Someone once said that it’s a marathon, not a sprint, and a single game doesn’t make a season, yadda yadda yadda — I don’t care, the Seattle Sounders just curb-stomped the LA Galaxy in their house and damn it feels good. Putting together by far their best performance of the season, Seattle surged to a three-goal first half via a completely dominant team effort and preserved the shutout through disciplined defense in the second half. Winning 3-nil at LA is impressive, but more impressive was the free flowing, attacking soccer as Seattle ran the Galaxy off the field. We finished with 87 percent passing completion for the entire game, which indicates better spacing, movement, and execution from a highly-motivated Sounders team.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.0
Frei didn’t have much to do against LA, especially in the first half. He did face 13 shots (3 on target) and the most impressive thing wasn’t the saves but his leadership and direction to a makeshift backline that helped him earn his second shutout.
The first half was a barren wasteland for Galaxy attacks; they were mostly gobbled up by a dominant Seattle midfield and smart defensive positioning. Frei consistently kept his back four connected. After watching a 3rd minute Gyasi Zardes breakaway shot trickle harmlessly wide, he had nothing of note until minute 37: a free kick he easily caught. Right before half Stefan covered his near post well, as Romain Alessandrini had a weird backheel flick that presented some danger.
The second half had additional work for Frei, as Seattle was content to play more defensively and the Galaxy pushed numbers forward. Still their only attacks were created by the dangerous Alessandrini, who forced a 65th minute position save and elicited strong defense from both Frei and Gustav Svensson in the 80th. Those two combined to completely befuddle the Galaxy attacker’s moves to turn a potential scoring opportunity into a harmless, flailing, wide shot. Stefan finished off the game strong with a save on a hard Zardes shot combined with a punch away in traffic in the 88th.
Frei got the shutout, but this was a full defensive team effort. He did fumble a catch in the 51st minute that dropped to Giovani Dos Santos, who had a perfect opportunity to cut the Sounders lead, and a few minutes later he punched a cross up instead of catching. These were potential momentum changers, and Stefan will want to clean up his work in traffic, but anytime you earn a shutout in LA it’s a good outing.
Joevin Jones – 7 | Community – 7.3
After a few weeks of struggling, the dominant, dynamic Joevin Jones traveled to southern California. With Jordan Morris in front of him, the left side of the Seattle offense was blazing fast and capable of creating rapid changes to game state. Joevin stepped up his game and did a very capable job both in defending Alessandrini and supporting the offensive width.
After an early 3rd minute turnover Jones was very clean the remainder of the game, and his 89 percent completion rate mirrored most of his teammates’ amazing numbers. I was pleased that my Jones notes were pretty evenly split on defensive and offensive actions. In the 23rd minute he showed tremendous 1v1 defense against Alessandrini. In the 35th he forced an own goal with a perfect low cross after finding space on the overlap. In the 54th he was back to owning Alessandrini, this time jumping the Galaxy star’s run, stealing the ball, and earning a foul. In the 67th it was Jones churning up the left side, lifting a perfect back post cross that badly beat goalie Brian Rowe but just missed Dempsey lurking with intent.
This is the Jones that excited everyone in the first three games of the year — the guy who can tip the field, with strong 1v1 wide defending and by creating mismatches going forward on the overlap. Joevin didn’t connect with Morris very often, and at times when Nicolas Lodeiro overloaded the side these guys struggled with positioning, but I loved the very surgical timing of Joevin’s runs while not losing sight of Alessandrini. His decision making was excellent in LA.
Tony Alfaro – 6 | Community – 6.5
Asked to start his second game of the season, Tony again showed he is an MLS-starting-quality centerback, and remains a wonderful piece to back up the veterans in front of him. One of the most exciting aspects of Tony’s development is he doesn’t shy from the moment. He consistently demanded the ball on switches, wasn’t afraid to mix it up with LA players, and showed controlled enthusiasm throughout. He has been involved in both shutouts this season, and displayed a patient, physical style this weekend.
