There was a lot to like this weekend. A 2-0 win against a San Jose Earthquakes team that has really had our number, the return of more attacking play, dominant defense again earning a shutout (against a team that hadn't been shutout in 23 games), and a glimpse of what this team truly is working to be. Other than San Jose's PK opportunity we looked pretty solid; the Sounders only gave up one shot on target all game and dominated the attack. We are starting to see an identity developing -- one of tremendous defense and increasingly dynamic offense that can impose its will on opponents.
Stefan Frei - 7 | Community - 7.1
Ho-Hum, a shutout. Frei turned in another average Stefan Frei performance, which is above average for MLS. He has now given up 8 goals in 8 games played and if you take away the flukey Colorado game he has one of the top two GAA in the league. The defense has been stellar this year and it starts with the man in the back directing traffic.
Frei looked very comfortable with the ball at his feet against San Jose, repeatedly playing short with Evans and clearing when necessary. Any hiccups from last week were fixed, and passing the ball around the back was a great way to open up space upfield. Stefan's distribution, other than one punt out of bounds, was great all game. I like that he is mixing it up, like a 3rd minute long punt to Kovar or a perfect throw wide to Jones sneaking up the wing -- we are providing lots of options for distribution.
Even though Chad Barrett was ultimately called offside, Frei was quickly out very far in the 29th to beat the Quakes player to the ball, and he saved another from the ex-Sounder in the 48th. The best save of the night may have been in the 35th in which Frei stretched his sprawl out wide and looks to have affected Chris Wondolowski's open shot. He also prevented any follow-ups by corralling all loose balls.
Multiple other times Frei was in perfect position to make saves and there was a nice punch or two as well. His covering of the post on the PK may have influenced the miss by forcing Wondo to change his mind on direction. Frei is doing what needs to be done to keep this team in every single game.
Joevin Jones - 6 | Community - 6.3
This was an interesting game for Jones. At times it was apparent that San Jose was attempting to go through the Mears side of the field, and Jones was left to roam the left wing unimpeded for long periods. Early on he was very active, with a cross to Gomez in the 4th that was absolutely perfect, and in the 6th instead of crossing he found a square pass to a willing Alonso that forced a strong save from goalie David Bingham. He was given the freedom to work give-and-go's and get forward into the attack at will.
After this early flurry Jones was absent from the book. It wasn't until the early second half that he had a number of rough plays back to back. His 47th minute touch was badly fumbled directly into the path of Alberto Quintero that resulted in a wild scramble in the box that could have been a Barrett goal. A minute later he pushed Simon Dawkins in the box (enough for a Geiger penalty perhaps) and it was his unnecessary foul in the 58th that gave Dawkins the free kick that he put off the crossbar.
I like the offensive contribution from Joevin, although at times I wish he would go directly at goal instead of cutting back. Sometimes he will beat a guy and then cut back into them to get to his left; that lets them back into the play when driving at goal would make him much more dangerous.
Chad Marshall - 7 | Community - 7.0
This was an interesting game for Marshall, and one that he has turned in countless times in his career. First, he erased Wondo for large periods of the match. Second, he won every single header that came his way. Finally, he supported his defense and played steady positional soccer. This is very typical of Marshall, who just puts on his hard hat, goes to work, and ruins attackers' dreams.
I am still amazed at Chad's accuracy when heading the ball, and even if he is off balance he often directs it perfectly to a teammate. This is a great ability to have when you are outjumping a sweaty guy and nodding the ball to Joevin to filter into the attack. Marshall even showed off a little bit of passing flair, launching a 24th minute switching pass that looked about 50 yards. Chad likely misses AI on set piece service and struggled to be dangerous on offense. On a 69th minute corner, he got good contact but put it wide of goal and was unable to improve his scoring total this year (he's stuck at a measly 2).
Other than some organizational issues with Roldan late in the game, there weren't a lot of Marshall notes, and that's OK.
Brad Evans - 7 | Community - 6.6
Brad really makes our defense work in a completely different way than Zach Scott, and it's quite intriguing to see the immediate change to the team shape with Evans in the back. He is so calm under pressure now, and the Sounders looked for him to direct a slow build-up that was reminiscent of last year. Frei often looked short to Evans to bring the ball forward, and this possession in the back was more effective than chunking speculative balls in the general direction of the forwards.
The scoring play in the 26th minute started with exactly this, possession funneled to Evans, who found the unlocking pass from the backline to the FEET of Dempsey. As I've said before, it's more than just making the pass that is essential, it's also putting enough touch on the ball to make it easy to handle or leading someone to open space that is such a benefit, and Evans does this exceptionally well.
