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Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake: Player ratings

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With their backs against the wall, Seattle came out firing at home against RSL, scoring an early goal from some inspired connections in the attack. Although they almost immediately gave up a tying goal, Seattle remained on the front foot and eventually scored a second, which was enough to win the game 2-1. The result earned the Sounders a playoff berth for the eighth straight year, starting at home on Thursday. The match also completed an astounding turnaround from the middle of the year for the mighty Sounders – a team many had completely written off.


KEEPER:

Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 7.0

Frei has been very consistent all year, and once again he was positioned perfectly all game. Working smoothly with the defenders in front of him, Seattle held Salt Lake to a single shot on goal. Had that shot not been deflected, Stefan might have kept a clean sheet, as he was well set up to save the attempt from Luke Mulholland.

After the goal, Frei made sure the anemic RSL offense wouldn’t sniff another chance, whether it was coming out in the 10th to beat Olmes Garcia to a through ball deflection or diving in traffic to punch out a free kick in the 24th. I thought he could have come off his line in the 56th with Garcia attempting to get in behind, but nothing came of this half chance. Late in the match RSL attempted to put sustained pressure on the Sounders goal, only to foul a strong Frei catch in the 84th and see the game end in the 93rd on a similar save in traffic.

DEFENSE:

Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.1

I was happy with the effort from Jones against RSL, and the visiting team had almost no luck attacking the left side of the Sounders defense. This was the first game with positive interchange between Jones and Fernandez, with the left back going forward with consistency. I loved seeing Jones finding Fernandez eight times, and - even more excitingly - finding Morris seven times, including a key pass. This team needs to get offense from wide positions and both wings did a good job connecting the ball to forward areas.

I hope Joevin’s 2nd minute run means his foot feels better, because Jones was fantastic on a 60 yard dribble up the left wing, with head up and dangerous the entire way. In the 24th he supported a break out, again showing a nice burst of pace and finishing with a cross into a dangerous spot. The connection with Flaco was on display in the 43rd, and these two showed much improvement on wide spacing. Right before halftime Jones almost earned an assist with a cross that missed Roldan by a hair. Joevin was more defensive in the second half, and only notably got forward in the 79th to again put in a strong cross.

Jones took a bad angle on defense in the 4th, allowing Jordan Allen to get inside him and create RSL’s goal scoring play. I think the defender needed to beat Allen to that spot and not allow a wide player to get goal-side of him. Jones was unable to connect forward too much in the second half, and had a few lousy passes, the worst of which occurred in the 82nd minute and gave RSL a good chance.

Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 7.0

Marshall was quiet, consistent, and his usual solid defensive presence against RSL. Often moving wide to support Jones’ overlapping runs, Chad still managed to help the middle channels and was a repeated threat on set pieces. He had four clearances and two interceptions, to go with a tidy 88% passing rate (5/9 on long balls).

Marshall started off strong, sliding across in the 4th to clear an attack. In the 16th he dealt with a defensive mistake by standing up Garcia on a 1v1 play that forced RSL back when they looked to be breaking out. He consistently approached midfield to win headers, like in the 39th over two players, forcefully putting the ball into a Sounders attacking position.

Chad forced a long pass in the 19th and earned a silly, avoidable yellow card in the 37th by raising his studs high after a foul. Other than these moments I only noted one time that RSL got the better of the central defenders, this coming in the 43rd when Garcia split them by drifting in behind Marshall and in front of Torres to nod an open header wide.

Both giants were great on corner kicks, winning headers on defense and also being a consistent force on offense. Chad almost scored an open header in the 69th that turned into a do-over with Seattle subbing. After the mistake goal, early, this defense came together to shut RSL down, forcing them into predictable play.

Roman Torres – 7 | Community – 6.9

Like Marshall next to him, Torres let his positioning do the talking for much of the game, but unlike Chad he had only 70% completion rate on his passes.

In the 26th Roman showed his intelligence, perfectly reading a dummy attempt from the striker and stealing the ball. Multiple times Torres was given free rein to jump start attacks from the back and he did a decent Evans impression. He wasn’t completely smooth with his delivery but had some success finding passes forward, which allowed Mears to creep further up the right sideline.

On defense, there were a few hiccups, the worst being in the 16th when Torres stopped on the play, complaining he was fouled and leaving the ever-alert Marshall to save the day with RSL through on goal. He did foul Burrito Martinez late, but throughout the game was solid and connected to his defense. Roman has a habit of mis-clearing balls or kicking them straight up instead of more constructive play, but it hasn’t hurt the team yet.

