According to some, I'm overly optimistic and unrealistic about our team this season. On Wednesday, we all saw reason for optimism. When hosting the supporters shield-leading FC Dallas, the mighty Seattle Sounders not only won the game, but thoroughly dominated every aspect to the tune of a 5-0 victory. For the first time this season we saw the nexus of strong attacking play, suffocating defense, finishing, and luck. All of these things combined to - we hope - give this beleaguered team some much needed confidence heading into the second half of the season.
Stefan Frei - 6 | Community - 6.4
Frei had perhaps the quietest game of his season - Dallas only recorded 2 shots. The first didn't even come until the 83rd minute, and it was a field goal from Atiba Harris who was clearly trying to change the 0 shots stat. The second shot was in the 88th and was blocked, meaning Stefan earned a clean sheet without having to make a save.
For the other 98% of the game, Frei was a general from the back, organizing the defense and playing a ball here and there with his feet with short, controlled passing. In the 46th minute, he stepped out in traffic to leap and catch a cross for his only noted defensive action, and one of his kicks went unnecessarily out of bounds in the 49th.
Quiet night for Frei, who did everything you could ask for in a lopsided game.
Joevin Jones- 8 (MOTM) | Community - 7.3
Whoa! This was a breakout performance from Jones. It wasn't the fact that we were up a player either; he was a very different player than we have seen most of the season. Joevin was a force defensively, and absolutely dynamic going forward from his left back position. Jones led the team in touches and turned in a 91% completion percentage.
He started things off in the 4th minute, working a very tight give and go with Ivanschitz before receiving the ball and beating Juan Esteban Ortiz on the dribble. Picking his head up, Jones laid a perfect ball in to Morris' path. This play ultimately led to both a goal and a man advantage. Throughout the rest of the first half Joevin took advantage of the space to continually push up high, often interchanging seamlessly with Andreas.
I was really impressed by his dedication to defense as well in this game. In the 18th minute when it looked like Victor Ulloa was in on goal Jones jumped his move, cut off his dribble, and completely stoned the attack. In the 45th minute he used tremendous hustle to provide some recovery defense on one of the few Dallas attacks.
The second half was more of the same, including a great curving ball behind the defense reminiscent of the West Ham United assist to Morris; this time the Sounders striker was unable to convert in the 48th. The highlight of Jones' game was when, upon joining the attack high in minute 61, he combined with fellow outside back Fisher to find himself on the ball just outside the 18. Jones tried a powerful shot that took a fortuitous deflection and found the back of the net. This was an indicator of just how confidently Joevin was playing, and he should try that shot more often. Good things happen when you put hard shots on goal.
There were a few rough passes and positional things but also some great effort in the 83rd to completely own the dangerous Michael Barrios with a strong defensive play. Awesome game from Joevin.
Chad Marshall - 7 | Community - 6.8
Chad Marshall is so consistent; he makes shutouts seem easy. It's quite amazing to watch how well he reads the game, and he offsets his lack of blazing speed with anticipation that is phenomenal. This game was one where Marshall just put Tesho Akindele in his pocket and removed him from the match.
We know how great Marshall is in the air, and his control was very evident. Multiple times he went up in traffic and casually nodded the ball perfectly to a teammate, often in stride. It's an amazingly skilled thing to do and he does it better than almost anyone. A great example was in the 20th: with Akindele trying to tackle him, Chad fights through the player cutting his knees out and drops a header perfectly to Fisher.
There wasn't a lot to do on the night, but because most of the game was played with fewer players than normal, the field was spread out in a way that could have exposed pace in the back. Even after adding Barrios and the even faster Fabian Castillo, Dallas had zero luck attacking the compact and unified backline of the Sounders. Akindele managed one shot in the 88th, which Marshall blocked away.
Brad Evans - 7 | Community - 6.7
While Marshall was bottling up Akindele, Evans was almost perfect as the center back relief valve, consistently getting the ball, controlling from the back, and steering the attack. I cannot emphasize enough how important his calm and smart positioning is to the defensive integrity of this team. Evans simply does not put himself into bad positions, and he always has his head up looking forward. This helps free up the midfield and makes the passes from the back much more unpredictable.
