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Sounders vs. Club America, player ratings: Clint Dempsey is MOTM

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Seattle played a tough Mexican squad to a 2-2 draw in their first action of the season.

Mike Russell/Sounder at Heart

Welcome to another season of Sounders soccer! To those who aren't familiar with me, I'm Realio and after every game I re-watch the match, take notes and provide my analysis of the players' performances. Here's a reminder of the ratings scale:

Blank - player did not play enough to judge
1 - not a pro (USL/NASL/MLS) quality performance
4 - average USL starter
6 - average MLS starter
9 - MLS All Star
10 - MLS MVP-quality performance

I invite you to submit your own ratings in the Community Ratings form like this one Community Ratings - The community averages are provided next to my scores for comparison. Throughout the year I look at team and player trends and periodically I'll analyze how the team looks to date. I hope you enjoy it! This week we had nearly 750 entrants!

For the mighty Sounders' first game of the year they had to play perhaps the best team in the region, Club America. CA brought Darwin Quintero and Oribe Peralta to Seattle in what might be the best forward tandem the Sounders will see all year as well as a very strong lineup from top to bottom. I fully expected them to crush us as they are better than most (all?) teams in MLS especially at this point in the season. The 2-2 scoreline shows just how strong this Seattle team can be.

I rated the players based on how I thought an average MLS player would do against the same competition. While I realize the quality of our opponent, I did deduct for poor play when I saw it. It was very obvious to me that our team ran out of gas collectively about the 70th minute.

KEEPER:

Stefan Frei - 6 | Community - 6.4

Frei didn't have a great game, and this won't be a game he will be happy with. If Frei had played as well as he ended the last season, he might have saved at least the first goal.

Stefan started off early with an intention to look long to either Morris or Valdez on clearances. He generally did a good job of putting these passes where they could at least challenge for the ball, but there wasn't a ton of success from his distribution. I noted him in the 38th getting off his line well and thwarting the super quick Quintero who was released over the top. In the 56th Frei kept the team in the game with a superb 1v1 save, this time against Peralta.

I thought Stefan could have done better in the 27th minute and less than a minute later Frei was very slow off his line to get to a run that was eventually called offside. In the 46th minute it is hard to blame Stefan for their initial goal, but it's a save I expect a player of his caliber to make a majority of the time as he was nutmegged. His positioning was actually very good, and I doubt he gets beat that way again soon.

Just like early last season, Frei seemed very hesitant at times and the communication that is needed in the back wasn't always there. Due to the new formation and playing style it looks like Stefan will be expected to use his feet much more than previously, and his distribution and decision-making with the ball at his feet will bear watching.

DEFENSE:

Joevin Jones - 7 | Community - 6.8

I heard a considerable debate about the merits of Jones' game on Tuesday, but I can definitively state that after my analysis, he played above MLS average in my opinion.

Jones announced himself in the 3rd minute with a calm control while he retained possession under pressure. In the 17th minute he showed range getting forward and putting in a well-placed cross. I was really impressed with his 1v1 defending, and he does it with a combination of athleticism (28th minute shutting down the entire right side of America's offense) and intelligence (67th just beating an attacker to the spot in the box to earn a goal kick). On defense Jones looked calm and assertive.

Jones did have a number of mistakes, and I noted some unforced errors he will need to fix, like his poor pass in the 7th minute. The main issues I had with his performance revolve around decision making. Multiple times (55th, 64th) Joevin was caught in possession. Because the wing is so wide open with no committed wide midfielder in front of him he will need to learn where the release point in the formation is. If that is going to be a center mid square pass, a forward down the line, or even the opposite corner flag he needs to recognize these outlet points and use them if he gets in trouble instead of taking on multiple opponents and losing possession. A good team will (and CA did) counter immediately into the holes he leaves when advancing. Jones needs to have a plan, which seemed lacking on multiple occasions when he attacked to the corner of the 18 and was unsure if he should cross or drop the ball.

One factor that continually impressed me about Jones was just how essential he was to what the Sounders were pulling off. I am not sure how many people in the league would be able to do what he did. Having a guy completely cover about 75 yards of the field allowed so many good things to happen. His pace and quality play tilted the entire field away from his side and limited the numbers that America was able to push on his wing. Maybe most importantly it kept the SSFC center mids tight to the middle of the field. This was huge, as it stopped the team from getting stretched and let Alonso and Friberg play destroyer in the middle. Any buildup had to be over the top or off counters, and I believe Jones was a big reason CA's only goals came from a break out and when the Sounders were stretched and fatigued.

