Home, sweet home! Back in the comfortable confines of Century Link Field, surrounded by 45,000 friends and sporting a fancy new banner, the Seattle Sounders were the team we expected them to be on Sunday. Resolute in defense, multifaceted on attack, and consistently dominant against a very good New York Red Bulls team, Seattle earned a 3-1 victory. There are still plenty of things to work on, but we are seeing players round into form and the bench depth is really carrying the day.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.8
Frei produced a calm, composed goalkeeping performance in which he directed from the back, assisted by an entirely new right side that looked great. The defense was so stellar for most the game that while NYRB did score a goal and managed 10 shots, very few of their attacks amounted to much — just two on frame.
Seattle came out with a new look, repeatedly testing whether they could play short from goal kicks and utilize a more possession based approach. Frei made some good decisions to launch it long when necessary, instead of trying to force anything that could be recycled into danger. He played a bit of “sweeper keeper” in the 22nd, coming well outside the box to head an over-the-top pass away. In that same minute, Felipe put a low, hard shot on goal that forced Frei into his only save of the game. He did so smartly, pushing the dangerous ball wide.
Frei was calm under pressure with his feet. In the 39th he found Alonso in the middle instead of clearing long which led to Morris being in alone on goal a mere five touches later. The Bradley Wright-Phillips goal was a deflection, unfortunately hitting the post and crossbar before settling inside the goal. I don’t blame Frei for the goal, but he did have a few suboptimal clearances that ended up out of bounds. This was a slow day for Stefan, and I’m sure that’s how he likes it.
Joevin Jones – 8 | Community – 8.4 (MOTM)
Joevin continues to impress, absolutely thrilling fans with his two-way play. Jones once again was incredibly strong down his wing both offensively and defensively, and was rewarded with two assists in the second half. His decision making is improving every game, and he’s playing with tremendous confidence right now.
Joevin started out slow, with a poor clearance right to the middle of the field in the 6th minute, but then I had no negative marks until the 75th. After that one hiccup, he started to range farther and farther forward and, knowing Marshall and Roldan were behind him, and he integrated immediately with Shipp to dominate the left. In minute 14, Goose found him with a beautiful switching pass as he stretched the Red Bulls apart. Twelve minutes later, Jones got on goal, only to have his shot go straight to goalkeeper Luis Robles. Later in the first half, Joevin was showing off his defensive ability, making a great recovery in the 39th after a Roldan turnover.
In the second half Joevin could overlap Shipp at will, getting forward repeatedly to support waves of attacks from Seattle toward the Brougham end. The offense flowed consistently through Jones on the left, and he barely missed finding Morris over the top in the 49th via a diagonal pass. It was this constant pressure that finally created a goal in the 66th when Jones took matters into his own hands. Offering a wide option and getting a pass too far in front of him, the safe play would have been to recycle possession out of the box but Jones wasn’t interested. He turned back to goal with a nifty flick that nutmegged Sal Zizzo. He took a touch and then pulled Felipe towards him by dipping his shoulder back towards the end line. This opened extra space for Nico, and when Jones found his teammate with a perfect drop, the ball was in the back of the net in two touches. There is a ton of nuance to this play, with Joevin making 8-9 split second decisions which were all fantastic.
Jones got another assist on a misguided shot that looked wide, but he is so deserving of the stats I just don’t care. There was an 82nd minute combination between Jones and Lodeiro that consisted of five wall passes amidst at least four Red Bull defenders that further illustrates how utterly awesome Joevin played.
Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 6.9
Ho hum. No surprises — Chad just did everything right once again. Showing great range on the left while Jones pushed forward, it’s amazing how much ground Marshall competently covers. He had four clearances and as usual won all his aerial duels.
Part of the reason Marshall is so good and rarely must perform exciting headline-grabbing plays is his anticipation, which is the best in the game. He reads the flow better than anyone else from the CB position, and Sunday he picked off several potentially damaging passes before they reached their intended target. In the 9th minute, one such step created a turnover to the ever-ready Shipp, who immediately found Morris through on goal. Multiple times for the rest of the game we saw Marshall just beating players to where they wanted to go, earning a yellow on BWP in just such a play in the 62nd.
