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Seattle Sounders vs. Atlanta United: Player ratings

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There was a lot to consider when re-watching the Seattle Sounders’ disappointing 0-0 draw with Atlanta United on Friday night. On one hand, Atlanta was the highest-scoring team in the league, and Seattle’s backline had only one of its usual starters but still earned a clean sheet. On the other hand, while the Sounders created quality chances, they failed to put much of real substance on frame or take advantage of their superior play throughout most of the game.


KEEPER:

Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 7.1

This was Frei’s first shutout of the season, and his organization of the makeshift defense in front of him earned the clean sheet. Working with a backline that had likely never even trained together as a full unit, Stefan did a good job of keeping his defenders compact and grounded. Because of this, Frei only had to make three saves all match.

One of these was a tame shot in the 2nd minute that Stefan easily stopped by great positioning. The second was after a scramble in the 16th and the third was all the way in the 87th, cleanly corralling a tricky shot from Miguel Almiron. Other than these plays, a 12th minute denial on a breakaway was Frei’s signature moment, in which he charged to the edge of his box and alertly snagged the ball as Hector Villalba attempted to round him. This was a very risky play and one that, while it was successful, I hope he is studying the tape on.

The rest of the game was managing players, keeping positioning tight, and distributing to the playmakers. There was one short clear to the middle in the 61st but otherwise Frei was calm and steady in the back, which was exactly what was needed against Atlanta.

DEFENSE:

Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.8

Jones was less effective this week, but two factors were to blame. First, he was playing his fourth match in two weeks and had to travel back to Seattle from T&T. That amount of travel will fatigue anyone, even a young fit player like Jones. Second, his backline was literally cobbled together in warmups, with Chad Marshall a late scratch due to sickness. Having a new young player like Alfaro next to him definitely curbed Jones’ penchant for marauding runs up the wing, at least early.

In the 3rd minute, Joevin easily took his first touch around Jacob Peterson, getting up the wing and crossing the ball in. He didn’t get forward much more in the first half, with a 39th minute run up the wing being the only other attacking contribution. The Jones section of the notebook was VERY quiet in the second half as well; his lone real action was a great 46th minute cross that only a desperation tackle stopped from being an assist. Defensively Jones hung with Asad and Gressel; Mears didn’t even try to get into the attack, seeing difficulty and turning the ball constantly backwards (no surprise).

Joevin was adequate defensively and, other than a 48th minute switching pass to no one, was tidy in the few times he went forward. He had a high rate of passing success and did his job defensively all night. If you look at this performance in a vacuum it was adequate (especially knowing he was tired), but based on what we know of his ability to impact games, the result was disappointing.

Tony Alfaro – 6 | Community – 6.1

Tony showed great preparedness to step into a starting role in warm-ups and play an entire game well. He now has a full year of professional soccer under his belt and looks primed to do exactly what he did Friday – step onto the field as a spot starter or injury backup and not rock the boat. Against a team that was scoring buckets of goals early in the season, Tony didn’t look intimidated or overwhelmed by the Atlanta attack, instead combining well with Svensson in the middle to lock down the United forwards for long stretches of the game.

The first note for Tony came in minute 16, when he alertly came across to support Svensson. Alfaro was solid in this game defensively, but also showed more range than prior. I was impressed with his decision making when attacking defensively, and in the 63rd he followed an Atlanta player to midfield and won a tackle, ensuring the Sounders kept both possession and the pressure on. Five minutes later Alfaro showed off a delicate entry pass, threading a ball through to the attack with good touch.

Tony has a great long ball touch pass, but failed to be very accurate with it against Atlanta, and multiple times we lost possession when his forward passes went awry. This is something that experience will fix, since his passing quality is good; just the decision-making needs work. In the 56th minute he took a lousy recovery line, allowing Villalba an inside position, and a 72nd needless slide tackle showed there is much to improve upon. Physically Tony has all the tools, but there is a mental and experience factor that is limiting him from being more than average.

Gustav Svensson – 8 | Community – 7.1

Gustav still hasn’t played his (ostensibly) best position for the Sounders but yet again was fantastic for Seattle. He absolutely lit up the notebook on defense, repeatedly stopping Atlanta from promising attacks. Goose showed a Marshall’esqe ability to cut off potential issues before they developed, consistently ending danger before it could be exploited. His communication and leadership was also apparent, waving the younger players around him into position and sliding over to support each throughout.

Svensson is a very calm defender, and this makes his play look effortless as he repeatedly was positionally strong. It was rare to see the Swede go to ground, preferring to keep his feet moving, but in the 41st a perfectly timed slide tackle ended a promising Atlanta break. Two minutes later he was an absolute brick wall to Yamil Asad, crushing him on THREE attempts in a row, eventually forcing him away. In the 56th Goose was floating all the way across the field to cover behind Alfaro, helping his partner who was caught up field.

