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Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids, leg 1: Player ratings

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Seattle came away with a 2-1 victory over Colorado on Tuesday, but it’s likely both teams will think they are in good shape heading to Sunday’s game in Colorado. Seattle outplayed their opponents, and scored two deserved goals, but it was the Rapids who managed a vital early away goal that put them in a good position to advance with a decent showing at home. There was a lot to digest here, but overall I thought the Sounders played well. They were unlucky not to have scored a few more goals, and will need a similarly strong effort on Sunday if they want to advance.


KEEPER:

Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 7.1

It was a bit unfortunate that Seattle gave up that early goal because we will never know “what might have been”. Colorado was attacking quite heavily until the goal and after that dropped more defensive with some counters that tested Frei infrequently. Because of this the game state dictated that Stefan play smart and controlled in the back, and he did this to ensure the Rapids only scored on that one unfortunate deflection.

In the 11th minute I was happy to see an aggressive Frei off his line on a corner kick to punch away, however it went out for another corner. Colorado was allowed sustained pressure through the first 15 minutes, and this eventually paid off in a deflected shot that Stefan had no chance to save. I don’t fault Frei for not saving it, and he did his part to make sure that one unfortunate goal was the only time a ball got behind him.

His night included another strong punch away in traffic in the 18th, and multiple position saves including one to get his whole body in front of a Jermaine Jones shot in the 26th. Frei repeated this again on a Dominique Badji shot in the 52nd. Frei’s best save of the night came on a 1v1 with Sebastian Le Toux in the 79th. On this play, Stefan got big and covered his angles, forcing a tough shot that he saved near post.

There were a few miscommunications in the back, and Frei has to take some responsibility for this. Mears needed to be pulled inside before the goal against and at least one miscommunication between himself and his back line resulted in a bit more exciting play than necessary. At least one kick went out of bounds, but the majority of his clearances were long and towards Valdez or Morris. There was very little playing from the back with his feet and I think the Sounders gave up a lot of possession as a team as a result.

DEFENSE:

Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.5

Jones was a consistent attacking force in this game, playing very high all night and almost constantly pushing forward into the offense. This was at times very beneficial to the Sounders, letting them overload attacking areas, but it also left the team susceptible to backside runs and Jones needs to remember his role as a defensive player in the second leg or Colorado will make the extra pass they missed multiple times in Seattle.

In the 3rd minute I liked the entry pass to a checking Valdez, and Jones was crisp finding passes forward during the game. Joevin touched the ball a ton (more than Lodeiro) and was proficient at combining through his zone, but often the last pass failed him. Jones was great with close control of the ball, starting in the 9th minute when he dribbled out of trouble and earned a free kick. He did this several times, wriggling out of tough spots and alleviating pressure from the back.

Joevin had a few bad crosses that didn’t find anyone but the biggest fault from the left back on the night was falling asleep on defense a few times. He lost Le Toux in the 49th on the backside of the play and even more egregiously left Marlon Hairston WIDE OPEN on goal in the 79th when Seattle was hugely fortuitous that Le Toux didn’t find him for a tap-in.

Jones overlapped so much that it wasn’t even an overlap, it was just him playing left winger for much of the second half. This resulted in a lot of crossing opportunities and one (54’) near-post shot, but for as much as he got forward Jones didn’t do a lot offensively. I would like to see him dribble deeper and change angles on passes on Sunday.

Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 6.6

Chad had a bit of an up and down game which means he crushed the stat book but had a few hiccups covering others on defense. I am just so used to him always doing the right thing that it’s a huge surprise when he makes a mistake at all. He still managed to fill my notes to the tune of 2 tackles, 3 interceptions, 5 clearances, and a thousand headers cleared.

Chad started strong, poking out a ball from Badji after he had beaten Torres. He continued to eat the Colorado striker 1v1 all night, especially in the 20th, 37th, 39th, and 49th, each time turning away an attack. With Jones playing high, it was often Marshall playing a left back position and covering all the way to the sideline. I was impressed with his ability to cover so much ground, and other than holding Le Toux onside in the 23rd minute he supported Jones well.

Marshall struggled slightly more than usual against Colorado, and a lot of this was due to their pressing nature and maybe some rust with Torres. In the 13th he could have stepped over faster to support the right side of the defense which let the team down, but that would have meant leaving his mark (Shkelzen Gashi) wide open for an even better look. His sprawling attempt was deflected in for a huge away goal for Colorado but it’s hard to fault him on this play. Marshall was caught holding Le Toux onside in the 23rd and allowed Badji to get a step around him and a shot in the 52nd. The worst misstep of the last 4 months came in the 79th when Marshall played ole’ defense against Le Toux and allowed him to get into a good scoring position.

