Right now the Seattle Sounders are playing good soccer and getting results on the back of multi-faceted play. This match featured strong defense and a set piece goal, and the 1-0 win against the Chicago Fire means that for the first time all year the good guys are above the red line. Although at times it wasn’t pretty and there were some nervy moments, this team did what good teams do — grind out necessary points when under pressure.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.4
Stefan has been so solid this year, making almost no mistakes and holding his team up when they struggled. This game was no different, with Frei once again putting in a strong performance and earning a shutout while combining well with the defense to make his job easier.
The team looked to play more possession soccer in the midweek game, and Frei took many short goal kicks and threw the ball instead of hitting long speculative passes towards Morris. A struggling Chicago side was up for this game, and in particular they looked to get speedy David Accam in on goal. Stefan had scouted this well and in the 15th was quickly out to beat Accam to the ball on a restart that caught the defense napping.
Frei saved everything that came his way, including a Razvan Cocis shot through traffic in the 32nd that was shielded. He had the near post covered on a 42nd minute set piece attempt. The second half was more of the same, with the defense limiting shots and Stefan stopping everything that managed to get through. I liked to see Frei once again working short and utilizing the feet of Torres and Marshall after the break, but in the 79th he would have been better off just clearing, instead of putting his defense under pressure. Unfortunately, five minutes later when he did just that, the ball ended up all the way through to opposing keeper Sean Johnson, which didn’t alleviate the building pressure from Chicago. Frei’s strong punch out in traffic in the 92nd was impressive and helped seal the win, and overall he earned a deserved shutout. At this point in the season a great Frei outing like this is standard.
Joevin Jones – 5 | Community – 5.9
Joevin is still playing ok, but it’s clear that the injury has hampered his pace, and without that he struggles to enter the attack as a viable wide option. He stayed higher in order to compensate for his loss in two-way energy against Chicago, and that forced the center backs behind him to range very wide to support.
After forcing a pass forward in the 5th, Jones’ lack of sprint speed showed up when he wasn’t able to get on the end of a through ball he could normally run down. He still stayed involved offensively, but without a desire to beat people with dribbles or movement he settled for ineffective crosses. He ended the first half with a clumsy tackle on Arturo Alvarez just outside the box, and we were lucky that the ensuing free kick only found side netting.
The second half was more of the same from Seattle’s left back. A nice five-minute spell starting in the 64th included a clearance to Ivanschitz to jumpstart a counter, and a very well placed through ball to Morris put the striker in behind. But otherwise Jones was invisible on offense and compounded that by not consistently covering back. He did have one nice overlap in the 73rd and put a cross in that just missed a diving Valdez, but he followed that up with a startling lack of pressure on a Chicago attacker in the 85th, allowing a dangerous cross.
Jones is still athletic enough to be an ok left back even injured, but the real assets of his skillset are the dynamic runs and two way capabilities that look almost absent recently since he broke his toe.
Chad Marshall – 8 MOTM | Community – 7.8 MOTM
Chad does so many things right in games, and he is remarkably consistent. He wins every header to a teammate, he can be counted on to cover for the defenders around him, and he will make smart attacking runs on set pieces. Against Chicago it was the latter that found him all alone in the 24th to cleanly finish on a corner kick. Cutting across the zonal marking system, Marshall found a pocket of space and made no mistake on what turned out to be the game winner.
After scoring, Chad helped pitch a shutout on the back line, continually mopping up any time Chicago penetrated the strong defensive midfield efforts in front of him. He did so with crunching slide tackles (Accam eaten 53’), with calm, controlled passing (like minute 56) and smart positional play. Chad was across to help Jones, over to support Torres, and a constant release valve for Frei.
Marshall picked on the zone marking again in the 74th, almost scoring a second goal, and other than he and Torres being split by David Arshakyan in the 85th was rock solid in the back. I’m delighted with the success of the back pairing and how their stellar tactical positioning is working for the team and allowing them to dominate play from a defensive standpoint.
Roman Torres – 7 | Community – 6.9
Torres and Marshall continue to improve their positioning together every game, and we are seeing more and more of Torres’ impressive skillset. Multiple times Roman was far to the left side of the field to cover, once completely destroying Luis Solignac with a devastating slide tackle in the 5th. As both Chad and Roman get more comfortable with their roles, we see them switch more, and this is increasing the effectiveness of both.
