The 3-0 winning score line against the shield leaders in Vancouver was a bit misleading, as each team had spells of strong possession and dangerous play. Ultimately, the Sounders continued to take smart shots and finished their opportunities, while limiting their opponents to speculative attempts. They also played their signature stout defense, absorbing danger but allowing very few solid chances. Sigi Schmid has done a great job so far bringing guys into the lineup at the right times, allowing new and old to become acclimated while still getting positive results. Tactically the team looks to have a very definite plan that is working every game. It is a delight to watch.
Community - 8.39 (MotM)
Realio -8 (MotM)
The more I looked at this performance the more I liked what I saw from Frei. A few others had very strong games but this was the difference maker. Not only does Frei have it completely locked in while making fantastic saves, he is making tough saves look routine. Credit to the SSFC staff in helping this guy reach his full potential here in Seattle, he has been simply fantastic this season (Team MVP anyone?)
A quiet start lulled the Sounder defense to sleep in the 19th and after a poor giveaway Frei was called on to make an outstanding save on Rivero. This was amidst a lot of Sounder possession and it may have saved the entire game when Stefan calmly stoned the Vancouver striker on a short range shot. In the 25th minute Frei showed his confidence coming strong off the line and delivering a laser kick perfectly to a streaking Oba Martins to turn it the other direction.
A mere two minutes before the opening goal, Frei was again called on to make a tremendous save, this time against Cristian Techera. Stopping this 1v1 chance allowed the Sounders to get that all important first goal right before halftime. These momentum changing plays are such a benefit to a team that is still looking for its identity on offense.
Stefan came out strong in the 62nd and threw a dart to Dempsey which was a nice precursor to the similar 87th minute catch and throw to Roldan, starting the sequence which iced the game. We all know how much confident keeper play can affect playoff results, and I think we have the top net minder in MLS right now. Frei is making amazing saves which is buying time for our heavy hitters to get their goal on. It's just awesome to watch how well he is playing.
Community - 5.77
Realio - 5
I am not completely sold on Fisher as our best option at left back. It is readily apparent that the second (or third) time we play teams they are adjusting and going away from Mears, and this may be adding to the problems for Oniel, but I am not seeing the results on the field that he was producing in his first few starts.
Fisher started this game out very aggressive, trying to push up the left side frequently. This resulted in a very nice cross to Evans' head in the 5th minute. Unfortunately, a large majority of his overlaps ended with poor service after that.
I have commented before on Fisher being effective with his body, but he was caught being too physical in the 12th against Techera and received a lecture from Ivanschitz. A poor tackle led to an Octavio Rivero shot a few minutes later. Techera again got the better of Fisher in the 42nd minute as Oniel was badly beat and only the alert Frei saved the day.
I think one place where his inexperience at left back shows up is Fisher's propensity to clear the ball to the middle of the field (and often to the opponents). He did this in the 56th and 85th minutes in particular and it almost produced disastrous results. Fisher has started quite a few games in a row now, and if he is indeed the incumbent at left back, he needs to work harder on his distribution.
Community - 7.29
Realio - 8
Another week, another shutout, and another strong game from Marshall. It is clearly apparent who the leader of the backline is and Marshall is dominating opposing attackers in a number of ways. 1v1 defense? Check. Stepping up to win the ball before forwards can receive it? Check. Defensive headers? Check.
When paired with Scott, Chad tends to have to put out a few more fires than usual, and in this game I liked Marshall sliding over for Zach in the 47th and again in the 92nd to close it out. One thing we saw many times in this game was Marshall stepping up very high to steal balls, and he produced NINE interceptions. Just fantastic instincts were on display as often Chad repeatedly crushed an attack before it had time to get started. His 93% passing from the back shows just how impressive Marshall can be when in possession as well. Many of these were headers and the guy has great vision to put the ball not only away from his goal, but right to a teammate.
Marshall had a few mistakes, such as a foul in a dangerous spot in the 49th which was scary given our inconsistent set-piece defense. Twice he lost the aerial battle to the imposing Kendall Waston, in the 55th and 66th minutes. These all ended up being fairly mundane chances for Vancouver as the mighty Sounder keeper had them covered.
My favorite note about Chad in this game was in minute 87, when he was the first to catch the sneaky Roldan releasing, and quickly shouted and gestured to Frei. I just love that the guy who battles all game remains so dialed in to notice an offensive opportunity and point it out to the keeper with the ball. Fantastic.
