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Seattle Sounders vs. FC Dallas, Leg 1: Player Ratings

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Hosting Dallas in the second round of the playoffs is nothing new for Seattle. Just last year we left the home leg of the Dallas series up 2-1 and in good position to advance with a solid second leg showing in Dallas, only to lose on penalty kicks. This season is different, though. With Fabian Castillo and Mauro Diaz both missing from the lineup, the Texas team started out in a very defensive 5-3-2 and failed to get the bunkered result they hoped for. A quick burst of skill from the Sounders attack led to a 10-minute flurry of goals and saw the home team up 3-0 before the 60th minute. Strong defensive work held this scoreline until the end, offering great momentum heading to the second leg.


KEEPER:

Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.8

Against Dallas our keeper was calm, in control, and communicated well with his defense. There weren’t a lot of sustained Dallas attacks that put him under pressure, and the only big chances created came on set piece work.

In the 20th minute Frei saw his first action, covering a long distance shot well from outside the box on wet turf, getting his whole body in front. After that he was quickly to his feet, attempting to punt Valdez into a counter attack. Another attack three minutes later was started via Frei’s feet, and especially with Scott back there, the Sounders looked to use Stefan a lot. He did well to control a few overly zealous back passes and other than choosing to find Scott in the 17th on a short goal kick his possession in the back and decision-making were stellar.

The second half was more of the same, with Frei pushing a semi-dangerous shot wide for a corner in the 57th and then collecting that set piece in the box cleanly. This led to a Kljestan assist, with Stefan rolling the ball out to Jones who found that Nico guy. A few moments later Stefan showed great use of the goalkeeper punch, first pushing away a corner kick and then punching away the ensuing cross.

Frei’s best save came against Maximiliano Urruti in the 65th, standing tall and making himself huge with arms wide, blocking the unmarked Dallas striker’s header. An 80th minute tame shot from Michael Barrios was the final of Frei’s three saves. Credit to Stefan and his defense for only allowing three shots on target out of 12, and consistently facilitating possession around the back.

DEFENSE:

Joevin Jones – 8 | Community – 8.1 (off 83’)

After coming to life at the end of the SKC game, Jones carried his momentum through to this game and was a monster in the attack. With Dallas playing a defensive 5-3-2 with stay at home wings, Jones was consistently allowed space to enter the attack. In this game, he had another new midfielder in front of him in Morris, and it took a while for them to understand each other’s movement.

What didn’t take them long to figure out is that Morris is blazing fast and Joevin has great touch on his long passes. Jones hasn’t had this sort of player in front of him and he looked surprised to see Morris make a vertical run in the 4th. Joevin’s pass was perfectly in stride to Jordan, ripping apart the Dallas defense. Perhaps encouraged by this success, in the 12th minute Jones willingly filled the gap that Morris left by playing so high. He got on the end of a rebound and put a strong hit on goal which was unfortunately blocked by a Sounder attacker. Two minutes later he found Valdez through on goal.

In the second half, the Sounders adjusted, pulling Morris wider and allowing Roldan back to the middle. This let Joevin and Jordan terrorize the flanks with their speed while the constant central movement of Lodeiro and Valdez kept Dallas from utilizing any width. In the 50th Jones pushed high in possession and dropped an absolutely beautiful cross in to Valdez to open the floodgates. This pass fooled goalkeeper Chris Seitz, pulling him off his line before dropping sweetly into Nelson’s run. Jones wasn’t done, putting a similarly impressive cross onto the head of Morris three minutes after this that created a huge chance, and directly after found Valdez through. He earned his second assist in the 57th by playing with his head up and finding Lodeiro behind the defense, bypassing 90% of the opposing team with one beautifully weighted pass that let the Uruguayan DP do the rest.

Joevin had some rough passes, and his crosses can be hit-or-miss. At times in the first half he gestured wildly that there was no one in front of him, with Morris leaving Jones on an island, but these issues cleared up later. His defense was generally clean, and with the help of an ever vigilant Roldan and the indomitable Marshall the left side was rarely breached. Joevin offers such dynamic attacking wing play, that should he play like this consistently, the Sounders are going to go very far.

Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 7.5

Marshall has been so good this year that we take him for granted. I didn’t have a single negative mark for Chad against Dallas in this game, and he again showed that it doesn’t matter who is the fullback next to him, he is going to dominate on defense.

Marshall stayed home more this game, rarely getting forward to make plays. This was by design, as Jones continually played very high, leaving a gap behind that Chad was aware of. In the 10th minute he denied Kellyn Acosta, then Urruti. In the 32nd Chad had to utilize some quick reflexes to slide away a poor back pass from Alonso, and at times with Morris being so vertical was forced to try speculative long balls as clearances. I didn’t mind that too much, and his choice to get the ball out of danger was often the correct one, especially early with the right side being somewhat unsettled.