In the 2nd minute Alfaro introduced himself to Dos Santos via a crunching slide tackle, and he continued to use these risky yet effective tackles throughout. I’m not a huge fan of going to ground, and in the 53rd his slide on Jermaine Jones was dangerous and on the edge of the box. Another in the 77th was outside the area and just completely erased Zardes from the earth. If Tony is making good decisions on when to slide it’s probably OK, but he should watch Chad Marshall for examples of how positioning can usually eliminate the need to go to ground.
In the 12th minute Alfaro got forward to keep the ball in the attacking zone, and he showed 1v1 defensive ability against Zardes in the 48th. Tony had a “paltry” 79 percent completion success rate which came from many smart connections with his teammates and showed he has a bright future with a Seattle team that has tremendous depth.
Gustav Svensson – 8 | Community – 7.3
While Alfaro was solid, Goose was spectacular. Did I mention depth? This guy has been impressive, especially in the last four matches. Svensson had 95 percent passing on 42 attempts, completed all his long balls, had 7 clearances, jumpstarted the attack with distribution, and defensively shut down everything all game.
In the 1st minute Goose found Nico forward, and four minutes later found him in the middle. In between he was taking a great defensive angle on one of LA’s few chances, a Zardes breakaway. Svensson recovered well and forced the LA attacker into a harmless wide shot. In the 23rd minute he was again matched up with Zardes, and again his perfect position stopped a near-post try. Wing attack threatening in the 36th? Cue Svensson calmly coming across to shut down the attack. Three minutes later he took his turn to crush Jermaine Jones into oblivion with a perfectly executed tackle.
The second half was no different, and Svensson was putting out fires everywhere. In the 58th he was across to shut down Zardes in the box. In the 60th he sprinted 90 yards in transitioning from corner kick offense to defense, shutting down Alessandrini. In the 80th he again shut down Alessandrini, and showed awesome 1v1 defense, preferring defensive positioning and patience over diving in and slide tackles.
Goose was outjumped on a corner kick header by Jermaine Jones in the 77th and defending crosses is his biggest weakness, but otherwise this was an impressive outing. Svensson does some spectacular little things that make the game easier for himself and those around him, such as a 50th minute adjustment wide. This intelligent movement allowed him to receive a simple pass instead of forcing Alonso to use a smaller window. His passing forward is wonderful and a huge weapon for a possession team.
Jordy Delem – 6 | Community – 6.3
Welcome to MLS, Jordy Delem! This was his best performance to date and a game where he truly looked like he belonged on the field with everyone else. As the fifth-string right back, that is just amazing. Showing off an impressive physical skillset, there was a lot to like from Delem, and his improvement from game to game is a promising sign. He did have the lowest completion rate of the starters (77 percent), and needs to work on his crossing, but he chipped in with a key pass and strong defensive awareness that was nice to see.
Much of Jordy’s action came in a busy first half, and the most impressive things he did were via intelligent positioning tweaks. In the 11th Delem sucked inside and stopped Zardes from a break that had been wide open earlier in the game. He continued to smartly help inside in the 17th, showing a nice awareness of the LA tactics. Jordy played strong 1v1 defense, limiting Emmanuel Boateng to 18 touches in 37 ineffective minutes.
Offensively Delem was a mixed bag. He started off with a 7th minute pass to no one but settled down to connect with the offense better. He still struggles with decision making on the wing. In the 26th he made a great overlap only to have his cross blocked, something he repeated a few times. Good things happened when he instead cut the ball back for a square pass; in the 44th he earned a key pass that led directly to Sounders goal number three. “Feeling it” in the 61st Delem cherry-picked Dos Santos, and he even got into the “slide tackle Alessandrini” parade in the 79th.
I liked a lot about what Delem brought to the game, although as he tired he became increasingly ineffective. He needs to keep his concentration level high, as he was beat badly over the top as a free safety on a corner kick, as well as caught ball watching in the 72nd and allowing a Dos Santos shot. Cleaning up these things and working on distribution going forward will do wonders for his chances of getting more playing time, but for a fifth-stringer this was impressive.
