The fickle sports gods decided to frustrate me this week. Yes, a point in San Jose via a 1-1 tie might be considered an acceptable outcome, but man, something about the Earthquakes-Sounders games really drives me crazy. It’s not just the results, which have been frustratingly in favor of the California team, but also the game flow – or lack thereof. Their coach supports a mundane, physical game that is the complete antithesis of Seattle’s style, and it makes for very ugly play. Credit to the home team is deserved, I guess. Blah.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.2
For 90 minutes, Frei did what he needed to do to earn a second clean sheet. Although San Jose managed a lot of shots (18), only a few were on frame and the Sounders did well to protect Frei for long stretches of the match.
Stefan started out punching clear in the 15th minute, so assertively that the ball went out for a throw-in. He has been very strong this year coming off his line, and he did so again in the 78th, this time heading the ball away as San Jose attempted to loop a ball over the top of the defense. In between, Frei was his usual competent self, intermixing positional saves and control with smart punches and communicating well with a patchwork back line.
Frei was asked to make two huge saves in this game and he was up to the task both times, the first a 42nd minute side volley from Marco Urena that forced a full stretch dive to Frei’s left (sound familiar?) The second came in the 91st, again on Urena, and was 1v1 in a situation where Seattle had just conceded and without Stefan coming up huge likely would have lost the game. Frei kept his concentration and parried this potential game winner away late.
Seattle is playing more from the back this season and especially with the inclusion of Svensson to the backline, they’ve done a good job of keeping possession while utilizing everyone. Frei helps this by making good decisions on the ball and off, moving to provide an outlet and going long when appropriate. There was little he could do to prevent their goal.
Joevin Jones – 5 | Community – 6.1
Lost in the shuffle of the game discussion was a pretty rough game from Jones. Something didn’t look right in his match; missing were the dynamic runs forward and his usual ability to impact on offense. Even more disappointing was seeing Jones make less defensive effort than he has this season (the dreaded L word).
Things started off OK in the 4th minute as Joevin shut down Nick Lima on the wing, and he did an OK job limiting Lima through his zone for long stretches. In the 6th minute Jones’ usually reliable touch let him down for a turnover and in the 9th and 19th he also made uncharacteristic mistakes, the last giving a free corner to San Jose. In the 27th it took a vigilant Alonso to save him after being badly beat. This would be a theme for his evening: just not clicking with his teammates, finding no takers on his crosses in the 30th and 49th and failing to take advantage of the space afforded him by Shipp’s movement. In the second half, there were at least two times that his passes were weak and badly timed and each created a good chance for the Earthquakes, but in the 58th he put a beautiful ball to a dangerous spot that went unrealized. The choppy nature of the game definitely influenced Jones’ effectiveness.
Something was amiss this week. I was especially disappointed to see him back to his old habit of taking plays off. Multiple times Jones would just be walking around and showing a distinct lack of effort as the ball rolled slowly out of bounds in front of him or players ran by him. Cordell Cato especially took advantage of this, and repeatedly kept moving towards goal as Jones quit behind the play. It’s this kind of inconsistency in Joevin’s resume that plagued him at the start of last year, and I hope this game was less indicative of his ability than the first few games of this season.
Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 6.5
Chad stepped back into the starting lineup and did what he does, including erasing Chris Wondolowski from most the game. He clears when necessary, makes great decisions, and is almost always in the right position.
Marshall was across in the 11th minute to mop up behind Joevin and again in the 30th he alertly came across the field to support vs. an attack. Simon Dawkins got behind Marshall once with smart movement, and Urena turned him in the 51st, exposing Chad’s agility weakness against smaller players. On both occasions the Sounders recovered to support. In the 75th and 80th it was again the intelligent defending of Marshall across to aid teammates, the first a hilarious 1v1 demolishing of Cato.
With Wondo’s erratic movement, it takes a very polished defense to follow him all game, and for the most part the Sounders did well keeping track. The communication from a defense that likely hasn’t a ton of minutes together was strong and other than a last-minute hiccup, they really deserved a clean sheet. The defense did allow a high number of shots and there is plenty to improve on, but they showed they can play well on the road with this formation.
Roman Torres – 5 | Community – 5.1 (off 15’)
To say his season has been a disappointment for Torres would be an understatement, and the 2017 horror show continued this weekend, picking up a hamstring injury in the 10th minute. He is likely one of the players who could have used more time off between seasons, especially coming from his knee injury, and it looks like he will get some now.
Torres’ highlight was a nifty move on the offensive wing after a set piece, earning Seattle a free kick. He also had some nice 1v1 defense in the 9th minute. Earning 80% completion with one lousy long pass, Roman didn’t see the ball a ton in his limited time on the field (7 touches), and looked OK before starting to limp in the 10th minute. The early sub may have put the staff in a rough spot later in the game.
