I saw much to like and many things to fix during the Sounders' 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday. This year's squad already feels somewhat unlucky, with injuries piling up at multiple positions. We made a very strong start and at times were dangerous, but we're still prone to alarming mental errors and growing pains from young players.
Tyler Miller - 5 | Community - 4.6
Tyler was the hardest player to rate this week and it comes down to how you judge the big goal-scoring moment in the 86th. Miller went up for a ball and he was either beaten or fouled by Jamison Olave on the game-winning goal. I watched this play a number of times and while Olave definitely used his elbow, I was pretty disappointed in Miller's effort here. He needs to be much more assertive in his area and FORCE the referee to make a call. At the least, I would have liked to see a punch there. He has to attack the ball with much more intent any time he is in that position.
Before that play Miller showed very well for his first MLS start, manning his area assertively. After a few touches with his feet to get involved in the game, Miller was hugely tested in the 23rd minute off a Joao Plata blast and was up to the task, tipping the ball wide. This was a fantastic save, showing quick lateral movement to plant and launch, and ability to cover the corner.
There were some issues: a poor first touch in the 11th minute and getting caught in no man's land on a 14th minute free kick. In the 45th he made a good save, but fumbled the rebound that almost allowed a penalty shout and he badly mishit a clearance in the 46th.
In the 27th he was off his line quickly to start a counter attack and he showed a willingness and ability to come out past his own 18-yard box to ably play the ball with his feet in the 69th and 92nd.
Tyler looks to be poised and I feel good about the backup spot after this showing.
Joevin Jones - 6 | Community - 6.7
At times Jones is a one-man left side force, completely dominating both offensively and defensively, and other times he looks shaky and unsure where to be and what to do. I see a lot of parallels to Deandre Yedlin during his growing pains here, and it's likely that age and formation issues are showing up in his play.
For the first 35 minutes, Jones was a monster, rampaging up and down the left side, beating players with pace, sending in probing crosses, and locking down Juan Manuel Martinez on defense. It started in the 6th minute with a long offensive foray that earned a corner. In the 27th his perfect overlapping run found Valdez (maybe) offside for what would have been a goal. In between he showed recovery speed and the ability to clog passing lanes perfectly. On the Seattle scoring play it was a perfectly served cross from Jones that Valdez redirected on goal, ultimately rebounding to Alonso.
After this things seemed to go downhill for Joevin though, starting with trying to dribble through Martinez and being dispossessed. In his overzealous attempt to recover, Jones was shown a yellow card and almost gave up a penalty. A few minutes later, Jordan Allen similarly beat him downfield and earned the corner RSL scored from. On the scoring play, Sunny Obayan scored right at the near post, a post manned by Jones who made no play on the ball.
Like many other Sounder players, Jones was relatively quiet in the second half. I give RSL coach Jeff Cassar a lot of credit for fixing the wide defensive issues that they were having containing Jones. When Joevin struggles going forward, it is usually when he doesn't have a clear plan and gets caught thinking and losing possession and this was something we saw more often after half.
It seems like Jones is getting tired racing up the wing and this is contributing to increased opponent attacks down his side (and goals) late in the halves. A more defined role in both defense and offense would really help him.
Chad Marshall - 7 | Community - 6.3
After struggling against Club America, I think Marshall has really showed well vs. the first two MLS teams. Again this week, he was the Sounders' best defender, commanding the middle and sliding from side to side to plug holes.
One part of Chad's game that is really showing is his offensive set-piece prowess and I believe he will get on the scoresheet this year. Every game he is getting at least one tremendous look and in this one it was a great header on a perfect Dempsey ball in the 34th that got Rimando'd.
On defense Chad was all over, winning headers and directing them to people, helping a badly beat Roldan in minute 23, sliding in behind Jones seven minutes later after he was beat and being a calming influence on a raw keeper.
Chad was beat by Yura Movsisyan's speed in the 52nd but he made a perfect sliding recovery. He had one rough mis-clear but was otherwise a stalwart defender who rarely got beat and offered a huge target for set pieces.
Zach Scott - 6 | Community - 5.6
I was pleasantly surprised by Scott this week and he turned in a solid performance. With Salt Lake having their speed mainly on the outside where they were nullified by the pace of the Seattle wide backs, Scott admirably clogged up the middle and kept his shape along the back with Marshall.
It was evident early that RSL was going to force Scott to be the ball handler on the back line, continually pressuring any of the other defenders and channeling the ball to Zach. He handled this for the most part very well, but we definitely missed Brad Evans' distribution skill.