Against Dallas Evans played an aggressive line. He followed up a nice over the top ball to Morris in the 8th with a press in the 17th that locked the ball in the attacking third. He did this again in the 43rd, pressing Akindele all the way back to his own 18 before winning a throw in. With the pace on the width and the team holding such strong tactical positioning, the Sounders were repeatedly able to press the ball before it could get over midfield, often winning possession and countering right back into the attack.
In the 65th minute Brad got moved forward, taking the midfield spot formerly occupied by Alonso. He did quite well there, reminding everyone that he possesses strong spatial awareness and touch. Evans looked comfortable immediately, turning in traffic and starting a break directly after pushing forward.
Brad did slide tackle and miss in the 12th for a scary moment that Fisher cleaned up, and he lost the ball a few times after playing midfield but this was a great outing for a guy coming off a knock. I think Evans is way too valuable in the back to entertain moving him forward, but it's great to have the flexibility to give Alonso a rest without skipping a beat.
Oniel Fisher - 8 | Community - 6.5
Our outside backs combined for 177 touches and a 91% pass completion. That is impressive and the two young players were simply fantastic. Fisher, who hadn't seen time since a game 1 red card, turned in a dynamic performance, showing well in all aspects of the game. I was repeatedly impressed by his array of talents on display.
The first thing to like about Fisher's game is that he plays strong. He is not afraid to use his body and frequently dominates opponents with his physicality. Oniel combines this with above average pace and plenty of endurance. He rounds off his skillset with dynamic, attacking decision-making, and it was really exciting to see the combination.
In the 7th minute Fisher got ahead on an overlap and it was clear he was focused on goal. I loved watching his attacking desire tilt the field back to the right. In the 17th Fisher debuted a perfect low cross to Morris. In the 40th he showed more variety, this time an early cross to the far post from a great angle, attempting to pick out Ivanschitz. His best attacking play wasn't a cross, though; it came in the 61st minute. After working an extended give and go with Kovar and seeing a lack of options up the wing, Fisher cut into the middle and picked out Jones who scored. This really illustrates how effective it is to look around and change your passes and targets.
Fisher was a rock on defense, lined up at one time against both Castillo and Barrios on his side and holding his own. The angles that Oniel gives for his teammates to pass to him are fantastic. My notes had many appreciative comments for his efforts to move to places that made the game easier for those around him. I was very impressed by this outing.
Osvaldo Alonso - 8 | Community - 7.5 (MOTM) (off 62')
Alonso was a big reason the Sounders had attained a 4-nil score by the time he subbed out. He was also a big reason that the team earned a shutout: 80 touches and 96% passing combined with two assists and all-around solid defending.
It was evident after the red on Maynor Figueroa that the Sounders would have more of the ball, but Alonso looked intent on having 100% possession. In the 9th minute he was forward pressing, and earning the ball back. In the 18th minute he wasn't prepared to sit back, instead lofting a pretty left footed ball over the top and directly into the run of AI for a goal. Even then Alonso wasn't satisfied, and after a tremendous double team in the middle with Friberg found him on the ball a mere three minutes later, he knew what to do with it. From Alonso to Dempsey to Morris to 3-nil up.
After Dempsey was ushered off Alonso took his foot off the gas some, and the remaining notes that I have for him are all dominating defensive plays in the middle, such as dispossessing Ryan Hollingshead thoroughly in the 28th or stealing a ball in the 39th and making a gut-busting 75-yard dribble up field.
Much of the fight was taken out of the Dallas team early by the goals Alonso facilitated. Any attempt to rekindle some desire to attack was hit with a brick wall. Ozzie was very strong in the middle and controlled everything in a truly fantastic effort.
Erik Friberg - 6 | Community - 6.4 (off Halftime)
Playing in a double pivot alongside Alonso was Friberg, and they complemented each other wonderfully against Dallas, completely shutting down everything through the middle. These two worked flawlessly off each other, continually moving to cover each other and perfectly in unison to direct the game flow.