Where Torres excelled this game was on offense, showing not only dominant aerial skills but a surprising ability and willingness to play the ball with his feet and be part of sustained attacks. Multiple times it was Roman who stopped RSL from breaking out and could recycle possession after a Sounders set piece. This was a pleasant surprise, but it was no surprise that when matched up with the 19-year-old Justen Glad on set pieces, Torres simply dominated. I immediately noted this mismatch live, and Roman took the kid to school all game. He was close on several attempts throughout the match, but it was his massive 30th minute header that not only ate Glad but put a shot on goal that the great Nick Rimando could only flail at, redirecting it to a hungry Roldan. With Nico dialing in the service, you can pencil in Torres and Marshall getting multiple chances per game.

Tyrone Mears – 6 | Community – 5.9

I wanted to give Mears a higher score in this game. He started off spectacularly, getting forward in the 3rd minute and showing more desire to attack than in recent weeks. What was especially exciting was seeing him continue the play – after flicking a pass to the wing and Roldan, he kept running forward, offering a passing option, and then turned in a perfect cross to find Morris near post. Mears continued to play very high on the evening, pushing Roldan inside him as he took a static wide position. I liked to see this option, and with Plata playing nearly zero defense, the Sounders right side could consistently attack RSL. Mears worked well with Roldan and put in some nice service when able.

Mears failed to score higher because of two huge mistakes. The first was RSL’s goal in minute four, on which Tyrone was doing an okay job defending before he completely checked out. Not only was Mears ball watching, but he drifted inside marking no one, allowing Mulholland to easily walk behind him and score. I don’t understand how a veteran player keeps doing this. He is taking the defense next to him for granted and if there is any mistake from anyone else, he is out of position. This is a horrible habit.

The second mistake was having an issue with Joao Plata in the 8th minute and coming up to initiate conversation with him via slapping him in the back of the neck. With the heightened rules on contact to face he could easily have been sent off for that. He watched two of his teammates get red carded this month; he knows the rules. Whatever the rationale, you CAN’T strike a guy above the shoulders for any reason. Dumb, Dumb, Dumb.

DEF MIDFIELD:

Osvaldo Alonso – 7 | Community – 7.3

Alonso took a while to figure out the players around him and had a little rust after returning from his break last week. Overall he and Friberg paired well enough, but unlike when paired with Roldan, we didn’t see Ozzie pop up in dangerous spots that directly changed the game.

Alonso started out badly, overcommitting in the middle and losing Plata in the 4th minute, a sequence that resulted in a goal against. After this he regrouped, and other than in the 23rd losing Allen who had snuck in behind Jones, was solid for the remainder of the match. One of the few times Alonso got forward when paired with Friberg was in the 15th, and it was Ozzie popping up in the box and finding a nice cross to Morris. Ten minutes later it was an unmarked Alonso who crashed the box hard on a corner, taking out three players but almost getting his head onto a Lodeiro ball.

When Roldan moved back to pair with Alonso I immediately saw some of the mobility we are used to, with Ozzie stepping up and keeping the ball in the attacking third, then finding quick-releasing through balls. Nothing from Alonso was incredibly impressive, but he did all the dirty work in the middle that we expect, while getting hacked down with four fouls against.

Erik Friberg – 6 | Community – 6.2 (off 69’)

Partnering this game with Alonso, the central defensive pairing was good, but somewhat ineffective at times. These defensive midfielders have played together a lot, but I felt like neither Erik nor Ozzie moved particularly well off the other, and this reduced both their effectiveness and ability to impact the game.

Early it was apparent that Friberg was determined to bring Mears into the game, and he repeatedly dropped into the back right to assist on defense and open space for Roldan or Lodeiro to tuck into. This worked okay, but also left Erik very deep and forced to 1v1 mark guys instead of being more central and cutting off service, which is more his strength.

Friberg calmed down after the first rather hectic 20 minutes when I feared he was going to run himself out of the game. Once he and Alonso got on the same page Erik could pick his spots and move forward more, popping up in advantageous spots like the deep right corner in the 39th, a play where he smartly won a set piece for the home team. After this corner, though, Friberg picked up a pointless yellow, obstructing RSL from counter attacking by pulling Plata. Normally that would be a smart play with our defenders forward, but both Mears and Jones were back covering with plenty of pace to stay with Plata.

Friberg had a few good offensive plays, including a 63rd minute dummy to Nico that fooled the defense, but other than a nice through ball blocked by the referee, he rarely looked vertical.