Osvaldo Alonso – 7 | Community – 7.5
Alonso had a relatively quiet game, which was filled with so much perfect positioning and smart playing that he wasn’t required to do a ton of remarkable actions. The Alonso/Roldan pairing simply decimated the LAG attack, and Ozzie consistently picked off passes in the middle and recycled possession forward through Nico and Clint Dempsey. This was spectacularly done via 93 percent passing, including an incredible 11 of 12 long balls.
In the first minute Alonso welcomed Dos Santos by forcing him back and into a turnover. After allowing Gio to get too much space and find Zardes on a break in the 3rd, Alonso quickly reacted for the rest of the game to shut down that space. In the final 35 minutes of the half I marveled at just how coordinated the defensive midfielders were as they repeatedly combined to create positive possession via defensive actions and quick, concise ball distribution forward. With Roldan always there to support, Alonso was allowed to spray his metronomic passes around the field in his style, at which he’s best in the league. I was amazed at just how high these two could stay in the attack, and perhaps they took my advice about one of them needing to join forward. One notable change I loved was seeing Alonso try a deep cross to the far post, something that just missed Dempsey on two occasions, and is a completely different angle that stretches a defense. Alonso was caught too wide in the 88th and Zardes got in behind him, but LA didn’t take advantages of the few opportunities whenever Ozzie was out of position.
While they might not get the accolades of the guys in front of them or the ones behind, a lot of the dirty work was done by these two defensive mids, and their success allowed everyone around them the space to excel.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.5
Roldan was the other half of a dominant defensive midfield pairing, and this was one of the best combinations of the two of them I have seen. 96 percent passing, 3 for 3 long balls; these stats plus Ozzie’s numbers explain why the home team had so little midfield possession.
It all started early. In the very first minute Roldan saw Alonso and Delem beat and shifted over to win possession. In the 11th Cristian stepped over to GDS and stopped a throughball attempt, and in the 18th Roldan had a great defensive recovery to stop an attack after Alonso lost the ball. He repeated this all game, with a smooth connectivity to Ozzie that we haven’t seen with this much success.
Roldan had a few miscues, and he left Alessandrini wide open on top of the 18 in the 7th minute on something that should have been stressed on the scouting report. While Alonso and Roldan were clicking, there were also a few times that Roldan passed off runners to no one in general, and his communication with the defenders behind him needs to be slightly improved. This is nitpicky, especially considering just how tremendous the Roldan/Alonso pair played as a unit.
Jordan Morris – 8 | Community – 7.5 (off 68’)
There’s lots of discussion about SSFC’s success with Jordan on the wing. I’m not yet sold that it’s his best position, but there is no denying his improved effectiveness this weekend. I believe Jordan played well before his injury, and was unlucky not to have more success. Against LA he didn’t have a ton of consistent “winger” actions, but almost all his accomplishments on the field translated into goals for Seattle. He ended an abbreviated outing with an amazing 100 percent completion on 29 attempts, put both of his shots on goal, and kicked in 3 key passes. Oh, and he scored a goal too.
Jordan got a neat flick header on a 6th minute corner that nearly scored, and then he went to work enjoying all the space to be found on the wing against Nathan Smith. An 8th minute give-and-go was one of his few interactions with Jones, but it released the left back into a world of space. Speaking of, in the 13th when presented with room and the ball, I was overjoyed to see Morris attack it, cutting in and switching to Delem. In the 35th Jordan attacked the middle, and when he released Jones wide in the space he had created the Sounders earned an own goal from Ashley Cole. Right before half JMo found space on the left side of the attack and Dempsey found him perfectly. Morris calmly finished around Rowe, showing great composure.