Oniel Fisher – 5 | Community – 4.7 (off 70’)
Presented with a golden chance to earn more playing time with the first team, Fisher struggled against San Jose. There were many negative marks this week, but more than anything Oniel just didn’t seem on the same page as his teammates and he failed to integrate, especially going forward.
Oniel started off struggling, losing possession when attempting a 1st minute aggressive dribble up the line. This led to tentative play, with Fisher reluctant to get too far from the back. When he did venture forward, a 17th minute nearly disastrous slip which led to a counter and an 18th minute turnover curbed his enthusiasm to push aggressively. Another 35th minute overlap ended in a turnover as well, and he was likely happy to get to halftime.
One thing I noted is that due to SSFC attacking to the left of the staff in the first half, Fisher was far away from the coaches, and this may have led to his tentative play. There was a marked improvement in the second half, which saw Oniel directly next to Schmetzer, etc., on the sideline, allowing them to direct/encourage him vocally. This led to more direct play and better decision making after the break. Fisher had a great angled possession dribble in the 49th that saw him aggressively cross the field and find a teammate, and while not spectacular, he did earn a 63rd minute corner and kept possession while defending smartly on the right.
Fisher lost possession in the 67th and was beaten badly in the box by Urena a minute later which probably led to his substitution. Although he struggled (especially in the first half) Fisher did show some of development and defensively did his part of the clean sheet. If he gets more playing time he needs to work on integrating much better with teammates, especially Nico.
Osvaldo Alonso – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.5 (MOTM)
Through four games Alonso had been unimpressive, at times struggling and showing some rust coming back from injury and a short preseason. All of that went out of the window, with Alonso showing the form that earned him team POY honors five times. He was fantastic against San Jose, exhibiting more pace, energy, and aggressive forward play than we have seen all season.
Alonso introduced himself to Jahmir Hyka in the 2nd minute, brutally bodying him off the ball and taking possession. After a brief spell as a center back for the injured Torres, Ozzie was back in the middle and showing off a 17th minute turn in traffic that was vintage Alonso control. He was extremely active in the first half, roaming from side to side to clog lanes, create turnovers, and spur counter attacks. One moment Alonso was defending, saving Joevin who was completely beat in the 27th minute. Ten minutes later Ozzie popped up to put a left-footed shot just wide of the goal on a spectacular hit. A 44th minute defensive slide in the box, while risky, was perfectly timed.
The second half was more of the same, dominating the midfield to repeatedly gain possession, while saving his defense with strong tackles and heady recoveries. Alonso led the team in touches, had three shots, a key pass, six tackles, three interceptions, completed 95% of his pass attempts, and was the guy in the 92nd minute who charged forward through multiple defenders to start the counter that almost rescued three points. This vintage Alonso performance was wonderful, and if he is rounding into shape, watch out, league.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.1
With Alonso playing much better, there were fewer fires for Roldan to charge around putting out, and that allowed him to be more daring with his play. This showed up in his passing stats, which included a low 66% completion rate. He was 5/9 on long balls but just a bit off when trying to get through the San Jose defense with short and intermediate vertical passing. This was mostly because the Earthquakes ran two defensive mids who refused to budge from the back, making their formation a six-back for most the game with no intent on joining the attack.
Roldan as usual was full of energy, and his recovery runs and communication with Alonso were superb. In the 17th he was across and strong in the middle, which is indicative of Cristian’s much more physical play in 2017. In the 33rd he showed off a fantastic switching pass in traffic, needing only two touches to move the ball across and open Fisher into the right-wing space. In the 40th minute Roldan almost scored from a corner, but his diving header attempt was saved.
There weren’t many second half notes for Roldan. He struggled to penetrate the San Jose’s bunkering midfield but defended well and forced everything from the Earthquakes wide. The game was very choppy and Cristian suffered more than one hard foul. He moved to right back and again did well, showing great endurance and tactical flexibility. I would like to see him take a few more chances with vertical runs, as he tends to find great spaces on these. It’s just a matter of time before teammates find him in advanced positions, which would be a fantastic addition to a skillset that is broadening by the week.
Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 5.7
This was a very quiet game from Shipp, but on the re-watch, there was very little he did wrong. This was pretty much the epitome of MLS average, with Harry doing a lot of good things, but not directly affecting the game too much. He had 80% passing completion and chipped in a few shots and solid defense. His movement was very strong again off the ball, but with San Jose playing so defensively it was hard to find room; Shipp struggled to get open in more advanced, dangerous places.
