At times, last Saturday’s game reminded me of early-season Sounders, when we dominated play, failed to finish, and then had a counter-attack goal crush our dreams. But this Brian Schmetzer-led team is different. This team stayed strong in the back, kicked and clawed until they found that breakthrough goal, and sent the Vancouver Whitecaps home with a 1-0 defeat. This new incarnation of resilient Seattle Sounders got the result it absolutely had to have at home, and injected more momentum into a late-season playoff push.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.5
Frei had an excellent game, controlling things from the back, coming up big on occasion, and staying mentally tuned into a match that would have turned on any defensive mistake. There was a more cohesive link among the back five and this starts with Frei.
Goalkeepers NEVER like to let a ball behind them, and even though there was a wonky handball/offside call in the 5th minute, Stefan still dove to his right and made an incredible save. This sort of play sends a message to the opponents that there will be no easy goals. I cannot help but think this was in the head of Erik Hurtado ten minutes later after he’d beat a clumsy offside trap. Faced with an onrushing Frei he panicked, attempted to chip over the keeper and then head the ball to goal. Stefan, after forcing a touch into the box, raced back and soared over the opponent, slapping the ball wide at full extension. This not only kept the score line at zeroes; it also invigorated the team, who then pushed forward with enthusiasm.
In the 60th Frei was out with his feet to stop an over the top attempt from Vancouver and he controlled nicely, finding a short pass instead of chunking a clearance. Giles Barnes got open for their only dangerous second-half attempt, and put a shot off the post in the 69th. This was a play where Frei did everything he could, cut off the near post and the angle, forcing a cross goal shot that had to be perfect (it wasn’t). In the 95th Stefan closed the game out comfortably, rising in traffic to catch a lofted cross.
After the first amazing play on Hurtado, Frei did not have to make any fancy saves, but he organized his backline and earned a much-deserved shutout.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.0
Jones was improved this game, and knowing he is playing hurt gives him some leeway on getting constantly forward. I thought Jones was especially good early, involved in attacks and creating positive plays for the Seattle left side. As the game wore on he looked tired, and his effectiveness waned. When this happens, Jones gets caught up field more, which puts pressure on Marshall behind him.
It was great to see Jones find Lodeiro a whopping 20 times. That shows that not only was Joevin involved in the attack, he was feeding Nico in advanced positions. Jones made great choices in attacking the box in the first half, and his 16th minute penetrating pass to Lodeiro was a perfect example. A minute later he was overlapping and providing essential width. The angles he took when on offense are much improved, and his presence and decision-making pressured the defense; Jones didn’t settle for the chunked in cross. In the 55th he got into the box, but got stuck without a plan. I would love to see him be more assertive, whether passing earlier or being directly goal-dangerous with purpose.
Defensively Jones was a mixed bag; an inspired 21st minute press kept the ball in the offensive third, but he really slowed in the second half. After a bad pass in the 55th he was walking and did not have the energy/effort to get back and support. This helped the offensive shape some but put too much pressure on Marshall and Alonso to cover.
Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 7.3
Marshall continues to play strong defense, combining with anyone around him to consistently dominate opponents. Against Vancouver that meant dealing with the pace of Hurtado and movement of Nicolas Mezquida. In the 4th minute Hurtado learned just how hard it is to get around Chad, being casually yet forcefully ushered wide, and then backwards when he looked to have a sliver of attacking space.
As usual Marshall’s ball control was exemplary, with multiple header passes directly to teammates adding to an 86% completion rate on the afternoon. Chad did not try too many complicated passes, but one long ball in the 47th almost found his teammate Fernandez over the top, in an impressive cross-field look. A highlight was Marshall’s 62nd minute crunching tackle to stop a Mezquida break, perfectly timed to dispossess the Vancouver player.
Chad and Roman are improving their communication every week, and other than the 14th minute hiccup by Torres there was no indication that they haven’t been working a trap for years. On this play Marshall handed off Hurtado to Roman, but after the trap was broken there should have been more effort to recover by both center backs, especially with Frei busting his ass in support of them. Marshall was beat behind by Giles Barnes in the 69th and had to peel off with Torres coming over.
Marshall and Torres are showing that even without a lot of straight-line speed they can be a very effective pairing in the back, as long as they don’t rely too much on trapping faster strikers.
Roman Torres – 7 | Community – 7.3
I really like just how polished Roman is, so early after recovery from surgery. He looks calm and confident, with remarkable agility and soft feet for someone so physically imposing. He keeps his head up constantly and communicates well with teammates.
Part of the big improvement this week was Roman’s willingness to keep possession, as evidenced by fewer long balls (down to 12) and better passing (up to a respectable 84 percent). This is tremendous improvement and illustrates the better spacing and movement by the Sounders to open options for him. Torres still has the exquisite touch needed (like in the 7th) to drop an over the top pass onto the chest of Flaco, bypassing midfield congestion, but it’s even more effective as a supplement to possession.