Maxi Urruti had a miserable evening matched up with Chad, continually being denied any sort of possession or look at the goal. His one breakaway in the 48th minute was casually turned wide by Marshall, who threw in a physical slide tackle for good measure. Six minutes later it was the giant center back in perfect position to stop a cross, and in the 74th Chad was across to deny Tesho Akindele who had worked his way around Scott. Marshall didn’t blow up the book with stats, but he continued his near-flawless play with a revolving cast around him. He is a huge reason the team has given up only four goals in their last seven games.

Zach Scott – 6 | Community – 6.4

Another reason for the Seattle defensive success is the ability of an ever-changing cast of defensive players to come together prevent goals. Scott is a part of this; he came in to fill the giant shoes of Roman Torres and did OK. Zach struggled in the beginning, but after about 25 minutes he settled in nicely and was reliable and consistent. I was particularly pleased with his passing and decision-making in the second half.

In the 3rd minute Scott had a bad giveaway, but hustled to recover from this mistake. Three minutes later he was beat chasing a player forward, and was lucky to not give up a set piece when he tugged the Dallas player back. In the 7th he had an awful scuffed pass forward that went right to the middle. After a 10th minute pass from Scott handcuffed Mears, Zach again had an awful play to the middle. On this occasion, Scott received a short goal kick from Frei and made a mess of things. This was a near disaster, but again Alonso was there to prevent Urruti from turning this mistake into a cohesive attack.

Other than a 25th minute whiff on a cross that was lucky not to find the sneaky Barrios, that was the end of the Scott struggles. He absolutely locked up the central defense with Marshall for the next 80 minutes of play and did so with controlled passing and perfect positioning. Even after the early issues, Scott ended the night with 85.1% passing, including a crisp 4/6 on long balls. One of his best was in the 49th picking out Nico, who turned and put a runner through on goal. More impressive was a whopping seven interceptions on defense and general cohesive play in the back. As Dallas was forced to come out of its shell, the aerial dominance of the Sounders back line kept service into the box predictable. In the 76th and 92nd Scott showed how silly it is to chunk crosses into his area, vehemently clearing them.

It was nice to see Zach settle down and utilize his strengths to be a cohesive part of the defense in securing a very important shutout.

Tyrone Mears – 5 | Community – 6.1

Mears struggled early to connect with Scott, often looking lost up his wing and not making good connections with either his center back partner or Friberg, who was often across to help. Without the proper communication and options, I noted Mears chunking the ball blindly forward in the 2nd, 6th, 11th, 41st, and 69th, and this led to a passing completion percentage in the 60’s. Like Scott, his play greatly improved after minute 25.

Tyrone was active trying to overlap the right wing, but often his run was blind and un-utilized, which pulled him out of position. Mears struggled to control some harsh Scott passes, and on multiple occasions needed a stronger trap to make the play simpler. While trying to figure out the back, Tyrone still managed to put in a few great defensive plays, like a 21st minute clearance where he slid across the defense in support. Mears has been impressive on set piece defending lately, and in this game he was matched up with Ryan Hollingshead who has a considerable size advantage. This didn’t matter, as in the 16th and 40th it was the superior positioning and jumping ability that won the ball for the Sounders.

This was by no means a bad game from Mears, and his 1v1 defense late in the game on Akindele was tremendous. However, it failed to overshadow his early struggles with control and positioning.

DEF MIDFIELD:

Osvaldo Alonso – 8 | Community – 7.9 (off 79’)

It’s funny sometimes writing these ratings. There were maybe five total specific notes for Alonso, which is a very low number, but he completely dominated the middle without any huge plays. How? By history-making efficiency, especially in the offensive third. In the first half Ozzie led all players with 45 passes, of which 21 were in the Dallas half, and he completed 20! That is incredible, nearly perfect passing and control in the opponent’s half.

After the suffocating midfield battle against the 4-3-3 of SKC, Alonso’s tight control and incisive passing simply eviscerated the Dallas midfield setup. Alonso ended the game with 75 passes at a 93.3% clip including 7/8 long balls. Throw in five tackles, three interceptions and a shot, and you have a fantastic all-around game that maybe wasn’t noticeable at first glance. He completely controlled the game, finding Nico a whopping 16 times and his partner Roldan 12. Ozzie had a bad back pass in the 32nd minute that needed Marshall to clean up, but this was an otherwise controlled, precise outing from the defensive mid. Once again the pairing with Roldan opened Alonso into space, and while it was obvious he was being careful not to get a second yellow card, Ozzie was still completely dominant.

I liked seeing Alonso get subbed out early, although there was some crazy talk that a yellow card “reset” is better strategically. It’s great having Alonso healthy for a playoff series; he makes a significant difference.

Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.3

Back in the saddle next to Alonso, Roldan dropped perfectly to pair his defensive midfield partner once again. Against Dallas Cristian had a changed role due to the players in front of him, but he quickly read this and adjusted his play accordingly. With Morris changed to a wing position, there was a modification in the shape on the left. Jordan pushed very high and often there was a space either in front of or behind Jones, who adjusted his positioning to offset Morris. It fell to Roldan to read this and fill in the gaps- something he did phenomenally.

In the 4th minute it was Cristian who owned Acosta in a battle of young talents, the Sounders player controlling possession against his counterpart and finding a pass while being roughed up. In the 12th minute, it was Roldan popping up on the wing in support of Morris’ movement, and in the 30th his pressure on the ball kept possession in the attacking third for Seattle. Roldan’s work rate in the second half was impressive, and his control mirrored Alonso’s (85% passing). Every time Dallas got a brief glimpse of goal, Cristian moved over to shut it down. After playing a pseudo left back to support Morris’ movement, Cristian was strong in the middle and helped strengthen the back line while leading the team with six tackles.

ATT MIDFIELD:

Erik Friberg – 6 | Community – 6.3

This was another quiet game for Friberg, who floated around in unison with Nico again. He was more effective with the extra room in the midfield provided by Dallas, and chipped in with a shot on goal, a key pass, and decent 83% passing for the night.

Most of Erik’s early work was clogging passing lanes, such as in minute six when he dropped onto the top of the box and cut off a penetrating pass, making up for a lousy pass to Mears two minutes prior. Friberg had a slow start, mistouching the ball numerous times and even passing out of bounds once. I loved seeing Erik pop up on a corner kick rebound in the 27th and get a shot on goal through traffic. The tricky placement of the shot beat Seitz, but was saved off the line by Matt Hedges (twice!).

The second half was similar for Friberg; he made lots of movement to support others but rarely was involved, other than a sweet scoop pass for Morris in the 60th that almost turned into a goal. At times, I get frustrated because I want Erik to be more goal-dangerous or more aggressive, and he tends to shy away from confrontation. He is a good role player right now and when not expected to be a creative player can hold down a wide or central role adequately.

Nicolas Lodeiro – 9 (MOTM) | Community – 8.9 (MOTM)

Nico must have looked around in the first half and been surprised that he had so much space. Unlike the suffocating 4-3-3 midfield from the midweek game, Dallas was unable to limit Lodeiro’s movement through the middle channels, so he took advantage, even while being triple-teamed for much of the night.

In the 11th he opened Tyrone into space, and was up to his usual tricks all night – just missing Morris from a Valdez drop-off a few minutes later, putting Valdez and Morris repeatedly into attacking positions. Throughout the half Lodeiro was a force both directions, dropping into the defense to support before turning and hustling often 50+ yards to get a touch on the opposite side of the field. He did miss a free kick attempt in the 31st and had a few careless touches stolen, but who cares?

The second half was more of the same, and Dallas had no stamina to keep up with his incessant probing of the defense. After getting a great Scott pass forward in the 49th, Lodeiro spun and put a perfect 2-touch pass through to Morris that was only thwarted by an alert Seitz all the way at the edge of his box. Nico was only getting heated up, and in the 55th he made a gut busting 70-yard run to support Morris on the wing. This run passed 3+ Dallas defenders and ended with him getting a foot on a perfect pass from his teammate to double the score. How do you celebrate a long run and finish? Why, you keep moving, take advantage of a defense not set, and make a similar long run forward, this time finishing clean 1v1 against the keeper. Lodeiro never lost composure on this play, first receiving the pass, surging to goal at full sprint, and calmly slotting home. His utter control of the entire situation was sublime.

In the 85th minute he was back playing defense, and the work rate of the Seattle players simply annihilated the Dallas midfield. Lodeiro’s offense makes the others around him more dangerous, his defense helps the back six, and when given the opportunity he puts the team on his back and produces goals. What a player.

Jordan Morris – 8 | Community – 8.2

Coach Schmetzer surprised many by dropping a very in-form Morris to the wing, but boy did this move pay off. Supported by a vigilant Roldan to allow him freedom, it took Jordan a while to get comfortable with his two-way duties. When he did settle in, his play was electric, and it got him on the ball heading towards goal, unlike some moments from forward where he was pushed away from the center of the field.

Although most of his success came after some brilliant halftime adjustments, he did get loose up the wing in the 4th minute and almost assisted on an early goal, with his cross bouncing off Valdez before being saved by Seitz. In the 11th minute he was again flying up the wing with incredible pace, and I thought if he had fallen in the box he might have coaxed a penalty out of referee Salazar. In minute 36 Morris again got forward from an over the top Lodeiro ball but he passed up on a left footed volley from deep, instead choosing to maneuver to the right and taking a shot that was hard, but fairly easily saved by Seitz.