One pet peeve of mine about defensive players is how they use the keeper, and Gustav was masterful. His passes to Stefan were crisp yet soft, to his strong foot, and led him away from pressure. This is important to alleviate any mistakes in the back, and allow the team to create going forward. Not only does he make great decisions using Frei, the pace and touch on his passes combined with great vision allowed Seattle to break through any press and shred the midfield going forward. Svensson’s vision and distribution from the back is tremendous and a great asset from a defensive player. He even had a key pass and the energy to shut down two attackers on his own in the 90th minute.

Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 5.7 (off 80’)

Making his first start in an MLS game, Delem started off rocky, but settled in and showed his physical skill set is a handy bench piece.

Early on Delem struggled with when to overlap, consistently being out of position and thus not helpful in attack or defense. I noted miscues in the first three minutes, including twice where by misreading the space he handcuffed midfielders, leading to possession loss and Atlanta counter attacks. After the first five minutes, though, he settled down, soon popping up in the 8th to stop an attack all the way across the field, and in the 18th stopping Asad 1v1.

Defensively I was impressed with Jordy who used his athleticism to fend off most attacks from the Atlanta left. At times his positioning could have been better, but the ever vigilant Svensson was there to support. Delem improved throughout the game, showing great anticipation in the 43rd to step forward and sliding across in the 52nd to deny Asad. Gaining confidence, Delem started to range forward into the attack with promising results but needs to work on connecting crosses. He passes low and consistently into dangerous areas, and has the fitness to support two-way play but needs more work to be a piece of the offensive design.

Jordy is obviously still a project, but to start on short notice against a quality attack I thought he did fairly well, especially defensively. Other than pulling Larentowicz down on a corner in the 27th Delem played clean defense and even led the team with five interceptions.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD:

Cristian Roldan – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.3 (MOTM)

The last few weeks have been a turnaround for Roldan, who struggled to open the season. That seems like so long ago, and Cristian was once again the best player on the field against Atlanta. He had a 2nd minute bad switch to Delem and airmailed a volley attempt in the 64th. Other than those two notes he obliterated the stat line – 80% passing, 2/3 crossing, 7/12 long balls, two key passes, three shots, four tackles, four interceptions and more importantly was simply everywhere the ball was, turning in a fantastic display of two-way play.

In the 3rd minute Roldan started his dominance by cleaning up an Alonso mistake. Five minutes later he forced a turnover before following it into the box and nearly redirecting a deflected cross with his torso into the net. In the 10th he burst through the middle and jump started a counter attack after winning the ball. This play was reminiscent of play we have all seen Alonso make over the years. In the 25th it was again Cristian who tracked back to break up an attack, and he ended the half sprinting back to shoulder off a tackle and keep possession for Seattle.

Roldan was even better in the second half, unleashing a fantastic pass from a deep position in the 56th that switched Delem wide open into a ton of space on the right. Five minutes later it was tight control on display, as Cristian wriggled out of trouble with the ball glued to his feet. A few minutes later he read the Atlanta break perfectly, stepping forward to stop it before they could even get out of their own end. Roldan was EVERYWHERE the ball was, even after shifting to right back for a second straight game. In the 71st he shouldered off Garza, got a ball back and crossed into danger. In the 84th he destroyed Almiron’s feeble attempt to get forward. In the 91st he took some Dempsey magic and created a chance, and still busting his ass in minute 91 he blocked a Kenwyne Jones shot to rescue a result.

Roldan was awesome. His versatility, increased range and confidence are impressive. He makes everyone around him better, and he just keeps improving.

Osvaldo Alonso – 6 | Community – 6.6

I’m not ready to say the torch has been passed from Ozzie to Cristian, but in this game we saw Alonso stay home and Roldan roam more. This is likely by design, and being less active should somewhat increase Alonso’s career longevity. By not being as involved going forward, the always tidy Cuban offered a sparkling 95% pass completion rate, which helped Seattle control the game tempo all night. Alonso did some of the defensive things he normally does, clogging up passing lanes and supporting the back four, but he had fewer midfield destroyer actions. In fact, he didn’t commit a foul the entire game, which indicates his role changed from enforcer to facilitator.

Early on Alonso and Roldan combined to press Atlanta into turnover after turnover in the back, with an 8th minute play resulting in a 5v4 break for Seattle. United figured out how to play from their fullbacks after this, and Ozzie then dropped into a protective role over the center backs for much of the remainder of the game. This allowed him to switch the field, hold possession, and filter the ball through to Shipp or Lodeiro. Alonso did lose possession in the middle a few times, and at least once was abused 1v1 which makes me wonder whether he’s yet up to full fitness from an injury-filled offseason.

