A couple of things jumped out at me when re-watching the Sounders' 1-0 home win last weekend vs. Columbus Crew. First, we looked a lot better than I thought in the first half, and we looked absolutely great in the second. Watching live, it felt like we were completely throttled in the opening period, but on multiple re-views there were many good plays surrounding a few howlers that were luckily not capitalized on by the Crew. We were close to scoring and limited their chances well. Second, we are consistently much improved after halftime. Perhaps the team is not super comfortable with the initial tactical positioning, and with actual game play being something you just can't plan for at practice we look hesitant early. Whatever it is, the coaches are showing great skill in adapting at the intermission and this Sounders team looks very strong after half-time tweaks. The second half was one of our strongest periods all year.
Stefan Frei - 6 | Community - 7.15
Perhaps due to cross wind on the field (it was very windy in the stands), Frei rarely went long in the first half and when he did he didn't get a ton of distance on his clearances. Stefan frequently chose to go short and ended up with a lot of touches on back passes from Mears and Scott. Without Evans back there this was a bit scary, like in the 32nd minute when Stefan put a disastrous left-footed clearance back across goal and directly to Federico Higuaín. Fortunately, the Crew player inexplicably took too many touches, allowing Scott to close the angle and Frei to get back into position to make the save.
Other than that blunder, Frei was rock solid all game. In the 6th minute he was making quick decisions to release players via throws, and his distribution all afternoon was excellent. The best was a 50th minute quick long kick, catching Kovar in stride all the way into the Columbus goal box.
Stefan had a number of routine saves made simple by great positioning, often forcing the Crew players to attempt more difficult shots than they would have liked; ones they ultimately missed. In the 9th minute, he showed the ability to make the incredible save as well. It was again a Higuaín shot, this time deflecting awkwardly off Alonso's boot and curving completely opposite the way Stefan was diving. Somehow he had the agility to reach a foot back left while mid dive to his right and parry the shot. This was an incredible reaction save to prevent a sure goal. He was aided by some pretty poor finishing from usually adept scorers in Higuaín and Ethan Finlay with each squandering a tremendous chance, but I credit Stefan with great play to help earn the shutout.
Joevin Jones - 7 | Community - 6.36
After a few weeks of Jones struggling for the Sounders, he turned in a very good performance this week, and showed us glimpses of the dynamic wing player we know he can be. He immediately stuffed Finlay in the 1st minute, establishing his willingness to play both directions, but I didn't have a lot of defensive actions for him. Despite being the much more effective attacking fullback, the majority of the forward play went through Mears on the right with Columbus trying and mostly failing to push through the Jones/Marshall left side pairing.
For as fast as he is, Jones gets beat at times by speed, and in the 13th he conceded a free kick after Harrison Afful got past him. A backline communication error led to Joevin keeping Finlay onside in the 42nd providing a 1v1 with Frei for the Crew player. In the second half, Joevin was playing very high and was caught out multiple times being unable to cover the entire left side.
I really like Jones' decision-making when attacking, though. He goes straight at the goal and rarely fades to the sideline. This puts outside defenders on their heels and opens up lanes for crosses and shots. In the second half, Joevin was getting forward at will, supporting the attack and almost finding Dempsey in the 50th with a perfect cross. It was Jones' hustle and ability to stay involved in the play without the ball that led to the only goal of the match, when Jones released vertically and got on the end of a perfect Friberg pass. He smartly let the ball run instead of taking unnecessary touches and one-touched it to the open Anderson on the six for the eventual goal. I saw a lot of the good ol' Jones this game and hope it continues.
Chad Marshall - 7 | Community - 6.72
Chad Marshall was tremendous in this game, and he continues to prove how valuable and durable he is by playing nearly flawless defense with constantly changing parts around him. Chad won every important aerial against the dangerous Kei Kamara, in the 1st, 11th, 12th, 37th, and 89th. He just dominated in the air and also had a number of potentially game-saving defensive plays.
Chad isn't a great distributor. He had a few bad clearances and at times was forced to chunk the ball out of danger from the back. Chad isn't on the field for his passing, though, and he showed incredible skill and positioning when Scott made a horrible decision to chase up field in the second half. Faced with two offensive threats coming at him, Marshall ushered Finlay wide while preventing an easy pass to the open Kamara running down the middle. This was a very impressive play, and you could see how Chad's play confused Finlay into hesitating, allowing Mears to recover, as well as giving Frei an easier angle to save.
Lastly, I was hugely impressed to see Marshall SPRINTING 90 YARDS BACK ON DEFENSE after a corner in the 77th minute. Watching the big guy lumber full speed past friend and foe to get to defensive positioning late was simply awesome. Massive effort from Chad this week and probably the main reason for the shutout.
