A few weeks ago, the Seattle Sounders played lousy in Vancouver and I said I wasn’t worried. Well, having a depleted Toronto FC team come into CenturyLink Field and leave with all three points is very troubling. The 0-1 score line actually understates how ineffective Seattle has been against compact teams. Opponents plan to bunker, get a counter or cheap PK, etc., and then pack it in and watch an uncreative Sounders attack blunder repeatedly into the parked bus. They count on Seattle’s inability to break down a team via hopeful crosses or deal with consistent fouling. Until the Sounders get better spacing, learn to score first, and inject some urgency into their gameplay, opponents will succeed with these tactics. Toronto is a very deep team and they used that game plan to perfection.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.9 (MOTM)
Toronto did not do much offensively. They didn’t have to after scoring early, but the makeshift back line wasn’t a complete sieve. Always playing from behind is likely skewing the Sounders’ possession and defensive numbers, but Frei had to make one great save and three other routine ones in a largely quiet afternoon.
A low Marky Delgado shot to the near post was handled competently in the 21st, and in the 30th Stefan was strong in coming out to catch a cross in traffic. The highlight of his outing was right before halftime, as Jozy Altidore got some space and unleashed a wicked slicing shot, bending back away from Frei who made a spectacular parry wide. This was a difficult attempt to stop, and the Sounders keeper showed no sign of hesitation like the last match, when a simpler shot beat him.
In the 48th minute Frei stopped a Benoit Cheyrou shot, and that was pretty much it for his involvement. There are still spacing issues on the backline every week, and Frei had at least one throw that was off, but the possession and composure from the back has been fine. The one great save kept his team in the game, and late on it was Frei roaming to midfield to try to launch service into the box and rescue a point.
Joevin Jones – 5 | Community – 6.1
For the third week in a row Jones was ineffective for most the match. The combination of a struggling winger in front of him and a smart defensive shift from Justin Morrow gave Jones a frustrating afternoon. He had zero answers for beating Morrow, and appeared to quit trying after being repeatedly shut down, instead turning the ball back into the midfield looking for easier entry. He ended up with less than 80% passing completion, mostly due to an awful 0/5 crossing rate.
In the 2nd minute Jones jogged back on defense after a turnover on the other side of the field, and it was clear that no one on the left was planning to stay home on defense. In the 20th minute he didn’t even get onto the screen defensively after being involved with an attack, and Toronto slowly countered. It’s probably by design to get Jones more active in the offense, but against Toronto he was ineffective. In transition, he was unable to separate from Morrow, and when he did have a chance to slip in teammates, his normally clean passing failed him, resulting in multiple bad turnovers.
Joevin missed a wide-open Dempsey at the PK spot in the 20th, but followed with a nice try towards Bruin eight minutes later, and he earned a late corner after nutmegging Chris Mavinga. For a guy who we know can completely dominate a game, this was a very tame outing from Joevin. We are asking our left back to take on way too much of an offensive burden.
Gustav Svensson – 6 | Community – 5.8
Svensson was solid, this time starting at the left centerback position and was the best defender for Seattle. Goose slid over to cover those around him, and was clean with his passing (94%) while adding strong distribution from the back. He also led the team in tackles and clearances, while limiting the Toronto attack to few opportunities.
Most of the defensive work from Svensson was positional, stopping attacks via smart movement opposite Torres, who roamed a bit. This led to Gustav having to come across and cover for his central partner, such as in the 32nd, marking Altidore after Torres missed a slide tackle. This awareness was again on display in the 44th with Goose smartly stepping up to stop a counterattack before it started.
Svensson struggled some with positioning, and having to cover the entire left side was a large task. He was late pressing in the middle a few times which allowed him to be beat and opened huge spaces behind. He was turned brutally by Altidore in the 40th and only a tremendous save from Frei stopped Toronto doubling their score. I don’t mind the hustle that got him an early offside call (and took a goal off the board), but a 55th minute speculative shot into the ECS likely had better options. Jozy did get inside him in the 69th minute and again Svensson showed a lack of positioning awareness on the backline that luckily wasn’t punished.
