good defensive pressure and good defense (both twice), along with two overlaps. This was a game where Dylan didn't get forward a ton, and his skillset was fairly neutralized by the extent to which Portland was sitting back. I noted a number of times where Remick had an opportunity to advance into a more attacking position to support Neagle and he instead stayed home much more than usual. I am not sure if this is because he was next to Zach Scott or it was a side effect of Neagle having a rough go of the defense support or what.
Dylan did manage to affect the game late by being the one who produced the long throw in to Dempsey on the goal-scoring play. Because Remick is so fit and has good conditioning, he is able to take a throw like this deep in an opponent's territory and have no issues getting back if it's turned over. This is an underappreciated perk of Remick at left back.
Because Dylan was so far back for most of the game and Portland didn't attack much, Remick had very few errors. I have him marked down for one turnover, and he failed to be an offensive threat for much of the contest.
Community - 6.66
Realio - 6
When Zach Scott gave the ball away in the first minute I thought we were in for a long game in the back. I was pleasantly surprised as the next 90+ minutes Scott, while not flashy, was consistently solid. He won headers, played stand up defense, and took the safe option.
There were some hiccups, like when Urruti got behind him once, or not closing down Chara for a shot, but these were quickly taken care of by his defensive teammates. Adi also got in between Scott and Evans late and put a header off the post.
Scott has definitely matured in the last few years and curbed the hasty decision-making that seemed to haunt him previously. This decision-making used to result in unnecessary rough play, fouls in bad positions, and poor tactical awareness. None of this was evident on Sunday, and while Scott is always up for the physical challenge, the mental side of his game is vastly improved. I especially liked seeing Scott coaching Remick on the field early, gesticulating where to be and consistently pushing the younger player into a position that complemented his own. I debated going 7 here but there just isn't quite enough on the plus column in my notebook to justify it. Scott was good though, and is an above average third center back for spot duty. It sure would have been great for him to score the wide open corner kick header he had late, but like Marshall in the first game, he put it wide.
Community - 7.00
Realio - 7
Brad Evans has reeled off 5 above-average scores from me in a row following a rough outing early in the season. On the shortlist for his third MOTM, Evans had a very good active first half to set the tone. Brad was dominant in the air, winning seven headers by my count and making any crossing attacks pointless. He stepped up to support the midfield on Nagbe multiple times, and made smart clearances when necessary (like in the 8th minute, a powerful clear into the stands to reset the defense).
I have started to keep track of how often Brad goes to ground on defense and the Portland game ended at 4 times slide tackling. On a scale of Pappa to Traore I would put Evans slightly on the Djimi side of the scale but actually trending less to ground tackles and more to positional defense. This can be a good thing, like when Evans came across and cleaned the ball out of the box after Urruti got behind Scott, but it can also be problematic like the missed tackle on Urruti that led to an open shot that Frei smothered mid-second half.
In the end, my biggest complaint about Evans this week is I am not sure he adapted too well to the change that brought in Adi. He needs to be a bit stronger against big players and this was evident immediately as Adi's first touch was a header created by strength to earn space inside the six vs. Evans. Other then these few small issues, Brad had another above average, solid game.
Community - 6.19
Realio - 7
This was a surprising score for me to read after I was done tallying up the scores. It is also the first time that Mears has received an above-average score without doing amazing offensive things to boost his rating. I am impressed with what is going on over on the right side of defense and it was readily apparent that Evans/Mears were more comfortable than Scott/Remick.
The Timbers basically had zero attack all night from their left side, and a lot of that is due to Mears' positioning which was spot on for the entire contest. I have multiple marks in my notes which just say "perfect positional defense", "transitioned directly into open space creating shape", and "position allowed Pineda options to turn and advance ball" etc. These are things that don't show up on traditional stats but I am impressed with him the more I watch Mears. A lot of people are of the mind that Mears picks his spots to advance perhaps better then Deandre did, but I think it's more than that. Mears seems to be a superior positional player at this point, and it makes transitioning from defense into quality attacking support very easy. This means instead of 50 yard gut busting sprints, he is already in position to just step a few steps wider, and push up field while remaining connected to Brad and Pappa.
Tyrone misplayed a ball out of bounds in the 2nd minute and lost Villafaña on an overlap communication with Pappa in the 12th but after that he put the entire left side of the Portland offense in his pocket and sat on it. I am not sure what happened to the set piece experiment, but I hope SSFC doesn't forget Tyrone has the ability to serve a quality ball once in a while.
