The Seattle Sounders went to Houston on a four-game unbeaten streak and came home on a five-game unbeaten streak, thanks to some late game magic. It was a hot, sluggish game that wasn’t full of sparkling play or inspired technical movement, instead devolving into a slow, painful slog at times. The Sounders haven’t played well in hot/humid weather and there were some very obvious tired legs, but the main takeaway for me was this team didn’t give up and kept pushing until the very end. This is a great sign for the Sounders, boding well for the upcoming playoff push.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community - 6.8
Frei wasn’t tested a lot against Houston. Although the home team took over 20 shots, not many were very dangerous or on frame, and Frei wasn’t put in many situations requiring the extraordinary.
Stefan seemed to prefer to go long and to look for Valdez as an outlet. He did get a few touches with his feet early, and he kept his shape in the back well, often moving to provide an option. Stefan’s main action in the first half occurred in the 8th minute when he came way out to support a high line and headed smartly to touch before Erick “Cubo” Torres was able to reach a ball over the top.
After dealing with a very iffy back pass from Scott in the 64th Stefan was solid amidst a team that was rapidly tiring around him. He was aggressive all night in managing his area, and I was impressed with his assertiveness compared to last week. This paid off in the 72nd when he came out in traffic to catch a ball. I am not sure the angle he took on their goal was perfect, but I’d guess it’s a shot that beats most MLS keepers.
Dylan Remick – 6 | Community - 5.1 (off 78’)
Remick stepped into the left back role for the 6th time this year and did a very adequate job. While not to be confused with a dynamic attacking force up the wing, Dylan gave us what he usually provides – not too much offense but strong, reliable defense.
I was happy to see Dylan win a few headers in this game, starting in minute 1 which was an immediate difference from the left back position. He got up the wing and controlled a ball nicely in the 4th, but his cross was crummy. After that he was often a wide option that supported shape on the left but didn’t factor into the offense.
He did on defense, though, going 1v1 on multiple occasions and staying connected to Scott. There were a couple of poor clearances and mistouches, but otherwise he did well in his 78-minute shift. It was nice to see a backup come in and do a decent job when needed.
Zach Scott – 6 | Community - 5.4
The immortal Scott was called into service in Houston and was adequate. He was exactly what we’ve come to expect over the last 27 years as a Sounder. Like Remick, he did what he could do well and minimized his mistakes. It helped that Alonso constantly dropped back in between the center backs to support the defense.
In the 4th minute Scott had a nice long ball to Remick up the wing, but was not involved in many other passing sequences. When needed, Zach was up to the task of bodying-up Houston players. He beat Collen Warner in the 39th, and stuffed Will Bruin in the 74th in the box. Late in the game he did very well to delay a 2v1 and was aided when the Houston attackers made some bad decisions.
Scott is still prone to making big positional mistakes, but they were somewhat neutralized by the dual holding mids in front of him. His defensive headers were simply awful, constantly going to the middle/dangerous places. In the 9th minute one went to Ricardo Clark that turned into a shot, and in the 20th Scott headed straight up in the middle of the box. He followed up a 69th minute poorly-headed ball to the middle with another straight up in the 72nd.
Zach was ok in this game, and other than a 75th minute rush forward and dive-in miss he was steady in the back.
Brad Evans – 7 | Community - 6.1
Brad was the best defender for the Sounders and did a great job of holding together a change of backline in tough conditions. There were some rough times and iffy plays in the defense, but Evans did a great job for a majority of the contest.
In the first half Evans tracked Torres and completely removed him from the game, starting in the 12th minute by winning a header in the box. Evans took a minute from thwarting Cubo to make a slick sliding save on Cristian Maidana in the 42nd, stopping the Houston player after he beat Mears down the line.
In the second half Torres came off for Bruin, but Evans was up to the task of defending him too. In the 65th Brad had a tremendous sliding clear that prevented a tap in on the back post. In the 73rd Evans stopped Houston from breaking out with a very nicely executed stan1d up defense.
Brad was beat on a give and go early, and only a poor return pass saved him. He missed a header in the 66th on a corner that he simply has to win. He slid/dove in on the ball in the 89th minute which allowed a break for Bruin who missed his shot.
Evans showed great leadership throughout this game, and he kept his team invested even after they gave up a late goal. No one was more excited after the equalizer. It was Brad’s intelligent distribution from the back in the 94th that, instead of being hopelessly chunked forward, was perfectly weighted to give Morris a chance.
Tyrone Mears – 4 | Community - 5.9
After a few inspired performances Mears thudded back to earth, wilting in the Houston heat and having a rough match.
