The Seattle Sounders went to a hostile environment and played at altitude against a very strong team, and I thought they held their own, especially the first 40 minutes or so. Losing 3-1 (5-3 aggregate) to such a strong team is not the result they wanted, but nothing to be ashamed of.
One thing I noticed early on was an adjustment of the Mexican team's tactics in leg two. Instead of having Rubens Sambueza stay central and look directly over the top, Club América allowed Joevin Jones up the sideline and then ran Sambueza into the space vacated by the Sounders left back. This did two very important things: It pulled Marshall away from Evans, leaving gaping holes around the back left of our defense, and secondly It forced Alonso to track on defense all the way to the corner. Much of the success of leg one was because of how unbalanced Jones' runs up the left made the CA formation, but this time they neutralized Jones and also successfully got Alonso out of the middle where he is most effective.
America also flooded the left whenever Dempsey dropped in, to prevent switching from Clint and Ivanschitz. The altitude definitely took its toll, tiring out the players as early as the 30th minute. It was also telling that it took numerous players a few touches to get the hang of the way the ball moved in the thin air.
Stefan Frei - 6 | Community - 6.2
Frei wasn't magnificent in Mexico, but he was solid and made every save I would expect him to make. He came out to win a cross in the 13th and made it look easy. His positioning all night was great, and I noted saves in the 22nd, 57th, and 66th easily corralled due to his footwork. Frei's best save of the night came on a great 29th Sambueza volley near post. This was a mid-season form save.
It looks like the new formation is going to require more play from Stefan with his feet, and he has responded fairly well to the challenge. He is pretty calm when doing so, however I marked Stefan down for multiple poor clearances and frankly a lack of ideas. Just chunking forward a 50/50 ball when not under pressure doesn't make sense to me.
I am somewhat concerned that, like last season, the communication in the back seems lacking. I noted Marshall at one-point yelling at Frei and it's quite important that they fix these issues quickly. If they can get their back line sorted, it looks like Frei is already in form with shot stopping.
Joevin Jones - 6 | Community - 5.8
This was a completely different game for Jones than the first leg. It was quickly apparent that Joevin wasn't going to be marauding relentlessly up the left wing here. When he did go forward, Jones was more cautious and had more emphasis on simple defending than attempting dynamic offensive moves.
Jones may be one player who was overwhelmed by the atmosphere (remember he is still only 24). All of his notable errors came in the first 25 minutes. I caught some bad passes, a few iffy touches and a cross from the run of play that floated badly, which could have been altitude-related. Joevin was beaten badly and conceded a free kick to Sambueza in the 19th and 26th.
He learned quickly though, and beat the CA player handily in the 27th and 45th. I was very impressed with the adjustments that Joevin made, and instead of trying to dribble through people he looked to spring the third man striker run. In the 23rd minute and again in the 40th he cleverly dribbled inside and found Morris on a great diagonal. As the game progressed Joevin was more and more active offensively, eventually offering up a beautiful cross after a long run in the 51st and even getting a shot in the 68th. The shot was right at the keeper, but I was quite happy to see him create it with a strong move.
Chad Marshall - 5 | Community - 5.3
In what I hope isn't a habit, I again rated Marshall below average. This might be a bit harsh since rating MLS players on this scale vs Mexican teams is difficult, yet even allowing that, he was below standard.
It was appalling how often Chad seemed to lose his marker throughout this game. As early as the 2nd minute I saw him handing off a runner to no one and stop to mark space. This is most likely a communication error but one that I saw too frequently. With only Jones new in the back I am confused why there are so many communication problems. On their 47th minute goal unmarked Peralta looked to be Marshall's man, but again I suspect defensive communication errors in the back.
Marshall still manages to play good positional defense and wins headers well. If he and Evans and Frei can work out their differences like the start of last year, we'll have another strong defensive year. If not, we could be in for a bumpy ride.
Brad Evans - 6 | Community - 5.3
I thought Evans the stronger of the two center backs this week, and he is making a case to be more permanent than Marshall when Torres returns. His vision and passing from the back is much needed with as much as the back five sees the ball.
In the 8th minute his perfect pass opened AI into space for an attack. Brad's goal line clearance in the 19th was helpful, and he played solid 1v1 defense all night when not making desperation saves. The biggest issue remains his communication with Marshall, who is consistently behind him. They need to fix the back line. Someone as dangerous as Peralta should not be allowed to float in between the center backs, and they must figure out who marks who and how to hand off forwards to each other.