Roman Torres – 4 | Community – 5.0 (off 74’)
I am glad to see Torres back, but he still looks off from last season’s post-knee injury form. Without Chad Marshall’s calming presence next to him, Torres’ open style got the Seattle back line into some trouble. Unlike the precision of his central partner, Roman’s 80% passing rate was only adequate. This was mainly due to his long, speculative passes that bypassed zones.
Early in the match Roman was strong over Altidore, and one of those long passes (a 15th minute long ball) found a Dempsey flick into a great attacking space. In minute 22 the rust really showed for Torres. First off, his communication with Delem was dismal, and he ended up marking no one before dropping into a poor defensive position via Altidore. Attempting to correct this mistake, Roman then bowled over the tricky forward, who got some contact right at the same time he was snipered. After the PK, the bunker and counter started which put immense pressure on the Sounders. Roman continued to struggle in this match, sliding and missing a tackle in the 32nd, which led to an Altidore shot.
In the 34th minute of a one-goal game, Torres won the ball stepping forward and then ran inexplicably up to the offensive 18, to roam around hoping for service before heading back to defense. A bad pass in the 53rd and multiple hopeful balls chunked forward to no one were his contributions in the second half, before he was subbed in the 74th.
Jordy Delem – 3 | Community – 4.3 (off 57’)
It’s safe to say that Delem played like a 5th stringer against Toronto. Although he figured in the only two Sounders shutouts of the season, Delem has never looked like a revelation in the back and has been more of a decent athlete to plug into a position decimated by injury. Against Toronto he looked like a converted defensive midfielder, struggling massively with positioning and decision-making. These errors were immediately and repeatedly punished by a smart Toronto side.
In minute 9 we saw how slow Jordy is to recognize attackers and close his side. In the 11th minute he was eaten by Morrow 1v1. On their goalscoring sequence, Delem was just running around not marking anyone, and his confusion started the breakdown of the entire defensive shape. Ten minutes later he was diving in at midfield and missing badly, opening acres of space behind him. Any hopes that he would come out in the 2nd half composed and improved were immediately dashed, as his first touch involved dribbling off his foot right to a Toronto player. In the 47th minute already on a (cheap) yellow card he fouled Altidore, and should have been sent off if the referee hadn’t given the card to Alonso. Coach Schmetzer had seen enough and removed him 10 minutes later.
Where Jones was rebuffed trying to attack, Delem failed to offer anything substantial toward goal. A meager 0/2 in crosses was indicative of a player whose first touch was always negative towards his own goal. These 18’ and 24’ passes into the crowd behind the goal stopped any desire to attack. This made him completely ineffective on a wing that had plenty of space to work. The combination of not marking on defense and not offering anything on offense equaled a terrible outing from Delem.
Osvaldo Alonso – 6 | Community – 6.6
The stats showed Alonso was good in this game but I saw a lot to be critical of. He had 86% passing on over 100 attempts, and was a tidy 15/21 on long balls. Ozzie did what he is good at possession-wise, spraying balls from side to side to probe the defense. At times, I thought he was too slow to move the ball, and there were multiple occasions he had space to attack directly and instead pushed possession backwards, which was frustrating.
One such play came in the 3rd minute, and it illustrates how the Sounders did not take advantage of central space. Alonso gets the ball with a chance to turn into the middle and potentially dribble ~30 yards directly into the center of an open Toronto half, putting immense pressure on the defense, opening space and passing lanes for attackers in front of him. Instead, Ozzie laid the ball back to the fullbacks with a dropping pass. There are definite opportunities for he and others to be more direct and they aren’t taking those chances.
Alonso won possession in the middle and had a great pass to Jones in the 44th when he did (rarely) move forward. A terrible back pass offset this two minutes later. He did have a nice chip into the box in the 59th, continuing to offer different angles from his crosses than the rest of the team. Michael Bradley largely outplayed him.
