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Seattle Sounders vs. Colorado Rapids, Western Conference Finals, leg 2: Player Ratings

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Seattle flipped the script in their away game against Colorado, and managed a 1-0 win against the Rapids. Pulling a page from their opponents’ playbook, the away side absorbed pressure repeatedly, forcing the home team into hopeful, speculative shots. Seattle took advantage of a break to score a huge away goal.


KEEPER:

Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.0

Frei saw little direct action but I credit him for performing the enormous task of keeping his backline tight and compact throughout waves of Colorado pressure. The Sounders had little chance to do more than absorb attacks for the first 30 minutes. Every clearance went long, and there was no finesse to the Seattle defensive play. After making it through this barrage, the Sounders opened their offensive game, while still staying compact in the back. Their defensive resolve never wavered.

In minute 24, when forced to play an unsure drop pass from Jones, Stefan could only flail at the ball, conceding a corner. On the ensuing set piece, he was held by Dillon Powers (uncalled) and didn’t get good contact when trying to clear the corner. This led to a nervy moment with Jermaine Jones getting a decent attempt just over the bar. The rest of the half was quiet, with Colorado getting many shots that failed to test Frei. The second half was more of the same, with the Rapids getting close, but continuously turned aside by stellar defensive positioning. In the 55th Frei was off his line well to collect an over the top ball and 10 minutes later he leapt high to catch a cross, something he repeated late against the giant Axel Sjoberg.

There were a few errors, like a mis-cleared punch in the 76th and two goal kicks out of bounds late, but who cares? He held his defense together, organized them into a wall that denied Colorado any shots on goal, and denied the Rapids any chance to advance.

DEFENSE:

Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.7

Joevin was noticeably quiet this weekend, preferring to stay home and support his defensive line rather than rush forward into the attack. With a goal lead in the series, this made a lot of sense but it also forced Jones to focus on an aspect of his game that is notoriously weak.

For much of the match Joevin was matched up 1v1 on the outside and there were some struggles. After slipping in the 5th minute and conceding a corner kick, he had a bad drop to Frei in the 24th that gifted Colorado another set piece. In the 32nd a seemingly simple cross floated over his head, and allowed Shkelzen Gashi an attempt at a flying side volley that frankly should have been an easy header away by Jones. In the 65th instead of clearing the ball Jones tried to dribble free of the box, and Marlon Hairston stole it and managed a cross.

Going forward in the 17th Jones showed his offensive capabilities, and in the 46th a weaving aggressive dribble through the middle was fantastic. Jones’ positional flexibility is an asset, and he who was moved seamlessly to right winger in the 75th minute. Almost immediately Joevin showed some pressure forward, but missed a wide-open Morris on the backside. Jones didn’t have a spectacular two-way game against Colorado, but what he did was contribute to a defense that was rock solid all night, and his communication with Marshall next to him was near perfect in denying attacks down his side, especially limiting Gashi from the wing.

Chad Marshall – 8 | Community – 7.5

Seattle forced everything wide in this match, and they did this by pulling Alonso and Roldan firm to the middle and keeping the central defenders strictly in their lanes. Marshall had a monstrous 10 clearances to go with three interceptions and four blocked shots. I didn’t catch Chad putting a foot wrong all match.

Eleven seconds in, Marshall was winning a header over Kevin Doyle, and he repeated this all night. When matched up with Doyle 1v1 in the 12th minute Chad shut the Colorado striker down. I was impressed with a 26th minute step to deny Gashi any service, and Marshall/Jones were very effective in limiting the star Rapid player. In the 30th a defensive header was followed by a scramble block as Marshall just continued to be an impenetrable wall.

The second half was more of the same. Marshall won a contested header that started the Seattle goal scoring play in the 56th, and he closed out the game dominating play repeatedly via perfect positioning. He never put a foot wrong and Colorado failed to ever get behind him. Even clearing the ball Chad still managed an impressive 85% passing efficiency, keeping valuable possession for his team while defending valiantly.

Román Torres – 7 | Community – 6.7

The other half of the great central wall for the Sounders was Roman Torres and he combined nearly perfectly with Marshall to shut down anything through the middle. Their communication with Frei and the defensive mids in front of them was very impressive, completely limiting Colorado from getting any chances in the box.

