After Sunday night’s playoff match between the Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders, there’s plenty to debate about which team the 0-0 score line favored. But consider that Vancouver scored five home goals on an opponent just four days earlier, and we held them scoreless. Last year’s playoff run was built similarly on solid defense and opportunistic offense. Coming home to Century Link this Thursday, and getting another shutout win against a team we’ve dominated sounds good to me. Staying out of any type of deficit, returning some previously injured players into the mix, and getting a hungry DP back in for the home leg — these are the ingredients for a positive result on Thursday.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 7.2
Frei was credited with zero saves and catching two crosses. Credit is due to the Sounders keeper, however, for keeping his defense organized in front of him, calmly directing traffic and keeping track of the elusive Fredy Montero at all times. Vancouver managed 18 shots just days prior, and limiting them to few chances and zero shots on goal is an accomplishment worth praising.
With Torres and Marshall bottling up Montero and Vancouver failing to spring him into many dangerous areas, Frei had a slow night. With only 19 touches (half his usual), Stefan did well to distribute when needed. His pass percentage was nearly 70 percent, often finding an open chip to a wide player instead of just going short every time. Stef did catch in traffic in the ninth minute, alleviating one small chance for Vancouver. His biggest play of the game came all the way in the 95th, when he punched away a low cross with Montero lurking far post. This was a smart decision to clear instead of attempting a higher difficulty catch. While some of the action was quite dull, this defensive unit earned its 14th shutout of the year.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 6.6
It’s never boring when the Houtrain starts rumbling down the tracks, but this was about as close as you can get. Playing very reserved and defensive, the young Sounder left back impressed with strong 85 percent pass completion and a team-leading four interceptions. He was a dismal on crosses, with none completed despite five attempts, illuminating his deficiency in the attack.
In the first minute Nouhou overlapped and got a cross in, but this was rare on the night; instead he chose to stay home, be compact with Marshall, and prevent Vancouver break opportunities. Coming back on defense in the sixth minute, he poked a steal to Nico who nearly created a penalty kick, and in the 13th after some good work, Nouhou airmailed a cross. The ‘Hou isn’t going to impress anyone with his runs forward, and his crossing needs work, but he earned a number of corners with industrious runs up the left wing.
Other than a charge upfield through three defenders in the 48th, the second half was more of the same: mostly defensive with sporadic attempts to support Jones on the left. Defensively, Nouhou locked down his side, and he even showed up on the right in the 75th to turn a Brek Shea breakout backwards. Some cramping late hampered his work rate, but Nouhou was a strong defensive presence for a majority of the match.
Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 7.1 (off 78’)
Marshall had an unusually quiet match, with Montero clearly avoiding the three-time DPOY. Chad took what the opponents gave him, calmly turning back any attacks and passing cleanly 92 percent of the time. He notched four clearances, won headers and had a very steady, dad-like game before being removed with hip tightness.
In the second minute, Chad calmly chested down to Torres to clear and then, three minutes later, he found Nico over the top into a pocket of space in the attack. Seattle conceded much of the early possession to the Whitecaps, but strengthened their defense whenever Vancouver tried to push into the Seattle defensive third, and the Sounders really limited anything dangerous. Marshall got on the end of a Leerdam cross after a corner scramble and managed to get a header on goal; unfortunately, it was right at keeper Stefan Marinovic. Other than a gift clearance that went out for a corner, Marshall didn’t put a foot wrong.
This game was all about management, and there is no one better at managing a game from the back. Every pass was with purpose, and while Vancouver didn’t send waves of offense forward, Chad made it look very, very easy defensively.
Roman Torres – 6 | Community – 7.3 (MOTM)
Roman had a somewhat more active role positionally, tasked with marking the elusive Montero for much of the match, but similarly to Marshall, had a very quiet defensive evening. Even though his passing was lower (73 percent completed), Torres was also very careful not to take chances, choosing to clear deep or find wide options as well as staying home much more than has been his penchant lately.