Community - 5.40
Realio - 5
Will the real Lamar Neagle please stand up? After two very positive weeks, Lamar fell back to earth a bit against Portland. I scored this one a below-average mark based on the usual Neagle issues with bad passes (4) and losing the ball taking on multiple defenders (3) without direction. I am not sure if they were miscommunications, but Lamar just flat out passed the ball to the Timbers a few times as well. These are all things that Lamar tends to do when he's having a "bad" game and I think he just gets frustrated and starts pushing/thinking too much. When Lamar seems to play best is when he is part of a free flowing, back and forth attacking game. Slow, possession based, technical soccer is not his strength and this showed up with a negative score.
Despite having a pretty rough day by my book, I still had Lamar down for a hopeful ball into the box that found Oba for a nice chance which came from a left-footed cross early that I liked a lot. He had one noted defensive pressure on Nagbe, as well as a good shot forcing a save from Kwarasey in first half stoppage time.
While I don't really blame Lamar for taking the volley in the 72nd that he put into the stratosphere, it is notable that Dempsey made a tremendous run and a simple pass would have netted Neagle an assist. Lamar was a bit better in the second half and while he still didn't have a lot to show for his night, it was apparent he had received some coaching at half. Unfortunately, he did little notable defensively and seemed to have trouble both working with Remick and unlocking the Timbers. I will acknowledge some of Lamar's struggles were due to Alvas Powell, who was a standout and just crushed Neagle most of the game.
Community - 6.06
Realio - 7
I like the idea of resting Pineda more this year, and this sort of performance is what you get when you have him rested. This was an outstanding game that I thought was the best of the year for Gonzalo. Sometimes it seems that the entire game flow runs through Pineda's positioning and when he is able to play forward, good things happen. One of my biggest issues with those attempting to eat into his minutes so far has been their inability to move the ball vertically, and that was accentuated by just how many times Pineda was the engine for moving the ball up the field Sunday. I like that Gonzalo isn't afraid to turn towards goal and look over the top, and he had few good looks to Oba running off the back shoulder of the defense.
Pineda looked very comfortable next to Ozzie all night and they covered the middle well, but it was Pineda who did most of the offensive work on the night. In the 9th minute he ran past Chara with pace and this led to a close attempt by Oba which is something I would love to see more of.
I wasn't too happy with the set piece service by any of the Sounders, and Pineda didn't take his very well. He had a few errant passes but none in very bad spots. This was overall a quality mixed defensive and offensive performance from Pineda and he brings that experienced grit that leads to chasing Chara down and leveling him after getting cheap shotted. (This may have led to the yellow for Pappa). While I don't condone it, these things happen in rivalry games.
Community - 6.94
Realio - 7
This was a rather quiet above-average outing for Alonso. It can be hard to rate someone who just does his job consistently and doesn't ever seem to make any mistakes. (A bad pass in the 44th minute is all that showed up). Even his yellow card was the right foul to make in that spot and stopped Nagbe from advancing the ball.
Ozzie stayed a lot deeper in this game, taking turns owning Yartey and helping shut down Nagbe. He had a lot of broken up plays, some steals, and great control of the middle of the field. With Pineda tasked with more of the offensive role, there weren't many vertical passes from Ozzie and he didn't get into the attack much. I think this is a product of supporting the back 4 against mainly Nagbe who was quite a handful without being particularly dangerous most of the game. When a team plays "kick the ball pointlessly then force it to one guy and hope he does something" soccer you put Ozzie on that guy and say good luck. That's what happened on Sunday and as usual Alonso was up to the task.
Community - 5.86
Realio - 5
Bookending our midfield with below-average scores is a bit alarming to me and at this point they are the weakest links on the team. If opponents are going to park the bus in the middle of the field early and hope Nagbe, a defensive blunder, or set piece header is going to win the game, we need to get more production from the wingers. I am not sure what the answer is. Pappa, like Neagle, filled up the stat sheet with negative ratings, but also had a few good events.
Pappa is one of the few who can link up with the DPs up front and while you can't make a triangle with just Oba and Clint, Pappa tends to force passes and had three pretty bad ones towards those guys with no chance of success. Other times Marco drifted so far inside that it just clogged an already full center of the pitch.