Cristian Roldan – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 6.6
Roldan was much more direct than Alonso, and had a greater impact both offensively and defensively. He had a few mistakes but was very active in the match, and as usual his superior conditioning allowed him to be effective late in the game, even after switching to right back. Sometimes he was multiple steps faster than anyone on the field, and his late energy was tremendous.
Early in the game Cristian was pressing high, and I am not sure why the team stopped this effective tactic. In the 17th he put Jones into great space on the wing, and three minutes later it was Roldan hustling back to cover the backside vacated by Svensson in the defense. In the ten minutes after the Toronto goal, it was a mix of midfield work opening Dempsey into space, winning the ball on defense 1v1 to turn back attacks, and quality positioning from Roldan that pushed Seattle forward.
In the second half, it was more of the same, with Cristian active in the middle and pinballing off defenders to urge his team forward, one of the few playing with urgency. After moving to right back, Roldan was even more effective. His 1v1 defense in the 59th and 66th destroyed first Raheem Edwards and then Armando Cooper. At the same time, he was urging the offense forward, earning corner kicks, being goal-direct and all the other things we need from a fullback. Roldan was a bright spot and his strong play on both sides of the ball stood out.
Jordan Morris – 4 | Community – 4.8 (off 71’)
If Morris isn’t hurt then he needs to completely go back to the drawing board. I realize he struggled early last season before “clicking”, but this was his worst performance of the year and he failed to do much of anything positive. Gone were the quick burst runs and intimate attacking touch of the preseason, replaced by a tentative player who didn’t fit in the offense at all.
In the first minute Jordan had a miscommunication with Roldan, something that we rarely see. Morris kept drifting to the middle without much success. A 9th minute sequence summed up his day. It started with him not playing any defense, which stressed the players behind him but they managed to clear, right to Jordan. Instead of turning and injecting his pace into a counterattack while Toronto was out of position, he stepped on the ball and killed any forward momentum. In the 15th after drifting to the middle, his positioning clogged a potential breakout. In the 20th an awful touch killed another attack.
Morris had some bright spots, none better than a flicked header going in the back of the net before it was called back for offside in the 6th. His over-the-top run in the 18th forced Clint Irwin way out of his area to make a save, but even on this play Jordan looked slower and more tentative than usual. He had a great chance in the 29th that he was unable to poke home. These bright points were few, and there were absolutely none in the second half, leading to his early exit. Jordan constantly avoided open spaces on his wing, and his drifting to the middle allowed Toronto’s back three to stay compact instead of pulling their defenders wide to open gaps for his teammates. Something is wrong with Morris right now, and a break might be necessary to get him physically and mentally sorted out.
Clint Dempsey – 6 | Community – 5.7
What seemed like a quiet game from Dempsey had a few nice moments, and he again led the team with 4 shots and had a respectable 86% passing rate. The entire offense struggled to get quality chances, and Clint was part of the problem, failing to link with anyone other than Nico, and not nearly often enough.
In the 5th minute Clint earned a foul that led to the only time a Sounder put a ball in the back of the net. A few minutes later he had a great pass that led Bruin into the box for a 2v1 with Morris, but they failed to get a shot off. In the 20th Dempsey threaded Nico through a tight window and this was a good example of how these two can work near each other. In the 31st Clint got on the end of a cross but his header went over. Again, he combined with Lodeiro a few minutes later to end with a cross to the PK spot going wanting. After a shot was saved by Irwin’s hands in the 56th Clint had another five minutes later which was saved by the arm of Cheyrou. This was an easy PK call that was inexplicably not given. Dempsey’s header back across goal instead of direct on a 91st minute corner is exactly what more Sounders should do; this play sets up others for better shots than long speculative headers directly at the keeper.
Clint lost possession in the midfield a few times, which put immense pressure on the defense. Sometimes he’s too slow in transition which kills promising attacks. I would love to see him connect better with the midfielders around him, and more pressure from him will ease the burden on the Seattle defense.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.2
Lodeiro has looked better and more active in the last few weeks and while that is a good thing for the team, he is still not connecting well with a few players (notably Bruin, Morris, and Delem). This is a huge problem because those are the same players he should be relying on to get the ball into dangerous positions. Nico led the team with four key passes, and while he tried a ridiculous 14 crosses (4 completed), at times his creativity was the only thing getting the ball into the box.
