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Sounders v Sporting KC: Ratings shows strength of defense

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Mike Russell Foto

Other than curb stomping LAG, the Sounders have not had a winning result this year, and it's another frustrating sequence of events that led to the 0-1 loss in the home opener to Sporting Kansas City. In a game defined by two unfortunate plays and not a whole lot else, I thought the Sounders played well. Going down a man in the 40th minute, the home team turned to a 4-4-1 formation and defended nearly perfectly in the second half. It was a seemingly innocent long shot that skipped by the Sounders and made them regret not finishing their earlier chances.

KEEPER:

Stefan Frei - 4 | Community 4.8

Yes, this is harsh. Yes, he deserves it. No, I do not think that Stefan will get another score like this all year. Rating a keeper is challenging, because their scores often depend on them making saves, and if the other team isn't shooting there isn't a ton to rate. Any mistake is huge and game-impacting. I didn't have that many notes on Frei, but he had a below-average game prior to the blunder that let in the only goal of the game.

Stefan started off well, playing Evans short as an outlet instead of chunking the ball forward, but that changed quickly. He did have a fantastic 1v1 save against the run of play in the 21st minute where he stoned Connor Hallisey when the SKC player shot directly at him. I liked Stefan's aggressiveness in the 31st to step out and clear a loose ball outside the box. These were the only things I noted, and it was a rather quiet shift from a save perspective.

Frei hasn't looked completely settled and authoritatively in command of his box yet this year, and there continues to be some disconnect between him and the defense (especially Marshall). Due to the way that SKC pressures, he was left to clear the ball long after they adjusted to take Evans away as an outlet. This is a low percentage pass and the team will want to experiment with other options since Route 1 soccer hasn't been very successful so far.

Frei had a good step to the ball on a 43rd minute free kick but missed the punch completely and failed to clear the play. In the 82nd he misplayed a ball out of bounds that was going wide and handed SKC a corner. I noted two other instances where Frei panicked under pressure and looked rattled. Obviously in the 73rd minute he lost his concentration and let down the very impressively stout defense in front of him. The ball looked like it glanced off of Scott but this was a standard save that Frei is expected to make. He didn't, and the Sounders gave up a point because of it. He needs to do better on this play and must quickly get his head right and move past this blunder.

DEFENSE:

Joevin Jones - 7 | Community 6.7

It is very intriguing watching Jones develop quickly from game to game as he settles into the Sounders' tactical plans. In this game, I thought Jones played stellar. This performance was an almost perfect mix of the first two games. In the first he was very offensive and was often disconnected from the defense, and in the second was almost completely a stay-at-home defender. This was a respectable mix of both, and I liked Jones' decision-making on when to surge forward.

I think Joevin has potential to be the best left back this team has ever seen, and he does so by being a true two-way player. I was really impressed by a 3rd minute sequence in which Jones was faced with three attackers. He stole a SKC pass, found Dempsey and continued fluidly up the wing. After Clint passed to AI, Jones received a ball up the wing and made a cross. It wasn't a great final ball, but to make a defensive play and transition so fluidly into an offensive attack was awesome to see from a fullback.

Multiple times I saw good ball skills and control under pressure from Jones. Instead of just chunking the ball forward, Joevin often cut back to the middle of the field and opened up passing lanes while avoiding being locked into the sideline. I didn't see any egregious errors on defense, and he didn't get caught too far up field in this game.

Joevin definitely needs to work on understanding what to do when he gets into an advanced attacking position, and he required a lot of cover from Alonso, but I was impressed by his composure on the defensive side of the ball and excited by the potential of Jones adding width to the attack.

Chad Marshall - 8 (MotM) | Community - 6.6

It is amazing how much better Chad looked this week while having to chase around Darwin Quintero. Instead, he erased Dom Dwyer from the game for long stretches and was his usual dominant aerial presence.

I believe a lot of the credit for his success is due to the much improved communication among the back four. It was readily apparent just how much the defense changed, and suddenly many of the gaping holes that Club America exploited were closed down. Yes, America is a lot better than SKC, but we had better shape in the back this week and I hope to see the defense built from this success.

Other than a misplayed header that went out for a corner in the 91st minute, Marshall was nearly flawless. He won eight headers that I counted, and always seemed in control. I‘ve also noticed better distribution from Chad this season, and I loved seeing a 4th minute cross field pass to Fisher, showing skill as well as confidence.

Marshall will score goals this year, because he gets to the right spots on corners, and it's a shame his header in the 15th didn't do more than clang off the crossbar. I hope he can start putting these away, since the guy serving is providing awesome opportunities. On defense I noted 4-5 instances where Marshall broke up attacks, the best of which may have been a 33rd minute tackle that stoned Dwyer after he had gotten past Evans. In the 47th he again erased Dwyer, who was completely ineffective all night.