Zach's 1v1 defense was solid without being flashy, and the only time he was forced into a hairy tackle he came off well, dominating Plata after an awful no-call gave the opponents an open break.
I found it frustrating to see Scott continuously put Miller under pressure by making poor back passes to him either too strong or to his off foot. He picked up a completely unnecessary yellow card in the 35th by just cleaning out a player who wasn't dangerous on a counter. I was also completely flummoxed by what Scott was trying to do on their winning goal. He was marking Olave, but after he lost him Scott just runs into the goal. I have no idea why he chose this instead of challenging for the ball.
Tyrone Mears - 6 | Community - 5.9
Mears returned to the starting lineup very poised, and we might not want to give his starting spot away to Oniel Fisher just yet. Against Salt Lake I thought Tyrone was strong but perhaps missed Evans releasing him down the wing.
In the 1st minute, Mears was well over the midfield stripe and again in the 3rd, showing an obvious tactical shift to get him more vertical. I really appreciated seeing Mears pop up again and again in the first half on overlaps to support Morris. In fact, I had him for 6 quality overlapping attacks in this game, and good things happened each time he was involved offensively. His choice in runs and quality service was a needed addition to the right side.
Even though he was much more inclined to go forward, Mears had almost no errors on the defensive side, showing me that he was making excellent decisions on when to push and when to stay home. He kept the dangerous Plata relatively silent on the night, and I especially liked seeing him close quickly in the 23rd minute to force the RSL player into a savable shot. Another play that stood out to me was in the 70th minute: while tracking Plata on a give and go, he continued on with his mark all the way across the field into the center and eventually won the ball.
Osvaldo Alonso - 7 MotM | Community - 7.1 MotM
Alonso had a very strong first half, and followed that up with a workmanlike second half. I didn't have a ton of specific event notes for Ozzie against RSL, mainly because after Friberg went out his role drastically changed. When Friberg was there the team looked to move the ball more forward through the middle, instead of the later game tactics which were mainly wide-play driven. Through this Alonso remained a stalwart defender and kept possession well throughout.
The scoring play for the Sounders began and ended with Alonso, who first had to control a difficult ball and somehow tiptoe around a player to find Ivanschitz. Ozzie flowed forward with the play, eventually cutting off a Dempsey run to drift all the way into the box. After a Nick Rimando fantastic save, Alonso calmly finished a rather difficult volley. The goal was well deserved, and it is nice to see Alonso staying invested in an attack after he lays off the ball.
The second half was a lot of poking and prodding with little result and we never saw Alonso able to get forward into the attack at all. When the Sounders look the best on offense, Alonso is involved, getting touches and the ball going through the middle. Against RSL, Ozzie touched the ball way less than usual overall, and he was mainly absent from the stat sheet while playing a defensive role for long stretches of the game. He did a good job adjusting to the erratic positioning of Roldan, and had a few nice switches of play but this was a relatively quiet game for a guy who earned MOTM. It was completely unnecessary to slide at Sunny allowing the RSL player to make a meal of his tackle late.
Erik Friberg - 6 (off 18') | Community - 5.1
With Erik on the field for the first 15 minutes the Sounders held 63.2% possession and completely bossed the middle of the field. The ball moved quickly, incisively, and with a purpose. As a contrast, the Sounders only managed 38.6% possession for the next 20 minutes of the half after he was forced off with an injury. Now, Erik isn't worth 25% possession on his own, but this is indicative of just how different the team plays when he is on the field. The main beneficiary of Erik's positioning is Ozzie Alonso, who is afforded more space and increases his range greatly. Friberg's movement to space opens up channels that affect the entire team shape.
In the 3rd Erik's distance from Alonso was perfect, as he pulled three defenders away from Scott and Alonso during a supporting run without the ball. In the 13th I was impressed with how perfectly he sat in behind Ozzie, in the hole vacated as Alonso helped Jones on the wing.
I've liked how Friberg's played so far this year and it's very disappointing that he decided to go in for a useless tackle in the 14th. With his knee exposed, he was nowhere near the ball and instead of retracting he left his leg in. This not only earned him a yellow card, it hurt his knee. I hope he gets well soon, since I still see him as the best partner for Alonso in the middle.
Andreas Ivanschitz - 6 | Community - 6.1
Andreas filled up the stat sheet this week, but as you can see earned only an average grade. This is because while he did much good (especially in the attack) I noted a ton of issues in this one that brought his grade back to average.