Chad gave up a too-aggressive foul in a rough spot in the 14th, and cleared a ball poorly in the 41st. Otherwise, he was steady, strong, and positionally sound while helping to contain nearly every attack.
Gustav Svensson – 6 | Community – 6.9
I mentioned earlier that the Svensson signing was under the radar but potentially hugely impactful. After three games, his signing has been an unmitigated success. On Sunday the Goose slid from outside to center back and didn’t miss a beat. He played a nearly flawless game defensively and greatly contributed to breaking the Red Bulls’ pressing strategy.
Anyone worried about Svensson in the central defense immediately saw a confident and comfortable player. A 6th minute tackle introduced him to the game, and he followed that up by sliding seamlessly behind Marshall two minutes later to clean up a messy situation. Looking like they have collaborated for years, the two veteran defenders were impenetrable in the back for long stretches. Goose’s ability to bypass levels of the press was essential in dealing with the Red Bulls attack. In minute 14, he launched a breathtaking 60-yard cross field pass to Joevin’s feet that put the left back alone on goal. It was an incredible pass, and one that he duplicated in the 33rd, simply wowing us with his vision and ability. Svensson wasn’t all passing either. Multiple 1v1 situations against Wright-Phillips and later Derrick Etienne saw Gustav repeatedly get the better of New York’s attackers.
In the 7th minute, a cross got over his head and almost found an opponent, and I noted Svensson taking a different tactic to keep more goal-side. This became a precursor to their goal, in which BWP beat Gustav to the ball, however the Sounders defender recovered and only an unfortunate deflection turned an errant shot into a goal. Sometimes Svensson got out of positon and too far forward, but for a spot start at CB, I was very happy with his versatility and overall performance.
Oniel Fisher – 6 | Community – 6.5 (off 65’)
After getting a start and not necessarily covering himself in glory early last year, I thought Fisher might be tentative against New York. I was completely wrong. Oniel patrolled the right sideline offering countless overlaps and consistent width. This had a balancing effect, making Nico more effective, opening the left wing for Jones, etc.
Fisher immediately overlapped in the 5th minute, and the pace that he injected into his run was tremendous. A few minutes later, he seamlessly combined with Roldan and Nico up the wing before underlapping Lodeiro in the 16th minute, which completely opened the right. Even though he didn’t see the ball, the voraciousness of the run pulled attention away from Nico. We all know how effective Lodeiro is with space, and he immediately looked up to thread a pass towards Morris. Fifteen minutes later, it was Fisher who sprinted into the play to support Lodeiro. To go with his runs forward, he recovered well on defense, and with slower center backs, Fisher was always around to help before New York could break out.
The biggest complaint with Fisher’s performance on Sunday was finishing plays. His defense was strong in general, and his runs were great and supportive, but he lacks final third decision making. Multiple times he got into the box and couldn’t find a final pass, or overlapped into space and got lost trying to decide while open players got covered. He will need to improve there to get consistent playing time on the outside.
Cristian Roldan – 9 (MOTM) | Community – 7.7
Joevin Jones had a great game, but I gave the nod on MOTM to Roldan because he was fantastic all over the field before being asked to play right back, where he then dominated as well. Roldan destroyed my notebook, making play after play and consistently involving himself in every positive thing Seattle did. His 75% passing completion percent included a ton of dangerous distribution and added two key passes, three aerials won, three successful dribbles, five clearances, three interceptions and a whopping SEVEN tackles while touching the ball the second-most times on the team. He did it all within one of the most comprehensive two-way games we have seen from Roldan.