There were some good things early, with Mears getting involved in the attack by finding Roldan opening up the right wing in the 3rd. Tyrone found Valdez in the 7th over the top and in the 12th he again found Roldan up the wing. After that, until an 83rd minute diagonal pass back from the end line, Mears had zero positive marks, with over half of his completed passes being backwards to Evans.
After a shaky 2nd minute pass to Evans and a 6th minute turnover on a pass forward Mears tried his luck chunking crosses. None of these worked, especially as he tired. This is a huge issue with Tyrone, and even in the first half he showed signs of slowing. A 42nd minute ball looked to be going out and he quit, allowing a Houston player to break down the line, luckily to be stoned by Evans’ support.
In about the 70th minute things fell apart for Mears, and he hit a wall in both performance and effort. He no longer looked forward with the ball at all when in possession, and his passes became forced and weak. His 74th minute whiff on defense started a Houston break the other way. In the 75th he dropped too far off Boniek Garcia, allowing a shot. In the 79th he flat out quit when beat, walking behind the play and not supporting the defenders behind him working hard. Mears simply had nothing left and compounded his lack of energy by not even jogging into position to help out others; it was a very disappointing outing.
Erik Friberg – 6 | Community - 6.0 (off 58’)
Erik looked sharp in his return to a starting role, sliding into the middle and showing zero signs of rust. Unlike the dual pivot that Roldan and Alonso run, this game saw Ozzie dropping very deep and Erik pushing in front of him in a more vertical formation. I liked what Friberg did, consistently alleviating pressure and finding the open man. He never seemed to get flustered with the pressure or the heat and calmly found the right pass.
In the 4th minute Erik found a lovely over the top one touch pass to Roldan and in the 11th his flick opened Mears into a ton of space on the right, but otherwise he struggled to impact the attack. Where Friberg excelled was clogging passing lanes and working hard to support the midfielders. His defensive positioning was much more impressive than his offensive spacing.
Part of the problem for Friberg on offense was that he and Flaco kept ending up in the same spaces. Fernandez would consistently pinch inside and was often caught encroaching on Erik. While this bodes well for Alvaro’s ability to play centrally, it really detracted from Friberg’s strengths. I am not sure why Erik was subbed, although he took a knock earlier and the team is pretty tactically flexible right now. Overall his play was very good, and looks to have put his name on the list of those fighting for playing time.
Osvaldo Alonso – 7 | Community - 6.9
Alonso had a quiet game in my notebook, but one that didn’t go unnoticed. Against Houston there was a definite attempt to give Scott help in the back, and much of this was via Alonso dropping in between the center backs and gaining possession from very deep positions. Because of this Ozzie wasn’t involved in many offensive actions, but his play was hugely impactful. Once again he led the team in touches and had a spectacular 97% completion rate (75/77). This was helpful to keep possession on a hot, humid evening.
With Ozzie helping out defensively, the Sounders were very strong from the back, but weakened going forward. I was encouraged to see that the Ozzie to Lodeiro combination led the team with 15 connections, since I want to see them combine.
The marks that I had for Alonso against Houston were winning tackles, disrupting everything through the middle and forcing Houston into bad shots outside the area. He was his usual self, and frankly no one in the Houston midfield had any answer for the Friberg/Alonso first half midfield-destroyer. In the second half the game opened up but Ozzie maintained his near perfect passing and kept the team compact and hard to break down.
Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community - 6.4
When moved to the right attacking midfield position Roldan was good, but not overly dynamic. He pulled two-way duty and offered a bit of an attacking option down the wing, but had little interaction with the fullback behind him. I much prefer Roldan in the holding defensive midfield position that he has been playing, and think he is much better there when allowed to float right to support attacks rather than be positioned there.
In the 3rd minute Roldan made an inside out run and ended up getting free up the line to deliver a cross. He repeated this a minute later, both times looking for a hustling Valdez on a near post service. The Dynamo adjusted quickly to the danger that Cristian was presenting and after this early flurry denied Roldan much success up the right wing.
He went central a few times, and had one especially nice dummy to Nico that was a nifty thought. I noted a few more mis-passes than normal for Roldan against Houston, and he was guilty of tired legs as well. In the 50th he lost possession and picked up a yellow card for delaying the play, a professional foul that I am not sure I have seen a Sounder take this year. It was a smart play and is yet another example of how advanced his thinking has become: trading the yellow to help tired teammates from being overrun on a breakout. This confident play came back to haunt him in the 75th minute, with Roldan trying to dribble out of trouble and being dispossessed directly into their goal scoring play. I applaud his increased control, but he should have cleared the ball and defensively regroup.
