In my first watch of the Sounders' 1-1 draw against the Dynamo, I was pretty down on the team. I didn't think anyone would rate above average, and I thought some deserved very harsh grades. However, when I watched again more closely, I was able to find some solid play and ended up less disappointed. I still think the team came out flat, and the coaching staff needs to take 100% of the blame for that. It is unacceptable to be so lethargic and uninterested for the first 25 minutes regardless of heat/humidity. That being said, the halftime adjustments were very smart, and the tactical changes and substitutions were spot on to take advantage of a more defensive Houston posture. This team showed some fight, and much, much more desire after a halftime talk. There are a few positives to build on.
Stefan Frei - 8 | Community - 7.3
One of the few guys who wasn't asleep to start the game was Frei, and that was a good thing since he had to work early, starting with a 5th minute save and quick roll out to Dempsey. The first half saw Frei make the majority of his 7 saves.
After a long distance shot from Giles Barnes, it was former Sounder Jalil Anibaba who put in a wicked near post try in the 24th that testing Stefan's positioning and forced a push wide of goal. Frei was in the right spot to save and smother and was again a minute later when David Horst got loose for a header on the ensuing corner kick. Frei was nicely off his line against Will Bruin in the 34th and again in the 65th. He came out to clear danger with his feet in the 86th. Stefan's best play was a fantastic reaction save in the 68th after Boniek Garcia got loose in the box, and only the quick reaction and great instinct enabled Frei to make the save and keep the score close.
He made a very poor clearance in the 23rd minute and multiple times on goal kicks it seemed like Stefan had no direction or plan to his distribution. Maybe he didn't feel he had a target or whatever, but those few bad decisions on where to pass marred an otherwise great game by Frei.
Joevin Jones - 5 | Community - 5.6
What happened to Jones in this game? He didn't look right for a majority of his time on the field. He was one of the players who looked slow (!!) lethargic, and uninterested.
In the first minute Jones got forward on an overlap and looked like he was primed to have another strong outing adding dynamic pace and presence to the left, but after that I noted very little positive. He did get forward again in the 37th minute and barely missed connecting with Kovar for an assist off a great crossing pass from the width.
Unfortunately, there wasn't a lot in the plus column this week, and plenty of errors. Jones' touch looked very heavy. In the 3rd minute he fumbled the ball away. In the 12th he failed to make an obvious overlapping run and this would become a trend. In the 14th Jones made zero effort to pressure the ball, allowing an easy Houston chance. In the 20th he was easily beat and looked to have no burst speed. This showed again in the 33rd when Andrew Wenger outpaced him and stole the ball. Yet again in the 55th he was outrun by Wenger and after losing possession made a rather appalling orange card tackle attempting to get it back.
All his strong marks in this game were on attacking runs up the wing, and I don't know why he didn't get forward more often. He refused to take anyone on. I wondered during the game if he was hurt or fatigued or simply having an off night. This was not the dynamic attacking force we have seen thus far.
Chad Marshall - 8 (MOTM) | Community - 7.7 (MOTM)
Marshall found a positive match up with the personnel on the Dynamo and looked very comfortable bossing the backline on Sunday. He was his usual strong self in the air, and he added in great positioning and smart tackling. Since the Vancouver game he hasn't put a foot wrong and is cognizant of when to go to ground.
In minute 3 Chad set the tone by dispossessing Bruin 1v1. He made this a habit on the night, constantly pushing the Houston forward away from goal. Marshall did slide in the box in the 15th minute, but it was safe and strong and stopped an attack allowed through Jones. Chad was always there for his back line, consistently popping up to clear a ball or assist in space whenever Houston pushed. Marshall was why a majority of the Dynamo shots were from less dangerous areas.
Marshall isn't known for his distribution, and it showed in the early moments when Houston forced the ball away from Evans and to Chad. A poor forced pass in the 1st minute was followed by another in the 7th and both were immediately returned as a Houston attack. Other than those and being beat by Horst on a corner in the 25th, there were few times Chad wasn't up to the task.
Having a strong game defensively wasn't enough to earn Chad the MOTM, but just as he showed in the playoffs last year Marshall doesn't quit till the whistle. After staying up as a target late in the contest, I loved seeing Marshall win a header over Horst on offense, pushing the ball wide to Gomez in the 91st. A few minutes later and at the very death of the game, it was Marshall loitering with enough intent to make any goal poacher proud, and he latched onto a spilled ball and slammed it home for the draw. This wasn't an easy finish either, as a defender blocked a majority of the goal, requiring Chad to slot home square near post with impressive calmness. This was a great performance from Chad; I love seeing his consistent attacks in the opponent's six pay off.
