We saw a glimpse of both worlds during the Sounders 2-1 victory over Toronto last weekend. After giving up an early lead, the team started to push too hard and looked like it might break into the bad habits that symbolized the summer slump. The difference was the absence of our star DP's over the summer and their inclusion in the lineup on Saturday turned the tide and spurred the Sounders to a much needed victory. That is now three wins in four games as the Sounders climb towards the top of the West. My scores were very polar, with some players showing their obvious class and others lagging behind.
Community - 7.95
Realio - 8
Frei just continues to put out great games in net and is keeping his team in matches when they struggle long enough for our attackers to contribute. Stefan routinely comes up with that huge save to change a game and is only being beat on complete defensive miscues in front of him.
Frei made a lot of the saves in this game look easy, by being in perfect position throughout. He was quick off his line in the 31st minute to play stand up 1v1 defense against Herculez Gomez who had gotten in behind, forcing him outside. I noted a solid punch out on a corner kick in the 50th that went almost 35 yards. Small things that Frei does are really paying off, such as anticipating a Scott header back and advancing to the edge of his box before the center back even turned.
His big save came in the 58th, Frei utilizing great footwork to accent the reflexes needed to lunge to his left and parry away the Luke Moore shot. It was a goal saving play.
Late in the game Frei was very assertive, coming out to clear a ball in the 80th and again coming out strong in a crowd in the 82nd. This one he caught and held on, something his counterpart struggled with all game. In the 83rd Stefan again came off his line, making it look easy. Frei is playing with a ton of confidence and it is going to take a lot to beat him this season.
Community - 6.26
Realio - 6
Fisher may not be our best left back but he is doing an admirable job improving every week at a position I doubt anyone figured him for at the start of the season. Oniel shows great composure on the ball going forward and has a knack of drifting up the left wing to stretch the field. Alonso found him with a tough pass doing just this in the 5th minute and I was pleased to see Fisher calmly control and touch forward in a single motion. Adding to his quality skill play Fisher wasn't afraid to do a lot of dirty work in this game, continually bodying up Robbie Findley. I am impressed with the improvements in his 1v1 defense, especially in the 19th and 48th minutes where he had little support and handled himself well.
Even though I see a lot of improvement, there are still many items to work on. Oniel tends to be very inaccurate with headers and clearances, with many going directly to opposing players or into the middle in dangerous areas. I would like to see him funnel more to the wings or even out of bounds if necessary. Even more alarming - his positioning at times is too wide, such as in the 23rd minute where he gave Findley the goal side run on goal. Fisher needs to stay more compact and not allow inside runs. Oniel tends to go to sleep on plays, and none worse than losing Eriq Zavaleta on the Toronto goal, where Fisher was caught ball watching and Zavaleta was allowed an unmarked header from 6 yards out. We have seen this kind of concentration lapse from many of the rookies this year and Fisher will need to pay more attention to marking if he is going to continue to merit starts.
Community - 6.89
Realio - 7
Chad played well this week, but again it was clear he is still adjusting to the players around him. Marshall wasn't needed to save his back line as much as usual in this game, instead staying mainly central and only getting pulled out of position when his center back partner drifted too far forward. Having Alonso and Friberg dropping in to collect the ball from the defense also took some pressure off Marshall to distribute which isn't his strong point.
I thought in the 62nd he had finally scored a set piece goal off a great Dempsey pass but Chris Konopka made a tremendous save. Marshall won his usual amount of headers (all of them) as well as made strong tackles and had a 90+% passing completion rate. This included a clearance that went to Dempsey and was in the back of the net 10 seconds later.
There were some cracks in Marshall's play and he was beat fairly badly in the 26th minute by Findley requiring a heroic Scott tackle. Chad lost Luke Moore right at halftime for a shot that didn't end up being too dangerous. I thought his foul in the 49th minute was especially poor and the team needs to minimize set pieces against until we can figure out how to defend them.
Community - 6.27
Realio - 5
In this game Scott didn't impress me. Toronto game planned for the Sounders very well, pressuring the ball off of every defender but Scott, and then dropping off when Zach received the ball to force him to create. This was smart, as Scott is prone to making poor decisions. Starting with a long ball to no one in the 3rd minute and following up with a dangerous pass across the middle in the 4th, along with poor passes in the 17th and 73rd Scott had a rough time with distribution from the back. Twice in the first 10 minutes Scott dove in aggressively and was beat, being saved by covering midfielders (Alonso 5', Friberg 6') both times.