Torres didn’t forget his side, and he played equal opportunity destroyer in the 19th, standing up Accam and then once again showing a powerful slide tackle that completely engulfed the Chicago attacker. Roman wasn’t all crunching tackles; he also very very effective in cutting off attacks before they could develop, stepping up multiple times to keep possession in the opponent’s half.
Roman had a few more long balls this game (16) but also was fairly accurate with them, allowing another facet of the Seattle offense to develop. This is a part of his game that was very strong pre-injury and it’s exciting to see how his vision and touch can help release cross field passes. Torres was badly beat by Solignac in the 31st and still looks somewhat out of sorts when combining with Mears, but otherwise was strong positionally and looks better every game.
Tyrone Mears – 5 | Community – 6.8
It was really hard to rate Mears for his work against Chicago. On one hand, he played pretty solid defensively, and this is what you want from a defender. Unfortunately, we want Seattle’s outside backs to get into the attack, to be at least somewhat goal dangerous and to offer productive width to the team, none of which Mears did against Chicago.
In the first half I had no positive marks for Mears other than getting forward a few times, to go along with a dribble out of bounds (6’), overlap with a bad cross (13’) and being badly beat three times by Accam (15’,31’,38’). Tyrone did have some great desperation defending when beaten.
The second half was an improvement, especially his work in the 60-70-minute range, when Tyrone was strong defensively on Accam on multiple occasions, using his physicality and tackling ability to frustrate the opponent. Mears did accidently take out Roldan leading to a break the other way, and he dove in on Brandon Vincent which gave Chicago a free kick in a dangerous spot. In the 80th Mears once again showed a great desperation lunge, barely stopping a ball from reaching Accam who had him beat. Two minutes later Mears got the better of Accam with two slide tackles in a row.
If you just look defensively, Mears was ok. He didn’t get beat a ton and when he did, his lunging deflections were usually enough to slow play in order for Torres or Roldan to help out. This at times looked good, but often was merely rectifying his own mistakes. My big issue with Mears is his negative play with the ball, and it was HUGELY apparent in this game. I stopped counting around the middle of the game but checking Tyrone’s passing map after the game, it was absolutely brutal. He had only four of his 45 passes successfully going into attacking positions/forward. Another eight weren’t successful, meaning 75% of his passes were backwards and a whopping 91% of his attempts failed to do anything to improve offensive position for his team. When concentrating just on defense Mears approaches an average MLS right back. In this game he was better in some aspects, but his flashy defensive plays were products of being beat/bad positioning and he was a black hole going forward.
Osvaldo Alonso – 7 | Community – 7.3
Ozzie once again showed no signs of slowing down, continually sweeping up messes before they could get to the back line. Alonso was especially effective in the first half, often cutting out passes and continually recycling the ball back into the Sounders attack. He was a big part of a 70% halftime possession number for the home team.
Ozzie makes great decisions on when to double players, and in the 3rd minute he showed up to assist Marshall and emerged with the ball. When not immediately cutting off attacks Alonso was displaying his usual tight control in traffic, picking up possession and funneling it to the midfielders in front of him. Accam managed the rare bit of space from Alonso in the 12th but launched his shot over the bar.
In the second half Chicago made some very strong adjustments and closed down much of the space that Ozzie was dominating in the first half, but he still pushed the ball around and effectively switched the point of attack. Quite impressive was a 51st minute over-the-top ball that got Ivanschitz in the box, but he was unable to finish. As Seattle moved players around, Alonso was more and more isolated in the middle, and he did well covering that space. He only got caught in possession once in the 64th,but he can’t be caught dribbling when he is the lone defensive midfielder. Alonso win a surprising amount of defensive headers on set pieces.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 6.9
Cristian continues to develop and once again showed that his most successful position is in the middle in front of the center backs. He is very effective in two-way play, and he looks very comfortable there.
Back next to Alonso, Roldan was awesome in the first half. In the 4th minute he double-teamed Accam and jumpstarted a counter after winning the ball. In the 6th he dropped in a pass over the top that missed Morris by a hair. In the 13th he put in a strong tackle and regained possession lost by Lodeiro. Ten minutes after that he popped up into the attack, getting deep inside the Chicago box and cutting back a pass that 1) just missed Morris and 2) earned the corner kick on which we scored.
In the second half Roldan was moved all over, playing on the wing when Friberg entered and then as a defensive wide midfielder. His 60th minute defense in the corner was tremendous and he did have some success passing up the wing, with 78th and 82nd minute through balls to Valdez and Lodeiro respectively, both with great vision. I thought Roldan struggled a little on the wing, with more turnovers and less impact on the game than centrally, but it is a nice luxury to have players who are comfortable with fluctuating tactical alignments.