Chad Marshall - 5 | Community - 6.1

I only rated Chad lower than this twice last year, and this is the one rating that took me the longest to wrap my head around. Even after taking into account the level of competition, this was a below average performance from Marshall. He had only two outstanding moments in my notebook (a nicely won header on a corner that almost contributed to a goal and a 1v1 defensive play on Quintero). Both of these moments were in the first 20 minutes and that was it. He has to do better.

My notebook was filled early with my alarm at how high Marshall was being pulled by Peralta with Quintero sneaking in behind. In the first half Chad struggled with how vertical Jones was getting while staying connected to the others in the back. The normally stoic Marshall complained about a 9th minute push in the box that upon replay looked harmless. He had an awful clear right to the middle of the field in the 18th.  Another poor pass centrally in the 62nd was uncharacteristic from the three-time DPOY.

It was Marshall who inexplicably lost track of the time in the half and failed to stay goal side of Quintero on their first goal. A veteran of his caliber has to recognize that the opponent is playing Route 1 soccer and, especially with so little time left, not get caught on his heels.

I didn't like Chad not stepping in the 54th minute, and I have no idea what he was doing in the back on their second goal. This was indicative of a problem I saw throughout the game. Marshall HAS to command his mark and push Jones off to the outside player. He wasn't doing this, and instead floated in the space behind Jones. This eventually allowed Club America to overload the outside and take advantage of their numbers advantage. With all players tiring, it is essential that the team keep track of marks, and I repeatedly saw Marshall marking the pretty new turf and allowing CA players (especially Peralta) to float around him.

This defense is a work in progress and like last season it will take a while to gel as a unit. With a new system, a new left back next to him, and the team playing an almost 3-4-3 at times, Marshall will need to adjust quickly to these changes to remain effective in the back.

Brad Evans - 6 | Community - 5.8

The captain's score was much easier to justify, and Brad's play made me wonder if he will be the guy to remain on the backline more permanently when Torres returns. As mentioned above, the Sounders ended up in a three-man backline throughout the match, and the sweeper role in the middle fits Brad's abilities. He reads the game well, has enough pace, and takes good angles making him a natural central player.

I noted a few mistakes from Evans, like a 4th minute bad touch and some bad passing in the middle third of the game. Just like last year (maybe fitness related?) Brad tended to leave his feet early and often. I would prefer he keep his feet and play better positional defense and only make slide tackles as a last resort.

I love Evans in the back because he does stuff like his fantastic one-touch pass to Dempsey in the 9th minute to start a dangerous counter attack, but also defensively reads the attack so well, like in the 22nd when his positioning was perfect to thwart danger. In the 40th he even managed to journey into the opponent's area, only to miss the wide open trio of Sounders on the back post. Evans looked much more comfortable sliding over and covering for the holes that wingbacks left when they went forward. His help on defense in the 69th was perfect and in the 76th he stepped across for the inexplicably absent Marshall to defend well.

Evans, like all the defenders, will have to adjust to his new role and minimize desperation plays, but I saw a lot to like from his positioning throughout. He seems well suited to this alignment.

Tyrone Mears - 6 | Community - 6.4

Mears had by far the quieter game of the two outside fullbacks. Tasked with staying home more often than Jones, Tyrone did an admirable job corralling the left side of the America attack. He repeatedly stood up his man and forced play into the middle and the destroyers within. While Jones showed youth and flair, Mears exhibited a strong calming experience from his side, consistently making good (yet cautious) choices.

After an early 5th minute overlap I rarely saw Mears get forward. Part of this was likely due to the width and high line that Morris kept, but I would like to see Mears venture forward a bit more. He really picked his spots well last year and has shown to possess quality service from width that is just one more weapon.

Tyrone lost his mark quite obviously once and was beat soundly in the 69th minute only to be saved by an alert Evans. I loved seeing his little bumps and grabs that slowed down the CA attack without committing a foul and they reminded me of Leo when he was here. This was a solid performance from Mears; however Tyrone definitely can offer something going forward more.

MIDFIELD --

Osvaldo Alonso - 8 | Community - 6.9

I wrote a rather lengthy column here (ClickMe) about Alonso heading into the season and he alleviated a lot of those concerns in this game. I thought he was the second best Sounder on the field against America and showed that he is still an amazingly effective player when the following things happen: Ozzie stays connected to the back 4, Friberg moves off him, and the outside forwards came back and defended the wings, so Ozzie didn't need to stray from the center of the field as much. All of these happened.