Zach Scott - 6 | Community - 6.93
First off, huge credit is due to Scott for his professionalism and ability to come in on short notice and fit almost seamlessly into the defense. There were very few communication errors - a testament to just how well Zach works with those around him. While he was good this week, Scott is still prone to a few rough mistakes that were luckily not capitalized upon.
At times Scott was clearly following runners too deep away from the goal. This can make sense in some defenses, but with the Sounders playing a double-destroyer defensive mid, there is less need for center backs to chase players, and this left huge gaps in the backline. It nearly bit the team when a combination of Marshall and luck prevented a SimpleTM finish from Kamara. On this play Scott didn't recognize that both Roldan and Alonso are there for cover, and created a giant hole by chasing to midfield. Another time a counter ball was put right into this hole but was thankfully called offside.
Scott is always invested in the play, and it was his quick reflexes in the 32nd that helped save Frei - after the horrible giveaway it was Zach who instinctively charged over to help force a weak effort from Higuaín. After being beat badly in the 42nd it was some Scott hustle that may have affected the 1v1 opportunity from Finlay. Scott was also beat by Kamara in the 64th and again in the 74th, but he doesn't give up and both times made a strong effort to recover. I really don't know what to say about his 34th minute header away from goal from about 2 yards away on offense, except Scott was solidly defending set pieces all day.
Tyrone Mears - 5 | Community - 5.51
I saw an interesting stat that said the leading pass completion pair was from Mears to Scott. This is not what you'd prefer, and shows both how rough Tyrone had it passing forward and how tentative his decision-making was for a majority of the game. In the first half, he would receive a switch with lots of space in front of him, but instead pass back to Frei or Scott. I thought his second half play was much improved, including forward passes. He also looked to feed Kovar in the channel between the left back and center back. Multiple times a hustling Mears was in good position to help out Scott defensively as well.
One big issue this year is Tyrone's apparent lack of confidence in challenging attackers. In the 5th he failed to close Waylon Francis on a switch that led to a scoring chance. In the 9th he again didn't close and Higuaín forced a Frei save. Mears had some other rough plays but by far the most frustrating issue remains his crossing. I noted four bad crosses that were not constructive as well as four others that were blocked! This is a really poor conversion rate from a guy who we know can make those passes. I would like to see Tyrone take on more players, and drive to the end line more. This will make his attack more dynamic as well as change up the angles on his crosses. Right now he is a completely one-dimensional player in the attack and it hasn't been successful.
Osvaldo Alonso - 8 | Community - 7.26
I wasn't sure which Alonso we'd get this year and it's wonderful to see how great he's been playing. The "old" Ozzie who can shut down offenses single-handedly is there, but this season he is incorporating some fun new wrinkles to his game. With Roldan playing a standard destroyer, Ozzie has the freedom to roam much higher than before, and he does it in typical Alonso style. His play against Columbus was actually similar to what Jermaine Jones did last game against the Sounders, and Ozzie was constantly waving his arms for his teammates to press high with him. Alonso on the high press has to be scary, because he takes such great angles and has such a quick first step that any misplay is almost immediately funneled right back into an attack. It's something to watch and see if Sigi tinkers with as we move forward.
Other than losing Higuaín for an open header in the first 5 minutes, Alonso was his usual tremendously active self, stepping up in the 14th to force a turnover in transition and then cutting back a pass from the end line off a corner kick and back heel from Dempsey. He had a 90+% completion rate and looked to advance the attack through Joevin and Clint. In the 80th minute he was still pressing high with Valdez, creating a turnover in the Columbus third. Another complete performance from Ozzie this week.
Cristian Roldan - 7 | Community - 6.87
Each week we are seeing improved positioning from Cristian, and this is changing how others are able to play. Guys like Alonso are free to push pressure high more often, and this is helping the Sounders transition better. I've also noticed more fluidity to his movements, like when Gomez dove in on defense in the 5th minute and Roldan was already covering. This anticipation and improved cover was even more evident with the introduction of Friberg, and that increased Roldan's effectiveness forward as well. When Friberg is available, he significantly increases the team's distribution through the midfield, allowing Roldan to excel.
What's really exciting with both Roldan and Alonso is they are both able to get involved in the attack when it's warranted even when coming from a defense-first mentality. Cristian is obviously picking his spots very judiciously, and in the 6th minute when he was allowed to carry a ball into the attacking third there was no hesitation. A great shot hit side netting and showed some attacking flair.
Roldan's decision-making is really improved, and he is mimicking Alonso nicely. In the 9th, he stepped up strong and smartly to delay a counter attack, effectively nipping it before it could start. This is a very "Alonso" type play and so was the 37th minute tenacious tackle, win ball, fight off multiple fouls and start a counter attack combination. I like seeing Roldan able to press high when we have a sustained attack, and he is very good at winning the second ball that pops out after corners or pressure. This ability to hold the ball in the attacking third is tremendous.
