Entering the Western Conference Finals for the second time in two seasons under Coach Brian Schmetzer, the Seattle Sounders looked to be a heavy favorite. My personal three-nil prediction took a hit pre-game, with Alonso and Morris not even making the bench, Rodriguez not starting and the big surprise: no Frei. Undaunted, the Sounders were the better team throughout, giving the backup keeper a relatively quiet outing while repeatedly punishing Houston going forward. The 2-0 Seattle win could have been 4 or more, but we’ll have to be satisfied with “just two” massive road goals in preparation for Thursday’s home leg.
Tyler Miller – 7 | Community – 6.7
Likely assuming he would get a nice vacation down in Houston, Miller found himself starting against the Dynamo in a playoff game. Credit to him, but also to Tom Dutra and the entire training staff: Ty was ready to step in as the #1 and did a great job.
Miller looked much more calm and comfortable than his last appearance for Seattle (the 4-3 comeback versus D.C. United). Houston was nice enough to warm him up early with some lightly lofted balls into the box to catch. Tyler made a good stop in the 12th minute to get any last nerves out, and he held on well. In the 15th Miller made a strong catch in traffic off a long throw-in and paid for it as he was undercut. Two minutes later he made another catch before neatly coming out to the edge of his 18 in the 25th minute to blast a clearance past midfield. This play was especially important as Mauro Manotas had gotten in behind, but there was zero hesitation from Miller.
Later in the second half Tyler had to make a routine kick save and the rest of the game was positioning (that forced Houston shots wide) and controlling every ball in his area without a rebound. A couple of late clearances and goal kicks went out of bounds, but a shutout in his first playoff start was well deserved.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 6.7
The enigmatic Nouhou was all over the place in this one, with some amazing plays and others that left you scratching your head. He had five clearances and a stellar 92% pass completion rate, but at times he was very close to being out of control. The Train does what the Train wants, and Houston didn’t figure out how to attack him until the very end of the match.
In the 1st minute it was Nouhou who lost Alberth Elis for a wide-open header on a corner kick. In the 10th minute he motored up the left wing on an overlap to win a corner kick for Seattle. After missing an open field header attempt, Nouhou lost Elis, but Marshall was quick to block the shot in the 14th minute. This was the last time that Elis got by Nouhou, with the young left back stuffing the Houston star over and over again on the wing. The Sounders player just dominated this matchup; Elis was limited to a miserable 68% passing while Nouhou repeatedly dispossessed him. When Dylan Remick subbed in, Nouhou stuffed him in the 69th and 85th, each time physically dominating the ex-Sounder.
Nouhou was caught upfield a few times without support from Jones, and he gave up a dangerous yellow card foul in the 64th that was a little too aggressive from behind. He was beat late on the wing to give up another risky free kick, and as he tired, he leaned on Marshall to clean up behind him.
Chad Marshall – 8 | Community – 7.5
Marshall was again quietly dominant in this match, impressing time and time again with positioning, movement, and intelligent play that made everyone around him much better. His 87% passing was stellar as were his team-leading six clearances, but the most impressive part of his game was his movement to help teammates, often popping up perfectly to stop a promising Dynamo push.
In the 14th minute, after Nouhou misjudged a header, it looked like Elis was open for a shot only to have Chad get his enormous leg in front to block. Four minutes later he won a header over Manotas that went about 35 yards back up field. In the 20th Marshall was in the left corner helping Nouhou clear. Two minutes later Manotas looked to have room for a shot, but Torres and Marshall closed rapidly, blocking his attempt, and when the ball got behind Roman a moment later, there was Chad to clear.
Chad started off the second half in the 48th minute, helping on the left with Elis before roaming middle and helping with Manotas, each time ending a Houston foray. All match long, Marshall used his freedom to roam in opposite areas than the defensive midfielders, shoring up any holes around him with great effectiveness.