As the game wore on and midfielders helped the distribution issues, Scott lost his concentration more and more on defense. In the 32nd I caught him blatantly ball watching and luckily Toronto could only produce a weak header on goal. Perhaps more concerning was Zach's continued inability to mark people on set pieces. He lost his mark (Michael Bradley) on a free kick in the 49th and again in the 58th. In the 58th just prior he was completely spun by Moore who was a great Frei save away from tying up the game.
After receiving a yellow card early, Scott had to be on his best behavior and that would slow many players down but he responded with a fantastic 1v1 desperation slide tackle after Findley had beaten Marshall in the 25th. It was the kind of high risk/reward play that we have come to expect from Zach, and this time it worked. I have no idea why he was in front of both his central midfielders in the 83rd minute but I would love to see him turn it down a smidge when protecting a lead and on a yellow (he won't.)
Community - 6.36
Realio - 6
Mears just keeps pumping out average games, rarely being beat but rarely doing anything spectacular. In this one he had by far the least notes on the team, and I attribute much of this to a smart Toronto game plan to get the ball into Scott or Fisher's feet on the backline. Having an ineffective attacking threat in front of him limited the opportunities to get forward for Tyrone and other than a nice 1-2 with Friberg in minute 40 Mears had little to say offensively. A chance to show some free kick ability slammed against the wall in the 9th minute for his only major foray forward.
With much greater ability in the front to create and score goals, there is less need for a right back to fly forward. It is a smart move to keep the recovery speed of Mears in the back and while this was an average MLS score, Tyrone was never beat in the few times Toronto ventured onto his side of the field.
Community - 6.42
Realio - 6
Moving back to an outside winger position seemed to agree with Evans this week, I thought he looked very comfortable playing his 27th position this year. Brad doesn't bring a direct play option from the wing, instead tending to facilitate others and make late runs into the box. He wasn't able to interplay with Tyrone Mears behind him very much, limiting the attacking options off the wing, but was helpful in locking down the side and pushing into the middle to support when the central players dropped back.
Other than a very few poor passes and rough controls, I thought that Evans was very fastidious with the ball. His main job was to support the big two up front and keep possession especially with an early lead and he did this well. His pass in the 18th minute sprung Oba towards goal, and his pressure in support of Dempsey created a turnover in a great spot in the 25th minute. A beautiful backside run in the 27th really shows what Brad can bring to a wide midfield position, and his awareness to head the ball to Dempsey on goal in the 32nd was very impressive.
This was a game where Evans had a limited creative role and needed to be a glue player to support the more creative guys and he played this role perfectly. He was able to find the right pass (71st minute to Oba was awesome) and stayed steady in support of the defense. With the other winger likely pushing higher, I like Evans in the role of facilitator and backside supporter.
Osvaldo Alonso (off 89')
Community - 7.43
Realio - 8
Alonso looked fit and healthy and back to full destroyer mode, just in time to get a debatable yellow and miss the next game. Sigh. He was going to miss a game so I think I would rather it be sooner than later but it's still a shame, as it is very apparent just how much Alonso means to this team. Immediately I noted his calmness on the ball in the 2nd minute as well as his skillful support of a beaten Scott in minute 5. Suddenly we were back (in spurts) to the team that possessed away Vancouver into the ground. Taking turns with Friberg dropping back, Alonso was effective early in the game working the ball through the midfield. Later in the game the midfield seemed to tire and more route-1 started to show but a spread out team attacking is perfect for counters as long as you have a guy like Alonso who can control the ball so well while already knowing where to go with possession. In fact, it was this quick transition in the 6th minute that got the ball to a waiting Dempsey immediately after a Toronto turnover and led to the first score. Michael Bradley learned who Alonso was firsthand in the 25th minute when Ozzie dispossessed him
I am very impressed with Alonso's touch compared to the players around him, and his soft feet led to a number of opportunities. First in the 19th he takes a very hard ball on a clearance perfectly, and remains calm under immediate pressure. In the 48th minute he traps a goal kick with his feet gently and keeps possession. This touch allows Alonso to transition from destroyer to distributor and he showed this in the 52nd minute with a fantastic play where he single-handedly stopped a Toronto counter attack, and then sprung Oba for a counter of our own. Ozzie was tremendous and I believe he will continue to get better as he gets more 90 minute fit and more used to the tendencies of the new players both in front and behind him.