Nico was all over the stats, good and bad, starting with a 2nd-minute turnover in the midfield that led to a 3v3 counter early for Toronto. He forced a 10th minute pass that was stolen, but then worked well a minute later to get Bruin open in the box. Lodeiro was consistently looking for over-the-top runs that simply haven’t been as prevalent this season, and there were a few speculative throughballs that didn’t connect.
Free kick service was again a mixed bag, with a beautiful serve in the 26th followed by an awful one in the 35th. I don’t understand the constant near-post delivery, especially with a target like Torres on the field, and was happy to see Roldan take at least one dead ball. One thing we can count on is Lodeiro tracking defensively a decent amount of the time, but it nearly got him in trouble late in the first half as he almost fouled a runner he was late to track in the box.
The second half displayed Seattle’s inability to break down a well-positioned defense. We were unable to create many dangerous chances and Nico was quiet for the most part. He worked hard and actively tried to find overload chances, but had little success. I liked how he immediately recognized Roldan’s ability and was very effective after he came back to the right to combine with Cristian. This gives me hope for more triumphs with a more competent right back.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 5.1
It’s hard to pin down exactly why Will wasn’t effective in this game. He was very active and willing to make runs for others. At times his positioning was less central than in previous games, but this was usually because he was making space for a run from Morris.
Bruin didn’t touch the ball a lot this game (20x) but he was clearly more effective in the first half. Especially when Torres was in, Seattle’s numbers disadvantage in the midfield forced long passes from the back to the front, with Will as the target. He did OK with these chances, a 2nd minute turnover quickly followed by a 3rd minute solid control and holdup play. A minute later he again held the ball well with his back to the goal and found Roldan, who promptly earned a foul. Two more plays as a standard hold-up forward were in the 25th and 31st, one a header and one a chest down, both to Nico who transitioned well into attack. These were nice plays and a way for Seattle to skip a line of defense.
Unfortunately, the second half had no positive marks for Bruin, and he often made similar runs to Morris. Since Jordan was so high, they played a kind of two-forward look, although they failed to connect on any meaningful plays; instead they were often in each other’s way. Making redundant runs wasn’t effective, but I also wanted Bruin to be more assertive in splitting the 3-man backline, instead of trying to post up against the central defender and getting collapsed on. This could have worked had there been an effective winger on either side.
Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 5.4 (on 57’)
Introducing Shipp helped the Sounders immensely, although a lot of that is due to the team shape improving with a competent right back. Harry deserves recognition for playing well in the middle and making great decisions. He was tidy with the ball (95% completion) and showed willingness to win tackles and push the attack forward.
In the 61st it was Shipp pressing to the width, forcing a turnover in support of Roldan and Nico, and again a few minutes later his determination to win the ball wide won possession for an attack. I hoped Harry would be more direct with his play, but he settled often to distribute to others. He did get a golden chance to rescue a point in the 91st minute, but his volley from the top of the box went just over the bar. Shipp is making smart runs, and I expect he’ll get a lot of playing time on this next road trip, which will mean improvement connecting with Dempsey and Lodeiro in the attack.
Alvaro Fernandez – 5 | Community – 4.8 (on 71’)
Flaco came on and was about what we expected: a good defensive player who combined some on offense but didn’t offer a lot of dynamic scoring or vertical options. Alvaro tried to get forward, but his connecting play with teammates isn’t great. In the 81st he made a smart off the ball run and received service in the box. This was a good opportunity for the team but I would have liked to see Fernandez have a hit there instead of crossing, although he did earn a corner. He neither served in great crosses nor got his head on any service, and his decent run forward in the 82nd ended with a cross into the ECS. Flaco’s defense from the wing is very valuable to the team, but not too exciting when chasing a result late.