Community - 6.43
Realio - 6
I liked much of what I saw from Scott against Vancouver. Scott turned in an average MLS cb performance and coupled with the players around him helped earn a shutout for his team. He sent a message with a 3rd minute foul on Rivero that he was going to be physical against the smaller and quicker forwards. One thing that Zach does surprisingly well is pass the ball over long distances with either foot. He did this in the 8th minute to Ivanschitz and repeated in the 42nd. Scott even returned Marshall a favor, covering for his partner in the 76th minute and making a fine defensive play on the ball.
Unfortunately, Zach is prone to making mistakes, such as his header down directly to Kekuta Manneh in the 15th minute and really poor clearances straight up in the 27th and 66th. Worse than these were the multiple times Scott just got beat to goal. Rivero beat him badly in the 19th and without the spectacular Frei it would have resulted in an early deficit. Rivero again in the 47th beat Scott only to find Marshall covering. At the end of the game Zach appeared to tire, his level of play dropping quickly and his marking in the 90th was just awful, ball watching before losing Nicolas Mezquida shortly thereafter.
Scott showed us that with strong players and goalie around him that he still can be a positive part of a defense that is very stingy. I would prefer Evans back there, but we know exactly what we are going to get from Scott and he turned in a solid shift against Vancouver.
Community - 6.76
Realio - 7
Tyrone has earned his reputation as being one of the very best at right back in the league, and it's showing week in and week out when he shuts down opponents. Combined with Evans in front of him, Mears was again successful in defense; this week it was Kekuta Manneh who was almost completely irrelevant. I miss the rampant flying-forward style from earlier in the season, but with the myriad of attacking parts perhaps what we need most is the lockdown defense that Mears is providing.
That being said Tyrone did have a nice overlap and service in the 20th and really picks his spots well in going forward. In the 28th he pounced on a possible Vancouver attack and instead turned this into a Sounders counter by finding the able feet of Martins.
I noted a very rough clearance in the 7th minute that immediately was recycled right back into pressure. At times I think Mears is pushing the ball over the top too much, and he misses short internal passes. I didn't think there was any cohesion in possession between Tyrone and Evans on the right side, and attacks rarely were generated from them.
Mears' positioning is almost perfect, however I have noted that on defense he tends to drop off offensive players quite a bit, and rarely challenges players with a higher line. This works both ways; at times players like Manneh take ill-advised long shots, or others take all the space given and put immense pressure on the defense as Mears backpedals. I definitely prefer his method to diving in and getting beat but there were multiple times I would have liked to see Tyrone step closer to his man to shut down obvious passing angles. He has the pace to keep with people and better players will take advantage of this space to find incisive passes behind the center backs.
Andreas Ivanschitz (off 65')
Community - 7.66
Realio - 7
I am very excited about what this guy can bring when he's able to play 90 minutes. We have a lot of 2/3 game guys and at some point we need a few more full game guys. If Ivanschitz can be one of those, we are in for a treat, because this guy is great. The only negative marks I had for him were in the second half and essentially equated to "tired, not involved".
On the plus side this guy just fills the book with so many little things that ooze class. For example, in minute 5 Dempsey dropped into the middle of the field and shaded to the side, so Andreas immediately took his space, offering an immensely dangerous option. We haven't had a winger with this level of tactical awareness in a long time. In the 6th he worked a 1-2 passing sequence with Oba that could have been Clint for as natural as it looked. In the 8th and 16th Ivanschitz won corner kicks for the team which are suddenly something to strive for because the service Andreas provides is spectacular.
This isn't just a one-way player either, Andreas plays very strong positional defense, covering passing lanes and having the soccer mind to drift inside (like minute 9) and steal the ball with an eye to push it forward quickly. I liked seeing him speak to Fisher after a foul - great leadership from the veteran to a young teammate.
The goal scoring play was just a beauty, and versus a team that NEEDS to score first was just huge. Andreas smartly holds his run onside, takes a sublime first touch, and makes a calm finish. Our other wingers struggle with any of those three, let alone have the ability to combine them all. This was a fantastic play and Andreas really looked like a strong force for a half.
Community - 7.03
Realio - 8
I heard some rumblings that Pineda was bad this game but frankly, I didn't see it. In fact, I think any other Sounder midfielder would have been much more positively talked about. I liked so much about his game this week and hope that he becomes another useful (part time) player for the team. When combined with Alonso in the middle Pineda looked dynamic and at times spectacular.