On the plus side, Ivanschitz continues to provide the attacking impetus for the team. Whether it's his distribution through the middle or his fantastic set piece delivery, the attack tends to run through AI. There were eight corners and numerous free kicks and almost all were tremendous. In the 24th minute the Sounders had a great chance: with Andreas on the ball at the point of the attack flanked by Morris and Dempsey, directly splitting the center backs, he chose to go to the rookie instead of the veteran and unfortunately this attack died. In the 28th he scored a fun Crespo goal that was unfortunately called offsides on Valdez. It was Andreas' vision that found Jones open on the wing leading to the first goal, and he even managed to get a shot on goal that earned a corner in the 46th.
I noted multiple times where there should be more defensive effort from Ivanschitz. After a 5th minute Rimando punch he was lagging, and multiple times I saw him walking in the midfield. None was more obvious than in the 71st when Alonso literally ran a circle around him as he walked. I understand that his role is to do the things I noted above, but I also thought the team looked the best this year when he was switching with Dempsey, like in the first Club America game where he was involved both offensively AND defensively. There were some bad touches and missed passes, but I would like to see him help out the middle of the field, especially with Friberg out.
Clint Dempsey - 6 | Community - 5.6
A lot of people were down on Clint this week, but I thought he did fairly well. Unfortunately, we have come to expect more than "MLS Average" from Dempsey, and there were a few pretty obvious mistakes from him this week.
In the 15th minute he lost his mark on a free kick and that was a preview of the 43rd minute corner that RSL scored on. I wasn't as critical of Clint as many were on this play; he looked to have good position and was just slower to react than Sunny, who finished very well. Obviously I would like to see him do more and even body him some, but Clint reacted late: credit to the opponents for making a good play. If Clint is going to mark on corners he needs to do better.
Dempsey floats in and out of games and often will come back to just get a touch to try to stay involved. With the midfield not creating a ton and the play was dictated by RSL possession, Clint found it hard to make his impact on the game. His frustration showed with a pointless 88th minute card.
I actually saw much from Clint to like this week, and his usual great control was consistently in evidence. A hold and turn play in the 19th minute alleviated pressure from a wide area and he opened up Jones on the wing a few minutes later. This play showed the nuance of his game, as Dempsey takes a tiny touch inside and leans to the right, pulling two defenders to the middle of the field and opening a huge swath of space for Joevin to run into. It is little things like this or the spectacular touch in the 33rd to find Alonso that went unnoticed in my live viewing, but I really appreciated on the re-watch. Clint unleashed a simply magnificent left footed cross that found a willing Marshall in the 34th that deserved an assist.
Nelson Haedo Valdez - 6 (off 92') | Community - 6.0
I was happy to see Valdez so involved this week - we can begin to see what he brings to the team. His incessant work rate started immediately from the kick and should have earned a penalty in the first minute. I thought he was pretty obviously taken down in the box after beating his man and it's a shame referees refuse to call that sort of thing so early. In the 4th minute he and Dempsey combined for a high press that earned a turnover.
Valdez sets up very well for hold up play and throughout this game was a big target for the defensive backs. Scott found him checking into the middle multiple times and Nelson was strong with his back to goal all game. Against most goalies Valdez has his first goal of the year, but after a great run and spectacular redirect from a Joevin Jones cross somehow Nick Rimando saved Nelson's shot. This was just one of four or five times that Valdez made diagonal runs across the defense and pressed the RSL backline.
Nelson is connecting well with the midfield and outside backs, but is still having chemistry problems with his fellow forwards. There were times I would like to have seen him look for Dempsey, who is making runs that are very positive but being missed. In the 13th minute I applaud the creativity to try a bicycle kick, but Ivanschitz was right there for a little pass on his strong left foot for a much higher percentage shot. I think the decision-making for Nelson is still a little slow and I will be watching to see if he can keep integrating better into the attack. I need to see more in the second half, as he was one of many players who looked to tire and greatly lose effectiveness after halftime.
Jordan Morris - 6 (off 76') | Community - 5.5
Each week Morris is showing me something different that gets me excited for the future. In this game he offered smart off-ball runs and constant movement. I was especially impressed by his 46th minute desire to win the ball in a 1v2 and find Ivanschitz for a shot.
Morris struggled a few times with holdup play, and his touch can be shaky and cost him possession on multiple occasions. One thing I desperately would like to see is more "killer instinct" from the young Sounder. At times he has room to go at players and looks hesitant. In the 62nd I was yelling at him to take on Olave when he was isolated, and again in the 68th. Both times he failed to attack the defender and while he kept possession, he should force the issue there.