Marco put in a dutiful defensive night's work and helped Mears lock down his side, made some good runs and had a few good crosses. I was happy to see Pappa take two outside shots, since this opens up space for the forwards to work. He had a beautiful pass to Dempsey that a better control might have turned into a goal. Pappa is as much to blame for bad set pieces as Pineda, and struggled to get over the first man on multiple occasions before taking an ill-advised shot way over on his last free kick. I don't blame Pappa for his soft yellow as it looked to be a bit of a makeup call but he needs to keep his elbows down. I have no idea why Marco needs to make a bad pass across the middle of the field to no one that turns into a dangerous spot, but there it was in the 8th minute. This was a disappointing performance by Marco, who needs to exert more influence on the game. He is a great technical player; I'd like him to act like it.
Community - 6.93
Realio - 8
Who's the MOTM? I'll take Clint Dempsey for $1000, Alex. This guy does so much stuff on the soccer field that he consistently takes up more than the allotted notebook space. I'll start with the negative, and it's a short list: There was a miscommunication with Pappa for a turnover and a bad pass to Neagle that didn't work out. He didn't control the through ball in the 55th minute that was on goal but that is just nitpicking.
For positives my list was long, and started out with defensive help early in the game. Multiple times this caused turnovers that were shuttled back into the attack. In the 30th minute he had a gorgeous bit of skill where he backwards-flicked a waist-high ball sideways to Oba out of pressure between two players to switch and counter.
The effort Clint puts in to get into positions for a goal is second to none (maybe Oba sometimes?). It is amazing to watch his acceleration into position, as he did on the Neagle volley. Any pass across goal is redirected for an easy score there due to Dempsey being in the right position. On his goal scoring play, Clint does get the flick but if you watch the play he keeps moving into perfect position for a return pass. If Rose had chosen to do a give and go instead of shoot Clint would have scored easily, and easily he ended up scoring as he had left the defenders flat footed and just out-desired every Timbers player to the ball to score.
Yes, Clint scored, and yes, he had a ton of good play in this game, but the highlight for me came in minute 85. Clint is on the 6 yard box and misses a header off a cross on the right side. The ball goes to Nagbe around 35 yards out and he starts to move across midfield to attack our goal. Clint SPRINTS full speed downfield, catching up to Nagbe by midfield and plays defense 60 yards from where he started to help preserve the win. This is an $8 million DP forward in the 85th minute of a game sprinting from the 6 yard box on offense to his own defensive 18 to help get points. This for me is just fantastic, inspiring stuff to see from a player.
Community - 6.71
Realio - 6
There isn't a ton to say about Oba's game on Sunday. Playing target forward against a tall backline with a packed-in defense and little service is a completely thankless job. Oba put in a lot of work moving off the ball and made some very good runs that weren't rewarded. His holdup play was what you would expect when seeing the defensive positioning, very average.
Martins remained active, finding small pockets of space in the first half to get shots or set up those around him somewhat. Oba did also win a header over Nat Borchers that led to the Neagle volley into the ECS and made a lot more defensive recoveries than usual. I don't think this was due to more defensive diligence but rather a side effect of Ridgewell and Borchers playing "tag you're it" with the ball for much of the game. Solid game for Oba but the survey says no MVP performance.
Andy Rose (74')
Community - 6.54
Realio - 7
Come on down Andy Rose! I have been waiting to be able to rate a substitute as something decent and here it is in game 7. Rose made an instant impact by being in a great position to get a shot on goal that resulted in Dempsey's game-winning tally. Rose just seems to have a knack for being in the right spot in these situations, and also didn't look out of place on the wing. I like the tactical flexibility he brings.
Leo Gonzalez (86')
Community - 5.56
Realio - N/A
The vaunted left side lockdown was in effect for the last 5 minutes plus stoppage. Leo didn't do anything notable other than his job defensively.
NONE - N/A
No idea why Sigi didn't use the 3rd sub to kill time at the end of the game.
Community - 6.26
Realio - 7
I might have to re-evaluate my ratings on referees because I have given above average scores on five of seven matches so far. This was to me another quality job done. My biggest appreciation for Kelly was his allowing advantage to play on before making calls. Multiple times he would continue a play, then after the play was done or advantage lost blow the whistle and award the free kick or card. I like this but it takes some getting used to, and I can definitely see why people around me were complaining about it.
As far as what he missed, Nagbe definitely went down easily and got calls, and Chara somehow got away with eight offenses that I counted (I think only four were actually called), including one on Dempsey close to the box. He should have been carded early, which may have stopped him from just thugging up the entire game. Other than these minor points with my Rave Green glasses, the game was called pretty evenly, and I had no issues with the game flow from the ref's side of things.