Torres was slow in the second minute and allowed Montero to get a cross in, and Torres and Leerdam were split on a long ball to Fredy in the fourth, but after these early moments Roman erased Montero from the game. Physically intimidating would be an understatement, as Torres continually won headers, cut out passes, and pushed Montero so far away from goal that he was an afterthought for much of the match. I thought Torres overcommitted a little in the 25th in a 50/50 challenge with Brek Shea, but he recovered well. There were few notable moments for the remainder of the match, with the center backs staying connected and preventing anything of note. Late on, Torres took a really smart foul over the midfield line on Yordy Reyna, pushing high and physically disallowing the Vancouver star from turning and starting a break. This was a very measured, dominant defensive effort from Torres.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 7.1
This was one of the few matches this season when the Sounders’ attack was more prevalent on the right side than the left, and much of that was due to the defensive tactics. Leerdam worked excellently with Shipp, and both managed to even out the attack with Nico floating around as usual. Kelvin wasn’t a dynamic attacking force like the last match, instead filtering forward and unable to create much without targets in the box. His 81% passing was decent, and he created a single key pass while being very aware of his defensive responsibilities.
In the second minute, Leerdam found himself central with the ball and put a long-range volley effort wide, but it was nice to see him goal-direct. After Montero split him and Torres in the fourth, these two regrouped and shut down a majority of the Whitecap penetration on their side. Brek Shea was a nonfactor for most of the match after getting in behind Leerdam in the 21st. Kelvin combined well with teammates, keeping compact and fulfilling what looked to be the game plan. In the second half, one of the best Sounders chances came when Leerdam lifted a perfect looping far-post cross that found Marshall’s head, but the big man was unable to finish. This game wasn’t pretty but another shutout from a strong defensive performance is a great result.
Jordy Delem – 6 | Community – 5.8 (off 64’)
Jordy Delem started a playoff game, and was a solid, if unspectacular player for Seattle. Although that seems odd to write, Delem really stepped up and filled in admirably for injured defensive midfielders. Asked to sit primarily in front of the center backs and prevent any attacks through the middle, Jordy did exactly that, limiting Vancouver through the center and offering strong, physical challenges when warranted. He completed a decidedly average 81 percent of his passes, but was safe, logical, and controlled in possession — exactly what was needed.
Delem didn’t wow anyone with his offensive prowess. In fact, he rarely completed a pass going forward. But he made good decisions all evening, showing off effective control in some tight spaces. Jordy and Cristian did a great job staying connected in the middle of the field, never getting too far apart and rarely ranging forward where they could be susceptible to the counter-attack. After an early lazy touch was stolen by Montero in the 16th minute, Delem started to move the ball more quickly, improving his passing but still limiting himself to safe, square passes. One of the few times Jordy was beat (minute 30) he did well to recover and slide tackle the ball out of bounds for a harmless throw-in. Although he was very cautious, it took a tactical foul from Delem right before halftime to prevent a quick counter. The second half was more safe soccer, rarely looking to push the ball forward. Delem didn’t close Montero down in the 58th in what could have been a disaster, but luckily Marshall was there to block. This was a pretty good outing from Delem, who made few mistakes but didn’t offer much offensively.
Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.7
Roldan also had a defense-first role, limiting his positioning to remain protective of the backline more frequently than pushing forward to support the front guys. His stats were okay, with an 86 percent passing rate that unfortunately did not create much offensively. Most notable was Roldan’s ability to possess in tight spaces, often working out of congested areas with the ball either with a dribble or quick give and go.