The highlights for Harry this week were mostly defensive, and I credited him with great takeaways in the 6th and 19th, as well as perfect positioning in minute 29 that created a steal and counter for Seattle. In the 50th minute he was back supporting a lagging Jones, and his defense helped the left back all night, consistently recovering and allowing Joevin to overlap at will.
Shipp was much more of a complementary player this week, and while he didn’t create a lot for others, he got into good positions numerous times. In the 35th minute a smart run into the box saw him get space, but he overcooked a cross that could have found Lodeiro for a great opportunity. I would love to see Shipp do more playmaking, like he did when he dropped next to Alonso after the Fisher sub.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.3
Well, Nico certainly filled up my notebook – in both columns. Stats-wise he was very strong, with the second-most touches on the team, putting half of his four shots on target while adding a goal and two more key passes. A 71% completion rate showed a pretty good game, but unfortunately there were just too many poor decisions to earn a higher grade.
This was a very up and down game for Nico. He still doesn’t look even as comfortable as he did in the first game he played last season. The work rate is still there, and Lodeiro buzzes around poking and prodding for weaknesses in defense, but especially this game with six defenders, Nico found it hard to find any space to work with. When he did the runs in front of him didn’t materialize or like in the 40th minute, his through ball was off.
Lodeiro did some great things in the game, including slipping Jordan through on multiple occasions and doing his usual hard work defensively. In the 35th he ghosted into the box in perfect position but the Shipp service was lacking. His set pieces were again a mixed bag, with many very strong passes offset by some pretty poor ones.
Nico didn’t have many turnovers, but they almost always seemed to kill a promising attack. A 51st minute break was lost, as was a 73rd minute possession. Nico had a lousy backheel attempt in the 91st that led to a breakaway and almost goal for SJ. His decision-making must be questioned after he ignored a wide-open Jones in minute 92, choosing instead to pull the trigger on a speculative long shot.
Your best player should be able to struggle and then pull a win out of a hat, and that is nearly what Nico did. His 84th minute volley off a deflection was sublime, hit with equal amounts power and precision. Even though he is struggling more this season, he is still capable of that level of magic every time he touches the ball, and it is this ability to completely change a game with a moment of brilliance that separates a player of his caliber from most of the league.
Clint Dempsey – 6 | Community – 6.1 (off 88’)
Clint was also quiet this game, and was part of an offense that struggled to solve the San Jose bunkering defense. It wasn’t that much that Clint did anything wrong – in fact I had nearly no negative marks for him – but more that he was ineffective for long stretches of the game with very few touches.
Clint did well whenever he did touch the ball, often opening space for others but consistently failing to get the ball back when open. Dempsey didn’t touch the ball until minute 18 when he dropped to open congestion in the back, but it was rare for him to venture into his own half to help. In minute 41 it was Clint’s chest pass to a streaking wing that opened the entire field, something he nonchalantly did to give Seattle one of its best chances of the half.
Part of the reason Clint was ineffective is he was just beat to hell all night. He suffered five fouls called and at least that many more that went uncalled. San Jose just beat on him throughout, and it was nearly effective, stunting the free-flowing game that Seattle prefers. An 83rd minute foul was eventually punished via Nico’s wonder strike, but otherwise the home team was content to just pound away at Clint’s ankles.
There must be more cohesion between our front four, which should lead to more quality looks. We saw a glimpse of what could be in minute 54 – a Clint and Nico give-and-go through the middle was reminiscent of some Clinfemi runs of the past. More of this must be utilized if Seattle is to be successful against a clearly bunkering team.
Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 5.4
Morris continues to struggle and once again was unable to make any imprint on the game. He had more touches this week than last which is a good sign, but many were away from goal and not dangerous. Some of this is the way the defense was set up, but much can be attributed to Jordan not taking advantage of the gaps in the defense and at times showing a heavy touch.
Morris was active early and I was excited to see zero pace or form difficulties apparent from his ankle issues. He was one of the players most affected by the lousy field conditions, often slipping before being able to get to speed. After finding space at the start San Jose shut him down completely. Morris didn’t help his cause with a 17th minute mistouch. In the 25th with a wide-open Clint Dempsey floating into the far post JMo did everything right except make the proper final pass, missing Deuce by five yards. Jordan just isn’t connecting with the midfielders behind him, and is nowhere near on the same page as his teammates. He couldn’t connect with Nico in the 53rd or Dempsey in the 73rd, both of which were dangerous attacks.
Morris still works hard, but the interaction from him evident in the early practices seems to be missing. Instead of adding some tight control and touches to the front line he is running away a lot, and when the service is lacking, so is his impact on the game. Like last season, this appears to be just lagging boot time; I fully expect once the 2017.dominate.exe program gets fully loaded that Morris will be unleashed with a vengeance, but currently he is not effective.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 6.6 (on 15’)
Goose has been touted as the most important pickup of the offseason and this outing was the epitome of that praise. Called in cold in the game’s first 20 minutes, Svensson merely stepped onto the field and had a stellar outing. Svensson has shown up as a quality starting player for the Sounders, and he adds enormous value to the roster.