I noticed that Brad didn't go forward on set pieces, which might have been an adjustment to keep another person back against counter attacks (specifically from Darwin Quintero).
Tyrone Mears - 5 | Community - 5.5
So far this season Mears has been underwhelming, and in the second game of this series I thought he really struggled. His problems may stem from having a rookie in front of him, the lack of a true winger on the right, or even fitness, but he simply hasn't looked very good to my eye.
Going forward Mears has done well in brief stints. He pushed up field early in this one (11') and earned a dangerous free kick. In the 21st he showed some great awareness to quickly throw long to a hardworking Valdez in the box for another chance.
Rescuing Kovar in the 77th minute defensively was the only outstanding mark on the positive side for Tyrone. If he is not going to be an asset in the attack, then his defense really needs to be much improved.
I thought Mears never looked comfortable playing against America. In the 8th minute he was unsure with the ball on his feet - not what we expect from Tyrone. Two plays in the 14th and 15th exhibited this perfectly, first failing to track back appropriately to give Evans a good angle for an outlet pass which forced a dangerous drop to Frei and then simply quitting on a ball rolling out of bounds.
Tyrone completely turned off in about the 40th minute. In the 41st he didn't pursue the ball, showing no desire to retain possession, and in the 43rd he was just completely outplayed by Quintero, allowing the 5'4 forward an uncontested header that was America's equalizer. In the 46th when Sambueza switched to his side Tyrone allowed way too much room to get off the cross that found Peralta's head for their second. Mears' lack of aggressiveness on defense was shocking. He has to close out their playmaker and trust he has the pace to recover if he is beat. In the 51st minute he was very out of position and again slow to close on a dangerous player resulting in concession of a third goal.
Unlike the center back errors that may be a combination of communication issues, these were almost all personal mistakes, regardless of level of competition. Mears must do better, first by locking down his side and second by offering something going forward, or he will not be effective in this formation.
Osvaldo Alonso - 7 | Community - 6.9 (MOTM)
This was another strong performance. Alonso looked to be up for the challenge of playing a tough team in a tough environment and consistently played both 1v1 defense and moved the ball laterally through the midfield.
With Sambueza floating deep, Ozzie was forced to cover the defensive corner (oftentimes between Marshall and Jones) and I thought he did well for being stretched so much. In the 5th and 22nd minute he easily dispossessed attackers going forward from this position and was able to turn the ball in the other direction. His switching balls in the 17th and 20th alleviated pressure and he even showed a bit of flair to dribble and attack the goal in the 36th.
This willingness to get forward paid off in the 41st when he made a tremendous vertical run after getting a pass from Friberg and delivered a dangerous low cross that found Valdez. I am not sure how much we can expect from Alonso offensively, but a dangerous shot in the first game and an assist in the second are indicative of Ozzie finding good spots on offense.
There were a few times that Alonso struggled to get all the way to the corner to play defense and back to the middle, and his attempted cherry pick move in the 13th showed he doesn't have the electric pace anymore to glide by people. He does still have the agility and great ball control to keep possession in the middle and other than a few poor passes was a very solid presence for the Sounders.
Erik Friberg (off 75') - 6 | Community 5.5
I may be in the minority, but I thought Friberg played really well on Wednesday. Immediately realizing the America game plan to isolate Sambueza, both midfielders adjusted accordingly and this made Friberg more of a central destroyer than a facilitator -a role he filled admirably. It also forced Erik to be the only player in the middle of the field for long stretches of the game while Alonso helped wide defensively.
Friberg adjusts very well to what Alonso does, so if Ozzie is wide he swings more central, if Ozzie is forward he drops in. Twice in the 6th minute Erik stepped across to fill the hole from where CA had pulled Alonso away, and both times he was great in breaking up central attacks. In the 13th and 38th his positioning was stellar and denied any entry pass as well.
I didn't have a lot of offensive positives for Erik, but I believe this to be a function of the tactical changes on the field. Often he would look forward and not have an option, so chose a safer course. In the 41st, however, he a nice incisive pass to pick out Alonso to jumpstart the goal-scoring play.
Friberg gets a "6" in this game because he struggled to find the dangerous pass forward. With Alonso being the more horizontal player, Friberg must be more dynamic in the attack. He had multiple opportunities to do so, and in the 7th, 37th, and 62nd I noted poor crosses from the run of play. This is unlike him to have such a hard time and may have been caused by the conditions. In the 46th I wish he'd done better on an open shot he wasted well over, and a forward pass was easily intercepted in the 55th.