There are still many holes in Cristian's game, most notably the runs such as Finlay used in the 41st minute, running directly behind Roldan and catching him ball watching. At some point I would like to see him pass forward, as right now the only completed passes from Cristian are wide to Mears or back. This is alleviated by Friberg's presence, but this and a penchant for over-dribbling are things that Roldan can still improve upon.
Clint Dempsey - 6 (off 78') | Community - 5.45
Another fairly quiet performance from Dempsey this week, who on second watch was a lot better than I thought. After getting a loose ball in the midfield in the 3rd minute, Clint picked the right pass to a wide player, however after making a strong run up the gut failed to get a return pass that would have been a great opportunity. On another charge forward in the 8th minute, Clint drove directly at the center backs. This is something he does often and it really puts pressure on the defense. His pass to a charging Morris was perfect and if not for a blatant uncalled foul was likely a high percentage scoring opportunity.
After his back heel opened up Alonso in the box, Clint had a great 18th minute holdup and ball over the top to Jordan. I thought his 34th minute redirected header off a Gomez free kick outstanding, although the chance ultimately was wasted by Scott. Another header in the 50th minute was affected by Waylon Francis tugging on his arm -- another uncalled foul -- and he was unable to keep it on frame.
There weren't more turnovers than usual for Clint this game (85% passing) but he did have a penchant for having his mistakes get immediately shoved back down the Sounders' throats. This happens for two reasons: first, when Clint gets the ball a number of players tend to watch and not move to space. One of the reasons Oba worked so well with him was he was always moving, and moving in a predictable fashion. Clint works well with passing and moving with AI and Valdez, but from the younger group on Saturday there was too much watching. Second, Clint tends to dribble into trouble. He has a bad habit of attacking into opponents and while it's nice to pick up 2-3 defenders to open up teammates, if you then lose possession you aren't doing the team any good. To add to this, Dempsey is flat-out going down too easily when he loses possession, hoping to earn a foul. He isn't getting those calls, and when he loses the ball, quick transitions hurt the team. Clint is already starting to learn Jordan's movements and hopefully can integrate better with others as well.
Aaron Kovar - 6 (off 65') | Community - 5.55
I liked what I saw with Kovar this week and I think he justified his start with some fine effort. He seems very close to getting in the stat book with a goal or assist, but on Saturday he filled my notes on both sides of the page.
All of Kovar's negative marks came in the first 30 minutes but most were fairly minor. He missed a header in the 12th on defense and this led to a Harrison Afful shot. His set-piece delivery was up and down, and I would have liked to see him give Jones a better pass option at times as a release valve. Aaron is susceptible to taking bad angles on defense, and Kamara in the 24th worked past him fairly easily.
Kovar was a willing defender in the first half and there were a number of positive marks on his ability to transition from defense to offense. His skill set is good for passing the ball through the midfield and making intelligent runs to support others. In the second half he turned into an offensive catalyst as well, starting with taking a ball to the Crew six-yard box in the 46th and cutting back a pass. He followed this up with a great release and deep pressure off a Frei punt in the 50th that he sandwiched with two nice free kick services. Right before subbing off, Kovar released a hardworking Morris in on goal.
Kovar showed that Sigi made a good choice in having him start this week, as his skills and intelligence allowed him to accentuate the others around him. As the game wore on he looked to be more and more dangerous and I was a bit surprised to see that he was the one subbed out.
Jordan Morris - 8 MOTM | Community - 7.41
Soon I will stop being surprised at how good this guy is. He is just an absolute horse, constantly running onto balls and being a complete menace to opposing fullbacks. He attacks the goal relentlessly, and does it in myriad different ways. The goals are obviously great, but his most impressive play is done without the ball.
In this game he was flicking the ball to runners, holding up play and distributing, turning and working give-and-go's and running diagonally across the defense, dragging center backs with him. I truly believe he would have scored after a perfect Dempsey setup in the 8th minute if he was not cynically taken out by Parkhurst. His high-pressure single-handedly forced a turnover in the 10th and I liked seeing him challenge the keeper for a 50/50 aerial early in the second half. Jordan's pace and acceleration along with a nice Kovar pass allowed him a near post look that went just wide in the 55th.
Again he charged to the 6 and almost got his head on the ball in the 68th, followed by a calm control and shot from the top of the box in the 73rd. Every time this guy gets the ball now, the early season hesitancy is gone, replaced by a hunger to attack the goal and every player in between. It's great to see him drive into the box and use his speed and size to create opportunities. He did this all game, yet it was in the 88th minute when he was loitering with intent that Morris found a fumbled save and slammed it in for the winning tally.