Roman was caught flat footed (and hand raised) by Hurtado in the 14th and he needs to keep his line tighter if he is going to trap behind Marshall. This only happened once however, and other than Hurtado in the 52nd he wasn’t beat for the entire game. On this play, Torres removed the opponent’s advantage by deploying his massive frame in a striker-ingesting tackle that won possession back. I am most impressed with Roman in 1v1 situations, where he dominates repeatedly. His body positioning and control is fantastic.
I am surprised that the Marshall/Torres combination hasn’t created more chances on corner kick offense, but in the 28th minute Roman was most certainly fouled by Jordan Harvey on what looked to be an open header on goal.
Tyrone Mears – 6 | Community – 5.8
Tyrone was improved this game over last, but he still fails to impact games positively and consistently. There were good plays, like his 21st minute overlap and cutback pass that required a tremendous Kendall Waston block to prevent a close Alonso shot. Later on Mears whipped in another pass across the goal after a 1-2 with Nico and it found a lunging Ivanschitz on the back post.
Unfortunately, these plays were rare, and Mears is still not finding many strong runs from Fernandez in front of him. Other times he got into good spots and offered those high, loopy crosses fans have come to hate. His most egregious offense was a 24th minute awful dropping pass that was stolen and turned into one of Vancouver’s best attacks on the day. Compounding his error was a lack of hustle to support the defense he put under pressure.
The second half was better defensively, and even though Steve Zakuani kept reporting from the sideline that the coach wanted Mears high, he was rarely involved in the attack until Friberg subbed on. This late sub looked to open up more space for Tyrone to go forward, and for the first time all game there was a spell of consistent pressure up the right side of the Sounders offense. This was a much improved performance from Mears, but other than a few plays, he was largely invisible.
Osvaldo Alonso – 8 MOTM | Community – 7.8 MOTM
This week’s heat maps showed Alonso and Roldan right on top of each other, a perfect illustration of how great they are working together. These two switch and cover for the other exceedingly well, covering the back line with a near impenetrable wall in the middle, while supporting the midfielders in front of them to attack. I’m again impressed with how comfortable both of these players looked in their roles this week, and they were instrumental in the shutout.
In the 2nd minute it was so great to see Alonso support back, with Roldan pivoting perfectly, like they were connected with a rope. In the 25th Ozzie individually ate a counter attack attempt alive, dispossessing and (I imagine) cackling as he ran up the field with the ball. In the 34th Alonso won headers on defense before gaining possession and slaloming forward on the dribble, beating three Whitecaps players before being fouled.
Ozzie was not done; the second half was a masterclass in ball anticipation, as he continually sniffed out counter attacks before they happened. Ozzie displayed a dizzying assortment of sliding tackles, pace-fueled dispossessions, and strong positional tactics to repeatedly rebuff any attempts to attack the Sounders defense. Often these plays immediately transitioned to offensive attacks in Seattle’s favor. There is simply no one better at playing “free safety” in the back when our big guys go forward, as Alonso’s unique combination of pace, burst, tenacity, and vision makes him so effective at covering huge swaths of field as we send our lumbering towers up to bang on set pieces. His tireless work in aiding the shutout and supporting the attack won him yet another MOTM award from me.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 6.7
This is the spot I want to see Roldan. He has improved so much on his positioning and his decision making is tremendous from the middle. In the very first minute he was shadowing Alonso’s movement, deploying himself in a way that perfectly cut off passing lanes.
While Roldan had a quiet statistical game, his 11th minute play was everything for me. Cristian, finding himself in space, first smartly looks over his shoulder to survey the defense, before opening up to receive a pass. His movement allows Torres an easy angle to find him, and his first touch is positive and aggressive to space. Knowing there is pressure coming from the side, Roldan neatly dribbled around the defense all the while looking forward, eventually finding Lodeiro to jump start an offensive series. This was just one play of hundreds in the game, but it really showed to me how Roldan is no longer “just a guy” – he is a formidable midfield presence able to tilt the field for the Sounders.
Both Alonso and Roldan got caught going forward this game at times, trying to support an offense struggling to break down the Vancouver back line. Cristian’s 13th minute turnover in the middle led to a semi-break and intermittently they left the center open by being caught too high. The second half adjustments from Seattle were great, and I was very impressed with the middle third play.
A smart man mentioned to me that Roldan is better attacking from this deep lying position than the wing and I agree. Cristian is great at picking his spots to get forward into the box, and one of these occurred in the 81st minute. Correctly seeing an overloaded right side, he entered the area, occupied a defender and left Morris with an opponent sealed behind him. This little technical play might not seem like much, but it is indicative of very high-level tactical thinking, and it’s so exciting to see Roldan develop these natural instincts to bolster his game.
