SEATTLE — It is often said there are no style points awarded in soccer. The Seattle Sounders know this all too well.
Early in the season, the Sounders were failing to get full points despite generally attractive play. Maybe Saturday’s result was the universe’s attempt to start putting that right.
Despite an early goal from Cristian Roldan, the Sounders played one of their least-offensively effective matches of the season. No, the Portland Timbers were not “undeniably” the better team as a certain coach claimed, but the Sounders weren’t exactly imposing their will, either.
In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. The Sounders have now won two straight, that they were both 1-0 hardly makes a difference, as they’ve gotten their season at least plausibly back on track.
Let’s talk about the handball(s)
One of the Caleb Porter’s points of contention was that he felt his team deserved at least one penalty. Honestly, it’s hard to argue that point. If Mark Geiger had called Chad Marshall or Osvaldo Alonso for handballs in the box, I’m not sure I could have been too upset.
That said, after watching both plays several times, I don’t think Geiger was without defense.
Yes, Marshall had his arm away from his body and the ball undeniably struck his outstretched arm. But, he was also just a couple feet away and I think there’s at least a chance the shot took a deflection before it hit Marshall’s arm.
The Alonso no-call is a little harder to defend, but it’s also not impossible. The key point here is that while Alonso was reaching over the defender, there’s a valid argument to make that he didn’t actually see the ball and therefore could not have purposefully handled it.
There’s also the caveat that both plays came reasonably early in the second half and there would have been ample time for the Sounders to recover.
More relevantly, I’m not about to feel bad about this. The Sounders have suffered their own no-calls on penalties and controversial calls that have swung results the other way.
All hail Cristian
Around these parts, we’re very familiar with the growth of Cristian Roldan. What he does doesn’t always jump off the stat-sheet, but even a casual observer can appreciate the plays he makes throughout the game.
This game happened to feature just his fifth career goal — and second against the Timbers. It was a case study in perfect positioning and concentration, as he beat his man to the spot and then reacted perfectly to Marshall’s flicked header. That he did it while wearing Zarek Valentin as a cape only made it even more impressive.
The sequence was captured wonderfully by Sounder at Heart alum Jane Gershovich.
While the goal will get him the plaudits, it was all the other stuff he does that are why he’s going to eventually be a significant part of the United States national team.
Roldan had his hands full with arguably the most offensively talented midfield in MLS. He was every bit up to the task, despite picking up a bloody nose in the first half, getting scissor tackled by Sebastian Blanco and kicked in the chin by Dairon Asprilla. Roldan recorded 17 positive defensive actions and rarely put a foot wrong throughout the afternoon. On the rare occasion he did turn it over, Roldan was sprinting back to make sure nothing came of it.
At the end of the year, I was asking someone if they’d rather have Roldan than Darlington Nagbe. The idea that this was even worth a debate was somewhat controversial. Now, despite Nagbe’s obvious talents, I wonder if more than diehard Sounders fans are finding that a tougher debate than we might have previously thought.
The Swedish Army Knife
Gustav Svensson has not been perfect at center back, but facing his biggest challenge yet in Fanendo Adi, he had probably his best game. Although the big man got off five shots, all three of them from inside the penalty area were blocked. Two of those were blocked by Svensson. He was harassing Adi all over the field, too, allowing Marshall to remain farther back.
Svensson ended up being credited with 17 positive defensive actions. Among his more notable moments were standing up Sebastian Blanco and breaking up a dangerous pass to Adi in the box late in the game.
It should be said that Svensson did seems to lose Liam Ridgewell on a 44th minute corner kick and allowed Adi to get goal-side on him on a 74th minute chance, but few center backs plays literally perfect.
I’m still not 100 percent convinced he’s an upgrade over a fully fit Roman Torres, but he’s making a very strong case that he deserves to be somewhere on the field.
Stat of the Day
50 — Stefan Frei registered his 50th career MLS shutout, something only 10 other goalkeepers have ever done. This was also his 31st shutout with the Sounders, breaking a tie for the franchise lead with Kasey Keller.
Quote of the day
“I wasn’t quite sure that early in the year in the year we were playing good and I was up here talking about how good we played. And I could look at stats and say we played really well, but we never got points and we never got results. We might not have played our prettiest soccer the last couple of games, but they’ve figured out ways to win.” - Brian Schmetzer