Everything you need to know about Morris was shown as he fought to clear a ball on defense from his own 18 in the 90th minute, a minute after he had scored a huge goal. He didn't stop to smell the roses, he put his game face back on and made sure that the team closed it out. Fantastic performance that barely beat out Alonso for MOTM.
Herculez Gomez - 6 (off 87') | Community - 5.74
Gomez was a guy who filled the book this week, but had both good and bad marks in abundance. Throughout the night I marked him down for four awful set-piece deliveries, but his 33rd minute free kick deserved an assist; it was perfect and one of three very nice services.
Gomez was especially poor in the first half, and once again looked to be on a different page than Mears most of the time. He also struggled to link up well with the rest of the attack. I admire his effort on the defensive side of the field and gone were the rough tackles and bad decisions from Colorado.
I wasn't enamored with Herculez's penchant for just "firing away" and while I think forwards need to shoot and have the confidence to do so, none of his shots were very dangerous, and most came at the expense of a better option. One such choice was in the 3rd minute, where Gomez missed a hustling Dempsey open up the gut. If you are going to take these shots and ignore possibly better options, you need to do better with them.
I thought Gomez was going to be subbed much earlier (perhaps for Friberg even) but he managed to stay on the field and offered a great dribble through two defenders in the 75th. His late service quality kept a ready Anderson on the sideline.
Erik Friberg - 7 (on 65') | Community - 6.81
Once again the inclusion of Friberg jump-started the Sounders' attack. He immediately connected the defense and the front line and successfully looked forward not only with his passing but by making vertical runs. Vintage Friberg in the 73rd was inside the opposing six-yard box, attacking goal and mere seconds later tracking back on defense inside the Sounders' 18. In the 75th he cut the ball back from a diagonal across the six and again seconds later he found himself inside the box with possession. It is very dangerous when your attacking midfielder gets four possessions inside the opponent's box within 10 minutes of subbing on.
In the 85th Erik passed the ball through to Jones on a nifty give-and-go that was foreshadowing to his 88th minute spectacular look to put Jones again clean through on goal for the game winning play. This pass was just special and shows how his movement and vision have immediate impact on the Sounders attack. His play is such a catalyst right now to midfield success.
Nelson Valdez - 6 (on 78') | Community - 6.30
Nelson came on and does what he does best: hustle, win possession and keep the ball. His high press in the 80th minute won the ball and his 83rd minute chest trap was glorious, holding the ball up and transitioning into the attack. In the 90th minute he played great defense and was very controlled in transitioning to offense.
Oalex Anderson - 5 (on 87') | Community - 5.86
His first touch was a miskick. That's OK, though, because it not only set up the goal, but he made a very nice run and read to float back to the 6 and receive the Jones pass. Anderson's attacking instincts are on point and this sense to drop into the hole is impressive. I thought his run in the 90th when trying to run the game out was too vertical and aggressive. He would have been on earlier but Gomez kept taking free kicks and there were no other stoppages.
Juan Guzman - 6 | Community - 5.38
I don't think this was a great refereeing job, but I think it was about average for MLS. I thought Guzman got the three yellow cards correct but should have given a yellow to Higuaín for intentional hand ball in the 68th and otherwise called a relatively clean game.
There were a number of issues that I had with non-calls and misapplication of the advantage rule. The first was the Michael Parkhurst trip on Morris. This was something Guzman had clear view of and should have been both a foul and card; Morris was on goal, there was no advantage. The second was Tony Tchani pulling down Gomez in the 49th minute and again no advantage, so why not call this blatant foul? I thought Francis was indeed pulling Dempsey's arm in the 50th when he tried to get on the end of a Jones cross, but I can see this not being called as it was slight and Dempsey didn't sell it (sigh). The worst non-call was Wil Trapp's spinning arm block, which in my mind was a clear penalty kick for deliberately handling the ball. His arm was in an unnatural position and he gained advantage by blocking the ball behind him.
Readers' pick of opponent player of the match: Federico Higuain was named on 125 ballots, easily beating out Ethan Finlay.
One additional thing that I loved seeing on the re-watch was right after the goal Sigi didn't celebrate or run around foolishly, he immediately went to Mears and Scott and talked to them about how to defend the rest of the game. This is smart to take advantage of the moment and I really liked seeing Valdez doing the same thing with the younger guys. He had both Anderson and Morris pulled aside and was showing some great leadership to work with these young players on how to close out games. This sort of thing from veteran and Coach alike can only help this team in the future. I will be out of town for the San Jose game and they always seem to play us well in Seattle which is worrisome. If we can get off to a better start instead of depending on halftime adjustments as well as continue to improve through a potential middle three of Roldan, Alonso, Friberg, we should be able to earn points at home.