Hey guys we are going streaking! (through the quad to the gymnasium). After beating the Philadelphia Union at home 2-1 on Saturday night, Seattle Sounders FC earned points in three straight. Led by a defense looking to be one of the best in the league and an offense that is effective when not hacked into pieces in the midfield, we played well, slowly exerting our will onto the match. One side effect of our set-piece success is teams may be more reluctant to play physical defense in our attacking third, opening up more space for Sounders to operate.
Stefan Frei - 7 | Community - 7.0
Stefan had another very solid outing and probably should have earned a shutout, if not for a late defensive blunder. The Union managed 13 shots, but as is customary for the Seattle defense, almost all of these were forced to be speculative, outside-the-18 attempts.
Frei handled his box well, and looked to make a good decision to stay on his line more this game while allowing Evans and Marshall to bully the single-striker attack from Philly. Without much penetration from the Union, much of Frei's work consisted of organizing the back and keeping his positioning. I thought Stefan did this very well, making almost all of his saves look easy by moving his feet early and properly reading angles.
The goal against was the fault of the defense/central midfield and I don't think there was much he could have done there. Frei went short often in this game, although the Sounders game-winning goal started with a well-placed punt from Stefan. This was a good game from Frei and he looks to have shaken off the first-game blunder.
Dylan Remick - 6 | Community - 6.0
Remick had a very steady game in a surprising start, I think he does well with every chance he gets. He was tasked with playing behind the unpredictable Anderson and I think that showed in his staying home much more than normal, choosing to concentrate on defense instead of rushing to support the attack. This was also out of necessity, as the Union came out strong, and attacked primarily through this left side of the Sounder defense.
I liked seeing his help defensively on Sebastien Le Toux, who was a constant menace down the Sounders' left wing. Dylan put in a good shift covering for the holes around him all game, and still managed to get in nice overlaps in the 33', 58', and 66'. This last was followed up by an excellent low cross - I am really impressed with his wide service.
Remick did misplay the ball a few times, once being forced into a yellow when he fumbled a touch and was forced to deliberately handle the ball. In the 73rd he made a bad decision to follow the ball in to CJ Sapong, leaving Le Toux wide open for Philly's goal.
A lot of what Remick does is very steady and so close to being above average. However, sometimes he gives too much cushion to an attacker, perhaps out of fear of getting beat. While this is great for slowing attacks, he has the speed and ability to play tighter, and it becomes problematic when he allows them time to find a pass or cross. I noted multiple times this lack of desire to close on the Philly players and I think he should trust his ability to recover while limiting service.
Chad Marshall - 8 | Community - 7.9 (MOTM)
Play solid defense and score a goal? That gets you an 8 from me.
Let's get the bad out of the way first - Marshall isn't the best at distributing the ball. With Philly pushing the ball away from Evans in the back, Marshall did an ok job handling the ball. I noted at least three very bad passes that went nowhere when he pushed the ball forward, and that's generally OK from a center back. I thought he was badly beat on the end line after failing to clear cleanly in the 23rd minute as the Union were bludgeoning the left side of the defense. A couple times his positioning looked really wonky.
What continues to impress me is Chad's control in the box. Especially since the Vancouver game, he only goes to ground when necessary, and is very good at playing perfect position on defense. Chad uses his body incredibly well, and every game gets crucial defensive stops and interceptions because of his intelligence. It was this positioning that Marshall used more than any specific tackles or won headers. His communication, especially with Roldan, has to improve, as when he tried to hand a player off only to have Roldan completely lose him.
Chad has always been good at getting involved on set pieces, but often was barely wide, forced a great save, or just plain unlucky when attempting shots on goal. For the second week in a row he found himself unmarked on the back post in the 41st minute and finished cleanly and assertively. We may have awakened a sleeping giant and grown one more head on the hydra with Chad coming into set piece target form.
Brad Evans - 7 | Community - 6.8
I think Evans was the best defender on the back line against Philly, and he really showed well for the entire match. Our defense is really strong with these two in the middle.