Andreas Ivanschitz – 7 | Community – 6.9 (off 71’)
Ivanschitz had a quiet game accentuated with a few sparks of class. He remains the player who works best with Jones down the left wing. This game he spent lots of time keeping the Sounders shape strong while others roamed the field.
In the 15th minute Andreas was forward in the attack and involved in the play for the first time. He struggled to find the ball at times, but even when he isn’t hugely involved we all know what AI can do on a dead ball. He varied his set pieces well this game, going near and far and continually keeping the Chicago zone in a state of confusion. Ivanschitz ended up with three more key passes in this game, but none more important than the 23rd minute in-swinging corner that bounced off Marshall’s head and into the goal.
If Johnson hadn’t been incredibly fast off his line in the 30th, AI might have had another assist, this time on a through ball that the keeper beat Morris to. A 39th minute far-post cross was very dangerous, and right before halftime he put another awesome pass into Morris’ path, lifting the ball cheekily over the defender and giving his striker a 1v1 with the keeper that forced a great save.
Andreas was less effective on offense in the second half and was likely tired from the weekend match. His over-the-top run into the box in the 51st got him on the end of the ball, but he was too slow to pull the trigger and get a shot off. Ivanschitz has been contributing very consistently lately and is up to eight assists on the season.
Alvaro Fernandez – 6 | Community – 6.1 (off 57’)
Flaco was similar to Ivanschitz in this game, concentrating on first being defensive-minded and opening up space for either Morris to float wide or Lodeiro to roam. He came to the middle as early as the 1st minute, covering space and offering an option going forward.
In the 11th minute we got a nice illustration of what Fernandez can do. Starting off the play in strong defensive position, Alvaro came across and stole possession from Chicago. He immediately looked up and found Lodeiro as a relief outlet, who as usual found a great through ball to the hustling Morris. Fernandez didn’t sit back and admire the play, though, and both he and Lodeiro charged forward to support. This paid off with Jordan dropping a pass back to Alvaro at the top of the box and him finding Nico open for a shot on the left. This three-man play covered 60 yards with quick passing and resulted in a clear attempt on goal.
Flaco continues to dive across the goal to attack with an opposite side near-post run as a supplement to holding a far-post option if Morris runs across. He had a number of runs that didn’t amount to anything, and he forced a few crosses that didn’t come to fruition. Fernandez subbed early this game after playing long last time, and it was a good decision to rest a player who wasn’t impacting the second half.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.2
Nico Lodeiro is a ghost. He is so mobile, constantly popping up everywhere on the field, before disappearing only to show up somewhere else. Cocis and Matt Polster had the impossible task of shutting him down, and their tactics were mostly to hack him to death. Polster in particular was called for a team high five fouls (no card) and Nico was fouled nine times in this game by these two and Michael de Leeuw.
Lodeiro was unperturbed, transitioning the ball to Flaco in the 5th and Jones in the 7th. In the 11th he left everyone behind and got open for a shot he just mis-hit. In the 23rd it was Nico who found Roldan in an advanced position prior to earning the game winning corner. He continued to spray passes around, just missing Morris through in the 38th and 69th. He is ALWAYS moving, and almost scored in the 82nd before nearly finding Valdez in the 87th.
Nico had some poor passes and in the 19th minute kicked the ball away after being called offside. This was notable because he later blocked a set piece to earn a costly yellow that forces him to miss this weekend’s match. Lodeiro was lucky to not get called for a PK in the 75th, when he kicked Cocis in the box on a very close play. There were some slow touches late and his understandable fatigue showed. However, Nico’s off-ball movement is the best in the league, and the team is quickly learning how to maximize their positioning to benefit from it.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 6.8 (off 92’)
Tasked with being a sole attacker without much connection to the team, Morris performed admirably up top. If it weren’t for spectacular defensive plays by center back Joao Meira (eight interceptions, four clearances) and goalie Sean Johnson, Morris could easily have had multiple goals.
In the 6th minute his buddy Roldan almost found Morris through on goal, and he was continually able to get in behind the defense. Jordan was constantly moving, and when he received possession showed improved first touch and incredible bursts of speed to create separation. In the 40th it was only a great 1v1 save from Johnson that prevented a goal. That came via a perfect Ivanschitz lift pass into the onrushing Morris, who took a fantastic first touch directly at goal and got off a strong shot.