Brad Evans - 7 (off 90') | Community 6.2

Brad was very good against Kansas City, and looks to finally be on the same page with Marshall. This was never more apparent than playing down for 40+ minutes. I was against bringing in Scott (even though I understood it) mainly because I was so impressed with how perfectly Evans and Marshall had been positioned for the entire second half. They were so good that only a fumbled outside shot managed to get through.

I liked seeing Evans release Morris over the top early (1'), however KC coach Peter Vermes countered quickly after seeing this and limited Brad's options for distribution by planting Dwyer and Graham Zusi in his pocket for the rest of the game. This didn't stop him getting loose in the 27th minute.  It's great to see a center back with his head up being goal-dangerous from the defensive third. I predict that soon he will be opening up Valdez/Morris.

Evans' anticipation in the 3rd was perfect to step up and keep pressure on, and he and Marshall kept Dwyer silent other than a 33rd minute mistake 1v1. He did go to ground a few times of which I am usually not a huge fan, but his 63rd minute tackle was tremendous, and in the 81st it was needed to save the day after a Scott mistake.

Evans was beat a few times, but only once dangerously. I was pleased with the vastly improved central defending and the best thing to come out of the game was the confidence that this is still a great defensive team; even down a man our defense was nearly perfect. I hope he wasn't too badly hurt on a play I am convinced was at least partially intentional.

Oniel Fisher - 5 (Red Card 40') | Community 5.2

Let me get this out of the way: I believe Oniel was endangering the safety of the opponent, leaping 5 feet forward, with both feet off the ground and cleats up in a fashion that didn't have to land to show intent. This was a pretty standard red card and one I really hope MLS referees continue to call.  I dropped Fisher a lot for his boneheaded play, and it's a testament to how well he looked before the card that he gets the 5.

Before his red card send-off, I thought Fisher completely dynamic. He showed many things that we were missing from the play of Tyrone Mears so far this year. I had positive marks for a 3rd minute attack and cross which showed off his improved left foot after playing on that side last season. I was impressed with how quickly he looked to move the ball forward and find attackers - another nice change. Fisher's urgency to get into attack earned a corner when he was picked out by Dempsey sneaking up the sideline in the 17th.

In the 28th and 29th Fisher showed great strength and body control to physically shield off a KC player from the ball and earn possession. Soon thereafter was a play showing a snapshot of his current skillset - Oniel made a great desire-driven run up the sideline, but missed a completely wide open Ivanschitz, instead electing to cross the ball out of bounds for a goal kick. At times, his eagerness to get forward was not under control, and he was glaringly missing in the 21st when SKC got in on goal alone vs. Frei.

Fisher made the bad red card tackle and that cost this team a lot. If he can show that this play was an anomaly, he has potential to be a long-term solution at right back. I am not quite ready to hand him the reins, but he definitely showed us some things missing from Mears' last few outings.

Midfield:

Osvaldo Alonso - 6 | Community - 7.1

I was surprised when tallying up this score that it wasn't higher, and I admit to thinking Alonso looked very good in person. He did play well, but unfortunately there were a lot of errors that I missed live. He even had a 7th minute two-footed sideline tackle that was eerily similar to the tackle that got Fisher sent off.

Against SKC Alonso was very good at controlling the ball and playing defense in the middle of the field, confounding many attacks with timely tackles and good angles. In the 13th Ozzie managed to start a counter by splitting the defense perfectly and releasing Valdez. I noted other things such as wonderful control in traffic in the 20th, calm and controlled out of the back in the 54th, and a fantastic 75th minute defensive recovery.

These were intermittent strong plays from Ozzie, but unfortunately the Alonso/Roldan pairing looked mismatched. I saw Alonso chasing space around as Roldan roamed almost randomly, making a mess of any tactical shape in the center of the pitch.  When Jones followed an attack to the middle in the 8th minute, Alonso was too far away/too slow to cover. Alonso was especially aware of the space Jones left on the left, and SKC dropped multiple players in between him and Roldan.  I saw this repeatedly where the two central players weren't in sync, and I am not sure they ever completed a pass to each other.

Alonso missed Friberg's presence, and this showed in his stats. Ozzie still completed 90+% of his passes, but they were rarely dangerous and his volume dropped from what we have come to expect. I didn't see Alonso being very effective for long stretches of the game, and he was forced more to cover and clean up behind Roldan. I would have preferred that these roles be switched, especially in light of the massive struggles Cristian had in the middle. It also would be nice if he could get his shots on frame when the ball pops out to him on corners.

Cristian Roldan - 4 | Community 5.9

This was a bit of a nightmare start for Roldan, and I think many watching live (myself included) were fooled by his energy into thinking he had a better outing than he actually did. In fact, I thought Roldan played much better at right back filling in for Fisher and down a man than any of his time in the middle.