Andreas Ivanschitz – 7 | Community – 6.3 (off 72’)
Andreas is picking his spots to influence the game well, and it’s a shame that but for a combined eight inches he could have had a brace in this one. He’s adjusted well to playing with Nico and his movement has been integral in opening spaces for others – unfortunately he has very few stats to show for his quality play.
In the 2nd minute it looked like Andreas had dribbled too far, but through sheer force of will he managed a dropping pass while falling down, finding Lodeiro for a right footed shot that almost put the home team up very early. In the 16th minute his positioning for a diagonal drop pass was perfect, but he had his shot blocked. In the 17th minute his pass up the wing nicely opened up Jones. The highlight of his first half was a wicked outside of the left foot reverse bender shot that just missed from the top of the 18, an absolutely crushed shot that had goal of the week written all over it had it been seven inches to the left.
Andreas rushed a shot off a Morris tough cross in the 33rd, but on that play I was impressed to see AI run off Jordan’s movement to get into that position in the first place. A few times in this game the ball was poached off of Andreas’ foot, and his pace won’t intimidate an opponent, but Ivanschitz kept pushing. In the 61st minute he materialized far post and put a difficult first-time shot off the crossbar, nearly scoring via an acrobatic attempt.
Ivanschitz tired and was rightly subbed in the 72nd after being less effective in the second half. With Jones staying home more in the first half this covered for any defensive deficiencies, and Andreas was solid contributing to attacks (3 key passes).
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.4
Again an opponent did everything they could to stop Nico Lodeiro. Again it wasn’t enough. Vancouver instituted the double team/hack-a-Lodeiro tactic that other teams have attempted, with some success. I counted Morales (2x), Waston (2x) Smith, Edgar and Laba (4x) all with hacks on Nico, five of which were actually called. A number were played as advantage, and only one was carded for dangerous play, with no persistent foul card.
Through this beating Nico touched the ball a team high 114 times and completed 70% of his passes. He wasn’t crisp with many, and there were a few short passes or dispossessions while dribbling. None of that really mattered, because he was again the engine of the team, popping up everywhere to move the ball around and contributing to a possession advantage of almost 30%.
After getting a shot a mere two minutes in from an AI drop, Nico found another off a short corner play in the 18th. I love seeing an attacking midfielder getting good looks from inside the box. All game Lodeiro was looking to spring Morris or a winger through, and it was his 2-line pass to Ivanschitz in the 22nd that opened his teammate for a look on goal.
Nico never stops moving, and he wore out the Vancouver midfield while continually poking and prodding their defense, looking for holes. Finding some space off a nice Friberg play Lodeiro did what he does best in the 81st: dropped in an inch-perfect pass that froze the keeper and gave his guy a chance to make a play. Morris was there and Seattle left with all three points. Free kicks were a mixed bag and he definitely misses the spacing that currently hurt players could offer him to work in, but until the final whistle blows this guy is goal dangerous and he’s carrying his teammates along with him.
Alvaro Fernandez – 6 | Community – 5.5 (off 62’)
This was another week where unless you looked closely, you barely noticed Fernandez was on the field. On the re-watch, I saw many intriguing things from Fernandez, most in the first half.
One great improvement this game was Flaco’s movement and positioning on defense. Having Roldan back there to support Torres/Mears on his side and Mears’ improved play allowed Alvaro to range more vertically, instead of just horizontal into the middle. Continually Fernandez would take up good support positioning in the box but his teammates did not find him. I liked his 7th minute check back to Torres, and he used a nifty chest pass down to Mears before turning wide and offering an option up the wing.
A majority of my notes for Flaco were defensive, such as covering for a rare Roldan turnover in the 13th. Fernandez recognized good opportunities to press, and it was his defensive pressure in the 21st that kept the ball in the attacking third. In the 27th he came back to help the defense win the ball before pressing high again in the 41st- this time his forced turnover resulted in a 4v4 breakout for the Sounders.
After half Alvaro was quiet and as Mears was ineffective up his wing he consistently moved inside to support Lodeiro. Fernandez didn’t get the ball much, nor was he able to connect with others. He still seems a bit off from his teammates and misses a lot of movement that would likely get him in more spots that are dangerous. He may be better suited for the left wing, but is unlikely to find himself there anytime soon.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 7.6 (off 94’)
Morris was quiet for long spurts, but his work rate was phenomenal. He made runs all game that physically tired out his opponents, and that contributed to late game mental mistakes that he and the Sounders are taking advantage of.