Roldan’s improvement can only make Alonso more effective, taking some of the burden off and allowing him to concentrate on pushing accurate passes to the creative players in front of him.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD:

Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 6.2 (off 91’)

Shipp was less effective this game with a tired Jones behind him. He still managed to get off two shots and 86% passing while filtering through the middle to help create. Harry looked better when he had the overlapping Jones combined with the Dempsey gravitational zone creating space for him in the previous match. Shipp also looks like one of the few people with an attacking plan when teams bunker inside the 18.

Harry is willing to pull the trigger, and in the 7th minute without a lot of options he did just that. A minute later he made a subtle shoulder dip towards his right, which froze a defender and allowed him to slip Morris into the box with room; this play almost scored via Roldan. There were a few times that Shipp lost possession in midfield, and when our middle loses the ball a counter attack is usually immediate. I appreciated Harry hustling back after a few of these miscues.

Shipp doesn’t seem on the same page as Lodeiro, and often makes runs that go unrewarded by his Sounders teammates. He missed the energy of a rested Jones outside of him and when Dempsey subbed in was immediately more effective. I like Shipp’s movement and tactical intelligence, but he’ll need to improve his communication with teammates to continue starting. He keeps great control of the ball and the decision-making going forward is excellent, but there needs to be better connection with teammates.

Alvaro Fernandez – 6 | Community – 5.7 (off 57’)

This was a defense-heavy shift from a player who was likely brought in for just that. Inserted ahead of a green Jordy Delem, Flaco kept his positioning more in line with a traditional winger, staying closer to the line and helping support the right back position via multiple recoveries on defense.

In the 2nd minute Flaco had a nice first-time pass through that almost sprung Morris, but this wasn’t a game where Alvaro saw much offensive action. It was his intelligent reading of his defensive duties that shone in this game, highlighted by an 11th minute interception in the middle of the park: Fernandez drifted into a dangerous spot, stole the ball, and transitioned into offense.

A 56th minute far post flick was his last play, and it really deserved better. I thought Alvaro was solid in this game, showing that he’s willing to do all the little things the team needs from a defensive winger. He did not get the benefit of several calls, and will need to work on playing through contact that isn’t called instead of stopping and throwing his hands up; at least once that hurt the team.

Nico Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.2

Nico started in the middle for Seattle, and at times somehow got lost. He seems to be more effective overloading a wing and cutting in from an angle, because when he’s in the center he tends to get forced to the horizontal rather than the vertical. It didn’t help that his only deep threat was an ineffective Morris, and I counted only a single long ball successfully completed. Although he led the team with a massive 105 touches, many times Nico was unable to pull the trigger on the killer pass.

Even though he touched the ball 30 times more than anyone else on the field, Nico struggled to combine with teammates. As early as the 4th minute Lodeiro was forcing the ball long trying to stretch Atlanta, and it wasn’t successful. He also dribbled into trouble in the 13th, 42nd, 63rd and 92nd minutes, each time finding a wall of opponents and losing possession. This is less problematic when the defense cleans up behind him, but it’s indicative of not being on the same page as the runs/movement of teammates.

Lodeiro is still a maestro with the ball, and even struggling found two key passes amidst multiple exhibitions of control and passing touch. Most of Seattle’s attacks went through his creativity, and he moved around finding the usual pockets of space, just without the results. His set pieces remain a mystery, with great service in the 22nd, 58th, and even hitting the near post on a near Olimpico goal in the 60th being offset by lousy passes in the 6th, 30th, 64th, and 79th. It’s possible travel fatigue — he likely spent more than 40 hours flying over the past week or so — and lack of practice at CenturyLink is affecting him, but we desperately need more consistent service from dead-ball situations. This is still an MVP-caliber player who has unfortunately not yet played up to his lofty standards this season.

FORWARD:

Jordan Morris – 5 | Community – 6.1

I think Morris is still favoring his bad ankle, and it mostly shows up in his acceleration which then hampers his ability to separate from the defense. There were several times when it seemed like Jordan took a while to get up to speed, and usually his first step is among the fastest in the league. It didn’t help when the Atlanta defense deliberately obstructed him at every turn, pushing, blocking, and tugging on him in such a way that he wasn’t able to get comfortable control of the ball.

Early on, Morris found a smart run wide of Shipp and was obliged with a perfect pass which he crossed, unluckily missing an assist when the Atlanta defense deflected the ball. For the rest of the half Jordan continually looked to get behind the defense, but Michael Parkhurst and Leandro Gonzalez Pirez did a good job of either defending him well or fouling him incessantly before he could get to the ball. This was smart defending, and frankly Morris had no answer. With Nico coming from a central position, the angles Jordan needed had to be perfect, and these defenders obstructed that run every time. Morris didn’t adjust, and had a paltry 26 touches all night as a result.