Roman wasn’t quite as effective as Chad, but still managed two interceptions and eight clearances. In the 5th minute he found Valdez perfectly from the back, and it was one of the few times that the Sounders could move the ball while bypassing the midfield. The “get the ball outta here” clearance method suits Roman just fine, as evidenced by his 58% passing clip. In the 36th minute he went up in the box strong and was undercut by Gashi but bounced up unperturbed at this cheap shot. There were some blips from Torres, including a yellow for obstruction in the 14th. Roman was lucky not to be penalized in the 23rd when he misjudged a header and saw Doyle get in behind him. Fortunately, Doyle’s pass across the goal didn’t find a Rapids teammate.

Several of Roman’s clearances were quickly returned into the Colorado attack, but the Seattle defense held strong. In the 83rd minute with Mears faltering it was Torres who popped up on the right to clear the defense and even drop Valdez in on goal via a tremendous over the top pass. Torres stayed in his lane next to Chad and was a brick wall for most of the match.

Tyrone Mears – 6 | Community – 6.4

Tyrone stayed home for most the game and contributed to the defensive effort. It’s important to note that Sebastian Le Toux was much less effective in this match, and a lot of that comes down to Mears’ effort. Tyrone chipped in to the defense with 8 clearances from an outside position.

Mears struggled to connect passes forward, failing to find the wingers in front of him much. This led to a lot of chunked balls forward to space, which was suboptimal. I didn’t like seeing him complain to a ref in the 11th while the ball was still in play and he dove in and missed on Jermaine Jones 4 minutes later. I was impressed with his drop in the 23rd, a perfectly weighted ball to Frei’s right foot allowing a clearance – this is a very underappreciated thing to do and Tyrone pulled it off perfectly. In the 28th with Seattle controlling possession, the ball was switched to Mears and he promptly lost it. Right before halftime he dove in on Jones and committed a foul in a dangerous spot, allowing Gashi a set piece. Mears finished off the half with a weak left footed cross on one of his few attempts to get forward.

The second half was a battle of wills and Seattle proved stronger. Mears impressed not only with his positional play, but effort, like a diving slide in the 52nd to create a throw in instead of a corner. His marking on set pieces was stellar. Tyrone shouldn’t have fouled Jones again for a set piece in the 77th but our defense was resolute all game and denied Colorado any momentum.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD:

Osvaldo Alonso – 6 | Community – 7.8 (off 74’)

Alonso played another controlled game in the middle. During leg one I appreciated his patient play while carrying a card, but at times in this game he looked almost too unwilling to get a foot in. This led to an uncharacteristically low 51 touches, and Alonso was forced into a very low 78% passing rate. Colorado did a very smart thing in pushing Jermaine Jones high; he used his size against Alonso/Roldan to consistently win possession in attacking areas and bring his midfield into the play. What Jones wasn’t able to do was turn and attack the box, and that was entirely due to defensive discipline by Alonso and the Seattle backline.

I noted Ozzie across to defend Burch in the corner, and he was much more active to the width to support Mears. Alonso was unstoppable in the middle 1v1, and only struggled when physically challenging looped long balls into Jones. He did get a suspiciously high elbow into Le Toux in the 7th minute followed by a foul on Jones in a bad spot. The Seattle bunker also struggled to get up field, limiting Ozzie’s ability to move the ball horizontally.

Alonso didn’t lose possession in the midfield at all and he was tidy with anything central. It’s hard to know how much of the sustained Rapids play was their attacking impetus or Seattle bunkering, but again, the superior tactical positioning from Alonso and Roldan forced everything wide and away from dangerous spots in the box. Ozzie was hurt on a ridiculous tackle in the 74th. He will be needed in full health in the final.

Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 7.5

Like Alonso, Cristian sat very deep in this match. He preferred to defend first and it was clear that he was not going to allow any attacks by Gashi cutting in on his left foot. Roldan was game to attack Jermaine Jones aerially, but was often too small to win those battles. What he did instead was deny any entry passes to forwards from the middle and shunted attacks consistently wide.

I was impressed with Roldan’s coverage in the 21st, closing Jones down on the break and receiving an elbow to the head for his troubles. A few moments later was the perfect Roldan play, illustrating just how far he has come this season. Following a scrum, Cristian first came out of the pile with the ball, opted not to clear randomly forward but instead took a nifty touch to space and found Mears as an outlet. It is this growth in his game that really impresses, both his mental calmness and the increased physical control to cleanly navigate a very strenuous situation.