In the 4th minute it was Friberg's turn to be destroyer, and he crushed an attack. Ten minutes later Erik popped up in the box on offense and wrapped a dangerous cross to the far post. Throughout the rest of the first half Friberg worked seamlessly with Alonso to lock down the middle and limit any Dallas attempts at counter attacks or building any possession through the middle. He was very active pushing high and keeping the opponents locked deep in their own half for the entire first period.
In minute 22 it was a combination of both central midfielders who combined to pressure Ortiz into a costly turnover, one which was immediately shoveled forward to hungry forwards who converted. I didn't have Friberg down for any major miscues, and his two-way defensive effort was stellar as usual. He was a halftime sub and should be well rested for the weekend.
Cristian Roldan - 8 | Community - 7.2
This is two weeks in a row where I thought this was Roldan's best game so far. Add in his strong performance in the Open Cup and against West Ham United, and Cristian has really had himself a month of showing huge improvements in many facets of his game.
More than anything, Roldan looks like he belongs now. Gone is the fear and hesitation, replaced with confidence and assertiveness. He is holding the ball in traffic and making strong choices. He is showing an aptitude for finding space in the attack and getting into dangerous areas.
In the 12th minute Roldan made a direct vertical attacking run; Dempsey saw it and tried to get him the ball. In the 14th Cristian popped up inside the 6 attacking the goal. In the 26th Roldan was again forward, controlled a mis-clear in the box, and took a shot off the short hop that looked to be going in before caroming into an offside Dempsey. Four minutes later it was Roldan again pushing the ball, this time sending in a smart cross behind the defense and barely missing a chugging Dempsey in deep.
Another facet of his development is Roldan is learning how to move effectively off the ball. This was in evidence throughout the evening as he linked up seamlessly, never giving the ball away and consistently moving to open space. It was one of these strong runs that Barrios took exception to in the 72nd and fouled Roldan off the ball setting up an exquisite free kick from AI. After missing a good look with a header early in the half, Cristian this time buried this service with a header inside the near post for the final goal of the night. It was great to see Roldan rewarded for his consistently dangerous play, and he is just one more weapon that this team can now look to.
Andreas Ivanschitz - 8 | Community - 7.3
Once again we saw just how effective Andreas can be with the right formation and teammates around him. This was a completely different player than the one who has been suiting up for Seattle in the last month or so, and the team's success seemed to fuel his own increased effort going forward.
In the 4th minute a tidy combination on the sideline saw Ivanschitz release Jones up the sideline, but instead of admiring his handiwork Andreas followed the play, offering a square option. Then when Morris' deflection was saved by Chris Seitz it was AI who capitalized on the loose ball, finding it and slamming it towards goal. His onetime shot had beat Figueroa who put his hand out and saved a goal, at the cost of a Red+PK. It showed a combination of great confidence and skill to hit this ball one time and put it perfectly on goal, forcing the defensive error. This play completely deflated the Dallas team, and allowed SSFC a huge early advantage.
In the 18th minute the still active Ivanschitz cut into the middle from a wide left position and beat Harris badly, stepping across the defender to get ball side and then calmly and coolly chipping the keeper for a masterful finish. I loved seeing the effort from Andreas, and while his desire won him the ball, his touch made it a goal. For the rest of the half and most of the second Ivanschitz was an offensive catalyst, making runs forward and using his vision to pick out runners. Throughout the game he took all set pieces and it was a huge improvement over the service in the LA game. After being close a number of times, he finally found the willing head of Roldan in the 73rd to earn a very deserved assist.
This game showed that when he doesn't need to carry a team offensively, Ivanschitz excels as the player who consistently puts himself and others in great positions to score. The AI/Jones side was very tidy with the ball as well, and they seemed to open space for each other all evening. At this point in his career, AI may be a luxury item, but when he is used as such he can really produce.