Community - 6.16
Realio - 7
I thought Erik was a great compliment to the playstyle of Alonso in the midfield on Saturday, and added a lot of two way work that was really excellent to see. There are a lot of places to improve on though. I loved seeing the interchange between the two midfielders, with each taking turns dropping into the back four to receive the ball and start possession forward. Erik was consistently defending for the fullbacks in this game, and I am really happy with this work rate both directions.
In the 10th minute Friberg had a lovely over the top ball that the forwards fought over, eventually ending in a weak volley from Clint. His defensive cover was nonstop the entire game, I had notes from the 11th all the way to the 77th of defensive cover by Friberg. The star play in this one was a smart forward run in the 61st minute that found Erik in the box covered by two defenders. He brilliantly (and while running full speed no less) peeked up and saw Oba at the 18 while dribbling deep to the end line; his magical drop pass to the top of the eighteen yard box was just barely saved by Konopka from a rocket Martins blast. This was a very impressive run.
A lot of people have been critical of Friberg but he still managed 80% or so passing accuracy while spraying the ball forward to the DPs and having three key passes for big chances. What I have seen from Erik is he passes almost exclusively in the direction he is facing. This can be problematic when close to the sideline and facing the crowd, for example. Without the agility of an Alonso, if his positioning is poor he closes a lot of the field behind him. This happened in the 2nd minute where he was forced into a bad pass and again in the 48th, as he allowed the sideline to become an extra defender. He also is prone to forcing the ball at times, which can be amazing or look awful. I don't mind much when the ball is being forced to Oba (16') but towards the middle of the field (22') is a bit scary. Luckily it has been rare so far that his bad touches or passes are in the defensive third.
Lamar Neagle (off 61')
Community - 4.95
Realio - 5
This may be a generous score, but the bottom line is Neagle is getting passed by the talent influx on the team and while some players are raising their level of play to the new standard, he is not. At some point we need to get others either healthy or playing well enough to give this guy a break, and I still think he has some value to the team. Unfortunately he is playing poorly and it seems to be snowballing on him.
Neagle is a possession black hole. He had less than 50% pass completion on the game. I won't note here all 10+ of his turnovers, but I was particularly frustrated with a 25th minute pass to the wrong team while inside the eighteen yard box on offense, and when he was beat backside in the 57th minute and just ball watched and quit on the play. I was not surprised to see him yanked quickly thereafter, but not before accumulating another offside call or two.
There were moments when Neagle won headers on the wing in the Rose role (8') or played well with Friberg (14') but I am just over trying to make up positives to sandwich every week for this guy. Neagle when rested can bring athleticism and pace but he is just such a liability right now and I prefer Andreas Ivanschitz sight unseen.
Community - 8.29 (MotM)
Realio - 8
Oba is a fantastic player who can erupt at any minute to produce magic, and I think his desire going forward is just amazing to watch. His work rate when paired with Dempsey and getting through balls is a joy to watch. Together the movement and communication they have is unparalleled in this league. They showed exactly how connected they are in the 6th minute with a perfectly timed run/pass combination to open the scoring. Oba just never seems to miss 1v1 opportunities.
I was actually a bit underwhelmed by Oba most of the first half. I thought he fumbled away a perfect Friberg ball in minute 5 on goal and had a number of other poor passes, mis-touches, and turnovers. He seemed to be forcing things, even going so far as to have almost three turnovers on one play in the 25th minute where he was forcing the ball in the direction he wanted to go no matter what, eventually losing it.