Cristian started out quietly, giving up an 11th minute free kick and working into the game slowly. He stopped a semi-break in the 16th on his own, coming across and stealing the ball. In the 26th he was again back to cover. In this game, like the last few, a singularly defense-minded Roldan was completely dominant in the zone between the fullbacks and midfield. He picked his moments to get forward very carefully, including a break up the middle in the 39th that saw him just miss a through ball that might have put Jones in on goal. In the 59th he again missed Jones — this wasn’t a stellar offensive game from Cristian by any means. He was a complete dominant force on defense, however, limiting every attempt by Vancouver to even cross midfield. Roldan got a late yellow that is a concern due to accumulation rules, and he will have to be careful in the next three games.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.3
Jones didn’t do much against Vancouver, unable to affect the game offensively or defensively. His 80 percent passing was just okay. He didn’t complete any crosses and failed to record a single defensive statistic. He was okay in possession and did nothing to hurt the team other than his lack of defensive positioning.
Jones had a very quiet night, and he rarely showed up in my book. Early on, in minute 19, he hustled well to earn a free kick, showing a stellar first step that put Seattle in a good spot. His direct shot in the 28th was blocked, and he didn’t attempt another shot for the remainder of the match. I noted a number of times in the first half where Jones’ defensive effort was lacking, especially in the 29th after being dispossessed. Luckily, the Whitecaps seemed to have no interest in pressing up his wing and attacking in behind his gaps, so Joevin’s defensive desire (or lack thereof) didn’t amount to much. Jones was slipped in behind by Nico in the 35th and nearly forced an own goal off Waston, but the defender’s touch hit the crossbar and rebounded out. In the 67th Jones combined well with Nico, and they just missed on a number of other times that might have turned into something. He ended the game playing left back for an ailing Nouhou, and similarly to his winger play, this was uneventful.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 7.1
Moved inside to run the team from an advanced role, I noted much reservation from Nico as he bought into the team’s defense-first tactics. Because of this, he was often found sitting ahead of the defensive midfielders and not ranging far into the corners or pressuring Vancouver’s backline. Nico was the clear offensive spark in the match, with a shot, two key passes, and two dribbles, and he created five free kicks from fouls received and even added three tackles to boot. As usual, he covered a ton of ground, popping up all over to support possession and try to unlock a bunkered Whitecap defense.
In the 5th minute, Nico got free over the top and found a far-post cross before collecting a Nouhou steal a minute later and driving into the box to nearly earn a penalty kick. In the 22nd minute he popped up on the left wing and tiptoed down the line after beating a man 1v1 to try to get some offense going. In the 31st he was back near his own goal box before collecting possession and expertly working the ball free of danger. A beautiful combination featuring Shipp, Lodeiro, and Jones nearly ended in an own goal via Kendall Waston in the 35th. Nico did have a few poor passes in the midfield, and one 38th minute backheel was nearly turned the other direction.
The second half was more of the same futility, with Vancouver failing to give any lanes to attack into and Seattle not getting many open chances. Lodeiro did have a shot in the 71st, but it was blocked. In the 85th, with Nouhou ailing, I thought Nico was really sneaky to earn a foul and a breather on the near sideline. His set pieces were just average all night, but Lodeiro did well dealing with an abundance of physical play.
Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 5.9 (off 74’)
Shipp had another decent outing, doing more of the little things that were needed to get a result. Similar to previous matches, however, he struggled to get too much going forward, instead deferring to others and failing to show much creativity. His numbers as a complementary attacker were solid, however, with 92% passing, one very nice cross, two defensive tackles, and solid link up play. Harry did well to combine with others, but didn’t create a lot on his own.
In the fifth minute, Shipp got into a great spot but whiffed on a golden opportunity to get a shot on goal. In the 21st, he made an excellent run in the midfield but then missed a pass to Jones. After some good movement six minutes later, he found himself matched up in the box against the imposing Waston, and predictably he was dominated. His best play of the night was a fantastic combination play that saw Shipp touch the ball four times while combining intricately with Delem, Leerdam, Bruin, Nico, and finally nearly score off a Jones cross. This was a great illustration of quick touch, off-ball movement, and tactical connection from players. Unfortunately, there was little else from Shipp, and when he had a chance on a loose ball in the 67th, his shot was blocked.
