I missed the Seattle Sounders’ 1-0 win at home against Portland Timbers this weekend live. That allowed me to “re”-watch for the first time, and what I saw was a bit unexpected based on the postgame narrative read here and elsewhere. Nowhere did I see Caleb Porter’s “dominance”, nor did the game look as “murky” as I had been warned. Instead, I saw a home team in Seattle get an early lead, and then very effectively bunker and counter all game, giving up a few chances but also creating many, while forcing most of the Portland attack into long, speculative shot attempts. This is the Timbers entire game plan, so it was rather hilarious to see them complaining about it. One thing that really struck me in this game was the full team defense Seattle was willing to play, and through that they were still able to threaten the goal with regularity.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.2
Back-to-back shutouts must make Frei happy. Having a healthy back line in front of him makes his job so much easier, but Stef is doing his part too, consistently making good decisions and keeping the defense compact and organized.
Given an early lead, Frei had some work to do to keep it. In the 6th minute a shross from Sebastian Blanco forced the alert Sounders ‘keeper into conceding a corner, as the ball floated towards the goal and necessitated a push over the bar. In the 8th minute Stef was out to gather an over-the-top attempt. The rest of the first half was mundane, a fairly tame 30-yard David Guzman shot in the 13th being the last Portland attempt even put on frame. Portland had a few dangerous chances, but a majority of their first half flurry (16 shots) didn’t test Frei. Seattle came out even more organized in the second half and limited Portland to a mere 3 attempts after halftime. Stefan came way off his line in the 61st to clear a ball, and I am not sure he needed to race so far outside the 18 to do so, but it worked. When Fanendo Adi came across in the 74th Frei made a great save off a Dairon Asprilla cross. Ten minutes later Stefan was making a strong catch in traffic to close out a game where the Seattle keeper really wasn’t forced to work too hard.
Portland had a few decent chances in this game, but the shot counter stat is really misleading as a scale of success; nearly all shots were blocked or going wide from long distances away. Of the shots on goal, none were very difficult to save.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.5
This was a quiet afternoon for Jones, who failed to imprint his mark on the game either offensively or defensively. While his passing numbers were generally good, he didn’t complete a single cross, and was caught out a few times late when holding the lead.
Joevin has been more of a stay-at-home left back lately, and this has improved his defensive contribution. That being said, in the 6th minute he stabbed wildly at the ball and then trailed the play slowly after missing, and he must be better defensively. Jones got forward in good moments but failed to connect with teammates in the attacking third and didn’t have a ton of options as he was pinned down by Blanco for a majority of the half.
In the second half Jones got more aggressive going forward, but with little success. A 48th minute move turned defender Zarek Valentin inside out, but Joevin’s cross was blocked. In the 61st I saw Jones quit on a run through but he was up for charging forward a few minutes later; a chunked cross went wanting. In the 72nd a bad touch turned into a pass back and could have been called by a stricter referee. Two minutes later was the lowlight for Jones, being completely abused by Asprilla and leading to Portland’s best chance of the period.
Joevin really faded in effectiveness in the second half and looked to be pushing really high for a left back defending a lead. There were a few moments when he was in on goal and teammates missed his great runs, but many of his offensive contributions were chunked in, unimaginative crosses.
Chad Marshall – 8 | Community – 7.3
100% passing completion rate. AGAIN. Marshall has now been part of two shutouts in the last two games without missing a single pass. This is simply phenomenal, and it’s important to note that while most of his passes aren’t long, forward, or going to unlock defenses, it’s vitally important to keep possession on the back line and Chad has been spectacular at this in the last two matches. His passing is so good that it’s preventing possession for opponents and directly contributing to limited opportunities against.
Chad started out beating Portland to a cross and expertly redirecting it into goal off Roldan’s head during a 4th minute corner kick. This earned him an assist and it’s nice to see us utilizing his tremendous aerial ability a bit more. He nearly had another goal in the 58th, just missing a header from 6 yards out, again dominating a Timbers player in the air from a set piece. He did miss a wide-open shot 4 minutes later from a corner kick, this time his feet failing to finish a back-post shot.