Lately Jordan gets stronger in the second half and this game was more of the same, pummeling the backline with diagonal runs. In the 63rd his anticipation of an Ivanschitz back heel pass got him great position in the box. Five minutes later he bodied off a defender and got deep inside the 18 but failed to pull the trigger on a shot. After Valdez came on, Morris made smart runs in behind, connecting in the 73rd and 84th, and working well off the other striker’s movement. I was impressed with Jordan’s tight control late in the game, and he was again more than a handful for the opposing defense.
Erik Friberg – 5 | Community – 6.0 (on 57’)
When Friberg came on in the second half, he immediately played defensive midfield next to Alonso. I was surprised to see him go into the holding position and not the wing where he had some success against L.A., but with some other moves later he at times ended up wide.
Erik was beat once by Johan Kappelhof into the box in the 61st, but otherwise was strong defensively. His 80th minute slide tackle was perfect and he won the ball back in the 92nd after possession had been frivolously lost. There weren’t a ton of notable plays from Friberg, but he kept good shape and worked very hard to support the wings defensively. He only touched the ball 11 times but was very tidy with possession.
Nelson Haedo Valdez – 7 | Community – 6.6 (on 71’)
As a substitute, Nelson has really made an impact and late games are now dominated by his brand of physical, two-way attacking play. He completely blew up my book this week, making play after play.
In minute 73, Nelson immediately latched onto the second ball from a long pass to Morris’ head, eventually getting into perfect position to finish, just missing a Jones cross. This is something the other teammates weren’t doing, and we need to do a better job getting the follow-up from connections with Jordan. Valdez did this perfectly, continually linking up and using a dazzling array of chest passes, head controls, and give and go’s. He wasn’t fast enough to get a shot off in the 78th, but he showed a pretty back heel to find Jordan a minute later.
Valdez has unrivaled work rate and in the 81st he earned a foul after holding possession in the Seattle defensive third. In the 87th he was only stopped by Meira from scoring off a Lodeiro cross. To top off this outstanding substitute appearance, Valdez won a header off a long ball to himself, before first-timing a left footed volley that only was denied from a spectacular goal by Johnson’s face. I counted four clear chances from Valdez and at some point he has to get on the scoresheet, right? RIGHT??!!?
Herculez Gomez – 4 | Community – 5.3 (on 92’)
Gomez was brought in late to kill some clock and play some defense. His best move might have been telling Morris to walk off the field slower. He did try to dribble once in the 92nd and lost the ball, failing to alleviate pressure after a scrum in the box.
Hilario Grajeda – 7 | Community – 5.5
Overall Grajeda was strong in this game, and after I realized he wasn’t Salazar I was impressed with his style and game management. He called fouls when appropriate on both teams and kept a clean game without needing to show a lot of cards. A warning for de Leeuw in the 43’ was spot-on. His positioning was impressive throughout, and he kept up with the play well while allowing advantage to continue on when appropriate.
There were a few negatives. When Vincent destroyed Flaco with an elbow in the 28th and then flagrantly stepped over him I thought he could have been carded or at least warned. When Meira threw the ball away after being called for a foul in the 57th he deserved a caution for delay in the manner of Lodeiro a minute later. Matt Polster was officially credited with five fouls committed, and a persistent foul caution for those and the others he got away with would have been appropriate, even before he hacked Alonso three times on the same play in transition during minute 65 – without a card.
These negatives were few and far between, and I was repeatedly impressed with the referee’s positioning to both call a foul in the 68th and in the 72nd correctly determine Alonso’s control in the box to be legal. In the 75th it took an assertive refereeing job to call Cocis for a dive, and if it was a dive (I’m unsure) you have to card the simulation, which Grajeda did.
Overall this was a very good MLS refereeing job. Some small discrepancies in calls, but the game flow was good and there were none of the head-scratching escalation in intensity or random card/penalties handed out.
CHICAGO FIRE MOTM:
Sean Johnson’s performance in goal garnered the most votes, but about a third of 143 voters chose David Accam instead.
Seattle is on a great run, and we continue to pick up points. This was our second three-game winning streak of the year, and it pulled the team into playoff position. Going to Vancouver this weekend without Lodeiro won’t be an easy task, but look for Morris to take advantage of Waston’s absence in the run of play and for the twin towers to dominate on set pieces.