Brad Evans - 6 | Community - 6.7
Brad took a backseat to Marshall this week. But he was part of a strong central pairing that severely limited Houston from many great chances on goal. Taking turns with Chad to mark Bruin through his zone, both central players were allowed to float on the back side a lot. I thought this would contribute to Evans going forward much more, but he stayed home more than I would have liked.
He started out looking like he might be very active on offense, when in the first few minutes he dribbled all the way up the wing, but this turned out to be an anomaly. The lack of these runs may have been due to an absence of quality movement up top for him to play to, plus a strong Houston midfield that needed minding.
Evans spent a quiet game managing the back line, distributing almost exclusively to Roldan/Alonso, with Mears offering little of an advanced option. With his over the top passing cut off and a logjam in the middle, most of his passes were short, before trotting back to get in position defensively.
Will Bruin created space on Brad during a 5th minute free kick but only managed a weak header on goal. Demarcus Beasley ran right by Evans in the 76th minute creating a very dangerous chance, and Brad has to do better there. Sunday was a quiet game for the captain on the field, but his consistent coaching from the back can't be overlooked. I bet he had something to do with the way the team came out in the second half.
Tyrone Mears - 5 | Community - 5.9
The outside backs were very poor in this match. When you are playing a narrow 4-3-3 or similar formation you want your wing backs to get forward and be dynamic options for utilizing wide spaces. Mears got forward only rarely, and without effectiveness.
He did have a few nice defensive plays, notably in the 9th against Barnes, being in a good spot and helping the backline weather the Houston rush to start the game. Tyrone is a very strong defender, and he was a large reason that Beasley rarely had any room to push the width for Houston.
I was disappointed to see Mears offer no vertical option to Evans when the center back pushed forward in the first minute. In the 7th Tyrone missed a great opportunity to push a vertical ball down the line to Kovar. Multiple times when presented with a chance, Tyrone resorted to just chunking speculative balls over the top to the Houston goalkeeper. Other than the 18th minute when he overran an attacker allowing a cross and a 76th minute whiff that allowed Beasley space, Mears played boring, steady, and solid defense on his wing.
Mears looks just a step slow in movement and decision making. Perhaps this is just him being overly cautious and deliberate, but its excruciating to watch him have opportunity to attack the flanks and see him continually eat the ball and recycle it back though the central defense or keeper. For a guy who touched the ball almost as much as Ivanschitz, the lack of forward urgency is just hard to take, especially on a team struggling to get the ball into dangerous areas. At this point I don't know what the specific problem is, but soon the athleticism and direct play style of Oniel Fisher may push Mears for more minutes.
Osvaldo Alonso - 6 | Community - 6.2
An average score from Alonso, who I thought looked listless and uninterested for most of the match. Missing was the fire and intensity that we are used to seeing. He had his usual amount of 90+ touches and kept the normal high passing percentage, but none of his passes seemed particularly incisive or creative, and this game desperately needed more urgency from the midfield.
Multiple times I thought Ozzie was trying to force the ball to Dempsey, and this was one of the few games this year that he was repeatedly caught in possession. Losing the ball as deep as he is playing is a big problem; it leads to immediate dangerous counter attacks. He did barely miss AI in the 60th minute on a pass that we frankly need more of - a deep playmaker finding a through ball to a diagonal run from the width to the center. His marking on the goal against was criminal, and either he or Jones should have been marking Barnes.
Even a rather lousy game from Alonso still merits near MLS average, and he played much better in the second half. While he didn't get beat a ton, Ozzie just showed a lot of fatigue or disinterest this game overall and that begins to feed doubts. I don't think it is anything to get too excited about yet, but it bears watching.
Cristian Roldan - 5 | Community - 5.2
Roldan followed up his best game with a poor one, and only the rewatch saved him a much harsher grade. If the team is going to play two defensive-minded holding midfielders, then Roldan has to improve both his defense and his transition, however in this game he seemed to be on a completely different page than Alonso and played more of a shuttler. Unlike last match where he looked comfortable, against Houston I thought Cristian was lost, which isn't a good thing for a midfielder who got a whopping 92 touches to lead the team.
It was quickly apparent that Roldan was lost, in the 6th minute getting caught forward. A few minutes later he trapped a goal kick with space and cautiously turned and passed the ball backwards. This became a theme for Roldan, trying to force the ball to Alonso or Mears, rarely finding anything resembling a ball forward. He settled down in the second half.