Roldan did earn two penalties this season due to attacking the corner of the box from a wide midfield position, but this week he was unable to exploit the same areas. His communication and interaction with Mears was nil, and there was almost no overlapping on his side. I thought he was a help when pushed inside, working well and holding down the middle that have been his and Alonso’s domain for this recent undefeated run.
Nico Lodeiro – 7 MOTM | Community - 7.7 MOTM
This guy refuses to lose, and it’s awesome.
Lodeiro struggled with the heat and humidity in Houston, completing only 82% of his passes and not finding nearly as much room as previous games with Dempsey and Morris stretching defenses. Nico did his usual massive movement but was followed around diligently by Houston defenders everywhere he went.
Nico tried to put Valdez through early, only to realize in the 8th that without the pace up front he would have to rethink his tactics. He continued to push the ball into dangerous areas and in the 22nd won a set piece in a dangerous spot and then delivered a great pass from the dead ball. He continued to poke and prod the defense from all angles, winning possession, switching the field, and really running harder than almost everyone on the pitch. Unfortunately, a lot of his attempts went wanting as the spacing and movement around him wasn’t polished enough.
In the second half the Sounders started to push more forward but I saw Nico pushing too hard, showing signs of being tired in the 66th minute. He started dribbling into trouble and losing possession in the 68th, 69th, and 77th. This changed with the introductions of some fresh legs and the game opened up enough for Lodeiro to unleash a simply extraordinary pass in the 71st minute that beat three defenders and put Morris in 1v1 with goalie Willis. I could write an entire column about how amazing this combination was. Not only did Nico see a diagonal that no one else in the league typically even sees, 70 minutes into a humid fest where he’s running constantly through the middle, he somehow found a perfect pass over the middle line and in behind the Houston central pairing, curving it perfectly onto the run of Morris. Excellent.
Lodeiro wasn’t done after that chance went wanting. He never quit (other than a full minute yelling at the AR in the 84th about the ball potentially being over the line for a goal) and at the very death rescued a point for the good guys by finding a pocket of space in the box and finishing clean. It was telling to me that this $10 million player never quit, never gave up and just willed his team to continue on, leading by example. He refuses to let this team fade from the playoff picture.
Alvaro Fernandez – 6 | Community - 5.6
I was excited to see the return of Flaco to a starting position, and had mixed reviews upon seeing him go a full 90 for the first time this season as a Sounder. A lot of the same things I remembered were still there; his tight passing and control and ability to pop up in good places were all in evidence. Unfortunately, he wilted in the second half and like many others, was completely invisible for long stretches.
Alvaro started off nicely, handling a tough Valdez drop with confident touch in the 1st and a few minutes later both playing helpful defense before transitioning the ball to the attack, finding Lodeiro over the top. Five minutes later it was Fernandez attacking the middle of the defense on a strong dribble and winning a free kick opportunity for the Sounders. This became an issue for the team, however, with Flaco starting on the left and frequently cutting inside. While this gave Remick plenty of space, Dylan didn’t use it particularly well, and Flaco in the middle was consistently encroaching on Friberg’s space. If these two continue to play together they have to get more on the same page with who will be occupying which central area.
In the second half Alvaro played wider with Remick staying home, and this led to Flaco countering nicely down the wing in the 48th minute. A good takeaway from this game is how comfortable Alvaro looked in the middle, easily sliding centrally and pulling strings, offering an intriguing attacking midfield option – his 61st minute play that involved Mears was a very tricky combination that showed his ease in the central channel in front of the holding midfielders. He had a very nice chest control in the 83rd and put a driven ball across for Morris that may have scored.
Flaco looked pretty out of shape for periods of this game, offering little/no defensive support in the second half. I noted a number of “ole’” defensive “efforts” around minute 50 before getting his head back into it. He forced the ball to Nico a few times, and he would have been better off shooting on at least one occasion. I think Alvaro answered a lot of questions about what kind of player he can be for us.
Nelson Haedo Valdez - 6 | Community - 5.2 (off 57’)
In his short shift Valdez did a lot of things that helped the team. His holdup play was very good, and this was one of the few methods the Sounders had to get numbers into the attack. He remained a hustle monster, working very hard to get into good positions, but to be quite frank, he is not an effective player running at back lines a ’la Morris in this formation. He tried, but just doesn’t have the pace to get behind or stretch defenses.