Like Marshall, there weren't a ton of actions necessary from Evans, although I noted him using good pace 1v1 in the 42nd and making a great sliding save in the 54th. He had a few rough issues with the movement of Wondolowski; I thought in the 58th he should have stepped to Barrett instead of dropping to block the goal, but that is just picking nits. Evans and Marshall worked very hard to limit any attacks through the middle and were a big reason that only one San Jose shot was on goal.
Tyrone Mears - 5 | Community - 5.7
The pendulum that is Tyrone Mears swung back to slightly below MLS average this week, aided by one very lousy defensive play. I have no idea why he left his feet to tackle center back Victor Barnardez in the 84th up 1-0. It was a curious play that symbolizes Tyrone this year. There was no reason for a player that rarely leaves his feet to pick that point in time and that location of the field to do so, and the team almost suffered hugely for it.
In the middle third of the game Tyrone did some very good things. He had a run forward in the 31st that he continued all the way into the opponent's area after a nifty Kovar back heel but unfortunately he didn't know where to go from there. If that wasn't surprising enough, 15 minutes later he followed up a play and pressured Bingham. You read that right: our right back in open play pressed the opposing goalie. In the 57th Tyrone stepped on defense and forced a turnover that led to a Morris shot, and he won a corner with another attack in the 61st.
Notice I haven't mentioned any Mears crosses. Perhaps he was told to curtail the pointless crosses, but I'm not sure the coaching staff intended him to have ZERO crosses in the game. Tyrone has had very good service ability in the past, but without him even looking to be a threat from wide, there was no attack potential from him. I don't really know what to think of Mears anymore. He is a solid, decent player who is an average level right back with a worker bee like Kovar in front of him. I have no idea where the dynamic two-way player from last year disappeared to.
Osvaldo Alonso - 7 | Community - 7.4
The re-watching this week showed a lot more warts on this performance than I originally thought, but it also showcased a number of interesting changes to Ozzie's game that were positive.
With Friberg starting I thought that Ozzie might be more of a stay at home defender, but there was Alonso in minute 6 getting off a great shot that almost snuck by Bingham. This is the 5th or 6th game with Alonso having a very legitimate scoring opportunity, and he is putting everything on frame this season.
Alonso got fewer touches than usual, but kept up his high percentage (91%), and his 19th minute pass thirty yards up the gut to Dempsey was really beautiful. It was also similar to the Evans pass a few minutes later that would jumpstart the scoring play. Alonso had a number of defensive plays, but this central pairing allowed him to play more of a floater that filled passing lanes instead of having to be a destroyer with a lot of tackles, and I think this is a good change for him.
Like Jones I thought Alonso just completely turned off for ten minutes, starting in the 35th with a really poor pass in the midfield, followed by completely horrific marking on Wondo. In the 42nd he again showcased traffic cone defending, this time on Dawkins. He must have been as frustrated as I was with his play because he earned a pointless yellow a minute later. Perhaps he just needed to get angry, because Ozzie was solid the rest of the match, even adding an assist in the 89th by funneling a turnover into the hungry path of Jmo.
Erik Friberg - 9 MOTM | Community - 7.9 MOTM (off 72')
Erik Friberg is not the best player in the world. Erik Friberg is not a magician with the ball. What Erik Friberg is, is a guy who really understands what this team needs and has the vision and ability to take these very good players around him and make them even better. (Once upon a time I wrote this: Who is Erik Friberg and how can he help the Sounders? and it holds true to this day, especially the first five).
Erik was everywhere against San Jose. In the 5th minute it was obvious he was willing to get forward, and even showed off a one touch over the shoulder pass that was reminiscent of a certain goal scored against the LA Galaxy in the playoffs last year. In the 12th minute he picked up a nice ball from Evans and immediately looked vertical to play through a Morris checking run.
In the 26th minute he was credited with an assist, but the most impressive part for me was his first touch off the Morris pass. He pushes an attacking first touch into the space in the box, which gives him options as well as pulling the defense and opening a hole that Clint smartly floated into. Friberg made the right choice to play a soft pass to Dempsey for a goal. Three minutes later he was back at it, first putting Gomez on goal for an attempt, then crossing into Morris forcing a Bingham punch, before moments later putting Jones through. In around five minutes Friberg put four different Sounders players in great spots to attack goal. This was just fantastic.
Friberg had these attacking plays, but also balanced them with an amazing amount of defensive range. After pushing forward in the 38th into the San Jose box, he was immediately chasing Dawkins on a give and go all the way to the end line and sliding to give a corner but prevent a shot. Erik wasn't afraid to mix it up in the middle and this took pressure from Alonso, while also keeping proper positioning that saw these two central players combine for 18 passes to each other. This defensive pressure led to lightning quick counter attacks, in the 46th stealing the ball and putting Dempsey through followed by the same to Morris in the 52nd, the latter a perfectly weighted ball the forward let run into the box for a great chance.