While not flashy and definitely lacking the final pass service on this day, I thought Erik played a very efficient and strong game in the middle, helping the Sounders from being overrun by strong positioning and good possession.
Andreas Ivanschitz (off 70') - 6 | Community - 5.9
Ivanschitz gets an average score from me this week based almost entirely on his set piece and attacking delivery. The Sounders remained very dangerous on every dead ball with Andreas being a large part of this attack.
Ivanschitz was active early, helping earn a 3rd minute corner kick and spraying dangerous passes around. His service in the 24th and 26th minutes were both great, and I thought Morris should have done better with the latter, a free kick that found the striker's shoulder. I was impressed with how strong Andreas came out in the second half, immediately stealing a ball and opening Friberg for a shot and sending in a lovely 47th minute free kick.
It took Andreas a while to figure out the altitude, and his 9th minute pass was badly over-hit. Early on I thought there could have been more movement. In the 14th it was an especially vocal Friberg who lectured Ivanschitz for not giving him a vertical option. He had a number of poor touches but AI mainly moved above the midfielders without much possession. I hope he remains active in the run of play, because he has too much to offer besides just set piece service.
I was concerned that Ivanschitz would be susceptible to fatigue, and it looks like my fears were legit as Andreas disappeared after about the 60th minute. He didn't have any negatives, but he wasn't adding much to either attack or defense. He looked to release others long instead of playing shorter and quicker. I don't think many MLS games will have this same effect, but it is worth monitoring how long Andreas can play.
Clint Dempsey - 6 | Community - 6.2
Clint turned in an average stint in Mexico. I believe this is mostly due to adjustments from America who completely changed the way they defended the left, which put much more attention on Dempsey every time he touched the ball. Clint definitely wasn't as dynamic as in the previous leg.
In the 7th a very calm Dempsey worked a 1-2 with Valdez to get out of a tough spot on the left sideline, and he started to work closely in the game thereafter. In the 17th minute he found a ton of space in between the America lines but had a miscommunication with Valdez that should have ended up in a better goal opportunity.
After being kicked in the head in about the 30th minute, I thought Dempsey faded from the game. It was apparent to me that he was slower- thinking for a while immediately after, and he uncharacteristically was dispossessed in the 33rd and 38th while holding the ball 1v1. You almost never see him lose the ball in these positions and it was a surprise to see him struggle. In the 51st and 71st he also lost possession, and this won't be a game that he looks back on with fondness from a production standpoint.
Clint made a wonderful run in the 57th minute as part of an intricate attack developed mostly by Morris and it's a shame the service didn't come, as he looked to be easily in. These are the sort of plays that need to be more prevalent in the Sounders attack, namely ones that don't necessarily go through Clint, but allow him to float into space and pop up in great scoring positions. He is very good at this and will only be more effective if we can get production from the other attackers.
Nelson Haedo Valdez - 7 (MOTM) | Community - 6.1
Nelson was everywhere on Wednesday, and this workhorse was a blur of consistent movement up top. There are times when his hold-up isn't perfect, and there is definitely some work needed for him to find that final pass. A little bit better communication/touch likely puts at least an extra goal in both games so far this year, and I hold out hope that this finesse will come.
This game was marked by Valdez hustle, and I have over 6 marks just from him putting in extra effort on plays that looked to be dead. Nelson's hold up and release of Dempsey up the left sideline in the 7th was textbook and he added a 10th minute chest pass to Morris off a throw-in to release the Sounders forward up the opposite side.
I was really happy with Nelson's hold up play, for both the fact that he wasn't dispossessed and just as importantly that he was able to turn. Playing with your back to the goal to hold and distribute backwards is important, but being able to turn with control and transition into an attack is immensely valuable. Valdez showed this skill in the 22nd, 25th, and 74th. I was very impressed with this improvement from last game where he failed to find offensive plays from hold up.
Valdez's motor has been on display prominently this season already, and a perfect example was his 41st minute run across the goalmouth and header attempt on the Alonso pass. The goal was marked an own goal, but it easily could have been a PK and was 100% as result by the enormous pressure Nelson put on the America goal. He faded some in the second half likely from fatigue, but still managed to be involved across the frontline.
I would like to see him clean up a few things and find some final pass ability, both to Dempsey and from Roldan, but this was a tremendous effort from Valdez.
Jordan Morris (off 70') - 7 | Community - 5.8
I am so impressed by the soccer mind within Morris, and this may be the biggest surprise from his play. The difference between game 1 and 2 in this series was striking. I only had one negative mark in the book for Morris this week, a missed open header in the 24th minute off a corner kick that looks like it hit off his shoulder. Even on this play I marveled at his athleticism. I believe it's very likely he is not only a possible target, but a probable scorer off set pieces this season.