In the 3rd and again a minute later Valdez made strong runs to the near post in support of Roldan crosses from the wing, but was unable to get on the end of either. I am not sure what else he could have done, there was zero back post support. As I mentioned Nelson had very good holdup, consistently chesting the ball to teammates or offering Frei a nice target to aim for on clearances. I was especially impressed in the 13th when he managed to hold off two players, keep possession, and find Roldan, then turned and offered a run for Mears who eventually received the ball. In the 25th his chest down to Nico was just a little off, preventing the midfielder from getting off a strong shot.
Valdez lost possession a few times in attacking spots that were very frustrating, and he simply is not a player who is going to create much for himself. I liked seeing him hustle on defense, but in the 27th he fouled Warner just outside our own box after chasing him down the field in an instance where his attempts to support failed. After losing possession in the 55th minute he was subbed off after a decent shift. There weren’t any shining moments, just some hard work and supplementary play that helped us pick up points on the road.
Jordan Morris – 6 | Community - 6.1 (on 57’)
Morris as a sub is a devastating thing. Simply the pace difference between him and tired defenders was fun to see, although he wasn’t able to get in behind as much as Sounders fans wanted.
He made an immediately impact, earning possession and opening up space by pushing the defense for Houston back towards their own goal. I was somewhat concerned with his lack of urgency on the ball when being dispossessed by a still hustling Ricardo Clark in the 70th, but he made up for it a minute later, drifting off the back shoulder of David Horst before diving in on goal, perfectly splitting the central defense. A sublime pass from Nico saw Morris in on goal 1v1 and he just wasn’t able to finish, choosing to go early and low with a shot that was blocked. The MLS game is quicker than college, and while I think he is doing well, it’s decisions like this one, where he might have been better off rounding the keeper, that prevent him from scoring more goals.
Jordan didn’t hang his head, though, and he continued to push on goal, (maybe?) forcing an own goal in the 83rd. He could have left the ball for Roldan in the 93rd. But the shining moment for Jordan was outplaying Horst in the 94th, winning a holdup long ball from Evans and keeping possession for Seattle.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community - 6.5 (on 58’)
Perhaps looking for the same magic Sigi Schmid got from Jones off the bench, coach Schmetzer looked to the speedy left back as a second half attacking option. He quickly found Morris in the 62nd on a nice pass forward, but was otherwise unable to get into any forward positions and offer much danger. He had a perfect opportunity to attack in the 75th but instead of playing the winger he was brought in to be, turned the ball back like a defender to drop it rather than push up the open space on the left. This ultimately kept the ball in the attacking zone for Houston to score with.
It’s interesting that as soon as Ivanschitz came in Jones looked more comfortable overlapping and getting forward, and it was just this type of play that occurred in the 94th. With AI tucking in, Jones eagerly took the wide open left wing and made an intelligent diagonal pass to the middle that found Lodeiro and a point for the away squad.
Andreas Ivanschitz - 6 | Community - 6.1 (on 78’)
Andreas came in late and took a while to get into the flow, but got involved late when it counted. Starting around the 90th minute he had multiple good service passes, from both corner kicks and the run of play. His passes were much more crisp than the crosses that had been coming in and were dangerously close to finding Morris and others.
In the 94th minute he tucked inside to support Morris attacking a long ball and when the pass found his feet he made a great team decision to pass the ball to Jones wide, instead of forcing a shot into traffic. It was annoying when AI didn’t follow Wenger on defense and it led to a shot, but he was a spark off the bench.
Armando Villarreal – 8 | Community - 5.0
Neither of these teams foul a ton, and there weren’t many fouls to call. I thought when Warner took down Roldan in the 5th minute a few feet from the ref without a call we would have a long day, but Villarreal did a great job managing the game with his positioning and whistle.
This ref was always around the play and he communicated with players, offering warnings and discussions rather than flashing cards. The card he did give was a straightforward professional foul on Roldan. In fact, I had more issues with a “random” water break in the 45th minute with 30 seconds left in the half than any specific call in the game.
I don’t blame the ref nor his AR for (maybe?) missing the goal line call. It is still being debated with the aid of freeze frames and geometric calculations etc. The referee has to go with his gut there. I can’t envision how this ref would do in a more heated contest involving fouling teams like SKC, LAG, or POR, but he was a perfect ref for this match and facilitated a competitive, clean game.
Andrew Wenger took the top spot in this game’s poll, after 213 responses.
This Houston game wasn’t pretty, but it’s indicative of the new Sounders. After so many games we lost when we should have tied, I’m satisfied to pick up hard fought points as we make that playoff push. Now it’s off to Portland: whether you consider it a must-win game or not, it’s a huge game this weekend, for momentum and mental reasons. EBFG.