Jordan introduced himself to center back David Edgar by shouldering him away from possession in the 2nd minute before dropping in a pass for Ivanschitz. In the 18th his back heel off a training ground corner kick helped find Nico for an open shot. In the 33rd minute after some good holdup, he faked a trap and instead dummied the ball through to himself, getting in behind. Morris is displaying more and more varied attacks, making himself incredibly hard to guard.
He had a chance in the 49th to find a wide-open Flaco far post, and later when breaking 1v4 Morris didn’t have the killer instinct to take the ball at Waston. He should have gotten a quicker shot off in the 73rd after receiving on the spot from Friberg with a window to hit it.
I mentioned the varied attacks Morris is showing: lately it’s the development of his heading skills. In the 81st minute he got an inside position on his marker, sealing off the defender with his frame before attacking a perfect Lodeiro cross with a diving header and finishing off a huge goal in the playoff hunt. Morris was a warrior in this game, trading body blows with Waston and Edgar, but it was his movement and execution when it counted that was the difference in the score line.
Nelson Valdez – 7 | Community – 6.0 (on 62’)
This was a great Valdez appearance. Tasked to come into the game and open up Morris by holding up play and pushing to a two-forward system, Nelson did exactly that. He burst into the game with purpose and energy. In the 67th, 73rd, and 82nd Valdez checked back to a midfield pass, dropped the ball to a teammate and brought the attack up a zone.
It was his toe poke that influenced keeper David Ousted’s fumble in the 68th minute scramble and a minute later Nelson was hustling across the entire box to recycle possession through Mears. In the 76th Valdez got a flick to the far post on a corner but there wasn’t a teammate to be found.
He wasn’t done there. On the goal scoring play it was in fact Nelson Valdez whose sneaky run across pulled the giant Waston out of the middle, allowing Morris to be matched up against Jordan Smith instead. This little thing won’t hit the stat books, but Waston and Edgar (influenced by similar smart Roldan movement) had a whopping nine clearances on the night apiece and moving these guys away from the play was instrumental in the goal. After that Valdez displayed impeccable holdup play, stealing possession from Waston and killing off the game. Great performance from Valdez here.
Erik Friberg – 6 | Community – 6.1 (on 72’)
Schmetzer’s second impactful substitution brought in Friberg to add width on the right side. Erik’s smart movement and spacing really opened up the right side to attacking.
Erik deserved an assist when he found Morris all alone in the 73rd on an awesome cross on the ground to feet in the box. The goal scoring play started with Friberg’s continual movement; he kept working, kept possession and after probing the defense, he made a good decision to reverse the ball to that man Nico. I like the width and vision as well as strong defensive play from Friberg and hope we see him play this wing role more in the future.
Zach Scott – N/R | Community – 7.0 (Many ‘10’s were given) (on 94’)
Congrats to Scott on incredible longevity, and thanks for your immense contributions to this team we all love to watch.
Jair Marrufo – 5 | Community – 5.2
While watching the first time I wasn’t too upset with Marrufo. He kept the game flow going, called necessary fouls and let some play go, without confusing the teams with inconsistencies.
On the rewatch, I was still impressed with his game management, the handball and light contact fouls were all spot on, and his cards late for Mears and Valdez were warranted. What showed up with the benefit of replay were some missed calls and BIG mistakes on potentially game-changing plays. These dropped his score considerably:
Roman Torres was fouled by Jordan Harvey in the 28th on a corner kick that should have been a PK. Harvey didn’t play the man and if this had been the only big call I could give Marrufo a pass; it was a judgement call that has been called both ways.
Unfortunately, there were three calls that I consider red card-worthy that all saw yellow or less. The first was in the 39th when Cristian Techera fouled Flaco, with studs showing and very dangerous play. I think it’s red there. In the 71st Alphonso Davies hacked Mears upon entering the game with a foul that was yellow card-worthy and Marrufo didn’t show it. Three minutes later, it was Davies again committing a foul. He left his feet, studs showing, and hit Roldan – this alone was a RED-cardable foul from a guy clearly out of control, but somehow inexplicably no card was given at all to Davies on the day. The final play that I saw as red was Edgar completely crushing Lodeiro late on a break, and Marrufo allowed play to continue for an unnecessary advantage call. He did go back and show yellow, but this was dirty, on a break, and showed no attempt to do anything other than injure Nico.
These game-defining plays have to be better, and the referee should use the yellow card to limit the red card-able fouls that happen when play escalates out of control.
Kendall Waston seems to always be there, putting a player off their shot, making a last-ditch block, or predicting a run before it happened. A very good (and frustrating!) performance at centerback earned Waston 54.6 percent of 194 responses.
Only one loss in eight games. Now we travel to LA where any favorable result significantly improves our playoff chances. There are still areas for improvement, but I hope we can keep the momentum, play hard for the whole game and never give up. That makes an exciting game to watch.