Cristian didn’t attack as much, but there was one of his now signature inspired runs out of the back in the 65th, creating a large chance for Seattle and completely throwing off the Colorado defense.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD:

Andreas Ivanschitz – 5 | Community – 5.9 (off 51’)

Starting for the first time in a long time, Andreas struggled. Seattle was tactically set up to defend and continuously pushed back by Colorado pressure and this wasn’t a good fit for AI. Instead of getting space on the wing and putting in searching balls to a fast forward, Andreas was pinned deep and had only the checking runs of Valdez to look for. Without an over the top threat AI struggled to be.

He did play excellent defense for the first twenty minutes, helping Joevin Jones lock down his side. A 7th minute tackle on Doyle was followed by a very smart tactical foul 7 minutes later to stop a counter attack. Depending on Andreas to just be a grind it out defender for long stretches is a bad idea, and in the 24th he not only was beat but jogged back after losing possession. He was unable to connect on much going forward, but did get open via a stellar run in the 35th, only to inexplicably pass across instead of taking a wide open 12-yard shot.

This was a horrible matchup for Ivanschitz, and he didn’t do enough to impose his strengths on the opponent. Missing a lot of playtime looks to have removed the game chemistry that Andreas had with his teammates.

Jordan Morris – 8 | Community – 8.4 (MOTM)

Ok, dude played sick. Ok, he twisted his left knee in the 42nd minute. Ok, he got cleated in the right knee in the 56th. He still showed up in the biggest game of his career with the biggest moment of the game. Morris was a WARRIOR out there.

In the 13th minute Jordan almost snuck past Sjoberg and earned a corner for his efforts. This was the first attack the Sounders managed, and one of only a few on the night. In the first leg Colorado had a lot of success via service from the wings, and Morris did a great job defensively limiting any wide play by constantly hustling back to support the fullbacks. In the 46th and 50th minutes Jordan managed to surge forward, but both times had little in the way of forward options from his teammates.

Even limited physically, Morris showed how mentally invested he is in the 56th. All it took was one tiny mistake from Colorado for Jordan to receive a great Valdez service, put a perfect touch towards goal, and calmly finish over Rapids keeper Zac MacMath. The first touch made the play, and boy was it pretty. Perfectly weighted, it both put the ball on goal and took him free of the central defender. Morris chipped true, then received a cleat to the knee, which hobbled him for all of 4 minutes. After rubbing some dirt on it he was right back on defense, winning a free kick in the corner and pressuring the wing. Somehow, he finished the game, mentally willing his aching body to support his teammates towards the final.

Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.8

If Colorado is looking for a silver lining, bottling up Nico Lodeiro for much of the game might be one. They did an excellent job of both limiting his touches and forcing him into a low completion percentage (60). Unfortunately for them he brought a stellar defensive work rate with him and showed just how complete his game is.

I marked down Nico for 10 individual defensive actions, a nearly unheard of number for an attacking midfielder. He clogged passing lanes, got down on tackles, and did a great job 1v1 defending. Unfortunately, what he wasn’t able to do was get the ball forward, and when he did find space, lacked options moving into offense. Nico kept attacking though, and he followed up a 50th minute dummy with a bigger contribution 6 minutes later. Although his pass went awry, it did put the ball into the attack for Seattle to pounce on. It’s his continued willing the ball forward that creates so many opportunities for the Sounders.

Nico was quieter in this game than perhaps any prior, but he was still effective in a way that helped Seattle to a victory, and it was plays like his 78th minute tackle on Jones to stop a break that ensured the Sounders will play in the final.

FORWARD:

Nelson Haedo Valdez – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.3 (off 88’)

This might be a surprising MOTM choice, but Valdez really stood out to me. He completely crushed my notebook, making consistent plays, and doing everything a team needed in this position. The defense truly started from the front, with Nelson putting in tireless work forcing play continually wide.

In the 4th it was Nelson holding the ball up and getting Seattle out of the defensive third. This was a common theme for the night, and, especially early, the only way to get forward was via Valdez. A layoff chest pass in the 5th to Nico was followed 5 minutes later with another holdup play that drew a foul. Valdez was masterful in drawing contact to earn fouls, and this both moved Seattle out of the defensive third and gave the beleaguered defense a reprieve. In the 16th Nelson refused to give up on a play, and earned a throw in for his team. He was consistently able to force Colorado away from the middle of the field, and he also pressured many long clearances towards the width.

Multiple times Valdez brought his team into the attacking half via strong holdup play, and he managed a turn and shot in traffic in the 50th. A few minutes later Nelson was pressing Colorado into another mistake. The Rapid defenders tired from all his movement, and in the 56th another strong press from Seattle created a turnover to the feet of Valdez. Positioned perfectly in the middle, Nelson first controlled the ball to his spot, then put an excellent pass into the run of Morris for a deserved assist. This was a difficult play, but Valdez made it look simple because he set the table with repeated pressure on the defense prior.