My first note for Gonzalo was about how composed he was playing. Every touch made sense, every move concise, and he often slowed the ball down and found the right pass. I was surprised to see him win two headers that went to Sounders in the 7th minute, and impressed by a very tight turn in traffic in the 16th.
An underrated aspect of Pineda's game is his tackling and defensive ability. When fresh, he is a buzz saw around the midfield and in this one gave tremendous help in defense on multiple occasions. He supported Fisher (26', 52'), Oba (36'), and Scott (68') showing just how much of the field he covered. The experience to know when to double team and when to drop off into passing lanes is something not to be overlooked.
The goal scoring play was simply amazing. Pineda touches the ball, goes on a wide overlapping run of Evans, and just continues the run for forty yards as the ball gets inside to Dempsey. I was so surprised to see Gonzalo continue charging up field and eventually get possession in the box. His cheeky and confident touch around a defender led to an inch perfect finish in goal. It was absolutely huge for a team that was weathering a second half storm and perhaps even more so for a struggling player.
Pineda at times overran the play leaving holes in the midfield, had some rough passing (the worst one to the middle that was AWFUL in the 78th) but generally played very well in the middle.
Osvaldo Alonso (off 85')
Community - 7.52
Realio - 7
First off, let's hope his ankle/leg/knee/etc. is fine. This guy is such a huge part of what this team is about going forward we should take zero chances with him. Evidence of this: how much more effective Pineda is when paired with Alonso. Osvaldo cleans up everyone's mistakes, and against Vancouver he was in vintage form, doing what he does best. While Gonzalo was off wreaking havoc and supporting the offense, Alonso was a calming influence, with 97(!!) percent passing over 83 touches. That is just awesome and shows how efficient this guy is. He is the perfect player for the Sounder system and barely put a foot wrong all game.
In the first half, Alonso was everywhere. He had an entry pass to Oba in the 7th that almost ended up in the net, and followed that with his own attempt off a corner in the 17th. In minute 39 I wrote an entire line about how Alonso was just bossing the midfield on both sides of the ball. It was a classic Ozzie skate forward around the Vancouver midfield that opened up the scoring play right before half.
This score is a bit low because Alonso seemed to lose effectiveness in the second period. Although his passing % remained high, Ozzie didn't have as big of a role or impact on the game. At times Vancouver was able to easily pass through the midfield and Alonso looked tired in spells where he wasn't as active as we have seen in the past. Alonso continues to do all the little things that this team needs in order to protect the space from the Sounders 18 to their opponents, but his health and improved endurance will go a long way in determining how the Sounders do into the playoffs and beyond.
Brad Evans (off 74')
Community - 6.36
Realio - 5
Evans was a lot of hustle with not a ton of direction against the Whitecaps. While prone to popping up in good spots like the 5th minute header on goal from a Fisher cross, Brad had trouble linking up with the players around him.
Evans showed good vision to find Alonso in the 30th, and made a strong supporting run in the 62nd, but these gems were few and far between. I will say his defensive positioning and desire in conjunction with Mears was stellar all game.
Evans lost Ribero on a free kick in the 13th minute which looked to be a lack of energy to jump high enough; he may be still suffering from fatigue/injury. His poor passes in the 24th and 28th were both very telegraphed and something he needs to be cognizant of. I noted that he looked tired in the 54th minute as well when Manneh easily rounded him. I really hope he gets a rest midweek.
Evans did provide my favorite moment of the match in minute 64 when he actually ducked down a bit and hid behind Toledo and then stole the ball from Vancouver leading to a Clinfemi break. This was just magnificent and fun to watch.
Community - 8.18
Realio - 8
Another game, another Oba master class in how to be dangerous every time you touch the ball. He started off very active, dropping deep in the 7th to get an Alonso pass and then find Ivanschitz (foreshadowing). I really liked the defensive effort as well this game, with Oba forcing turnovers in the 29th and 62nd by not quitting on plays.
Oba's average touch may not be as good as a few others, but his first step is the fastest in the league and this combined with his balance makes it nearly impossible to get the ball off his feet. Multiple times a game I am amazed how he keeps control at impossible angles seemingly against the laws of gravity.
I haven't seen a ton of great creation from Martins this year, but his pass to Ivanshitz in the 45th was wonderful. He saw this pass earlier and when given the chance he put it on a dime to the Sounders winger. In the 71st he showed his holdup skills and turned to put a pass on goal. In the 87th Oba made it look easy, finishing off a Dempsey run, sealing the points and the Cup.