Jordan Morris - 8 | Community - 7.5 (off 69')
Morris is awesome. At times I forget how crazy good he is because he doesn't show a ton of emotion or do a bunch of flashy moves. What he does do is create and finish dangerous opportunities nonstop while he is on the field. His improvement throughout this season has been phenomenal, and each game we see him stretching out his new weapons, be it speed, size, control, etc.
In the 4th minute Jordan made a diagonal run to the near post and redirected a Jones cross towards goal, ultimately culminating in a PK and red card. That run and deft touch were just perfectly timed, arriving before the defender but not offside. He has clearly adjusted to the pace of MLS play, and he shows an ever-increasing connection with Dempsey, moving off the ball and into spaces.
In the 22nd Jordan showed the entire package - off ball movement to create space, speed to gain separation, an utterly perfect first touch on the Dempsey pass that put his shoulders squared to goal, and the soccer savvy to lift his head, read the keeper, and finish clinically in side net across goal. This was a phenomenal soccer play and Jmo made it look simple.
Jordan is also always working, following shots and constantly lurking on the six. He almost got a rebound goal early in the second half only to be denied by the keeper's foot. In the 61st Morris was again a big part of a scoring play, this time showcasing a strong hold-up play and good decision-making to start the break. Another thing I love is that after holding the ball up and dropping it off and even after Fisher and Kovar had flown past him, Morris still followed up the play all the way to the six, there in case Jones' shot had a rebound. This kid is amazing.
Clint Dempsey - 7 | Community - 5.9 (Red Card 33')
I am sure this will be hotly debated, but Dempsey was really good until the card. I docked him a full grade for allowing himself to be baited into such a silly mistake. Red card aside, the entire offense looked fantastic running through Clint. His movement opened up tons of space for Andreas, Jordan, and others.
The 6th minute penalty was taken perfectly and was a needed boost for a struggling team. It was awesome to see Clint pull Fisher aside a minute later after an overlapping run and talk to him briefly about a teachable moment. A few minutes later Clint burst into the box and was sandwiched by two defenders. Multiple times Dempsey was just a few feet away from latching onto a ball in the box and his work in the middle was very impactful.
Dempsey doesn't play a ton of defense but he does really smart things that can help those behind him. In the 22nd he slid back and cut off half the field, forcing Ortiz into a bad touch and directly into the path of both central midfielders. With Friberg and Alonso removing the ball from the Dallas player, Clint made himself available and turned onto goal after getting a pass. He drove at the defense, occupying multiple defenders before sliding a perfectly weighted pass into the box for Morris. Jordan did the rest.
Clint had a few rough plays, and none worse than the red which completed his Gordie Howe Hattrick. I think he shouldn't have put his hands out, and it's unfortunate they hit the face because more than anything I wanted him to help demolish Portland this weekend. He simply can't do things that are going to get him in trouble, and when up 3-0 there is no reason to be taking ANY chances. It wasn't a smart play for a player we expect more from, no matter how much he gets incited.
Aaron Kovar - 6 | Community - 5.9 (on Halftime)
Aaron came in at half and did exactly what I assume he was told to do: defend, hold possession, and support his side. Kovar did a skillful job and filled in nicely as an option off the bench.
I was impressed with how well Kovar and Fisher worked together, both shutting down Castillo and frequently getting into the attack. I noted Kovar for recoveries in the 48th and 51st minutes, both times tracking back to support. Shortly thereafter he started stretching the field both wide and long, and it was his incredible turn to beat Hollingshead and deft touch to find a steaking Fisher that directly led to the fourth goal.
Kovar still needs to work on his crossing live balls, he tends to under-hit any rolling target. And there were a couple times things got a bit frantic, but I was really impressed at how well the right side seamlessly both attacked and defended with Kovar and Fisher.
Tony Alfaro - 6 | Community - 6.1 (on 62')
Another game, another strong performance from the rookie center back. Subbing in for Alonso, Tony pushed Evans up and Marshall across and settled in at left center fullback. From this position he immediately showed off a long ball to Morris, penetrating the defense with a strong pass.