In the 9th minute Evans had a tricky clearance cut back into the middle that really illustrates what he brings to the back. Instead of chunking it forward for a likely turnover, Brad is able to somehow find Ozzie and this kept possession. His defense shut down Sapong for a majority of the game, and he showed the position, strength, and speed to keep up with the Philly striker who is having a strong year. In the 56th minute he completely erased him.
I liked seeing how fast he closed the ball down in the 28th minute, and his lack of hesitation forced a turnover through the box. In the 48th he completely saved his right back when Mears was beat backdoor. Brad even got into the offense some this game, getting all the way to the opponent 18-yard box and laying off a wide pass to an overlap in the 55th.
Brad had a few blunders, notably being outleaped (2nd week in a row) by a forward deep in the box on a cross. Again nothing came of it, but he has to win those battles. His 85th minute decision to slide tackle in the box had disaster written all over it, but luckily nothing came of it. I thought that Brad did fairly well on the Union scoring play, Sapong just controlled the ball very well and had a wide open option. There could perhaps have been better communication on the switch from Marshall to Evans, but he did well to hold off the player and force a header back away from goal.
Tyrone Mears - 7 | Community - 6.3
In an up and down year for Mears, this was an up game against Philly. I thought Mears very strong on his wing, and looked to be more comfortable working with the veteran Ivanschitz in front of him. His defense was very good, and there was a noticeable shift to the left to support where Philly was concentrating attack. This meant that Tyrone needed to back up his fellow defenders through the middle, and I was really impressed with his decision making when playing in behind Evans. On multiple occasions he was perfectly positioned to stop any backside attacks, allowing both Brad and Chad to push out and support.
Tyrone looked comfortable against Philly, and he showed much more willingness to push the ball forward, instead of funneling everything backwards as he has been apt to do. We even saw a little of the Mears service that we got used to last year, with his cross in the 35th a perfect curling effort that drifted away from the defense. Another cross in the 68th came from him running down a ball in the corner and putting in a nice ball, some attacking football that has been lacking in the last few weeks.
While Mears was badly beat once on a backdoor through ball, his track back in the 51st to help on a counter attack showed tremendous pace and skill, and he beat Leo Fernandes so badly in the 87th that the Philly player was carded trying to defend him. If we can get more consistent play out of Mears like how he played against the Union, we'll likely see him regain some of the form and confidence from last year.
Osvaldo Alonso - 8 | Community - 7.1
A good Sounders game has Ozzie at least 80-90 touches and he got exactly 90 this game. Remarkably, he was only recorded as having ONE failed passing attempt. That is simply spectacular. 99% completion rate in the center of the park is a fantastic stat and tilts the field to our advantage by limiting any counter opportunities and enabling the team to completely dictate play.
One great benefit to the increased communication between Roldan and Alonso is both can take turns advancing into the attack. In this game, Alonso popped up in the box and got a great curling shot just wide in the 24th. In the 36th I was amazed to see Ozzie pressing high, all the way to the Philly 18-yard box. In the 75th he personally led a counter attack instead of passing it off and staying home.
Ozzie was his usual self on defense. In the first half he was tasked with covering for a leaky left side. He often calmed the team down with his possession in tight spots, and as I mentioned above, near-perfect passing out of danger. This was one of the best "quiet" Alonso performances in a long time.
Ozzie did foul Le Toux in a bad spot, had a poor cross, and earned a silly yellow card for kicking the ball away, but these were minor in comparison to his positive plays.
Cristian Roldan (off 75') - 7 | Community - 5.8
A good Sounders game does NOT have Roldan getting 90 touches (like he did vs. Houston) and this game he had a more reasonable 64. This is important because while Roldan is improving quickly, the Alonso'esque skills he has are defensive, not distributing (yet). That being said, this was one of Cristian's best games: he's beginning to understand the role he needs to play. It has taken a few weeks for him to learn to sit deep and destroy in front of the fullbacks and pick smart times to venture forward. As Roldan better understands how to play this position, it allows each center mid to cover more ground, as evidenced by both being in the opposing box on multiple occasions.