Svensson immediately showed his class, sliding over after Fisher’s slip in the 17th minute and forcing the play wide. Ten minutes later he was across to the other side, marking Wondolowski. Not only did he outpace the SJ striker who looked clear in on goal, he shouldered him aside like a rag doll, took possession from him in the box, and turned wide, likely laughing in Swedish as he calmly cleared the ball.
Multiple times (35’, 36’, 53’) Goose smartly read the play and stepped up to keep possession in the San Jose half, each time stealing a breakout pass and recycling it into Seattle pressure. His recovery defense in the 65th was smart, and while not speedy the Swede uses burst speed to get into good positions before attacks can happen.
I love Svensson’s touch and distribution. He is so calm in the back, always head up looking forward. Gustav consistently traps the ball away from pressure and into good positions, simplifying his job. Svensson went 4/5 on long balls, showing great vision and ability. Even if you’ve faced him before, you can’t adequately prepare for Wondolowski’s erratic movement and Goose was caught in an outside position in minute 80; he also had an unfortunate slip in the 91st minute which allowed Wondo to tie the match.
Alvaro Fernandez – 5 | Community – 5.2 (on 70’)
Flaco was brought into the game to add a spark and he did this not by possession but by fixing some of the positional issues the Sounders were having. With Jones ineffective, Fernandez stayed wide, pulling some congestion out of the Dempsey zone.
He will be remembered for an awful cross in the 74th with much better options, but frankly Alvaro didn’t have much opportunity to impact the game (nor did he force an impact). He touched the ball a mere 10 times in 30 minutes, and completed 70% of his passes. I noted great defense in the 85th minute. This was just a completely invisible performance that showed more defensive positioning and movement than actual ball skills.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 4.8 (on 88’)
I don’t understand this sub at all. Bringing Delem into the middle seemed to be a mistake, as he failed to influence the game at all, not touching the ball and generally looking lost in the middle. He whiffed on his one attempt to kick in the 92nd minute and his positioning was questionable at best.
Ricardo Salazar – 3 | Community – 4.8
Salazar did some things right. He appropriately allowed advantage play, he brought the ball back when necessary, and he carded behind-the-play fouls. The fouls (and card) on the Sounders were all appropriate and he did well keeping control of Seattle.
Unfortunately, there were two teams on the field and he was completely dreadful calling fouls on San Jose. It’s not just the 11-4 first half or 18-6 totals for the game in fouls called, it’s the absolutely cynical way that the Earthquakes fouled Sounders players and how Salazar permitted this.
Two players stood out for me. The first is Fatai Alashe, who fouled Morris with no call in the 11th, then was called for a foul in the 17th. His hacking of Dempsey and Morris was mostly uncalled and something that was deliberate and persistent. Multiple times he came to the middle of the field to kick or grab Sounders and stop any possible counter, but only a 36th minute foul was called. He should have been on a yellow long before his dreadful foul in the 83rd earned him a card.
Even more egregious was the play of Anibal Godoy, a player who somehow ended on the field after committing SIX called fouls and a plethora of others. The ref warned Godoy in the 12th minute for a foul that should have been yellow. Somehow, he was allowed to foul twice more before a 33rd minute card. In the second half Godoy should have been off after a 54th minute hack on Dempsey in the midfield, but after yet ANOTHER talking to he responded with another foul LESS THAN A MINUTE LATER on Dempsey again. This didn’t warrant a sending off, and neither did another foul five minutes later which, instead of a rightful ejection the ref Salazar went with the rare “hulk flex glare/bark yelling at player” method that was completely ineffective to stop the fouls. In the 64th minute Godoy threw in another foul for good measure, but by this point Salazar was so far down the “don’t ship Godoy” hole that any foul called had to get a persistent caution, meaning this regular foul = red; Salazar refused to ever do this.
The wasteland of the midfield due to tactical fouls completely removed either team’s ability to play anything resembling appealing soccer. The Earthquakes’ playing style tried to drag Seattle down into the mud with them and it worked, in large part thanks to Salazar’s unwillingness to legislate correctly.
SAN JOSE MOTM:
The goalscorer gets the slight majority here, with Wondolowski earning votes from 125 of 244 respondents.
This was a disappointing start to a three-game road trip, and Seattle must quickly improve to keep pace with the rest of the west. Luckily, the next away opponent is close. Look for Seattle to take advantage of more space and quick turf in Vancouver this Friday night.