Roman Torres – 6 | Community – 7.0
While Marshall was floating, Torres was usually man-marking the highest point of the Houston attack — often Manotas. This resulted in more errors from Torres but also more time on the ball, and he led Seattle with three interceptions, four clearances and an excellent 87% pass completion rate. As usual the communication from the center backs was near perfect, with each covering the other well in addition to supporting the central midfielders and wide areas.
Roman started out rough, showing traffic cone defense in the 1st minute, but moments later came across field to rebuff Manotas. His battle with Manotas was entertaining, and also very even. Although Torres beat the Houston player to the ball on multiple occasions to cut out attacks before they reached the striker, Manotas got in behind well in the 25th and forced Miller out to clear. On multiple occasions Dynamo players attempted to be physical with Roman, and usually ended up bouncing off him for their troubles. I thought Torres had a goal, barely missing getting a dreadlock on a corner in the 29th. In the 38th another slick step through from Torres beat Manotas to the ball and started a Seattle break. The usually dependable Panamanian missed both his big cross field pass attempts, as each came up short.
Roman’s second half was defined by only a few big plays. In the 50th he demolished Elis 1v1 and then found V-Rod upfield to attack, but a minute later Torres was completely destroyed by Manotas, being megged and conceding a great chance to Houston. In the 55th Torres was way out of position and his 88th minute yellow was a shame, as he will miss the home leg. This was an avoidable card and Seattle got a bit out of shape late, leaving Torres exposed.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 7.4
A shutout on the road doesn’t happen without Leerdam locking down the right side, but this was a game where his defensive cohesion with Torres got a little scattered late, with Seattle trying to push numbers forward — leaving the right of the Sounders defense exposed. Kelvin had a nice line: five tackles, 80% passing night and added two key passes on offense. It’s possible some of the second half defensive struggles were due to subs and increased offensive intensity.
In the 20th Leerdam stopped an attack with a strong tackle, and Kelvin rarely loses these duels. Four minutes later he was eating Tomas Martinez 1v1 before stuffing Alex in the 26th for good measure. After this last dispossession, though, Leerdam’s clear towards Dempsey was weak and stolen easily in the midfield to be recycled back into Houston’s attack. After some nifty combination play with Nico and Goose, Leerdam found himself with the ball in the box with Alex on his hip but tried a cross instead of a shot in the 31st. Kelvin had an especially sloppy 40th minute touch that created a great Houston counter attack, but as always, he hustled back to help on defense.
The second half was much more open on both sides, and DaMarcus Beasley beat Leerdam badly right after the whistle. He also fouled Beasley in a bad spot in the 62nd, allowing Houston to set up a dead ball play. Going forward, Leerdam was a good option wide, but failed to put his 74th minute shross in to anyone, and he repeatedly missed a few key passes to a wide open V-Rod running through. After Romell Quioto came in I would have liked to see Leerdam concentrate on the shutout.
Gustav Svensson – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.5 (MOTM)
The Goose was loose against Houston early, completely dominating the first half en route to a fantastic 88% passing, two shots, two interceptions, a team-leading seven tackles and, of course, the opening goal. Svensson was everywhere, turning in a dominant central defending shift but also popping up in the box to head in a goal and consistently putting teammates in advanced attacking positions.
In the first minute Svensson covered for Torres in the box and used a risky slide tackle to clear. Ten minutes later he beat Eric Alexander with a great header finish from a corner kick for the early Seattle lead. After a rare mistake in the middle allowed Juan Cabezas a half chance, the Goose took over the rest of the half. In the 26th his defense 1v1 was stellar, stopping an attack. Twice in the 30th minute he gobbled up a loose ball in the midfield. Svensson had a great first-time touch to put Leerdam goal side of Alex and into the box — an opportunity his right back should have done more with in the 31st. But when Houston got the ball, Gustav immediately stole it from Beasley to force more offense.