I marked Roldan down for a lot of bad passes, and some poor decision-making in critical areas. Twice in the first 10 minutes he allowed a runner to pass him directly at goal and he HAS to follow runners into the box. Again in the 29th he was caught ball watching while a runner ran vertical to the goal. He needs to do better there. His touch, while improving, is only good in spurts and his distribution still requires a lot of refinement.
Early on we saw Roldan stepping across to pick up the ball in midfield, and this was both good and bad. His instincts in the destroyer role are very good, and he does well going to the ball, however he is still stepping on Alonso's toes at times. In the 20th minute he showed great individual skill, and looked very comfortable when pushing forward, often finding the great movement of Ivanschitz.
One of the big plays of the game was the red card on Roland Alberg, but my replay showed both yellows were induced by great defending by Roldan. He simply beat the Philly player to the ball with hustle and forced Alberg into bad decisions on each occasion. These were simply tremendous individual efforts. I was also impressed with the fitness that Roldan showed for his shift, making a ton of runs. His subbing off surprised me.
Andreas Ivanschitz - 9 (MOTM) | Community - 7.5
Not only did Ivanschitz fill up my book with positive marks, they were very impactful marks. Against Philly, Andreas was the offensive fulcrum. This was a simply fantastic game from a player that dominated the opposition and was a magnificent offensive weapon.
In the first 5 minutes AI signaled a change to the offensive plan, putting a ball over the top to an advanced Dempsey that just missed. He followed it up in the 15th with a tremendous one-touch lob to find Clint on a break that almost ended with a Morris shot.
Multiple times in this game Andreas showed his ability to know where every teammate is on the field. In the 17th he one-touched a seemingly awkward clear over the top -- but wait: there was Jordan running onto it with the Sounders duo creating a great scoring chance out of nothing. In the 41st minute he dialed in the noggin of one Chad Marshall and hit play on a perfectly executed corner kick goal. This wasn't his only great service; I thought his 70th minute free kick was stellar and he and Evans just missed a connection late.
A minute later Ivanschitz was all class, showing off some INSANE vision and ability to put Morris on goal for assist No. 2. This was so impressive to me, as it showed vision to see the run, ability to float into space to be an option for Valdez, power to put in a curling 35-yard cross, and that TOUCH to drop it on a dime to Jordan. I was so impressed with this play, no matter how "simple"* Keller called it.
Passing wasn't all he did. Andreas plays smart positional defense, something I remarked on last year. He isn't a great 1v1 defender and he multiple times allowed vertical runners past him when deep in defense, but he does make opposing teams predictable. It's an underrated aspect of his play, and his position both allowed Mears an easier time on defense and also opened himself up for "simple"* passes and easier service to his feet from the back.
Oh yeah, and AI put all three of his shots on frame, with the 35th minute side volley almost forcing Andre Blake into a miscue. The Philly keeper made his best save of the game in the 44th on a HUGE shot from Andreas, somehow leaping to his right and using his left hand to parry a shot headed for the near 90.
AI had SIX key passes in this game and was like a maestro organizing his music, putting first Morris, then Dempsey on goal, then ripping a shot, dialing in crosses and free kicks; it was fantastic offensive soccer.
Clint Dempsey - 7 | Community - 6.2
Clint looked great in the 4-4-2... er... 4-2-3-1? Whatever formation the Sounders played on Saturday. Either way Clint was much farther up the field, and I early on noted just how often he was loitering with intent inside the Philly six-yard box. This game showed Dempsey floating wide and making space for Morris and facilitating attack but also being able to get into the box and not dropping as much into the defensive third to help possession.