Morris dropped off in the second half like so many other players and really needs to work on integrating his play better with the other forwards. I did like how willing he was to come back and help Mears, and his runs when being overlapped are great.
Cristian Roldan - 5 (on 18') | Community - 5.5
Being subbed onto the field in the first half is pretty hard for a player, since you have warmed up, sat, and are usually not given any warm up time before being thrust onto the field. This was the challenge for Cristian this week and I thought under the circumstances he did OK, filling in for an injured Friberg.
One thing I really like about Roldan in the middle is he moves the ball quickly. He gets the ball off his foot and onto the next player in a speedy fashion and this helps the flow of gameplay. I liked seeing Roldan's continued willingness to mix it up physically in the midfield, and when used against a smaller player like Plata (64') it's great. It is this physicality that earned Kyle Beckerman a yellow in the 73rd minute, after Roldan took the ball from him and shielded it from the RSL midfielder.
Unfortunately, there was significant drop off from Friberg to Roldan. In the first five minutes he was on the field he got beat after diving in on defense, and then turned the ball over trying to dribble through four guys. He must clean up his touch, especially in the middle of the field. It was one of these bad touches in the 45th that almost gave RSL a penalty shout.
More than anything else I consistently see spacing issues and watching from Cristian, and when he plays, there is marked drop off in the effectiveness of Ozzie Alonso. Multiple times I noted where Cristian just isn't giving Alonso an option to pass. He doesn't seem to understand that even if it's a hard pass Alonso will never make, it's important to move the defense to adjust to him and open up lanes for other players. This didn't happen in the second half and RSL easily clogged the middle and service to the forwards. This isn't all Roldan's fault, but I would prefer to have a lot fewer notes like "Cristian stands with hands up pointing where teammate should pass the ball" and more "Roldan moves to space to provide option and pull defense out of shape".
Darwin Jones - 6 (on 76') | Community - 5.2
I liked seeing Jones immediately attacking the defense and earning a corner kick upon being inserted into the game. One thing that Darwin brings to the game is an ability to either go toward the end line or cut in, possessing quality on both feet. This makes him multi-dimensional and a great change of pace later in games. He did lose a 1v1 in the 81st and just missed his first MLS goal in the 93rd.
Aaron Kovar - 6 (on 92') | Community - 4.9
There wasn't a lot to grade Kovar on this week, but he made the most of his few minutes on the field. He stayed very wide on the left, opening up a large amount of space in the middle. It was this space that he put in a nearly perfect early cross in the 93rd, spaced just far away from Rimando to keep him on his line. This was a small glimpse of the talent that hopefully can mature in this young homegrown player.
Juan Guzman- 5 | Community - 5.0
For the most part Guzman did an OK job refereeing a game with an even number of fouls from either team. There wasn't a ton of animosity from the players and there definitely wasn't the shenanigans from last week. Unfortunately, there were a lot of things that I think he should have done better. In the first minute he refused to call what I saw as a pretty clear cut PK for Valdez. He missed multiple handballs on either team, and allowed a fair amount of behind the ball stuff.
Two things really bothered me from this ref. First off, I counted a blatant dive from Martinez in the 39th trying to get a PK call. This needs to be a card for simulation. In the 45th Movsisyan did the same thing in the box and Plata followed with another dive in the 47th. If you called ONE of these dives and penalized the player you don't get Sunny's ridiculous forward pike in the 86th minute that led to their goal.
The second main issue I have with Guzman is his allowing players to get away with consistent fouls (namely Kyle Beckerman). Beckerman's 32nd minute foul on Scott should definitely have been yellow with cleats up and through the player, and after allowing that he gave Beckerman three more fouls before showing the card late. The early (deserved) card changes the complexion of the middle of the field. This wasn't the only example of this, I noted Olave going in with high elbow in the 58th against Valdez, and not even a foul was called. This and the 66th minute non-call when Olave blatantly kicked Morris on the ground may have contributed to Olave's knowing he could challenge Miller hard late without repercussions.
I was disappointed in this game mainly because I think we looked really good for a while and deserved more than the final score indicated. We almost never have success at Rio Tinto and I truly think we are better than that team. Some players still don't look too comfortable in the new system and we desperately need some younger players to step up in the absence of veterans that are injured. I hope to see you all on my birthday this weekend for the first Sounders win of the year.