Chad was a big part of holding Colorado with few scoring opportunities, but he has raised the bar so high that while this game was still very good, it was a bit below what we have come to (perhaps unfairly) expect from him.

Roman Torres – 6 | Community – 6.6

I was pretty happy with Torres’ return to action this week, and think he will be even more dominant in Colorado. There was some rust in his play, and the communication on the back line can be much improved, especially with Mears who rarely combined with Roman.

In the 4th minute Roman introduced himself to Kevin Doyle, beating the Colorado player to a near post run and clearing the ball. In the 11th he was over behind Marshall to cover with Jones high, but gave up a corner on the end line. The goal scoring play from Colorado highlighted a Torres weakness, as he was pulled from the middle chasing a run and left a giant hole behind him that was thoroughly exploited. This happened on a few occasions and without Mears in tight to help, there is big potential for problems.

Torres was strong defensively in the middle and together with Marshall won every header. His clearances weren’t fancy, but more of the “get the ball outta here” type. I noted a savvy little screen he set for Nico in the 40th to help delay pursuit – funny to see him hulk up and force people to run around him that allowed his teammate an extra second of separation. When not making smart plays in the middle Torres was winning attacking headers on goal in the 55th and defending 1v1 in the 57th and earning a throw in.

Roman gave up a few unnecessary set pieces to the away team, often when forced wide to support the space behind Mears. In these situations, Torres is susceptible to fouling. On the 79th minute defensive hiccup I was surprised to see him jogging aimlessly behind Le Toux as he darted in on goal. Torres did very well after Colorado took advantage of his spacing issues with Mears, and his lock down defending for the last 60 minutes was stellar. He even chipped in with a key pass on the evening.

Tyrone Mears – 6 | Community – 6.3

Early on Mears was a mess. Attempting to give the Sounders width, he hugged the sideline and allowed Le Toux to run inside him multiple times, and he shouldn’t permit his man goal side at will. The Colorado goal was a prime example. Mears was nowhere to be found, guarding the sideline and allowing the center of the defense to get pulled apart. Tyrone improved later, supporting closer and not allowing the Rapids wingers to get inside and overload the middle, but by then the damage was done.

On defense Mears didn’t track back well in the 23rd, allowing Le Toux to run by him for 60 yards, and he lost possession twice in the next five minutes. Going forward Tyrone was more active this game than he has been in quite a while. Even though he didn’t have great results, the threat of his penetration on the right helped balance the Seattle attack. In the 22nd he twice got forward direct on goal, and then floated wide to get involved via a cross. Ten minutes later he put in his best cross of the game that almost found Morris.

It is so clear that even the mere idea of an attacking right back greatly benefits the Seattle offense, and Seattle adjusted to get Tyrone higher in space in the second half. This made a huge difference in balancing out the offense. Mears had a rough left footed cross in the 48th and won a corner but also missed multiple services and was quite wasteful with his chances on the wing. He quit on at least one run that a teammate played him in and didn’t look comfortable staying high consistently. Juggling more of an offensive load, his defense didn’t suffer, although when Le Toux ran by him in the 79th he just let him go and jogged behind the play, something he cannot do.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD:

Osvaldo Alonso – 8 | Community – 8.0

This was one of the most completely under control matches that I have seen Alonso play. He bossed the middle of the field all game, but did so in a different way than we are accustomed to. Instead of being a pure enforcer who intimidates runs down the middle, Ozzy was a finesse defender who was superb tactically. Repeatedly Alonso won the ball cleanly and used his positioning and intelligence to repeatedly outplay the Colorado midfielders. Coach Schmetzer also dropped Friberg inside to help protect him and I was really impressed by the calmness that Alonso played with while flanked with multiple midfielders.

After a slow start to figure out positioning, Ozzie started to pick up intensity defensively in the 24th, stopping a midfield attack and turning it immediately into a counter. This would be a trend throughout, with Alonso constantly breaking up attacks and quickly transitioning via Friberg or Lodeiro. In the 32nd with Seattle seemingly dropping the ball, instead of pushing the ball back around the fullbacks Alonso found a wonderful incisive pass through traffic to Nico to jump start another push forward. Six minutes later he used great field awareness to pivot and switch a ball to a wide open Friberg behind the play. He finished off the half with a number of direct attacks up the middle, but none were fruitful.

In the second half Alonso had a few poor passes but was always willing to rectify his mistakes, and did so each time. I was worried that he had earned a yellow in the 69th on a risky tackle from behind, but he was lucky to only have a foul called. After that Alonso dominated the middle, starting a 71st minute counter attack and switching the ball to open the field in the 73rd. When Le Toux got through in the 79th it was Alonso’s incessant chasing that forced him into a near post shot decision, partially shielding him from the open pass across. He was the only defender that finished off this play. As soon as Micheal Azira stepped on the field Alonso hungrily attacked him, dispossessing the former Sounder easily in the 83rd and perhaps giving us a good idea of what to expect in the next game with Sam Cronin out.

Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.8

Roldan was spectacular in the first half, and Colorado was ill-prepared for the massive improvement he has made since these teams last met. Cristian was everywhere, but like Alonso he played under control always, never getting close to fouls that could be carded while still mixing it up with guys like Jermaine Jones physically.

As usual, Roldan being great made Alonso that much better, and Cristian did well sliding in behind Morris on the left to support. He also adjusted his positioning to support Friberg’s inclusion in the central area better than we’ve seen before, and these three had by far their best games as a unit in the middle.

After the home team gave up a disappointing early goal, it was Roldan who burst through the defense on an inspired 40-yard run in the 19th. He first won a 50/50 ball by wanting it more than a Rapids player, and then when Nico found him in space he took advantage, driving all the way to the Colorado penalty box. It was great to see him be directly goal dangerous on this play, unleashing a strong and well placed shot that forced a fingertip save from keeper Zac MacMath who was only able to push it off a post. Roldan wasn’t done offensively, and after another 30-yard combination with Lodeiro earned a corner minutes later.

The second half saw Cristian drop more and stay back farther, rarely getting forward like the first half. His defense was strong, and he didn’t put a foot wrong all half, supporting in the hole that Jones left almost permanently on the left. While he didn’t have as many trackable actions after the break, Roldan finished the game with 86% passing with 2 key passes and 5/7 on long balls, showing his ability to create from a deep lying position while having the most passes on the team.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD:

Erik Friberg – 7 | Community – 6.6 (off 69’)

I loved what we got from Friberg in this game. Asked to step inside and help overload the middle, Erik did exactly that. He was everywhere in this match, and filled my book with positive notes until subbing off in minute 69.

Early on it was clear that Friberg was going to help create overloads in the middle by dropping central, and it was a nice piece of tactical adjustment by the coach to push him inside to help the guys on cards. Erik played his role well, working off Alonso and Roldan and the three of them were able to overwhelm Colorado’s central attack. Importantly, these three also found Nico quickly as soon as they won possession.

Although he has done this decently in spurts, this was one of the first games that I thought Friberg really understood his role, and played it to perfection while being an offensive option. Whether it was running in behind the defense to collect a diagonal pass before dropping in a perfect cross to Nico in the 31st, or making perfect runs in the middle to get a give and go and open the field 5 minutes later, Erik surprised me at just how effective he could play inverted. At times, I said to myself “where has this guy been?” Particularly after plays like his 40th minute cross, a series that exhibited perfect movement to receive a pass and then put in a nearly-scoring cross that just missed Valdez, all while sprinting forward off the right wing.

While the offensive help was great to see (and his direct runs wreaked havoc with the Colorado defenders trying to keep track of the midfield) it was his defense that sparkled. Perhaps asked to play more of a destroyer role without a card to his credit, it was often Friberg who attacked the ball and forced bad passes, or sat in passing lanes expertly. He put in hard tackles and was often situated all the way to the middle of the field to break up any switching play, I was impressed with this iteration of Friberg and hope to see him continue this level of production.

Jordan Morris– 6 | Community – 7.3 (off 77’)

It was clear to me that Morris was still hampered by his hamstring injury. Whether that was physically limiting him or mentally preventing him from opening up the accelerator all the way I am not sure, but there were a few times when his effort and pace failed him. He still was very effective in stretching the Rapids defense and popped up to score a goal as well.

In the 7th minute he had an open shot but inexplicably cut it back, before putting a shot on goal that was blocked. I think this hesitancy will be gone this weekend. Even slowed, it was impressive to see him start the goalscoring play on the right wing, drift across the field to support, make a direct run that kept him onside, and finish cleanly for a huge goal. Good players find a way to get into good spots and he did this multiple times more, like a 32nd minute header he just missed.

Even without his huge acceleration advantage it was good to see the improved possession from Morris. His days up top have really taught him to shield and control the ball and he used this skill well on the wing, repeatedly keeping the ball and turning options back inside. I hope he can be full health with a few more days and should be even more dangerous against a Colorado team that must score to stay in the playoffs. His pace is essential in the attack.

Nicolas Lodeiro – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.7 (MOTM)

I am running out of ways to describe what this guy does to teams. 5 shots, 4 key passes, 5/5 accurate long balls, 84% passing, a won and converted PK and just a ridiculous game where he was EVERYWHERE. His heat map was pretty much the greater Seattle area, he influenced so much of this match.