Early in the 4th he was looking to go vertical and Andreas was looking to find him. Clint led a counter in the 15th that he will want back, his pass going just long to a streaking back post run from Jordan. Later before the end of the half he put Morris in on goal but the chance went wanting. One of the few times that Oalex got involved in a scoring chance was facilitated by a tricky Dempsey back heel, perfectly weighted for the youngster to latch onto and speed into the box.
I thought Clint could have been quicker to find a vertical run by AI in the 6th minute, holding the ball too long. He tried to do too much with the ball in the 49th, and was dispossessed attempting what looked to be step-overs. There was a 68th minute header that he will also want back; he had a good look and missed it.
It was nice to see Dempsey playing hard to defend a lead in the 86th and his spin away from defense to find Joevin onto goal in the 91st was impressive.
One small thing to watch for with Clint's play is how he sets up passes. A perfect example happened in the 73rd as he attacked directly at a defender and leaned to the right only to pass to an overlapping Ivanschitz on his left. This little dip of the shoulder and push right got the defender to change his weight onto the other foot, giving Andreas not only a bit more space but an off balanced opponent.
Jordan Morris (off 82') - 8 | Community - 7.1
Best performance as a professional. First goal. Got to hear his name shouted by 40K people. Congrats Jmo! What a night. The goal was just the icing for me though, as Jordan was an absolute nightmare all evening for the Philadelphia defense. He simply would not be denied, consistently putting immense pressure on the Union back 5.
With a bit of a tactical change, and probably lots of coaching, we found a way to unlock Morris by letting him dive vertically in between the center backs, or diagonally from a wide position without another Sounder clogging his run. Time after time he made smart, well timed angled ONSIDE runs to stretch the defense shape into tatters.
This kid plays STRONG. In the 3rd minute he won the ball, held it up, turned, and earned a foul with multiple defenders hanging on him. A minute later he made another run while holding off a defender and got a cross in. In the 7th he got a Frei clearance and won the header and a foul when he was upended.
Even though Dempsey missed him in the 15th, he made a perfect supporting run and is 3 yards clear of any defenders which is exciting for the future. In the 17th the magic of AI put Jordan into a footrace with two defenders and the keeper to beat - only the third managed to stop him when he scuffed his attempt after torching the field players. Morris was doing it all, and he calmly returned the favor to Andreas in the 44th that should have been an assist if not for Blake standing on his head in goal.
Morris is amazingly effective when he is going at people, and in the 60th and 61st minute he almost scored with near-post efforts. He made no mistake in the 71st minute, drifting wide to the right and making a wonderful diagonal run across the defense, receiving a "simple"* pass from Ivanschitz and burying a shot near-post for his first goal.
Sure, Jordan had a few turnovers and mistakes, but he put all 3 shots on target, scored a goal and was a BEAST at the top of the attack. There will be plenty of career for me to point out errors. Let's enjoy this.
Oalex Anderson (off 63') - 4 | Community - 5.8
Well, my fears that Anderson wasn't ready to be a starter were proven in this one. I needed more room to write down his mistakes as there were many.
Anderson's passing was bad. It was frustrating to see him get into a good spot based on his athleticism only to fumble away an opportunity by missing a through ball by 10 yards or squaring a ball 4 feet behind a teammate. On offense he wasn't much better, not able to integrate into the attack in the first half at all. Once, in the 38th minute he was simply in the way, ruining a promising counter attack by running vertically and then stopping and being lost on where to go.
Positionally Oalex was all over the place. In the first 10 minutes, Alonso was screaming at him to help on defense and come inside to help out. The Union exploited his poor positioning almost exclusively, overloading the left and forcing Remick, Marshall, and Alonso to cover the wing while Anderson was often caught up field watching.
Something helped a lot at halftime, and Oalex looked much better coming out after the break. He had a nice pass in the 47th and started to work 1-2's with teammates with better results. In the 61st he had his best play of the game, a calm control of the ball, good pass to find Dempsey, and then alert smart play to continue his run towards goal. When Dempsey found some back heel magic Anderson showed tremendous smart passing to find Morris in on goal, and put a nice touch on the pass.