Erik subbed out in the 72nd, but not until showing incredible stamina and skill to win a ball and dribble by Kofi Sarkodie and Marvel Wynne into the box and earn a corner in the 62nd. If he can get fit enough to keep this level of production we are going to see more and more connections as he really improved everyone on the field, anchoring the middle and brilliantly connecting offense and defense in this game.
Clint Dempsey - 7 | Community - 7.3
Clint may be less injured this week, but I think the real difference in his production was the addition of another creative player that understands how to involve him. After his goal it was clear how happy he was and his desire to credit Erik for finding him, and this connection was strong all game. I think Clint plays better when he has skilled players around him to play off of. Against San Jose Dempsey was a beast in the first half, moving smartly and getting himself and others constantly involved.
In the 6th minute Clint dropped into the middle and found Jones with a tremendous outlet pass to release the speedy left back. Dempsey looks to have a little bit of a connection with Kovar, and I repeatedly saw them communicate with each other. It was very apparent in the 9th minute when Aaron dove goal ward and Clint was already putting the ball there, as well as a great give and go between these two in the 11th. In the 14th he was active again, getting into the box on a pass from Morris. In the 19th he tried to return the favor although put the pass a bit too hard for the rookie. This was another time that Clint drove at the defense and opened up a huge lane for a teammate on the wing.
Clint's goal scoring play actually started from the back with Evans finding Clint in the middle, and after pushing the ball up to facilitate a nice chance to Gomez, it was great to see no one quit on the attack. The subtle little dive/float to the hole by Dempsey was followed by a clinical side net finish.
I didn't have a ton of marks for Clint in the second half and credit San Jose for closing down the space he was dominating early after the intermission. Dempsey still went down too early a few times, although it's possible that if he doesn't get clipped by Tommy Thompson in the 88th he finishes a cross. One exciting detail is how the team is morphing from a defensive shape with Dempsey high and Morris dropping in deeper immediately to an offensive attack with Dempsey settling in the hole and Jordan diving vertical at goal.
Aaron Kovar - 7 | Community - 5.9 (off 64')
I'm enjoying the continued improvement of Kovar this year, and he takes advantage of every chance he gets to show that he deserves some minutes. This was his best game of the year, and while he had a lot of nice "events" in my book, the most impressive part of his game for me was the vastly improved positioning and runs which made him both dangerous on offense and solid on defense. Kovar also has a great relationship with Morris from being college teammates and these two connect well.
Aaron pressed early and managed to latch onto a ball in the 9th minute that he correctly cut back with no support. As mentioned, he did a few give and go's with Dempsey and his teammate awareness appears to improve weekly. The highlight play of the game for Aaron was shrugging off the giant Bernardez in the 26th to keep an attack alive, casually combing the ball while looking up, and finding the correct pass to Morris to help the team score. This play just exudes an enormous amount of confidence and control that is terrific. Seeing him back heel a pass to Mears 5 minutes later confirmed this.
I have seen Aaron with great service, so it is odd that 2 of his 3 set piece services were subpar. In the 52nd minute when heading up a 4v2 attack, he should have chosen earlier to pass, and though he got the ball to Dempsey, Morris may have been a better choice. It was obvious that Aaron tired, but a minute later it was his pressure that created a turnover allowing the omnipresent Friberg to slot in Morris. This was a very nice outing from a guy who is obviously working hard to add value to the squad.
Jordan Morris - 8 | Community - 7.6
I don't know if I can just pencil in "8" for Morris, but man these last few weeks have shown just how confused he was early, and his massive success lately has come via tremendous strides in learning how to play with his teammates in this system. Gone is the hesitancy, gone are the slow reaction times, gone is the confusion. In their place is a big, strong, fast, smart locomotive that knows where to go at all times. All this success is a byproduct of being better than others at getting to where he needs to be. This is a combination of soccer intelligence and the physical gifts needed to excel.
In the 8th minute Jordan showed a nifty diagonal run to open up the field. In the 11th he displayed hold up skill, and worked a give and go with Kovar. These two were consistently on the same page and connected multiple times. In the 26th he offered a vertical option for Dempsey, and even though Clint passed to Herc, Jordan stayed active, eventually earning an assist for his effort. In the 52nd minute he brilliantly let a ball from Friberg run through on goal, and almost scored forcing a kick save with Bingham leaning the other way. Four minutes later he went correctly high near post and just missed.
In the 62nd minute Morris just mishit a header while under pressure from the keeper, and worked a ridiculous give and go with Valdez in the 88th. His finish in the 89th minute was more evidence of a great work rate from the Sounders striker and a new directness and confidence to put shots on frame from anywhere. I had a negative mark on a lost hold up play in the 46th minute, but he hustled back and won possession even then. I love his effort.