Early on it was defense, with movement and pressure forcing Colorado to attack from wide. On multiple occasions Nico cut off half of the field, forcing the Rapids offense to be predictable, and each occasion led to Seattle possession. He constantly pushed forward, then found Jones or Friberg or Mears wide. In the 19th he was able to put Roldan into space because he simply wanted it MORE than Jones for Colorado.

His movement so perplexed the away team that in minute 31 he walked into the box and had a wide-open header from about 10 yards out. Nico was so open on the play that he had time to control, but instead opted for a headed shot which forced a sprawling save from MacMath. On the ensuing corner kick, he found the ball and put in a perfect cross that Valdez unfortunately redirected right at MacMath.

Colorado was unable to devise a strategy at half time to contain him and Lodeiro was even more effective after the break. Consistently moving and prodding and poking, he took matters into his own hands in the 60th, beating his man and earning a penalty. He calmly converted it. Seeing the joy in his face and Lodeiro gesturing to his jersey and his crest after his goal makes me an immensely proud fan. A few minutes later he dummied a ball perfectly to Nelson who returned it, only to see Lodeiro’s touch fail him on what should have been a third Seattle goal. Nico ended the game almost scoring from an Olympico in the 75th and barely missing an open net off a turnover a minute later. This was just a masterful game from Lodeiro, and with Cronin out, look for him to make Azira look silly.

FORWARD:

Nelson Haedo Valdez – 7 | Community – 6.4

I was really impressed with Valdez who quietly did all the dirty work. He was active early and throughout, earning free kicks, dropping at smart angles to give people lanes to pass to him, and bringing the midfielders into the attack. All the while he was also playing defense 60 yards back and making runs direct on goal. He was a classic hold up forward and played it wonderfully.

Valdez missed a huge chance in the 31st, getting a foot on a Lodeiro cross but hitting it right at the keeper. I think he was shielded on this play, but disappointed he didn’t do better. Nine minutes later Friberg was dialing up Nelson’s head, and his diving attempt just missed connecting. Also impressive was seeing him play defense in stoppage time of the first half, winning the ball and killing the clock.

After being unable to play more than 60 effectively for much of his time here, Valdez looked strong past 80 minutes in this. He was part of the 68th minute dummy combo, and it was his pass that put Nico on goal. After playing strong defense in the middle to create a break in the 75th it was Nelson who pressed Axel Sjoberg into a turnover right to Nico that almost was goal #3. Valdez was another player who immediately pressed Azira into a turnover in the 79th, showing his familiarity with his old teammate’s skillset.

SUBS:

Brad Evans – 5 | Community – 5.3 (on 69’)

Oh Brad. I fear his time as a Sounder is more and more about injury and less about his stellar play, and that’s disappointing. He immediately got involved on defense and his positioning was excellent. I thought there was really a chance for him/Mears to take advantage of the overloaded left and exploit the right but in the 70th he rolled his ankle. Evans still managed to have nice defensive plays in the 87th and 89th even while hobbled, but his injury took momentum from the team. With a hurt player, Coach Schmetzer was handcuffed from even making a third sub, having to save one just in case Brad couldn’t continue.

Andreas Ivanschitz – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 77’)

With Evans hurt, it was likely a tough decision for the coach regarding subs, and he went with Andreas. I wanted more from him in this appearance, but with Evans hurt and the defense holding on there were only 12 touches for AI and he was unable to do much creatively. I did note him coming to the center and getting a shot off in the box that was blocked, as well as a nice near post cross to Valdez late. A speculative shot into the ECS ended his underwhelming night. It was great to see him back on the field though and like what he can offer when healthy.

REFEREE:

Chris Penso – 7 | Community – 6.4

Penso started off calling a foul on Axel Sjoberg in the 13th SECOND, and did well to control the rest of the game. Early on Colorado had a strategy of fouling everything through the middle and they built up a ton of fouls early from this tactic. I thought there were a few times that Penso didn’t pull a card due to it being playoffs, but the teams adjusted to what was called and overall it was a clean game.

The one big call that the ref missed was the elbow/strike to the face of Nico by Marc Burch in the 33rd minute. This has to be called, and the precedent has been set via Alonso/Dempsey/etc. There is just no reason that hands to the face isn’t a red in this case. I think a second yellow for Burch on the foul that resulted in a PK would also have been appropriate, if a bit harsh.

Yellows on Doyle and Cronin were easy calls, and the PK was correct. The fouls evened out after the initial Colorado flurry, and this ref was much better on the replay than I thought live.

RAPIDS MOTM:

Readers chose Zac MacMath as the best Colorado player on the pitch for the night. He made a fingertip save or two and had some key stops to keep the Rapids very close going into leg 2.


4 down. 2 to go.

*special thanks to editor mom for cleaning this up on Thanksgiving on location in Hawaii. Also, M, R, and J thanks for sharing your vacation with Realio’s ratings.