Morris was very active this game, defending the wing in the 6th minute, supporting the attack by dummying to open Friberg in space in the 7th, and controlling in traffic in the 10th minute to keep possession. His touch is quite impressive especially on long balls, and he showed this in the 14th off a long Marshall clearance and again in the 61st, bringing the ball down with control under pressure.
Jordan's off ball movement was tremendous. A great example of this occurred in the 23rd minute when he made a gut-busting run all the way across the field at a diagonal into space from the right wing all the way to the left. The angle he takes is perfect, and it earned a free kick. He did another similar run in the 39th minute, and this one was even more impressive to me since the guy who passed it to him was Joevin Jones. That shows me that he is staying involved mentally even when the ball is as far away from his position as possible.
One thing I liked seeing and hope to see much more of is Morris with a head of steam directly attacking the goal. It only happened once (57th) but it was a glorious sight. He not only supported a wide Valdez run, but then beat 3 players off the dribble with pace and delivered a perfect back heel to Nelson inside the 18. This play was amazing, and it deserved better than the result. I can't wait to see Jordan mature, as he was easily better than last week, and showing so much tactical acuity really has my hopes high for his potential.
Aaron Kovar (on 70') - 5 | Community - 3.9
Kovar looked better this week than last, and I noted consistently good movement from the young player. His 20 minute run out is unfortunately defined by one very rough play. This was started by a bad free kick that he failed to get over the defense in the 76th minute. Like other bad services, I think this one may have been partly due to altitude, but he compounded this error by then committing a bad back pass. Luckily Tyrone Mears came across to save the day. In the 85th minute I marked Kovar down for dribbling directly into trouble and losing the ball, but this was an acceptable aggressive risk.
I thought Kovar looked greatly improved from leg one. He earned the fateful free kick in the 76th by a nice attacking play, he took much, much better angles on defense and he had good movement off the ball. This was a much better shift from a straight tactical standpoint, but unfortunately he will be judged by that one rough series. I will be monitoring him closely as under-MLS-average subs are not acceptable.
Cristian Roldan (on 70') - 6 | Community - 5.1
Cristian again subbed centrally and showed his much improved ability to move the ball quickly through the midfield. In the 79th he put Valdez on goal and a better touch from the forward might have resulted in a goal. His attacking vision is great and I was also impressed by his 81st minute composure on the ball.
If Friberg is out Sunday we will likely see Roldan start and if so, I will be watching his positioning. He is worse at staying connected to Alonso than Erik, and this can be problematic in a non-sub capacity. Roldan still needs to work on better touch.
Darwin Jones (on 75') - 6 | Community - 5
This might be a generous score, since I didn't see a ton from Jones. In the 80th he attacked the goal three times and each was easily dispossessed. What I did like was his infusion of pace and his good runs. The late no-foul call was clearly a dive but I appreciate his willingness to push the issue. I am not seeing Jones with as much of a dangerous spark that I had hoped, but I like his effort going forward.
Realio - 6 | Community - 5.3
This was not nearly as bad as the hack fest last week, but I was still not happy with the refereeing. He called some stuff well, like the 3rd minute corner, and a 9th minute handball. He wasn't fooled by a flop in the 66th from Sambueza, and he correctly gave a 66th minute yellow for a high elbow.
Unfortunately, this is the only card he gave, and missed a ton of calls. Most importantly - I again thought the lack of yellows for flagrant offenses allowed the physicality of the game to get out of hand. I noted an elbow to the back of Valdez's head early, and Dempsey was yellow card fouled well before the player deliberately hung his boot in. I realize the CCL allows more physical play, but that looked intentional to me and at the least there needs to be a card there. The Evans head bump was head to head, but the ref failed to monitor the Mexican team consistently using their elbows to push Sounders player's shoulders down on headers. This is what brought Evans head down into the attacker. That's very dangerous. Also dangerous was a blatant foul on Dempsey behind the play right at the start of the second half that was just ridiculous.
This should be the hardest atmosphere that Seattle plays in all year. The Azteca, the altitude, the impressive Mexican team, the travel, etc. all impacted this game. Although we bowed out of the tourney, I thought we really played well at times and showed there is a ton to build on here. We will need to adjust the formation to plug a few holes, but our play is much less predictable and we've got a strong team throughout. BEAT SKC!