In the start of the second half with Seattle pressing high, it was Svensson who consistently stepped up to keep the ball in the attacking third. Goose was beaten badly in the 51st minute, whiffing on Manotas and allowing a chance that the Houston player should have done better with. He was also beat again four minutes later, but recovered to record three more defensive actions after the 80th minute to close out the game. Svensson did all the little things right in conjunction with Roldan in the middle, and he added that enormous first goal as well.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.5
Roldan had a “quiet” game for him — 87 touches, 90% passing, four tackles, two clears, and a key pass. It was very clear that the yellow card he picked up against Vancouver was on his mind, as there were multiple occasions when Cristian let off on a tackle or stepped back from a play, but he was still very effective. Without being overly aggressive, Roldan let his positioning do the talking, ceding physicality for a smoother, more cautious game that worked wonderfully with the cracking tackles from the Goose. These two reduced Houston’s midfield to very ineffective separate parts, and the red card allowed the Sounders’ stamina to show late.
Cristian showed a vintage Alonso turn in traffic in the 3rd minute and often looked to connect through the middle with Svensson. When Roldan missed a 19th minute touch, he showed great burst speed to not only win the ball back, but then attack with it up the wing. Cristian was very smart and worked hard to get his body behind the ball and not rely on tackles, which was readily apparent in the 40th when he bailed out of a potential altercation, likely wary of a second yellow.
In the second half Roldan was across in the 52nd to help a beaten Leerdam and then, 10 minutes later, was cleaning up the midfield. Cristian wasn’t a big part of the offense and multiple times his passes going forward went awry, but he did open up Leerdam into huge space in the 70th and came flying across moments later to keep the ball in the attack. This “reserved” Roldan was still very effective, and also unlikely to be seen for the next two games.
Joevin Jones – 7 | Community – 7.9 (off 79’)
Without knowing Schmetzer’s tactics, it’s hard to rate this kind of game from Jones. He was utterly dominant in four of five plays, and very ineffective for the rest of the match. His two tackles and interceptions showed a reluctance to defend that we have come to expect, but man, offensively, Jones was on fire. He had two shots, two key passes, earned a DOGSO pk, and dropped a perfect assist to Bruin. This was all done while completing 96% of his passes and touching the ball more than anyone else but Nico!
Sure, there were issues. In the 2nd minute Jones dribbled out of bounds, and then nonchalantly jogged behind the play. In the 6th minute Torres tried to switch a ball to him and when it was short, Joevin calmly watched it be taken by the Houston defense without moving at all. He played negligible defense time and time again as the Houston players ran by him trying to overload Nouhou. In the 31st he had only the keeper to beat from a great Dempsey find and was unable to hit the target from six yards away. Some of his passes were weak, and he doesn’t look nearly as comfortable in the middle of the field as he does wide. With this setup, it doesn’t seem to matter.
The Nouhou/Jones combination is getting more effective, and I think adding Goose in behind really allowed Jones to play comfortably (i.e. no defense, just look for matchup overloads). This tactical system allows Jones to pretty much float wherever he wants, and in the 27th after finding Dempsey in the middle he continued his run splendidly up the wing and earned a penalty and red that completely deflated Houston. There just aren’t many defenders that can make that run/touch combination and Jones did it beautifully. Unlike Nouhou, on offense Jones plays with his head up, and in the 42nd he not only saw an open Bruin in the box but put an inch-perfect cross to him for the second goal. This was a magnificent early cross and very impressive coming from a defensive player. In the 66th he found Nico for a wide shot and in the 78th Jones missed an open V-Rod on the back post with a shot after being released in the box.
Jones excels in a free-flowing game that can play to his playground skillset. The Sounders staff has done a good job of structuring the team to maximize his offensive potential while playing him somewhat out of position.
Clint Dempsey – 6 | Community – 6.5 (off 46’)
On first watch I thought Dempsey was very poor, not integrated into the team at all. However, the re-watch told a slightly different story. Clint didn’t touch the ball a ton, but his 89% passing (including a key pass) always seemed to be integral to scoring chances. This was definitely a quiet match from Dempsey on the scoresheet, but he pulled a lot of defenders around which was a big reason multiple goals were scored while he was on the field.