Anderson has to work on his defense, and not just the attacking parts of his game. Often he was not invested in the play, watching and putting pressure on his teammates by not supporting his wing. Even if he isn't a great 1v1 defender, I think he can learn a lot from AI about how to play angles and lanes and limit the other team's options, which can help predictability. There are some incredible physical tools to build on, but unfortunately he had a very rough outing in his first MLS start.
Nelson Haedo Valdez (on 63') - 7 | Community - 6.4
Everyone who forgot how good the dynamic Paraguayan striker is got reminded when he subbed on. He had an instant impact. His positioning was an immediate upgrade, quickly finding a 65th minute vertical run and showing off some great chemistry with Dempsey. Unfortunately, his curling shot went just wide. Nelson's constant hustle forced turnover after turnover, earning possession and forcing the short manned Philly side to fight from the very back for any traction.
In the 66th he showed to the ball and took the space given, turning and occupying the gaps between the back four for the Union. His 68th minute sliding effort to get the ball out to the wing and an overlapping Sounder was superb. It was Valdez winning a long clearance, holding the ball up, and finding AI that started the game winning goal play.
Herculez Gomez (on 75') - 5 | Community - 5.8
I am still confused why we took off a defensive midfielder and brought in an attacker. After the fireworks from last week, Gomez dropped back to reality in his 20-minute shift. Playing on the right wing, he helped some defense, but didn't show much until a 91st minute run where he flubbed a goal presented on a platter from Jones. His cross in the 93rd was rough, and I think he would like to forget about this outing and keep working on better fitness for the next time he is called upon.
Joevin Jones (on 82') - 6 | Community - 5.8
The Jones sub was a smart move, and he immediately shored up the defensive issues down the left wing. Al had a great game, but destroyer central midfielder he isn't, and it showed as he got caught up field in the 86th. Luckily, Jones was smartly aware of this vacated space, and slotted into the center of the field to support the defense. This was a very intelligent play. In the 91st minute Jones made a perfect run forward and got a ball from Dempsey, slotting a tap in pass to Gomez that should have salted away the victory.
Drew Fischer - 9 | Community - 6.4
This was much better than Elfath's 8 from last week, and I am still trying to get an idea of what "MLS AVERAGE" entails. I do know this was the best-reffed game of the year for the Sounders.
Fischer was great, starting by correctly calling a foul when Morris was undercut in the 7th. After Alberg had committed 3 fouls in the first 20 minutes, it was nice to see the yellow in the 32nd. In fact, his cards on Remick for deliberate handball, Ozzie for kicking the ball away, and Alberg again for scissors tackle were spot on. Almost every foul and placement went smoothly, because Fischer was controlling the game without being the center of attention. He was in good position to see a 38th minute PK shout and I think rightly called the ball to hand in a natural position and thus play on.
There were a few small calls I was confused by, such as Marshall being gifted a foul in the 25th after he looked to be the offender and a 45th minute advantage call where there seemed to be little (maybe he wasn't aware how great our set pieces are). The Valdez yellow was harsh, although I can see where he may have been calling the exposed studs for dangerous play.
Overall I was very impressed with this referee and hope that his ability and style become the norm, instead of the fairly awful referees we had to start the season.
Philadelphia Union MVP:
Readers cast 387 votes for the opposition MOTM, and Andre Blake squeezed out former Sounder Sebastien Le Toux by just two votes.
A little momentum, a few players getting into better shape/healthy, and a team figuring out its positional identity goes on the road next week to Colorado. I was impressed with the emergence of Morris as a vertical threat and with Ivanschitz spraying passes around and Dempsey closer to the goal, our attack looks to be improving weekly. The defense has been stout all year and looks to strengthen even more as players like Remick and Roldan improve. I'm impressed with the halftime adjustments by coaches this season and hope that the team continues to realize its faults and improve on them during the week.
*Simple play, simple ball, simple pass, simplest of touches, simple finish and all versions thereof are © Kasey Keller 2016