ATT MIDFIELD:

Cristian Roldan – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.0 (MOTM)

When the lineup came out, I was immediately curious why Roldan on the wing instead of Friberg. I still maintain that the defensive mid partnership of Alonso/Roldan is the strongest for the Sounders. I haven’t been overwhelmed with Cristian’s play from the wing, but he sure keeps getting results from out there. Part of the success is his ever-increasing tactical awareness, as he moves off other players much better and opens space for others that he wasn’t creating before. His growth and maturity as a player continues to impress.

Roldan started the game making an inside out run, getting an awkward pass from Mears and heel flicking it back into the path of the Sounder defender. This wasn’t just “trying shit” – this was a guy who completely sold the fake up the line, changing his center of gravity and then not only recognizing the run, but putting a great pass in that forced Mears onto goal. Not content for that little bit of magic, he terrorized the right side, taking advantage of Plata’s refusal to play defense and constantly tucking in to connect with Morris or Lodeiro. He often got crushed for his efforts, suffering a joint team high five fouls against. Only once did I see Cristian get frustrated, in the 23rd minute, when he lost possession and then committed a foul in a bad position.

Roldan is an impressive athlete, and in the 30th minute he shrugged off these knocks to be the first to a Rimando-saved ball, putting it away with authority for the game winning goal. This was a desire play, and Cristian wanted it more than anyone else on the field. Right before half an extra three inches of height would have seen him double his output, just missing a header from a great Jones service on a break.

I love seeing the confidence oozing from Roldan, like in the 49th when Demar Phillips thought he easily had possession in the corner only to watch Cristian step around him, body him off, and confidently turn away with possession. In the 58th Cristian had a decent shout for a penalty and shows a knack for initiating dangerous contact in the box. He wasn’t just offense in this one either; he supported the wing defense throughout and seamlessly moved back to defensive mid after Friberg was subbed. Not content to just destroy, Roldan is now emulating Alonso by creating turnovers on defense and immediately facilitating a counter attack on his own through either a dribble in traffic or a through ball.

Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.5

From the stands this looked like an average performance, but again the stat book was filled with so much quality play from Nico; he finishes the regular season with an unprecedented 13/13 above average scores from this author.

What I missed watching live was the extent to which RSL sold out trying to stop this guy. There were few moments where Kyle Beckerman, Luke Mulholland, or Sunny weren’t within five yards of the Sounders playmaker, and their “defense” included around 10 fouls (five called) on Lodeiro. These three players accounted for 12 of RSL’s fouls, and they were obviously frustrated chasing the magnificent Uruguayan around. When watching Nico, I am amazed at his continuous movement. He even runs “routes”, with fakes and feints to open space for passes. It’s remarkable just how active he is. This does two huge things: it gets him open and on the ball a lot, where his vision and passing ability are incredibly dangerous – and it also takes two or more opponents completely out of their team’s tactical plans.

In the 24th Nico had a one-man break, but smartly turned wide to Jones. A few moments later it was Lodeiro sliding through three attempted tackles, slaloming through the middle before spraying a wide pass. Every time he touched the ball Nico was looking forward, eager to open the engine of #13. His passes weren’t always perfect (68%) but he created four key passes while leading the team in touches and fouls suffered. Also of note was continually-improving set piece service, including awesome corner kicks that are getting dialed onto the noggins of the big guys.

Alvaro Fernandez – 7 | Community – 6.8 (off 78’)

Well hello there Flaco, welcome back to the Sounders! This was the guy I hoped to see when we picked him up this summer. Instead of just an afterthought from the Lodeiro deal, against RSL Alvaro showed some smart play, and he was rewarded for it.

In the 3rd minute he scored, but the impressive thing was he didn’t hesitate on the play. He dove to the far post with pace, timing, and conviction. If Morris doesn’t get the pass through they don’t score, but if he DOES and Flaco isn’t in that exact position, the Sounders also don’t score. Too many players this year have hesitated there, and it was great to see his faith in his teammate to put the ball in that spot and his dedication to be where he had to be.

In the 24th he just missed a Jones cross, but a few minutes later showed great control in traffic to keep possession with three players around him and recycle an attack. After the goal, Flaco spent a lot of his time forcing Phillips back deep, which combined with Nico’s movement ruined the right side as an option for Salt Lake attacks. Before leaving he again almost connected with Morris who was very close to scoring, on a play where he attacked the left wing and put a stellar cross into Jordan. I saw better movement from Fernandez and he combined well through the middle, but he still isn’t as directly goal-dangerous off the dribble. After one nice dribble into the left corner he was easily dispossessed by Beckerman, and at times Flaco is still holding the ball too long. All told, this was a great improvement.