Community - 7.72
Realio - 8
While Oba is dangerous on the ball, Clint is dangerous any time he's involved in a play. He is constantly pushing and pulling the opponents' shape and when he is involved in a game, is the most disruptive force in the league.
No play is more indicative of this than the first goal. After laying the ball off to Ozzie, he delays a run, holding the defense long enough for Alonso to find Oba. Not content to watch Martins' artistry, he runs at goal, pulling two defenders with him and even occupying the eye of the right back who gets chipped by Oba's fantastic pass. He doesn't stop there, and pushes past the center backs to the 6-yard box and offers a square pass which is another thing keeper David Ousted had to consider when coming out (he got megged). These things get overlooked in games, but I see you Clint.
Dempsey put a perfect one time pass to Oba on goal in the 64th that was a smidge better touch from the Nigerian away from being a chance. In the 71st Dempsey was involved in Pineda's scoring play, pulling Kendall Waston off the midfielder and giving him the room to shoot while earning an assist for his efforts.
The Oba goal was another example of what Dempsey brings. After guarding the Manneh near post run on a corner, Clint runs full field, continuing all the way to receive the ball and push towards the end line, where he somehow has the vision to pick out Oba with a lunging pass after crossing up a defender. This was a 95 yard run in minute 87 to score. Just awesome.
Nelson Haedo Valdez (on 65')
Community - 7.08
Realio - 6
Valdez came on for another summer signing and brought immense pressure and hustle to a wing that was leaking prior to his insertion. Constantly moving, the Sounder DP eventually made his mark on the game with a great back heel in the 71st minute to Pineda. This was a small touch, but came after a huge run up field in support and was exactly what the play needed, drawing the defense away from Gonzalo.
Cristian Roldan (on 74')
Community - 6.22
Realio - 7
Well hello stranger. At times I see a potential Ozzie replacement in this guy. I liked the 78th minute run all the way across the field where, like Alonso, Roldan didn't quit on the play. After subbing in on the wing, Roldan eventually pinched in and looked great in the middle. From here, he was a destroyer and tracked back expertly on defense. The energy he brings is a great late-game change of pace, and there's a lot to like about his tactical awareness. This showed up in the 87th minute when, after a corner, he released up field. As my high school coach would say he "chalked his heels" and this gave Frei a great angle to pass to him. When in doubt, find Clint, and he did just that, sealing the game.
Leo Gonzalez (on 85')
Community - 6.01
Realio - 6
The first thing I noticed about Leo in the Vancouver game actually came in minute 71, as he was the first player off the bench to hug Pineda. Leo is so important to the Hispanic culture of the team and I just love seeing how much he supports others. He only hit my notes specifically in the 87th minute with a perfect clear (wide and towards the corner) but generally strengthened the defense and supported Fisher who was under siege. Leo is so experienced and rarely puts a foot wrong; in this game he didn't.
Community - 6.02
Realio - 8
I have no idea where the usual Toledo went, but Cascadia Championship Toledo is a very good referee. This hasn't been in evidence in prior matches (3.5 average rating over earlier games from me), but in this one I thought Baldomero had great positioning and made many correct calls.
The yellows on Tiebert for hacking Dempsey in the 23rd and Evans in transition a minute later were both warranted. Toledo correctly called Fisher's "jewel protection" not a handball in the 53rd and ignored flops from RIvero in the 59th and Oba in the 61st. I liked his yellow card on Smith in the 63rd for what I saw as a very cynical knock. I thought Oba could have earned a yellow when he kicked the ball into the crowd after the Pineda goal: Toledo seemed to be going for it but must have changed his mind.
There were a few issues I saw in this one, first being the two-footed Tiebert charge on Evans in the 4th. I thought Ivanschitz rightly concerned about being hacked multiple times, and there was some physical play that he could have been better controlled. The Waston foul on Dempsey should have been called immediately and could easily have been red; I don't understand the hesitation.
Throughout this game Toledo was in great position to make calls, and this prevented much complaining from players, coaches, and raters.
It is nice to finally get the results many of us thought the Sounders capable of even throughout a disastrous summer. The defense is as stout as ever no matter who we put back there. The midfield is greatly bolstered by the return of Alonso and suddenly Sigi has options to play matchups. Let's remember to give a lot of credit to the players and coaches alike in acclimating a lot of new parts quickly and in a very seamless manner. Guys like Ivanschitz and Friberg and Valdez have looked like longtime Sounders and comfortable in their roles (and producing!). Dare to dream guys, we can win out #hellagreedy