Tony Alfaro – 6 | Community – 5.7 (on 74’)
Seattle using its last sub this early was a surprise, but it was due to cautious handling of Torres, and I think it was the right call. Alfaro came on and played ok, showing he is a competent MLS level defender. In the 84th he had a great tackle and pushed the ball back forward quickly in transition. A minute later a similar tackle stopped a counter. These are high risk tackles that I am leery of, but he hasn’t missed one yet and the pure ferocity is a throwback to another era.
Jair Marrufo – 2 | Community – 2.9
Wow. This was a snowball of bad/missed calls that just got worse and worse as the game went on. I was frustrated watching the first time, annoyed the second time, and frankly just appalled writing this. There were some good calls in this game, but the amount of huge/missed refereeing blunders was amazing. He had the holy trifecta of bad management/cards, missed game changing calls, and lack of control for persistent hacks.
In the 7th minute Roldan was fouled right in front of the ref after passing a ball and Marrufo just ignored it, setting the tone for a long afternoon. That was nothing compared to a 13th minute yellow card he gave to Delem for…passing the ball? On the play, Delem goes low, slides to make a pass, and Marky Delgado comes in late and hammers his shin. Somehow the Sounder got a card? This was a late, cynical knock from Delgado which deserved a yellow for HIM. Ridiculous. It looks like the referee was more interested in the physics of Delgado flying around than actual soccer refereeing.
Amazingly enough, that wasn’t the only time he did this – in the 47th minute Delem fouled Altidore and Marrufo somehow carded…. OZZIE ALONSO? If he was carding someone there it should have been a second yellow and expulsion for Delem, although I didn’t see a cautionable offense on the foul in question. Nonetheless Alonso was nowhere near the play and giving a card to the wrong guy (TWICE) is just inexcusable for a referee.
There seemed to be a bias protecting the big Toronto stars, and it was prevalent over the match. Nico beat Bradley and was fouled without a whistle but immediately upon being touched a foul was called on Lodeiro in the 14th. Often Bradley and Alonso tangled, and a foul was only called if someone fell. Altidore was the main beneficiary though, fouling 8 times that I counted yet never (that I saw) even being warned. Jozy ended with 4 called fouls committed. After a cynical foul on Dempsey that was called in the 34th, he immediately fouled Alonso a minute later without a whistle in the same fashion. In the 49th it was Altidore again backtracking to hack Roldan. In the 62nd he shoved Shipp in midair before again fouling Roldan. He added another on Shipp in the 72nd that was called before ending his day throwing Svensson down in the 78th for a foul on… Gustav. Altidore subbed off in the 80th, somehow never being carded for all these very cynical fouls – disgusting.
The last thing this referee completely blew was an easily seen, blatant handball by Cheyrou in the 61st minute. His arm was way outside his body, in an unnatural position, making himself bigger, and stopped a goal-bound shot. That is a textbook PK and something that hugely changes the game if called. He must make that call and when he didn’t, he allowed 30 more minutes of positive game state for a road team already bunkering. The pk he did call was much harder to call than this one, yet he had zero problem pointing to the spot after the big fellas got tangled up.
There were more issues: A 76th minute Morrow foul wasn’t even close to the ball and should have been yellow, numerous other knocks from both teams ignored. A late Dempsey foul deserved a yellow card but Marrufo inexplicably let the Sounders player off the hook. Ozzie and Bradley playing handsies every time either had the ball with no whistle was frustrating. But the main thing was this referee missed every single huge, game changing call while allowing tactical fouls to dictate a match. He didn’t cost a lousy Sounders team the game, but he was very, very poor and did a disservice to both teams with awful refereeing.
Jozy Altidore earned the penalty and scored the goal, and gets just over half the votes, though Michael Bradley gets the deserved honorable mention for his role in locking down the midfield.
I still maintain that Seattle is better than they played Saturday, but they need to get results, and right now that is more important than pretty playing style. It is essential to get points in each of the next two road matches, and it would be nice to get some pieces back in the defense while doing so.