Cristian looked off on the night, consistently allowing runners through his zone, and was a step behind players in defense even when repeatedly motioned to close by teammates. He did have strong completion percentage, but it was rarely dangerous or led to danger. Something has to be adjusted to allow better play through the center.
Andreas Ivanschitz - 6 | Community - 5.8
Another player who looked better on the rewatch, Andreas again floated in and out of this game. He struggled to find holes in the defense to attack from. He had quite a few touches against Houston but I thought he missed the space and vertical stretching that Valdez brings to the game.
Ivanschitz had a lot of errors against Houston, starting with a chip to no one in the 3rd minute. His touch in the 10th failed him on a promising breakaway and he missed another easy pass in the 12th. This was the first game that I wasn't massively impressed with all of his set piece service, with many going short and into the defense or falling long and not in dangerous positions. A few late were easily grabbed by the keeper. Other than a few nice bursts I thought AI got very tired and lost effectiveness late.
It took a while for Andreas to learn Morris's runs up front, and his 7th minute vertical look went wide instead of more dangerously central. Another 15th minute cross was a looping ball instead of a crisp through ball. After getting into the game, AI had a great defensive play on a corner kick in the 30th and followed that up by winning a free kick with a strong run.
Even with an off service game, he still offered a few perfect balls, most notably in the 51st which somehow had zero available Sounders on the end. His outside in run in the 60th minute was a bit of class, and Alonso just missed the through ball that would have put him in on the keeper. Gomez almost did something special with his inch-perfect back post service in the 84th.
AI struggled to find his space to work in this game, often getting into the same space as Dempsey and failing to receive the ball wide when he made strong runs. I hope the staff can figure out a way to utilize this guy more consistently, and I think he has a lot to offer from the run of play.
Aaron Kovar - 5 | Community - 4.9
Aaron is another player who both failed to build upon a good showing last week and really missed the healthy runs and spacing of Valdez. Kovar has pace yet he is almost never given the ball in space, instead often getting the ball square and being forced to move the ball quickly instead of run onto it. This isn't a strength of the young player, and he was not connecting his runs. He is still somewhat slow to react and this makes his play on the ball delayed at times. A few times he just needs to get the ball off his foot quicker and be more direct to be much more effective.
He made a really intelligent backside run in the 15th minute that earned a corner and he did this again in the 37th, just missing a game tying header from the six. Kovar is a solid defender pursuing the ball, and his pressure won the ball multiple times, however he is still prone to taking bad angles on defense. He is unafraid to pull the trigger with his strong left boot and a 50th minute shot in transition almost found its way inside the near post forcing a great save from Houston keeper Joe Willis.
Aaron worked hard to be a part of the game but didn't find many spaces to show his talents. Often his vertical runs were ignored, and he also looked confused by the different movement from Morris in the first half. He will need to work with the coaches and veterans to learn where he should be moving to.
Clint Dempsey - 6 | Community - 5.7
Clint had a quiet game in his home state, and again showed a propensity to drop far to find the ball that was getting stuck in midfield. We all want him to get closer to the goal, and it's an indictment on both his play and the midfield that he feels he needs to go back and help out. Unfortunately, what happens when he gets the ball is most of the Sounders watch. This is problematic if, such as in the 8th minute, he loses possession and all the Sounders are caught flat footed.
I liked seeing him earn a free kick in the first half, but he should have been more selfish when finding himself on the top of the 18 in the 44th minute. A shot there instead of passing to Andreas might have been a better choice. In the second half Morris changed his angles and suddenly Clint was able to find many lanes to thread the ball through to the young forward.
When Dempsey drops he can often open up the width to Mears or Jones, but they didn't push forward much. Clint is constantly moving and showing for the ball, and I think the team needs to remember he's an option, not a necessity for passing. This game was perfect for Dempsey to open up others, but he failed to find them and few teammates stepped up. In both the 84th minute and the 94th Clint was right where we want him, crashing the goal. On the first he almost got on the end of a Gomez header and the second he was there if Marshall wasn't. We have to find a way to get him more in these spots and less in his own defensive half.
Jordan Morris - 6 | Community - 5.0
This was a tale of two halves for Jordan, who really struggled tactically in the first half. At times (29') he observed the play, seeming hesitant. Looking to go vertical and stretch the defense, Morris received zero service as such. After not getting the ball vertically, Morris showed to the ball well, however when he didn't get the ball he again was lost on where to go. Multiple times Roldan or Mears failed to make that pass, and Morris was stuck in the midfield lost with Kovar trying to run into the space behind to help shape-wise.