In the 4th minute, Roldan passed a 50/50 ball for a header forward and this was to become a trend to push speculative balls forward whenever he got in trouble. In the 8th minute it was already apparent that he was crowding Alonso, but his adjustment in the 10th was to get so high he was in front of Valdez. In the 11th he was nowhere to be found, putting a visibly upset Alonso in a bad spot.

It didn't get any better from there, and after a 16th minute bad pass turnover he was challenging toward the referee after he fouled someone, showing he perhaps shared my frustration with his play. In the 21st he again passed forward to no one and again, was disconnected from Alonso. At this point it seemed clear that he was mentally lost, diving in on defense and being beat down the gut, losing the ball, turning it over trying to dribble, even casually watching Alonso being pressured without helping in the 31st.

Roldan did some good things: he was active and earned a 5th minute corner by attacking the box. He is very strong on the ball physically, and he had a few recoveries. I thought his play at the right back position very good, and combined with Morris was part of a hardworking shift on that side. Unfortunately, he wasn't good in the middle, and it was sadly fitting that it was he who failed to close down Nuno Coelho on their goal-scoring shot. Roldan may still be the future, but he didn't pair well with Alonso on Sunday.

Andreas Ivanschitz - 7 |  Community - 6.5

I thought Andreas and Marshall were the best Sounders on the field last weekend, and almost everything good offensively went through the Austrian midfielder. Andreas put a lot of pressure on the defense behind him by not dropping very often, but his offensive output was impressive.

I like seeing attackers get positive marks early, and Ivanshitz was in the book in minute 1. In the 3rd he collected a pass from Dempsey and released Jones up the wing. In a similar play he again received a ball from Dempsey in the 9th minute and this time placed a one-touch pass perfectly into the path of an onrushing Morris. This pass was one of three key passes that should have been assists.

Any time Ivanschitz steps over a free kick there is anticipation. I noted 3-4 that were wasted and poor, but that is a fair trade for the picture-perfect placement on the rest, such as the 15th minute corner that Marshall smashed off the crossbar. This wasn't even his best set piece in my mind: that was an 86th minute corner that bent perfectly to the far six and was simply fantastic.

Andreas floats into spaces so well, but the rest of the team needs to be more cognizant of his movement as I noted at least twice when he was wide open, if only players picked up their heads (Fisher, Valdez). Add this to his ability to create his own shot and Andreas is much more than just a set-piece specialist. The little fake in the 53rd minute he used to make space before a thundering crack on goal was fantastic.

I saw a bad pass from AI in the 45th but he immediately hustled back. I was very impressed by his play this week and really like seeing someone other than Dempsey able to drive the Sounder attack forward. This was a dynamic multifaceted game from Andreas and as long as the team can pick up the defensive slack by him playing high, he should remain very dangerous.

Forwards:

Clint Dempsey - 6 | Community 6.4

The first home MLS game of the year wasn't nearly as dynamic as the home leg against Club America, but I thought Clint was still very active until the Sounders lost a player. It is telling that his positive marks mainly disappeared when he was asked to play a majority defensive position for long stretches. This shows he shouldn't be expected to be a wide midfielder in any long-term capacity.

While the teams were even, Clint was his usual dangerous self, dropping into the middle and calming the play down, facilitating attacks, and making perfect supporting runs. In the 9th minute he casually beat two Kansas City players and found Ivanschitz for the eventual Morris miss. As the Sounder offense roared to life after the first 10 minutes it was often spearheaded by Clint, whether it was his defensive recovery in the 13th or winning a free kick after a 1-2 with Andreas in the 14th.

Speaking of that free kick, Clint took it himself and only cheating the kick allowed Tim Melia to get across and stop the shot headed for the upper 90. If Fisher keeps playing, or Mears takes the offensive training wheels off, you can be sure that Dempsey will find the backside fullback run like he did in the 17th.

Multiple times Clint held the ball too long, and I believe this to be a function of the forward chemistry not being there yet. What he had with Obafemi Martins was amazing and not to be expected, but there must be more coherent communication so players don't get caught holding the ball. Clint also completely missed Ivanschitz in the 68th and instead took a shot on his own which was blocked.

Nelson Haedo Valdez - 6 (off 70') | Community - 6.1

Valdez was serviceable in this game, and put in a lot of work after the red card to slow play down and prevent SKC from being able to attack the bunker how they wanted.

One thing that I am noticing more with Nelson is how smart his runs are. In the 9th minute when AI was unlocking Morris on the right, Valdez made a perfect diagonal run to drag both center backs away from the play. This was such a smart play. I also liked seeing Valdez go over and pick up Morris and offer him encouragement after his miss.