Early on it was clear the team had been coached that you could beat the pressure by skipping levels, and Cristian did this in the 3rd, 18th, and 33rd minutes, hitting over the top balls to his buddy Jordan to run onto. After an 11th minute combination with Fisher on the right he put Nico through into the attacking third with acres of space via smart interchange. I was impressed with the Sounder’s positioning in this game, and it looked like Alonso held more central with Roldan floating. This meant a lot of ground to cover and Cristian was up to the task. At times, he played left back, at others playing 1-2 passes with Nico on the right wing; he was everywhere. Sacha Kljestan found out the hard way, getting beast-moded in the 58th. Cristian constantly looked up field and found forward pass after forward pass; even though many were not successful these passes opened spacing that was ultimately used to convert by the intelligent movement of the front four.
After being asked to play right back (because why not?) Roldan responded instantly by turning aside a dangerous cross over the top. Showing ZERO signs of fatigue, it was Cristian who reeled in Kljestan in the 88th, stealing his cookies and leaving the Red Bulls player barking at shadows. A minute later Cristian was shutting down BWP 1v1 and then finishing off the game with a beautiful pass over the top to spring Bruin in for a shot.
This was complete domination by a player who wasn’t sharp early in the season. Roldan was everywhere on defense, putting out fires and transitioning faster than the trap could be implemented. The Sounders duo of Roldan and Alonso repeatedly carved up the press and turned it into an advantage going forward. Simply fantastic outing from Roldan.
Osvaldo Alonso – 7 | Community – 7.0
Normally a game where Alonso has “only” 82% completion would be a pretty rough game for Seattle as Ozzie as usual had the most touches on the team (85). The press limited much of the passive possession that Seattle is used to, but it also allowed Alonso to show off an underrated part of his game – dribbling. Tied with Jones for the most successful dribbles in the game, Ozzie consistently dribbled out of trouble, and he single-footedly broke the Red Bulls press on numerous occasions. This left the NY tactics in shambles, and breaking through a defensive line then opened through-balls and vertical passes led to Alonso’s lowered passing completion percentage.
I didn’t have many notes on Alonso because of specific plays he made that stood out, but instead just line after line about his positioning and control in traffic. Unlike his struggles to open the season, Alonso was rooted firmly to the middle of the field, keeping positional integrity with his defense and not allowing the narrow Red Bulls system to get through his zone. He and Roldan completely protected the center backs to the point that New York tried a massive 17 crosses but completed only four.
Alonso was in perfect harmony with Roldan and they continually pressed back at New York, earning turnovers and instantly forcing the ball into dangerous places at the feet of Lodeiro, Shipp, and Dempsey. Ozzie had a couple of forced passes forward and a misclear when briefly playing with 10 men but otherwise he nearly flawlessly executed very smart gameplay.
Harry Shipp – 8 | Community – 7.4
Since getting a chance to start last game Shipp has hit the ground running, integrating quickly into the Sounders attack. He appears to be a near-perfect complement to the overlapping style of Jones, interlinking with him and drifting inside to overload middle spaces. Harry’s vision and ability to create for both others and himself makes him instantly dangerous. Even his defensive work ethic has been impressive, often showing endurance to get back to support.
Against New York, Shipp was an important creative piece, showing off a sparkling 86% passing clip. That is insane as an attacking player. He just never lost possession, going a ridiculous 5/6 on long balls while repeatedly opening Morris or Dempsey through into space. Speaking of, he put in Morris in the 6th forcing a save from Robles and three minutes later again, this time thwarted by an offside call. One thing Shipp is doing that I just love is when cutting inside on the attack he doesn’t forget Lodeiro wide right; more than once he found awesome cross field passes that put the Uruguayan into space. These passes just shredded the press, and having so many skilled players in the attack at once is just incredible. Harry isn’t afraid to shoot, and I was again ok with him going direct in the 31st after cutting in to his right foot. Right before half he again cut in, but this time when he drew three defenders he found Lodeiro for a shot that pinged off the post.