The second half was the breakthrough at the wing that Morris showed glimpses of earlier in the season. As Seattle started to flex its muscles forward, Jones and Morris overloaded the left side. Cutting inside gave Joevin overlapping space, and after he found Valdez for the opener he almost connected with Jordan in the 53rd; Morris just missed a wide open header near post. To make up for that he went complete BEAST in the 55th. This play was just wow. Showing off ridiculous pace, Morris churned down the left side before walking around defender Matt Hedges like nothing before slotting an inch-perfect left footed cross to the far post. This play was an incredible show of athleticism but also the right amount of touch that demonstrates how Jordan’s game has matured.

He wasn’t done. When Lodeiro got away on goal a few minutes later it was again the amazing pace of Morris that helped the team, this time a run past three defenders to give Nico an option and further freeze a defense on its heels. In the 60th he almost scored after a Friberg scoop pass right up the gut. Jordan pushed forward throughout the game, and his work rate never lessened. An 85th minute run to the width forced a yellow card from Maynor Figueroa. He was still running hard late, and assisting on defense to keep the shutout. Morris is a force of nature and improving every game.

FORWARD:

Nelson Haedo Valdez – 8 | Community – 8.2 (off 56’)

Another surprising starter was Valdez, occupying Morris’ standard forward spot. I was impressed with Nelson in a starting role, and this was a great display of a strong hold up forward who checked consistently to the midfield and linked up with both wings and central players.

Valdez almost scored in the 4th minute. On the play, he worked into a great spot, but was shielded from the Morris cross by a defender, and didn’t react fast enough to do more than redirect on goal with his chest that Seitz saved. In the 14th Nelson was again involved, checking to the ball before perfectly back heeling a pass into the run of Lodeiro. Later in the half, he displayed good holdup to bring the play forward, and in minute 29 flicked a well-aimed header to Morris.

The second half started slow for Valdez, and in the 49th minute he misplayed a pass to Friberg after another strong holdup. A minute later he more than made up for this mistake, floating off the back shoulder of the Dallas defense before rising up over his marker Figueroa to smash the first goal home. This was an absolutely huge goal for the Sounders, which opened a 10-minute dominant spell that pushed them into a hugely beneficial position. Goal number two also had a sprinkling of Valdez, as it was his check to the ball and flick wide that put Morris free on the wing to terrorize the Dallas defense.

Nelson subbed out in the 56th minute, just before the final goal, and it was to deserved applause. His work rate both directions, willingness to check and distribute, and desire to score created multiple great chances for the team. Whatever issues he had scoring are gone, and you could see him playing with joy as Seattle looks to move forward.

SUBS:

Herculez Gomez – 4 | Community – 5.7 (on 56’)

Subbing on for Valdez, Gomez went to a wing and did little positive besides some hustle. He immediately recovered on defense before giving up a corner. In the 65th he was caught ball-watching with horrific defense on Urruti, and only a great play by Frei stopped the striker from scoring unmarked on a set piece. In the 77th he gave up a dangerous free kick by fouling Barrios. Five minutes later Herc made great effort to save a corner by hustling on the end line, but then inexplicably fouled Rosales on the wing, resulting in a set piece after all. He did play some good defense, but he was too prone to fouling and added little to Seattle’s possession with a lead.

Brad Evans - 6 | Community – 6.1 (on 79’)

Evans came on late again to help seal the win and his possession was solid. His passing wasn’t particularly stellar, but he put Morris through immediately upon entering and when it came to making smart decisions late, he made the correct plays to help keep the shutout intact.

Oniel Fisher – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 83’)

A mis-touched header on a set piece in the 83rd was the only error from a player brought on to solidify the back. Fisher made few notes, but he was a perfect 2/2 passing and had good position on the backside.

REFEREE:

Ricardo Salazar – 8 | Community – 6.9

Salazar reffed a great game. He rarely needed the whistle, but when he did it was appropriate. His advantage play was spot on. When the chance arose to call an early pk, Salazar was in perfect position to say “play on” for the inadvertent hand ball. I would have been ok with a repetitive foul warning for Gruezo (four fouls committed) as well as a few that went uncalled. Ricardo really monitored throw-in position and allowed Seitz to start stalling at the 30-minute mark, but otherwise he reffed a solid match.

FC DALLAS MOTM:

It was a little difficult to pick out a great performance for Dallas in this match. The options provided all got a significant number of votes, as did Chris Seitz in the write-in category. But Matt Hedges had a relatively strong game at centerback and takes the plurality of votes here.


Two down. Four to go.