Nelson was good at earning free kicks, holding the ball and dropping it off/chesting it to a teammate. It is a lot to ask a guy to go up 30 times a game to try to win a header against a giant center back, but Valdez challenges for everything. He tends to get his head down in the attack and this cost Seattle in the 22nd when Andreas was wide open in the middle but Valdez failed to spot him. Valdez is always moving to spots, pushing and prodding to get opponents out of shape, and this should be beneficial when others learn to take advantage of his disruption (Ivanschitz currently seems the best at this).

I touched on this earlier - there is a chemistry issue between the forwards that starts with Valdez. As a group they need to get on the same page so they can make quicker decisions. This is a familiarity thing, and something that will take practice and - hopefully - not too much time.

Jordan Morris - 7 (off 83') | Community 5.9

It is going to be a joy to watch Morris develop, and I can see him learning at a Yedlin-esque pace already this year. Sure, he missed a shot in the 9th minute but what impressed me most about that play was that Jordan started on defense 25 yards from his own goal and made a 75-yard run to space to support the attack. That is just amazing game awareness and fitness.

Jordan needs to get more involved in the attack, and this looks like a confidence issue. He is a really good player; he needs to demand the ball and go at people. Right now he is deferring to others too much and could stand to develop a bit more swagger.

One thing that was really great to see was how solid Jordan was on defense. In the second half he and Roldan completely shut down the right side. It was harder for Morris to impact the game when the team was a man down, but every time there was an attack, somehow Jordan was there. You may have noted him in perfect position to finish the rebound after Ivanschitz's 53rd minute blast, only to have Valdez attempt a bicycle kick from an offside position.

The chemistry thing needs work, but Morris' 61st minute perfect run on and reception of a Dempsey backheel was really fun to see. He doesn't quite have the finishing chops but I truly believe that will come soon.

Subs:

Zach Scott - 5 (on 70') | Community - 5.6

I wasn't a fan of this move in light of how good the defense was playing prior, but it made sense as a way to facilitate more attackers pushing forward. Unfortunately the Sounders' ironman failed to add much of anything to the game. He was beat in the 80th backdoor and in the 81st overplayed defense badly, allowing SKC to attack immediately in the space he had vacated. Scott was very active on set piece offense.

Oalex Anderson - 4 (on 83') | Community -  5.9

It was apparent in 11 minutes that Anderson has a ton of potential. The speed alone is game-changing, and he earned a free kick shortly after arriving due to his amazing pace. Unfortunately there wasn't much else that impressed me. I think it's ridiculous to have a flag shoved down your pants and would prefer the subs to be worried about the game, not their potential celebrations. After being stepped on in the 84th minute (and losing a shoe) Anderson inexplicably quit his run despite having open space to run into. I would like to see him continue until the whistle; he had a very good chance and forced the whistle by stopping. In the 94th he dribbled 1v4 and lost the ball, otherwise he just ran around a lot. Potential is there, but he needs to calm down.

Dylan Remick - N/A (on 90') | Community 5.1

A 4-minute emergency sub for an injured Evans. Didn't see anything to be excited/scared about him potentially starting on Saturday.

Referee:

Alan Kelly - 4 | Community - 5.5

This was a stinker from a usually decent referee.

The good: I thought his talk to Roldan appropriate, due to the obvious dissent from the Sounders player who was frankly wrong. I like that in the 20th Kelly wasn't fooled by a Dwyer dive. In the 27th he caught a hold in the midfield most referees miss. In the 32nd he rightly saw Fisher falling as a slip, and I think he got the red card correct as well.

The bad: Missed a blatant cheap shot by Dwyer on Marshall in the 2nd minute and another by Dwyer on Fisher right before the red. He consistently allowed SKC players to not remotely play the ball on headers, which eventually got Evans hurt. I counted four missed advantage plays where his whistle was late. I thought it utterly ridiculous that a Zusi foul on the sideline in the 25th went uncalled, and this set a precedent allowing both forwards to rack up the fouls (I counted 7 between them). Kelly missed a handball on Alonso right in front of him in the 60th, allowed Jordi Quintilla to blatantly stop a counter attack in the 61st, then gave him only a warning in the 62nd when he earned his second foul in a minute.

Giving Zusi and Roger Espinoza yellow cards after the 75th minute was too late, as these players had made a habit of shutting down attacks with fouls all game. I thought the red an accurate call, and it would be preferable to see persistent and tactical fouls punished as per the rules just like flagrant offenses.

I was encouraged by many things this weekend. The defense was great, and the style of play was very exciting to watch. I would like to see more of the outside backs being involved and we will need to figure out a central pairing that does a better job of controlling the middle while somehow being able to support the wide areas opened up by the wingbacks. The last time we played at Rio Tinto I thought we played very lousy, uninspired soccer and am hoping for a much better game this weekend.