Shipp lost possession very infrequently this game, and he forced a shot or two. More importantly he chased down a bad corner kick over 70 yards to play defense, and repeatedly showed tenacity and desire in closing his wing with Jones. Shipp also looked absolutely fantastic as a defensive midfielder next to Alonso, spending the last 25 minutes of the game gathering defensive accolades and spraying passes from a deeper position to teammates in dangerous positions. Oh, and he scored a goal, calmly redirecting an errant shot into the net to increase the Seattle lead in the 79th.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.2
Every time I try to talk myself into a lower grade for Nico, the rewatch has me just amazed I ever thought such stupid things. You might think he had a quiet game, with 71% passing and not as many touches as we are used to. And then you see my notes where with a bit different luck he has five assists and a goal. Nico has the incredibly rare ability to create chances out of nothing and he never stops driving the game forward.
In the first minute Lodeiro pressed high on New York, giving them a taste of their own medicine, winning possession in the attacking third. This was a precursor to Seattle’s first goal as well. In the 13th he just missed Dempsey, and in the 21st his strong defensive work turned New York inside to be gobbled up by the d-mids. Using what he learned early, it was again a near solo press from Nico in the 27th that Morris joined in and won Seattle a penalty. Lodeiro does this so intelligently, and he seems to know exactly when to wave his team forward that consistently has good results.
After getting a 39th minute pass from Alonso in the middle, Nico two-touched around a defender and put an inch perfect through ball to Morris that deserved better. The weight he puts on these long balls is so amazing; I am immensely impressed with the touch he gets on a 45-yard pass. Later Lodeiro drifted inside and combined with Shipp on a play where Nico’s shot beat Robles but bounced off the post. He was dropping dimes on Morris all day, and was rewarded finally in the 66th when his perfect first-time chip found Jordan on the back post alone to nod home the game winner.
The negative marks for Nico this game were for his dead ball service. He is consistently hitting short on both free and corner kicks. He needs to get over the first defender more often. Other than that, Nico floated around, created huge chance after huge chance and will start racking up the assists when people start finishing his perfect passes.
Clint Dempsey – 6 | Community – 6.9 (off 91’)
This was another quietish game from Clint who has really settled in nicely to his role with the 2017 team. Not being asked to do too much but instead allowed to float around and create mismatches and use his tactical intelligence to open spaces for teammates, Clint just consistently creates multiple chances and finishes any opportunity he gets.
In the 9th minute we got a great illustration of the Dempsey Gravitational Zone© as he pulled two defenders and opened a chasm for Morris to burst through. In the 20th minute it was a deft first touch to spring Morris into the box again. Dempsey was calm and finished clean to go 7/8 as a Sounder in minute 28 from the spot. As usual Clint did come back a few times to help alleviate pressure, helping in the 32nd and 54th, both times controlling the ball and switching fields, allowing Seattle to get out from under NYRB attacks. In the 79th minute again the DGZ© was in evidence, this time latching onto three New York players, which gave Jones a ton of space when Clint played him the ball. This play ended up as a goal via Shipp, but it’s important to note how out of sorts the defense was after smart movement from Seattle.
There was at least once that Nico pressed and Clint abstained, and they need to be more on the same page there. In the 48th Dempsey missed an easy pass that would have put Morris in 1v1 with Robles, and his yellow card showed some of his famous temper. Clint ended his “quiet” game with two shots, two key passes, a PK goal, and equaled Shipp with 5/6 long balls completed.
Jordan Morris – 7 | Community – 7.3 (off 81’)
For the third game in a row Jordan Morris proved un-guardable. He has such a rich blend of size, speed, power, endurance, and intelligence that he has yet to be contained for any lengthy period. With the re-addition of Dempsey underneath him as well as Shipp, there are now about seven players looking to put Morris in on goal at any moment of any game, and he’s ready to give them the runs to do so.
The first such pass was in the 3rd minute and Morris fought to win a throw-in instead of allowing a clear. After Robles proved willing to consistently come out of goal, Morris adjusted his runs a little wider, although he was caught offside in the 9th. In the 20th he made no mistake, beating the press via a flick from Clint. One exciting thing about Morris this season is he makes more plays with his head up, and it was this awareness that allowed him to find a streaking Jones in the 26th. A minute later Morris just decided to break the laws of physics, somehow accelerating from a jog to full sprint in half a step, beating Robles to a back pass and earning a penalty. Jordan is a fast player, but his acceleration was mind-boggling on this play.