In the 28th Jordan showed a nice heel flick to space that no one got on the end of and he recovered nicely for an out of position Shipp in the 78th, completely owning Tyrone Mears on defense. However, many Sounders exhibited a complete lack of desire to shoot, and none was more culpable than Morris. After a Dempsey no-look pass (LOL!) Jordan had an entire goal to look at and instead offered a cross into traffic that was cleared. He needs to be more goal-direct when given the opportunity, while finding a better connection with players like Shipp. Disappointing game from Morris.

SUBS:

Clint Dempsey – 7 | Community – 7.3 (on 57’)

Champing at the bit after reportedly asking to start, Clint burst onto the field in the 57th and immediately changed the complexion of the game. Clint is a soccer force of nature, and he put Seattle firmly on the front foot upon entering. His second touch was a powerful header that slammed off the post, just barely missing a game-winning goal. A minute later he was releasing Nico into space before he again found himself on the ball and dropped an audacious no-look pass to put Morris on goal. In the 68th Dempsey missed Delem over the top unmarked, and had a rough touch stolen by Almiron in the 87th. This play showed some defensive desire from Deuce, who chased him down attempting to hinder the run. Clint finished off the night with a ridiculous backheel in the 91st to find Roldan, somehow kicking the ball behind him to a teammate he had no way of seeing. This pass beat two defenders and gave Seattle one last attempt to secure all three points.

Dempsey looked fantastic in spurts in this sub appearance, and he shows no sign of slowing down this year. His passing and shooting are dialed in, but perhaps more importantly his movement immediately opens space for others, making Seattle a much more offensively diverse and dangerous team when he’s on the field.

Henry Wingo – 4 | Community – 5.7 (on 80’)

I didn’t see a lot from Wingo, who failed to connect offensively with teammates. Continually surging up the left wing with a defender dropping off him, Wingo only attempted one pass into the box (it failed). All his passes were square or back, and he needs to be a direct player who attacks the goal, not a player who rushes up to the 18 and then skirts around it. He had one shot that ECS got to keep as a souvenir.

Will Bruin – n/a | Community – 5.5 (on 91’)

Bruin’s first touch was almost a header on goal, which likely would have been the game winner. Unfortunately, he saw the ball late and the header glanced wide.

REFEREE:

Robert Sibiga – 3 | Community – 4.5

This was a rough referee outing that looked worse as I added up the notes. Sibiga started off strong, calling Jeff Larentowicz for a 6th minute foul and Julian Gressel for a hack in the 13th. Unfortunately, both players would continue to foul people for the remainder of the game and yet neither was penalized for obvious persistent infringement. This hugely affected the game, from a 16th minute Gressel horse collar on Alonso going uncalled and almost turning into a goal to Larentowicz getting away with a blatant foul in the 20th minute on the way to three more that were called.

The constant obstruction of players was blatantly ignored, and there were at least seven times on Flaco and Morris alone. I don’t understand giving a team an advantage like this, and those were among 13 non-called fouls on both teams that Sibiga missed. Allowing a defender to make zero play on the ball and just bash into an offensive player trying to get to the ball is an easy call to make, and one that called early and consistently is essential to offensive movement.

The ref called a couple of correct yellow cards but missed so many more.

He missed a PK for both teams, with Delem pulling down Larentowicz and Roldan being fouled by Gonzalez Pirez. He failed to card Villalba for kicking Frei in the hand or Larentowicz for pulling back Jones on a break or multiple players for consistent fouling. Nico had five fouls suffered, and that’s just what was called! Sibiga allowed goalkeeper Alec Kann to delay every goal kick to excruciating levels, constantly offering “one last warning” which proved ineffective without follow-up. Gressel came through the ball violently enough against Roldan in the 20th minute that he deserved to be sent straight off, but if not his repetitive fouling and obstruction after the fact should have warranted a second yellow.

This was a very poor officiating performance. There was such a choppy feel to the game at times, and Atlanta, especially, took advantage of the referee to muddle up the middle via tons of questionable tactics. The obvious foul discrepancy shows how Larentowicz, etc., took advantage of the lack of whistles, and frankly Seattle failed to adjust. Referees in this league must be much, much better than Sibiga was on Friday.

ATLANTA MOTM:

Defender Leandro González Pirez squeezed out the win here with just over a third of the 331 votes, though Julian Gressel was a strong second place.


It’s always better to win at home, but we played well enough to not be too concerned about a draw. A defense that was a little beleaguered early in the season had a clean sheet with a makeshift back line. I’m encouraged by our depth, which means our team should be more resilient to absences than in the past. The offense had some tired pieces, and the rumor of a Sheriff galloping back into the mix is exciting. Next up: San Jose without Victor Bernardez. That sounds appealing to an attack that has something to prove after failing to score at home.