As the play opened up and Oba was afforded more space with Dempsey dropping in behind and pulling defenders, Martins really showed how dynamic he can be on counter attacks. Fed by a myriad of passes, he was continually dangerous every time he touched the ball. Starting in the 40th minute with a nasty turn and shot on goal that Konopka mishandled into the path of an offside Dempsey, Oba started to heat up. Finding space on counter attack time and time again Oba fed Clint for a chance in the 52nd, received a wonderful Friberg pass in the 61st that was saved over, played fantastic defense in the 63rd minute, and forced the ball forward in the 71st putting immense pressure on the Toronto defense. It was a similar surging run in the 77th that again eluded Konopka and dropped to a trailing Dempsey for the eventual game winner. Wide open Oba was simply a force on the offensive end that would not be denied in the second half.
Clint Dempsey - (off 81')
Community - 7.83
Realio - 9 (MotM)
Welcome back Deuce! Wow. I was really impressed by the overall game this guy turned in. All four of his shots were on goal, he had two key passes, and somehow he kept a 90% completion rate while alleviating pressure from the midfield and spraying perfect through balls all game.
Dempsey makes our team so much more dangerous with his ability to control the ball and alleviate pressure from the opponents. Any ball close to him seems almost effortless for him to control, and he is quick to find the right pass out of any danger. He does this in the very 1st minute with a chest control pass from Mears, 1 touch to Evans, and in the 2nd minute with a calm header back to Marshall for possession. When receiving a pass from Alonso in the 6th minute he pushed forward into the gap behind Bradley and found a delicate chip to Oba for a wonderful early goal. Later he would again drop into this hole but find an overlapping Mears to immediately alleviate pressure. In the 47th minute just minutes after another holdup and turn he dummies a ball to Friberg, gets it back with 2 defenders on him and still manages to get a crazy karate kick across the goal and almost in.
The second half turned into the counter attack show with Clint pulling the strings from withdrawn forward. It started with a good run and shot in the 52nd, then a great control to setup a pass springing Oba in the 54th. Neagle was put through in the 57th, as was Friberg in the 61st for his outstanding cutback to Martins. Off a corner he retrieved an errant ball and picked out the head of Chad Marshall for a great shot in the 62nd. The icing on the Dempsey performance was Clint calmly one timing a Marshall clear perfectly in front of the hungry Oba, and following this up by hustling to the top of the box. When Konopka misplayed the ball, Dempsey holds off two defenders strongly and finished with a one touch true for the game winner. Somehow he made all that look easy!
Nelson Haedo Valdez (61')
Community - 7.08
Realio - 7
From a sub we got exactly what we needed from Valdez. He brought energy, hustle, pressure on the ball, and desire all over the field. His movement was constant and I hope to see the other DPs finding him more often when he plays. This movement earned a free kick and card in the 68th from a nasty clothesline. He was the only one moving on the play.
Man, Nelson got hammered in his shift. He was completed taken out no less than 5 times. I don't think Toronto was ready to go from Neagle to Valdez's tight control.
Gonzalo Pineda (81')
Community - 5.79
Realio - 5
Other than some defensive help in the 89th, Pineda was a traffic cone on the field.
Leo Gonzalez (89')
Community - 5.96 (majority unrated)
Realio - N/R
Community - 4.65
Realio - 4
Unkel started off the game calling Diego Simonin for crushing Oba in the 4th minute and I thought maybe he would have a good outing. He actually called a similar foul in the 28th, but other than these two I had a lot of problems with the calls. Missed corner kick calls in the 16th and 43rd were frustrating. Evans got a foul called on him for running past a guy in the 29th minute, and a minute later Ozzie got his yellow for simulation. I thought the foul harsh, and wonder if Unkel was just looking to call things at that point? Alonso didn't appear to be attempting to gain an advantage and the way the game had been called up to that made this very harsh.
Findley had a blatant dive in the 41st that was called a foul. I am not sure what Unkel saw when Moore completely crushed Erik Friberg in the 52nd minute but not a foul it seems. It doesn't look like Marshall gave up a goal kick on the play that eventually scored, and how the heck wasn't Dempsey fouled when he was pushed trying to bicycle kick in the 67th?
This game showed both the reliance on the star players as well as the ability of those players to dominate a game when needed. As this team rounds into form I hope to see more of the first 20 minute possession style continue. Set piece defense should be a priority in practice this week, and I would like to see our front 3 work a bit better together but overall this was a promising result. Grinding out points was the biggest weakness of the summer slump and I will take ugly wins over pretty losses (HI Caleb!)