It wasn't all his teammates; at times Jordan didn't offer a good target for passes, motioning for high difficulty balls that others weren't able to make. This all changed after halftime, and it was immediately clear that he had gotten a strong chalkboard lesson in the locker room.
In the second half Jordan's runs were very decisive, pulling the defense before checking into the space he had just created. Suddenly Dempsey was finding him with quick passes through the middle and Morris's decision making was strong. He held the ball and started to combine well. He was much more active and helped create a dangerous attack after halftime. He still needs to work on the final ball, pulling the trigger, and being more goal dangerous, but I was impressed with how much he improved in the second period.
Oalex Anderson - 6 | Community - 6.5
Anderson continues to improve, and he put in his best shift of his short career on Sunday against Houston. He immediately gave the team a vertical threat but also found teammates willing to actually send the pass forward that the team was lacking prior to his insertion.
Anderson completely missed a wide open AI in the 71st minute for a cut back, choosing instead of push a speculative ball across the box that the keeper ate up. His finishing is still raw, but I liked seeing him fade to the back shoulder and then dive in front of the defender in the 80th to almost get on the end of a ball. His 84th minute volley directly into Horst could have been more controlled and calmly finished. In the 94th I loved seeing him fight through a defender to get a cross in, putting in a similar ball to the 71st minute one, and this time getting much better results when the keeper fumbled it. His refusal to quit on the play definitely impressed me.
There is still a ton of work to be done before Oalex should get anything other than substitute minutes. His passing was hit or miss, and he commits a lot of unnecessary fouls. Two things I again saw that really annoyed me were a distinct lack of any defensive desire and way too much ball watching. These must be fixed before he can be counted on to do anything than push for an equalizer/winner late, but his spark and desire are great for a bench option.
Herculez Gomez - 7 | Community - 7.3
This was a sparkling debut from the veteran forward. He obviously studied the game, and upon subbing in was ready to exploit the weaknesses in the defense. An example of this in the 79th illustrates how strong his tactical awareness is. When making a vertical run, he doesn't receive the ball so before running himself offsides (and out of the play) he dropped into the hole in front of the fullback by checking his run. This allowed him space and when he got the ball he immediately turned and made a great cross to Oalex for a shot. Simply fantastic awareness of team spacing.
Another thing that Gomez did well was just increase the urgency of play. The ball left his feet faster, he crossed the ball early before the defense had set, and his movement off the ball was solid. In the 84th he got on the end of an AI cross back post and may have been able to shoot but instead headed down towards a poaching Dempsey. I liked seeing him directly attack Beasley and win a dangerous free kick in the 87th.
I wasn't a fan of this signing but I will happily rate him above average and hope that Herculez can both continue to be effective in spurts as well as help some of the younger guys who could really benefit from watching his movement.
Dylan Remick - 6 | Community - 5.8
I am not sure why Jones had to be subbed off, but I was happy to see that Remick wasn't injured too badly against Montreal to find some minutes this week. I thought Remick looked great, pushing high on his wing and supporting the attack with much more energy that Joevin had. In the 73rd he showed 1v1 defense, and in the 76th slid over to clear a ball from a right side leak. I thought that Dylan looked calm and assertive and got involved after the 80th minute multiple times on offense, showing a differing angle on his crosses while pushing consistently into the high left space.
Ismail Elfath - 8 | Community - 6.3
This was a very clean game, and both teams looked more to move the ball than rely on negative tactics in the middle. Perhaps because of this Elfath let a lot go, and there were a few times (such as Horst destroying Dempsey in the 28th) I would have liked more assertiveness, but for the most part I liked the way he reffed this game.
His advantage call in the 24th was correct, as were the yellow cards for Anibaba and Jones. The Jones yellow needed the help of the AR and Elfath correctly went and discussed it with him. He even warned Willis about delay by sprinting to the box to have a talk with him, and then added four minutes to extra time as a result.
I have no complaints about the way this game was reffed and after some of the horror shows this year it was a pleasant change to have the game be about the players.
HOUSTON DYNAMO MVP:
Readers chose Giles Barnes as the clear Houston Dynamo MVP on the night.
Well, it's an undefeated run! I thought this was going to be a ton of below average ratings and was happily surprised to see that much of the poor play I saw was due to Houston doing a very good job, especially in the midfield. Yes, they played very defensively which helped Sounder possession and control in the second half, but this is a generally effective tactic against a toothless Sounders team. I thought Seattle did a good job improving throughout the game and getting stronger in attack as the match progressed. We will need to play at least as well as our second-half in order to get a win against Philadelphia this weekend.