In the 5th minute Dempsey turned nicely out of trouble but wasn’t able to connect with Bruin. After not getting the ball on a checking run in the 18th I noted some frustration on his face and watched Houston really get after him physically. He just missed putting Roldan in behind Jalil Anibaba in the 19th on a play that Nico and Jones would perfect later in the match. A minute later Dempsey missed Jones on a first-time pass and seemed to be out of sorts, but then good things started happening with Dempsey’s signature all over them. In the 27th Clint picked up a ball in the midfield from Jones, dribbled out of trouble and found Nico who put Joevin in for the DOGSO penalty. In the 31st after a scramble in the box, Dempsey calmly found Jones on the six-yard box, wide open for a shot that should have been an easy goal. On the second Sounders goal, it was Dempsey in between the lines who got a touch and pulled the defense apart, leaving Nico and Bruin in an advantageous 2v2 on the backside of the attack.
Dempsey didn’t do any fancy memorable things, but watching the replay showed how effective the team was in stretching Houston while he was in there. Some of his subtle movements had positive effects on the offense.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 8 | Community – 7.6
Nico just keeps moving, and when you remove a defender he seems to be even more effective. Lodeiro was everywhere in this match, and filled the stat sheet with three shots, four key passes, 84% passing on a game high 103 touches while being the engine of the team. Nico was also a defensive menace and consistently dropped into the left of the Houston attack, making Alex a complete non-factor (off 32’).
Lodeiro started off sloppy on the awful field, turning the ball over multiple times in the first five minutes and trying to take on too many defenders by himself. When he relaxed about 10 minutes in, things started to click for Seattle, starting with Lodeiro stealing possession in the midfield. In the 11th his corner kick was perfect, and Svensson knew what to do with it. A one-man press earned a corner in the 16th and early set pieces were dangerous, finding the goal and a near miss to Torres in the 29th. The biggest play of the match came through a Jones/Dempsey/Lodeiro combination, finished off with a perfectly weighted through ball to Jones from the golden left foot of Nico, earning Seattle a penalty and Anibaba a red card. Lodeiro would have his penalty saved, but he nearly got Jones through in the 32nd and he never hung his head. Right before half, noting a 2v2 on the back post, Nico made a very smart run across the center backs, clearing the back for Bruin to score.
The second half was quieter as Houston turned their attention from the departed Dempsey to Lodeiro, swarming him whenever he got a touch. He still managed to get a great near-post shot off a diagonal run in the 50th, dummy a ball to V-Rod for a shot two minutes later, nearly put in Bruin in the 57th, and shoot just wide himself in the 66th on a nice feed from Jones. Watching the Dynamo players chase him around was amusing, and Nico knows when to hold and when to pass, making great decisions with the ball that at times left Houston helpless. Jones botched a 3v2 that Nico set up in the 78th, or he would have earned another assist.
Will Bruin – 7 | Community – 7.6 (off 91’)
Bruin had a very interesting match. Clearly up for a playoff game at his old club, Will came out energetic and pressed high often. As the game wore on it was clear that he wouldn’t get too much of the ball, so he worked hard to run off the players around him and make space. His 77% passing was okay, and his runs were constructive enough to occupy defenders which often opened room for others.
In the 4th we saw a nice holdup to Nico but it was rare to see Bruin with his back to goal. Will fumbled away a quick free kick try in the 18th, but on the DOGSO play in the 28th, Bruin clearly had goal side position on the defense and would have scored a tap-in if there hadn’t been a foul. He repeated this same positioning on his 42nd minute goal, locking Beasley on his hip and getting his body in between the defender and the ball, before putting a fantastic header into the net. This positioning was essential, and Will read the play perfectly — seeing Nico crossing over the center backs and immediately raising his hand to Jones to signify his intent. The finish was perfect. Right before half Bruin almost squeaked through the defense to goal, but wasn’t quick enough.