After halftime, Morris had a few chances in the 51st and 55th to attack space on the wing, and both times he failed to do so, instead choosing to stop and pass square or lose possession. He’ll need to work on those things if he is truly going to play wide. In the 59th Jordan showed some of what we’ve seen from him up front, as he chased down a seemingly innocuous throughball by fighting past Cole, before laying off a gentle layup that Dempsey put off the crossbar. There was much to like results-wise from the freedom Morris had starting wide. He had more touches in the middle this game than many when he starts there, which is an odd puzzle for Coach Schmetzer to figure out.
Clint Dempsey – 9 (MOTM) | Community – 8.4 (MOTM) (off 85’)
There were a few players to consider for man of the match this week, but after watching again and looking at the stats it had to be Deuce. Clint just destroyed my notes, and his stats were staggering: 91 percent passing, 7 shots, 5 key passes, 7 for 7 on long balls, perfect on through balls, a goal, an assist, and a crossbar. He wasn’t too far from a 3-goal, 3-assist game which is insane, especially on the road in LA.
Dempsey lulls you to sleep with consistency. He isn’t a guy who is everywhere (that’s the next dude), but when rewatching, every time I think “someone should be…” – then “oh there’s Dempsey in the right spot.” One such time was on a 12th minute Alonso cross from a deep left position — Clint’s header just missed. In the 21st after great combination play through the middle, Dempsey went wide of the near post with the far side completely open, and probably should have scored. He would rectify this in the 29th. Fifteen minutes earlier Clint had been completely unmarked on the back post, but Nico went near with his pass. This time Lodeiro dropped a perfect backside chip and again Dempsey was waiting, this time to calmly finish with an unsaveable header to open the scoring. Deuce wasn’t done; he was still spraying passes around to attackers, including a perfect 44th minute no-look layoff to Morris for a 3-0 halftime lead.
Clint had less luck changing the score line in the second half. He put a shot into the crossbar in the 59th and saw Bruin waste a golden chance in the 78th after Dempsey slipped him in behind with a perfect trap-beating pass.
Seattle has been good this year, but it finally came together in the form of goals, and Clint was in the middle of it all. His movement and connection with Lodeiro was phenomenal, and the Sounders attack put on a clinic.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 8 | Community – 8.0
On most other days if Nico has 82 percent completion rate on a whopping 103 touches in the attack and gets 3 key passes and an assist, all the while pulling strings EVERYWHERE, he wins MOTM. He was amazing, showing the dominant form that we came to expect after his hot end to 2016. This was a player who was relentless, showing up anywhere, slicing apart the Galaxy defense with surgical precision.
Immediately sensing weakness, Nico overloaded the left in the 5th minute, putting Morris into space. That play earned a corner that had Lodeiro dialing up Morris’ head for a great chance. Six minutes later Nico was diving to the end line and passing with a movement that just befuddled the LA defense. The cross was blocked, but he learned his lesson, going far post in the 29th for a beautiful assist. Right before this he had a likely goal blocked after breaking Smith’s ankles and unleashing a well-placed shot.
The second half was more of the same: Lodeiro was popping up on both sides, the middle, pressing, dropping into defense, everywhere. He put Morris through in the 59th from the right side on a play that had Dempsey hit the woodwork, but who teleported to the left side to get the rebound? Nico. He had three defensive notes after the 85th minute, his motor still running strong late into the match.
There were three comments in the negative column this week: He had a second minute turnover, a 51st minute cross went to Rowe, and 1 of 7 set pieces wasn’t good. That’s it. Nico is back with a vengeance, and the league should be very scared.
Will Bruin – 7 | Community – 6.9
Bruin gave us a great example of a player’s ability to help the rest of his teammates with strong tactical awareness, off ball movement, and consistently changing shape to improve others’ spacing. Bruin was impressive in that aspect, consistently doing “center forward” type things such as stretching a high line, occupying multiple defenders, and moving central players wide, in addition to the standard back-to-goal hold-up play. This dedication to a central anchor point allowed the smart movement of the offense to rotate around him and create opportunities galore.