Let's get the bad notes over with first. In the 36th minute, he had a poor clear from the back. In the 55th he had a header that went to no one. That's it. Against some of the best competition the team will face all year, Alonso had two notable errors. Needless to say that is just tremendous.

On the positive side Alonso was a monster in the middle of the field. His first notable action was actually a shot in the 2nd minute that was almost redirected in for an early lead. He followed this up with incredible elusiveness in the 4th and in the 9th minute tracked back to win the ball.

Throughout the game his tackling was tremendous, his vision was great, and I was consistently impressed with Alonso's control in traffic. The 70th was a great example of how wonderful he can be in tight spaces, and he showed in the 77th just how hard it is to get the ball off him when he shields it.

I was impressed by Alonso and thought he was one of the Sounders players who stepped up to the level of competition this week. I still have some fitness concerns (not game fitness as much as injury prevention) but if this is evidence of how he is going to play all year, we are in for a treat.

Erik Friberg - 6 (off 74') | Community - 6.2

Erik's movement and positioning opened up space for Alonso to be so effective in the midfield. I had note after note when something good happened, like "EF opens space." This is the unsung sort of glue thing that needs to happen for a team to be effective.

He made a nice switching pass in the 7th minute but most of Friberg's role in this one was defensive. I marked fantastic 1v1 defensive plays in the 29th and 64th minutes and a recovery in the 55th was particularly nice. In the 58th minute Erik anticipated the ball well and started a counter that ended with a corner kick.

On the negative side Friberg had an early mis-clear that turned into a counter immediately, and was caught flat footed on an 18th minute give and go. His bad pass in the 32nd minute showed some panic.

All in all I thought Friberg an able runner to do all the dirty work in the middle. He consistently swung out to support the defense and hung back as Ivanschitz and Dempsey provided the bulk of the midfield creativity. He was obviously very tired by the time he was subbed in the 74th minute and this may have been a factor in their second goal. I realize players are being forced to run a LOT in the middle of the field but I would like to see Erik be able to get through 90.

Andreas Ivanschitz - 6 | Community - 7.1

It is hard for me to judge Andreas for this performance because I am still somewhat unsure what his role is going to be. This week he had very few defensive actions, and this put some pressure on the midfielders behind him.

Against America, Ivanschitz traded position with Dempsey frequently, and even was the tip of the spear pressuring their keeper at times. This led to him being called offside once, and being very high positionally all game. I liked him here, although the Mexican team did an effective job shutting down any penetration from his passing. What they didn't shut down completely were delayed runs into the box, and I saw Andreas making these periodically but not receiving the ball.

Ivanschitz was opportunistic on offense in the 12th minute, surging forward to overload the center of the America defense. In the 16th he had another great run into the box and received a great layoff pass from Valdez. Ivanschitz set piece service is something to behold. I really like seeing him varying his delivery, first going shorter towards the near post, finding Marshall near the penalty spot, and of course his sublime curving delivery to Dempsey for Sounders goal number two. He is just a delight to watch when there is a dead ball.

It was clear that AI tired considerably and his effectiveness waned as the game went on. I didn't have a lot of positive marks after his 52nd minute assist and the switching with Dempsey slowed down considerably. This interchange shows great tactical awareness by the two Sounders playmakers, however when they tire it leaves a gaping hole down that left side and puts immense pressure on the defense. This was a solid shift from Ivanschitz, and shows how even a quiet game will still be amazingly dangerous every time he stands over a dead ball.

Forward:

Clint Dempsey - 9 MOTM | Community - 8.8

Dempsey was awesome. If he plays like this all season he will run away with the MVP. I didn't have a single major mark in the negative column for him in this game.

Clint spent about half of his time on the forward line pulling the defensive line out of shape, and the other half dropping into the midfield to jumpstart the offense. When he dropped to the midfield he brought a wonderful calm and control to the game, and when combined with Alonso alleviated many trouble spots.

Clint was consistently found defending the wing and I had a mark TWO minutes into the game with him defending on his own end line. When Joevin lost possession in the 29th minute, it was Dempsey busting his ass back to play defense on the wing behind the space left. I was really impressed by his stamina and willingness to track back. I honestly didn't know he had this much defensive desire in his game.

On offense this game was the Deuce Show. He just had that fire in his eyes and almost scored off a redirect of an Alonso shot merely two minutes into the game. After consistently contributing to the attack, Dempsey collected a great layoff pass in the 43rd minute and earned a free kick. He took the kick himself and it was just magical. He continued his stellar play on the other side of halftime with a dominant header on a perfectly placed AI corner kick to earn his brace.