Bruin isn’t a player that excels in tight spaces like Seattle created against a bunkering defense in the second half. He struggled to help break down the bunker while more technical players around him moved the ball. Bruin lost Cabezas in the 54th on the back post that could have been a goal against. Trying to dribble at defenses is a struggle and Will needs creative people around him to allow his skillset to shine. What Will is very good at is getting the ball inside the box and putting it behind the goalie, which he did when given the opportunity.
Victor Rodriguez – 8 | Community – 7.2 (on 46’)
Given a half to work, V-Rod immediately slotted into the middle of the field and was an instant hub for all Sounders attacks. Seems like every time Seattle got the ball they found Victor in the middle, waiting to receive a pass and turn to goal, then sweep the attack forward with his movement. He had a sparkling 96% passing rate to go with three shots and a key pass, and was really the center of everything positive for Seattle after half.
In the 47th V-Rod showed how smooth he is on the ball, with his head up looking vertical, and putting Nouhou through. He tried to force a square ball to Nico with Bruin open in the 49th but more than made up for it in the next ten minutes, getting the ball constantly and feeding runners. In the 50th it was Leerdam, in the 53rd he was the relief valve from the defense, playing centrally before passing wide, and then was missed on a tremendous individual run into the box.
With Nico being chased around, Rodriguez became the fulcrum of the Seattle push and he excelled in moving the ball quickly through the middle to transition to the attack. He had a tap-in if Jones sees him in the 78th and took his own near-post shot in the 83rd. Similar to Giovinco, V-Rod is tricky with his body lean, which he used to throw a defender off balance and rattle the bar on a beautiful 93rd minute curler that was nearly the third goal.
Lamar Neagle – 6 | Community – 5.7 (on 79’)
Neagle was given a little more time this week and didn’t do much either way. He was very tidy with the ball, committing no turnovers and was a smart defender from the wing. He was lucky to jump in the 83rd and avoid a nasty two-footed tackle that might have ended his season. He needs to improve his work with the right back behind him, as I thought Leerdam was considerably worse after Neagle subbed in. Lamar showed great holdup in the 90th and forced a nice turnover in the 92nd. He had a wide-open goal and fell down while flubbing a shot in the 93rd that might have put this series completely out of reach.
Henry Wingo – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 91’)
Henry showed some center forward ability, holding the ball up in the 90th. He just missed the same rebound that Neagle did, failing to put away a tough bounce.
Chris Penso – 8 | Community – 6.5
This was night and day different from the Baldomero Toledo game. This referee did a great job controlling the match, communicating with players, taking appropriate amounts of time to check calls, and most importantly, getting big calls correct.
Penso was quick (minute 3) to give an advantage when Roldan was fouled and he followed this up all match consistently. Bruin and Phillipe Senderos got tangled up in the 8th minute but not much came of it. The red card plus penalty looked correct to me, as Anibaba made zero play on the ball and it was clearly DOGSO. Kudos to both Penso and VAR official Kevin Stott who combined to make a quick, efficient, and correct ruling on this play. In the 40th another quality advantage was called after Leerdam was holding a man. Right before half I was again impressed as Penso handled the scrum after multiple cardable fouls from Martinez; he spoke to captain Beasley and worked with players well to alleviate anger.
I thought Penso’s foul calling was generally on point, although an 80th minute Machado hack on Nico could have been yellow. Neagle was nearly cut in half by Cabezas in the 83rd but it was waved on for advantage. Penso did overrule his AR a number of times, on a 17th minute corner and an 81st minute offsides that was very assertive from a center. This was a very solid refereeing job.
Houston Dynamo MOTM
It could have been worse for the Dynamo, but with Joe Willis between the sticks, Houston still has a chance in the second leg. He saved a Lodeiro penalty attempt, and turned away a number of other Sounders chances that seemed destined for the back of the net.
No stopping now, guys. Two more wins and then we Parade. Go Columbus!