He wasn't asked to do a lot of distributing, but he did need to defend and he did this very well. In the 65th and 76th he completely stoned the dangerous Barrios. In the 79th Alfaro relied on great positioning to erase a scoring attempt.
Tony forced a couple passes and had an uncharacteristically rough night switching the ball with accuracy, but his defense and short control reinforced my opinion that he is the third choice center back at this time.
Oalex Anderson - 5 | Community - 5.6 (on 69')
Oalex has been increasingly in control of himself on the field, which is an improvement. He struggled to get into this game, however, only having a very rough 76th minute pass back towards his own goal and a few dribbles that amounted to nothing. I can see how much potential this guy has to change games, but right now he is still a million miles in a straight line with very little discipline or direction.
Ricardo Salazar - 4 | Community - 4.8
Salazar. For years the name alone meant trouble for the Sounders. Always willing to insert himself into the spotlight, fans have long dreaded his referee's antics.
I will give him credit; many refs wouldn't have called a pk/red in the first 5 minutes. This was 100% the right call in my mind, as I saw Figueroa move his hand into an unnatural position to strike the shot and stop a goal. As soon as this happened though I told my buddy Dom (happy birthday Dom!) that this was a referee who would definitely employ the "make up call" and the game would likely get chippy due to his inconsistency.
Boy was I right. In minute 13 Ortiz fouled Dempsey which Salazar called. Less than a minute later he committed a second foul. In the 17th minute Ortiz again knocked Clint, this time stepping into the Sounder striker and lifting his waist to hip check Dempsey. This was an easy yellow card that instead wasn't called. Another yellow card that went uncalled was Victor Ulloa cleaning out Ivanschitz behind the play in the 25th. In the 30th Ortiz AGAIN attempts to knock Dempsey but Clint was able to jump over this deliberate foul attempt.
At this point Salazar has swallowed his whistle and people are getting knocked around. It wasn't surprising to see things boil over in the 33rd. Again Dempsey got rid of the ball and Ortiz took a full step into the Sounder, kneeing him around the groin and throwing an elbow at his throat. Clint, somewhat reflexively I am guessing, flailed his arms out and hits the Dallas player in the face; Ortiz went down like he had been shot, holding his face. Now, I understand that the rules say hands to face is red, but I have to agree with Keller that double yellows calm play and get both players to likely chill out. While I have my suspicions, it's hard to tell if there is really any intent to harm there. There are a lot of hands to face that go unpunished, but the perfect storm of Dempsey being kind of a jerk, the imminent "make up call" and Salazar loving to involve himself in games made it easy to see this coming.
What bugs me is if he had just carded Ortiz for one of the two other yellow cardable offenses prior, none of this likely happens, but this is what Salazar does. He allows a ton of dirty play and then BAM red. In fact, that was all the cards for the game, even though Hollingshead not only dangerously held onto Kovar's back as he was falling in the 51st, he quite deliberately kicked/stepped on Aaron as he was getting back up. This was seriously dirty. When Aubrey David threw Fisher down on the sideline in the 58th Salazar rewarded him with a smile and laugh. A 67th minute Fisher header ended up with him getting completely undercut by Castillo - no call even though the Dallas player made no effort to go for the ball. Salazar did catch a Barrios cheap shot on Roldan in the 72nd, which was of minimal worth in an otherwise awful refereeing performance.
FC DALLAS MOTM:
Of the 125 respondents to this question, Walker Zimmerman was chosen by over 22 percent, but it was "Other" that garnered the most votes. Twelve write-ins for Juan Ortiz would have put him in fourth, and many others went with 'None', 'Oscar Pareja', and 'I have no idea'. Fair responses after a match where it was hard to point to anything good happening at all for FCD.
This was a game we needed and deserved. I could have given MOTM to Roldan, or Ivanschitz, or a number of deserving players on a team that played fantastically together. Time to build off this momentum and go into Portland this weekend and start climbing out of the basement. Something to also note: against Dallas we played Jones, Fisher, Roldan, Morris, Alfaro, Kovar, and Anderson - all under age 25.