Harry knows how to combine with smart players, and his constant movement in this game was very influential in helping offset the erratic Lodeiro runs. Shipp also did well to support Leerdam and this was a solid outing.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.5
Up against two giants for the majority of the game, I thought Bruin wasted an opportunity to use his pace to move Vancouver’s center backs around more. Instead he was fairly immobile, attempting to be a standard “back to the goal holdup forward” and had little success. He did win two aerial duels, and his 77 percent passing included numerous attempts to bring Nico and friends into the attack.
By comparison, this was a pretty forgettable outing from Bruin, in light of how incredibly active and dominant he was in the previous game. Instead of the dynamic dives to the near post that were so effective, Will consistently and passively drifted to the back post, often ending up in between Waston and fellow defender Tim Parker. I am not sure why he hid back behind these huge players and only rarely attempted to pull them wide. He had a few hold-up plays that worked, but a majority failed to get the Sounders effectively into the offense. Bruin earned a free kick in the 49th but overall there wasn’t much to rate. On a number of occasions a better touch might have brought Leerdam or Jones into a quality attacking space.
Gustav Svensson – 6 | Community – 6.4 (on 64’)
Coming off of an injury, Goose dropped into the middle and immediately added some attacking drive, pushing the ball forward much, much more than Delem. Even though he played but a half hour, Svensson had a sparkling 93 percent pass completion rate, one of which was a key pass. His insertion had instant attacking impact. He had a tackle and a clearance and was two out of three on long balls as well, combining flawlessly into the middle. When necessary, he dropped back for an injured Marshall and held the backline as a center back well. He missed one tackle on Brek Shea in the 75th minute which created a semi break that was extinguished by Nouhou.
Ozzie Alonso – 6 | Community – 6.2 (on 74’)
It was great to see Alonso back on the field, and he looked fit and agile. As usual, he was clean on the ball with 88 percent passing, and he looked right at home in the middle. I didn’t notice any issues with his lateral mobility and he seemed comfortable combining with either Svensson or Roldan through the middle.
Lamar Neagle – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 78’)
Neagle came on earlier than perhaps intended, but was unable to add much from a bench role this week. He was very clean with the ball (100 percent completion on nine passes) but did little to move the ball into dangerous positions. Lamar doesn’t look like he’s in tune with Leerdam, and when he subs in, the right side of the Sounders defense lags a little, but there was no damage this week.
Kevin Stott – 8 | Community – 5.5
When a game is boring, there is often potential for the referee to make huge, game- or even series-defining calls. Stott didn’t do this, instead calling a fairly clean match with few issues.
Early on, there were some cries for a penalty earned by Lodeiro, but I agree there wasn’t enough there to make that call. There was another moment (minute 18) where Nico was taken down in the box and that was a lot more valid in my eyes. Because the control by Lodeiro went so far away I can understand the no call, although I do think Nico was fouled. I assume that VAR agreed with that assessment.
There were two high elbows in the match, one from Tchani in the 45th that was right in front of Stott; I assume he saw little malice there. Five minutes later he rightly carded Nosa for the same, again on Roldan. I understand the yellow on Ghazal in the 79th and one on Roldan in the 87th. Vancouver fans clamored for a handball on Nouhou in the 96th, but I agree with Stott that the hand was inside his body and not attempting to play the ball. It was curious that there was no advantage played with Nico in full control heading upfield and Jones fouled behind the play seconds later. A yellow there on Tchani would have been reasonable. Overall Stott gets credit for making smart, rational calls and keeping the game running smoothly throughout.
Vancouver Whitecaps MOTM
Kendall Waston (62.3 percent) ran away with MOTM for Vancouver. It’s unclear whether this award has been bestowed upon him ironically, for creating the best goalscoring opportunity of the match for the Sounders, or whether it’s due to a sincere respect for his stalwart defense against a Sounders attack that had started to click coming into the playoffs.
Now it’s time to come home, keep that home streak going, knock Vancouver out of the game early, and limit injuries this Thursday.