This formation has unlocked a different style from Dempsey, and instead of linking up right through the middle his play is much more unpredictable. Clint really knows how to find space and has an incredible soccer mind.

Nelson Haedo Valdez - 7 (off 74') | Community - 6.6

This was an above average performance from Valdez and one that I think may have gone underrated. While not as technically gifted as Dempsey, Nelson's work rate is second to none. He constantly harassed the backline of Club America and did so many things to prevent the Mexican squad building attacks from the back.

Other than a failed hold up in the 31st minute, I had very few blatant errors from Valdez, more some positional things where he made a too-similar run to Morris or Ivanschitz. He filled up the plus side of my book though, starting with a great hold up in the 4th and followed with others in the 8th, 50th, and 67th. His constant pressure on the center backs was tremendous.

Other notes included a defensive header on a corner kick followed quickly by a header on frame off an offensive corner kick that was inexplicably whistled dead for a phantom foul. Nelson perhaps more than anyone else plays a style that puts him in position to get kicked, and this can be problematic if he gets hurt. He does earn a ton of dead balls and I think this will be a source of many goals this season. I really liked what I saw from Valdez in his 74-minute shift.

Jordan Morris - 6 (off 85') | Community - 6.1

I noted Morris strong on the ball multiple times and he looks really hard to push off the ball. It was a great Morris chest pass off a long switch that opened up Dempsey in the 42nd minute for the eventual first goal. Jordan had an up and down game, winning corner kicks and making solid diagonal runs, but also losing possession and not looking in sync with the rest of the team at times.

I would like to see more interchange between Jordan and Mears, and I see this pairing eventually being a strength for the squad. Unfortunately Morris had a number of bad touches, and two resulted in poor passes backwards towards his own defense. This is a very big problem and one that puts unfair pressure on the defense. The last issue with Morris' game was he tended to end up in Valdez' space a lot, and they will need to communicate better to utilize both their talents.

Even though there were rough patches, at no point did Morris look outmatched. Jordan always made smart runs and when he has more time to click he should be a valuable player for this team.

Subs:

Aaron Kovar - 5 (on 74') | Community - 4.8

Entering with 15 minutes left and soon after CA had equalized, Kovar was expected to add a spark from an inverted wing position, and I thought he underwhelmed. After a mistouch out of bounds and a poor back pass right after entering, Aaron calmed down and had some nice plays. I liked his 1st touch chest control to open up Ivanschitz into space, and he showed good vision to find Morris in the 78th. More than anything else, I was disappointed in Kovar's defensive shape. He took bad angles and was a bit of a mess overcommitting on the wing. This put too much pressure on the defense - the exact opposite of what a late sub should bring to the game.

Cristian Roldan - 6 (on 74') | Community - 5.3

Like Kovar, Roldan entered with about 15 minutes left in the game but unlike Aaron was placed in the middle to shore up the defense. I thought Cristian did a good job of this, and he didn't look out of place on a field with the amount of talent it contained. His 77th minute calm control in traffic especially stood out and showed me that Roldan has matured a lot. Most of his time was spent pressuring the ball and adding energy to the middle of the field, and he looked right at home.

Darwin Jones - 5 (on 85') | Community - 5.1

Jones earned this substitute appearance with a strong offseason; however that didn't translate into success vs CA. His first action was committing a foul in a bad spot and he failed to make his mark on the game. Darwin has looked like he has a good grasp of the 4-3-3, but he was unable to utilize his pace in space to attack the America defense.

Referee - 4 | Community - 3.8

This might be low for a CCL referee, but I was disgusted with the referee in this one. After about 30 minutes of decent control, the center completely lost the plot. He called 40 fouls with only a single yellow for physical actions (plus a token one at the death) and 26 were against the same team! This isn't even counting a number of missed fouls, advantage played, etc. That is way too many. When guys have 4-5 fouls committed they need to be cautioned both for the safety of their opponents and to prevent others from taking advantage. Pablo Aguilar wasn't carded until he made his seventh foul and that was in the 92nd minute. The ref even counted off multiple fouls in the 32nd minute and yet inexplicably didn't show a card.

The blatant 60th minute hip check into Valdez was somehow missed and it wasn't the only one. All told, I thought this a ridiculous performance from a referee, and his actions allowed America to foul without consequence whenever it benefited them.

This was a very promising performance that belies the score line. I have very high hopes for the MLS season after seeing how well we played against a strong team. Asking SSFC to go to the Azteca and get a result is asking a lot, but with the rate of improvement within this system I expect us to be very competitive next week.