FORWARD:

Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 6.9

Morris introduced himself to Glad in the first minute, shrugging off the center back and winning an early corner kick. Two minutes later it was Jordan making a near post run before flicking back post with his heel to find Flaco for the lead. This play shows how much he has grown. If Morris just dives to the near post this play never happens; it was his subtle half step toward the back post that threw his defender off, clearing space for his charge forward. He beat the defense to the spot and put in a back heel that I guarantee put a smile on Dempsey’s face. So good.

Jordan was everywhere, making through ball runs, opening inside out, tracking back on defense, and doing all this with a purpose. It was this purpose that fueled great hustle in the 30th minute which allowed a Sounders attack to continue. That ended up being extremely important, because as a direct result the team won a corner kick and scored the winning goal. This sort of thing doesn’t show up in the stats, but he was influential in many similar plays that put Seattle in good spots. Morris wasn’t scared to play defense, and in the 42nd showed that he could probably play a mean outside back, shutting down Beckerman on a free kick. He again dropped into the middle in the 58th and forced a turnover with some defense, this time helping transition immediately to a breakout counter attack.

In the 60th we saw one of his limitations, when he tried to curl an outside right footed pass wide to a teammate that sailed out of bounds. A moment later I was worried he might be hurt: while following through on a header attempt he ran into the walls surrounding the field and fell onto his head. He looked to be okay afterwards, but it was a scary moment. I just love the soccer player that Jordan Morris is developing into. He works so hard all game (remember his early season fitness issues? Hah!)

SUBS:

Nelson Haedo Valdez – 5 | Community – 6.2 (on 69’)

Valdez came on and did his thing, showing nice holdup in the 72nd. Two minutes later classic Valdez defensive hustle won the ball on the wing. His turn in the 78th was so good it forced Chris Wingert into a foul and a yellow card. However, Nelson was not able to get into good spots to attack the goal, nor to support his teammates with possession. I was disappointed to see him stop his run in the 85th to complain about a call instead of playing through. I have come to expect more from these important substitute appearances.

Brad Evans – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 78’)

Evans came on after his suspension and injury and didn’t add a ton to the game. He, as usual, was tidy with the ball (100% completion) to go along with a tackle and an interception. Brad did well to control play and help see out the win, but looked to be slow on a potential breakaway in the 81st, perhaps still favoring the calf injury that has sidelined him as of late.

REFEREE:

Baldomero Toledo – 4 | Community – 4.4

The rewatch was kind to Toledo. Watching live he was awful but on the replay, I begrudgingly saw some reasoning behind his calls.

First off, he probably could have sent off both Mears and Plata for their slap hands on each other in the 7th, but how the result of this play was Plata getting a yellow for dissent I will never know.

I agreed with his call against Alonso in the 18th, the advantage played in the 22nd (again on an Alonso foul), and even agreed with the yellow on Marshall. He followed this up with a proper yellow on Beckerman in the 48th and similar strong call on a Lodeiro dive in the 55th. A potential penalty kick for Roldan saw Toledo in good position to call, and he also correctly conferred with his AR to ensure it was the right distinction. These calls were spot on, including a few more I won’t list, but this only brought his score UP to a 4.

The reason is the lack of protection for players, namely Roldan, Lodeiro, and Garcia. Marshall was carded for a foul on Garcia, but the RSL player suffered SIX fouls. A lot were dives, but if Toledo is going to call them, he must find a persistent infringement card at some point. Even worse to me were the very legit hacks from Beckerman and Sunny who cleaned out the two above Sounders multiple times (5 each!). Starting in the 10th minute Beckerman was all over, through the back of Nico and three minutes after with a high boot (studs up) into Roldan. This second should have been a card but Beckerman could continue to hack in the middle, accruing more fouls that were called among other dangerous play. He wasn’t deterred by the yellow early in the second half, and should have been sent off in the 74th for coming through the back of Lodeiro.

Sunny wasn’t any better, deserving orange for a 26th minute tackle through the back of Nico that was three feet away from making a play on the ball and directly in front of the fourth official. A few moments later he crushed Roldan and after four fouls got his third “final warning”.

It wasn’t as bad as it looked live, but there simply needs to be more protection for players – allowing the rampant destruction that the dual central mids from RSL performed without cards is dangerous. When a game is that physical and you only card for dissent, you need to take a hard look at your decisions.

RSL MOTM:

Luke Mulholland did put the ball in the net for RSL, but he also had a strong match in midfield overall, earning just over half of the 158 votes.


Playoffs? Bring on the playoffs!