Morris had a few misplays, but as usual was willing to drop back on defense to help when he messed up. He missed Shipp in the 33rd and he got 1v1 with Robles in the 39th and 47th but failed to finish either. I hope he can figure out how to convert these chances, because he gets a minimum three per game from the talent around him. Even hobbled with an injury he managed to nod home his first goal of the year in the 66th. Hopefully that jump-starts his scoring ability, because finishing is the only thing holding him back from leading the league in goals right now.
Alvaro Fernandez – 6 | Community – 6.2 (on 65’)
After losing his starting spot, Fernandez tried on a new role as a sub and looked great. Obviously pumped up for the game, Alvaro immediately showed great defensive intensity. In fact, it was his failure to give up on the wing that forced a turnover, starting the goal-scoring play on the opposite wing. He also ran across two defenders helping open Morris on the back post while screening Luis Robles on the play Jordan scored.
Flaco showed tremendous hustle in the 68th to beat Sean Davis in the box, simply wanting the ball more in an Ozzie-esque defensive move. Fernandez and Roldan worked successfully on the right side, both shutting down attacks and interchanging well. Alvaro may have deserved a PK for his run forward and push down in the 73rd, but it was waved off as legal contact. The yellow card he earned was smart, stopping a late counter attack in a harmless position of the field. Good outing for Flaco here.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 81’)
I didn’t see a lot from Bruin, again being very quiet in a sub appearance. He had four touches and completed half of his passes while making one good run that ended with him kicking a souvenir to ECS. He is a great option to have late with a lead, as another big body to hold the ball takes those bumps from Morris/Dempsey.
Henry Wingo – n/a | Community – 5.7 (on 91’)
Curtain call for Deuce and time-killing gave Wingo his third appearance in three games. Pretty cool for a homegrown even if only for a few minutes.
Baldomero Toledo – 8 | Community – 6.3
I am flabbergasted that the person who reffed that game was Toledo. This is the same guy who averaged 4.25 over four games last season. Yet somehow, he turned in a sparkling performance nearly devoid of error on Sunday. Not only that, he made the big calls spot-on throughout while allowing play to flow, even though he did have to brandish cards to keep things under control.
There were a ton of little things to like, starting with a whistle in the 2nd minute to award a free kick to Goose who was fouled behind the play. I agreed with the 15th minute call on Marshall, and Toledo even called an OBSTRUCTION call vs Fisher trying to overlap, which is so under-called as to barely be an MLS rule at this point. After warning Felipe in the 24th, Toledo then followed this up with the yellow when he fouled Dempsey a minute later. This was textbook refereeing from a guy who struggled with the rules last year.
Toledo got the PK correct and it being yellow and not red for Robles. He also got the simulation call right three minutes later. How many times have we seen the “make up” pk awarded? The yellows for BWP on Marshall, conferring with the 4th official to ding Dempsey, and Flaco’s yellow all were good calls. The one issue with this ref was failing to give Sal Zizzo a card during the Flaco play for the retaliation.
This was some damn good refereeing, and it’s also a compliment to both teams for playing good soccer and not devolving into a hack fest (I’m looking at you SKC, etc.) I don’t believe Toledo is suddenly the best ref in the league, but Sunday he did a tremendous job.
RED BULLS MOTM:
Goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips got nearly two-thirds of the votes here out of 396 responses.
Seattle struggled on the road at times against Houston and Montreal, but then dominated against a team that was undefeated in 18 regular season games and is a perennial Supporters Shield contender. Now we have a short break to get into gear, shake out the last of the cobwebs, and prepare for a dangerous Atlanta team. We scored 1 goal in game 1, 2 in game 2, 3 in game 3. So… 4 in game 4. Why not?