I cannot say enough about the effort from Valdez. He was still charging hard with a chip in the 83rd, forcing the Colorado defense onto its heels. When he subbed off he was battered, bruised, but smiling because he had just put on an absolute clinic on how to play target forward for a bunkering team. He did absolutely everything you could ask for from that position and was a huge difference maker for Seattle.

SUBS:

Alvaro Fernandez – 6 | Community – 6.0 (on 51’)

Forced into an early sub for an ineffective Ivanschitz, I was happy with the impact from Fernandez. He immediately looked more comfortable cutting into the middle and supporting a lagging central unit.

Flaco checked in to help Mears with a defensive header in the 52nd before almost putting Morris in on goal in the 56th. It was Alvaro’s pressure that forced defender Jared Watts into a lousy clearance that Seattle capitalized on. This little bit of energy was important and pressure lacking prior to his entry.

He did miss Nico in the 62nd and lost possession a few times but also earned a foul in a good spot and was always back with defense as his priority.

Oniel Fisher -- 6 | Community – 6.0 (on 74’)

Fisher subbed in at left back and the defense didn’t miss a beat. He played very physical defense and refused to allow Colorado any purchase up his wing. The communication from Marshall to Fisher was spot on and they continued the defensive effort throughout the rest of the match. I was particularly impressed with his defense when matched up with the speed of Marlon Hairston, and Fisher shut him down completely.

Zach Scott -- 6 | Community – 6.4 (on 88’)

Scott was tasked to do one thing – keep the ball from going behind Frei. For two minutes plus stoppage he did exactly that. He slotted into a 5-man backline easily, won his one aerial chance, and didn’t put a foot wrong in a short outing.

REFEREE:

Ricardo Salazar – 4 | Community – 6.5

Originally, I thought Ricardo had a good game, and for a while he did.

He started off assertively talking to Colorado for taking down Joevin from behind early, and showed no interest in penalizing Alonso for an inadvertent high arm in the 7th. The yellow card on Torres was the correct call as well, and for a moment Salazar was making all the right calls without insinuating himself into the game. A foul when Nico was taken down, a no call when the ball hit Jones in the face and Torres being undercut by Gashi were all correctly penalized. A first half that was dominated by Colorado was also cleanly refereed. My only concern was a hold on Frei on a corner and Gashi getting away with some rough play.

The second half was very different and I have a huge problem with Salazar allowing so much contact without showing cards. Only two cards were shown in the game and I saw cause for 5-6 yellows and at least one red!

Everything started going downhill in minute 56, which saw Morris both score and get kicked with a high boot, utterly deserving of a red card sendoff of MacMath. This tackle was BRUTAL, and anywhere else on the field is an immediate expulsion. It’s completely ridiculous that a keeper can do this just because he was scored on, and it was 100% serious dangerous play that he deliberately followed through with. After a 65th minute correct no call on a ball-to-hand play with Marshall, again Salazar repeatedly failed as a referee. In the 68th, Marc Burch brutally fouled Tyrone Mears, which was borderline red as he didn’t make any attempt at the ball. This was quickly followed up by Alonso on the receiving end of a nasty sliding challenge from Dillon Powers that also aimed firmly for the man and not the ball, hurting Ozzie in the process. The net result of these tackles was a yellow for Burch, but a foul for Powers? At least 2 yellows if not a red were warranted.

Salazar wasn’t done. Three minutes later Sjoberg obstructed Alvaro Fernandez which “should” be a yellow for deliberate foul play. No card. Watts came through the back of Morris in the 85th with a massively dangerous foul. No card. Six minutes later it was Jones taking his shot through the back of Morris. No card. Not to be outdone, in the 93rd Watts got away with another tackle from behind on Lodeiro. No card.

With the game slipping away from them, Colorado turned up the physicality, and Salazar didn’t adjust appropriately to protect players’ safety. Because of this, Alonso and Morris were hurt, with Mears, Nico, and others lucky not to be. It was very disappointing to see Salazar “reffing to the scoreboard” and allowing Colorado to get away with multiple dangerous infractions after going down a goal. Any number of these cards could and should have been shown, both to control the game and protect the safety of the players.

COLORADO RAPIDS MOTM:

Jermaine Jones’ midfield performance won over the readers, earning 55 percent of 282 votes.


5 games down. There is only one left.