Morris is a REALLY smart soccer player. He is scoring, but that is because he knows how to put himself in position to score. He is attacking the goal with ferocity for 90+ minutes. He is assisting because he innately gravitates to the right spot to open up others and makes the right pass. It's really a joy to watch him improve and I look forward to seeing what else he can bring.
Herculez Gomez - 6 | Commuinty - 6.3 (off 85')
I was fairly down on Gomez on the first watch, but my review showed better play. One thing that stuck out was his tremendous 90% passing completion rate. Usually it isn't too important for attacking players to have a super high completion rate, but most of Herculez' passes were in the middle third and keeping possession in that area is really important for this team.
Gomez was repetitively active helping on defense and played more as a midfielder than a wide forward at times. Because the San Jose attack so intensely focused on Mears, Herculez was forced to support Jones who was sucked over into the middle. This led to Herc being in the center of the field a lot. The 25th minute was one of these times with Herc ending up right next to Alonso and getting in a nice tackle.
Offensively Herc was up and down, putting in a few dangerous free kicks and just missing a connection with Dempsey on goal after a great diagonal in the 26th. Other times he seemed on a different page than the rest of his offense and was unable to combine with Morris at all. After Friberg put him in perfectly in the 29th a bad touch took away any scoring chance. Many of his set pieces were rough and didn't make it past the first defender.
Herc was gassed from playing so much two-way defense and was rightly subbed in the 84th minute. I think he is a great guy, and a serviceable player, but isn't adding much to the attack. With at least two big name players on the bench ready to go, I would be surprised to see Gomez start next week. This is a good thing, as he has a lot to offer in skill and flexibility as a dangerous bench option.
Nelson Haedo Valdez - 6 | Community - 6.3 (on 64')
Another instant impact sub, Nelson came in and immediately changed the possession battle in favor of the Sounders. This was a smart move, bringing on the veteran player when the team was starting to struggle. His sweet turn to beat Shaun Francis in the 65th offered San Jose a very different look to deal with. He put in a 67th minute cross that went off Morris' shoulder after a fingertip goalie save.
Nelson chased everything and made it hard on the Earthquakes to create, and he won both of his aerials. I loved seeing the 88th minute give and go where he drew two players and somehow had the vision to find Morris on goal.
Cristian Roldan - 5 | Community 6.1 (on 72')
There wasn't a lot from Roldan, but I was disappointed that his introduction was the beginning of a rough 15 minutes of defense. I hoped he would solidify the middle, but after his first touch was a turnover he added two other turnovers and a foul in a bad spot. He did have a smart chest pass to Frei on defense in the box.
Andreas Ivanschitz - 6 | Community - 5.9 (on 85')
It was nice to see Andreas back on the field, although he didn't do a lot that made the book. Inserted late for a tiring Gomez, the biggest impact that AI had was positional defense, which helped solidify the left side. As soon as he subbed in almost all of the defensive actions were on the right, and I noted his defensive positioning was not only great, it forced Jones into better spots as well. He might have been better served to cross to Dempsey in the 93rd, although we have seen him make the shot he missed.
Alan Kelly - 7 | Community - 6.1
Kelly was pretty good this week. I liked that he didn't need to make the game about himself and he let a lot of play go that wasn't dangerous. It was obviously not the old San Jose, and both teams combined for only 18 fouls.
Kelly was smart in utilizing the advantage rule, twice bringing the ball back when there was no advantage to be had (13', 57'). I did have a few issues with the refereeing, first being the AR's calling offside late. This created situations where Chad the tank Barrett was running full speed into Frei because the AR was late. I agree that Ozzie should get a yellow for his cynical foul, but Kelly signaled for persistent fouls, going so far as to count them off. That's odd to me, since Alonso was credited with ONE foul all game (the one he got the yellow for).
I noticed Dempsey get crushed on the sideline in the 44th that had both me and Sigi Schmid upset. I don't know why he didn't call the obstruction on Matheus Silva in the 56th, but if you aren't calling that why are you letting Clint hike the ball 30 yards away after the call? Other than these rather minor issues that were more about consistency than player protection, I thought Kelly was very solid this week.
SAN JOSE MOTM
Readers (373 votes), didn't have an overwhelming favorite in San Jose's performance, but midfielder Simon Dawkins took over a third of the vote for MOTM.
This was an impressive game that shows that we can play very well against Western Conference teams and get results. We need to finish a few more shots in order to not let silly PKs rob us of points late, but I was encouraged by how strong we came out early in this game. Getting a result against a team that beat us twice at home last year is terrific. A nice big statement win in Dallas this weekend would be perfect, thanks.