In the 4th minute Bruin pounced on a mistake in the back and showed good pace to win possession. Two minutes later he almost scored on a corner kick redirection, as he was perfectly positioned in the six yard box for exactly this chance. Another subsequent corner saw Will get good contact, but was unable to send his header on goal. In the 21st he slid over and got a nifty touch amidst a Sounders combination, slipping Dempsey into shooting position. This was one of multiple times Bruin showed off his soft feet and smart decision making. I liked his angles when pressing, and on numerous occasions he forced errors from Rowe in distribution. His presence directly in the center of the 6-yard box helped force Cole into the own goal in the 35th, and his checking run and flick wide to Delem to start the 44th minute goal was textbook.
Bruin was always posted high in the middle of the field, and was consistently in between the center backs. The importance of this positioning can’t be understated; it created the space that Nico/Dempsey/Morris feasted on behind him. Bruin wasn’t asked to do a ton of holdup play, and he only touched the ball 25 times, but it was his unselfish movement that shined. A great example came in the 59th, as he dragged three defenders though the box, opening Clint Dempsey massive space to get a shot off. In the 78th he had an easy assist to a wide-open Harry Shipp, but opted instead to take a shot, which missed, something he also did earlier. In a closer game that might be problematic, but I think he deserves a pass this game after putting in an otherwise very unselfish 90 minutes.
Harry Shipp – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 68’)
Shipp came in and did what he needed to do to get involved, finding passes and playing defense. He got the ball about the same amount as Morris did on the wing, but had much less success passing, still failing to be on the same page as his teammates. At the point he entered the game, Seattle was much more in a bunker-and-counter setup, which limited his skill at combination, and he still lacks some chemistry with other Sounders. Multiple times Harry missed passes to guys that he simply assumed were going a different direction. I don’t know why that keeps happening, but he must get better at connecting with the rest of the squad. It wasn’t his fault in the 78th minute when he had a simple tap-in goal had Bruin picked his head up and made a standard square pass, but a score would have helped his case.
Henry Wingo – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 85’)
Wingo should feel good about continuing to find the field, but there aren’t a lot of results from him in these small outings. He touched the ball 14 times and failed to connect his one pass attempt. He did win a throw-in with hustle in the 88th and was called offside in the 90th.
Ismail Elfath – 9 | Community – 6.2
Elfath had a walk in the park this week, with both teams playing relatively clean games, and the ref smartly allowed the players to dictate the game instead of injecting himself into the narrative. He did call 28 fouls in the match, but many were non-controversial and he was consistently in good position to blow the whistle.
I thought the yellow cards on Roldan, Alessandrini, and Alfaro were all correct, and the ref consistently carded guys for cynical “professional” fouls on counter attacks. I was impressed with two quick whistles in the 50th minute to keep control of the game.
The only issues with Elfath were minor. I thought Smith fouled Joevin Jones out of bounds in minute 69 after he had been beaten by the Sounders left back, and instead a throw-in was given. In the 79th Jelle Van Damme shoulder charged Dempsey, bowling him over, and a whistle was warranted. Instead, no foul was issued and LA proceeded on a dangerous attack.
Overall this was a very strong outing from the referee and his staff.
It’s safe to say no LA player shone in this match. There were plenty of voter write-ins for Ashley Cole or ‘the crossbar’, but LA DP Romain Alessandrini caused the most potential danger against the Sounders, and he won the poll with 61 percent of the vote.
LAG is in the rearview and Seattle return to CenturyLink Field this weekend with 3 more points. Seattle come out of their extended road schedule in playoff position, and with 4 of the next 6 at home it’s time to start cranking out the home wins. New England Revolution approaches with a team that has looked both good and awful this season, and nothing they showed in a 2-2 tie with a lousy DC United team at home last weekend scares me if Seattle plays half as well as they did this weekend. This could be the start of a really nice run of points deposited for the good guys. Look for more fireworks from the suddenly lethal attack.