Throughout this offensive output Marshall was even more impressive defensively. He was constantly across to cover for any areas around him, while also taking his turn against Adi who actively avoided Chad, likely thinking Svensson an easier matchup. One such play was in the 19th when Marshall read Adi’s holdup attempt perfectly, stepping up and stealing his drop attempt. Chad had 5 clearances, 2 interceptions, and many blocked shots, part of the reason Portland failed to put many attempts on frame. He is so amazingly consistent defensively, and is heating up as a key target on offense.
Gustav Svensson – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.9
Wow. When I heard Goose played well I wasn’t prepared for the absolute dominance he showed. Adi always tries to avoid Marshall, but he ran into a brick wall in Svensson when he tried the Swede on for size. Stats-wise Gustav had 5 clearances, 4 interceptions, 2 tackles, 85% passing and was 3/6 on long balls. He also put one of the foremost hold-up forwards in the league in his pocket and erased him from the game, completely dominating his matchup with Adi.
In the 3rd minute Svensson put Morris over the top, showing off his vision and passing. 3 minutes later he was across to clear a ball behind Marshall. Multiple times Portland was completely flummoxed by the surprisingly fast first step from Svensson, with Diego Valeri getting owned in the 10th looking around in confusion. When presented with a 1v2 defensive decision against both Valeri and Adi in the 12th, Gustav held his ground and forced a corner kick out of Portland’s star players. For the rest of the half Svensson harassed Adi, consistently stealing his holdup attempts before any teammates could join the away attack.
The second half was more of the same measured combination of surprising offensive contributions and complete defensive dominance. Presented with a free kick from his own half Goose had a tremendous cross field pass to pick out Jones through. Blanco thought he was in on goal in the 67th only to have that deceptive pace from Svensson completely outplay him, get position, and win both the ball and a foul. A minute later Adi thought he had space only to be destroyed by Svensson, who calmly took his dignity and turned upfield with the ball. Gustav closed out the game with controlled defensive actions, springing counters when Portland pushed too far forward and fighting through Adi’s constant groping and pulling.
This was the best game we have seen from the Goose, and he was completely dominant against a great forward line. Svensson did lose defender Liam Ridgewell in the 44th on a back-post flick, but that is forgivable considering his absolutely fantastic play against Portland in his first game against the Timbers.
Brad Evans – 6 | Community – 6.6
Evans had a quiet game, but don’t discount that this defense has returned two shutouts in two games since his return to the starting lineup. This is a great compliment to the structural cohesion of the backline and I give Brad a lot of credit for that. He is such a smart player, and the improvement of the defensive shape can be directly attributed to the enhanced communication and positioning of this current back group.
Defensively Brad was very strong, limiting chances from his wing and helping to nearly erase Valeri from impacting the game. In the 56th he showed patience before dispossessing the Portland star deep in the penalty area. In the 71st with Adi and Valeri both threatening 2v1 on his wing, Evans intelligently stopped both, delaying and stepping forward, earning them an offside call.
Brad made a great overlapping run in the 8th minute that went unseen by the Sounders midfield, and I think as the Sheriff gets more time with the first-teamers they will understand that he can and will make use of the tactical shape on the right wing. Multiple times he found space but his teammates weren’t prepared for it. In the 68th Evans made a great pass down the line to Nico who had found a pocket of space, and this nearly led to a goal. This kind of ability to connect with the organized chaos of Lodeiro movement is very valuable.
Osvaldo Alonso – 6 | Community – 6.8
Alonso just keeps offering consistent games in the middle, combining with Roldan to choke anything in the center. As usual Ozzie had over 90% completion rate, but also got forward a bit more in this match, offering up 2 key passes while maintaining strong defensive positioning.
I didn’t have a lot of notes for Alonso, who went about his business in a very workmanlike manner, not bowing to the intensity that can sometimes inflame this rivalry. He wasn’t forced into too many highlight-reel actions, but instead offered a calming, controlled aspect to the middle of the field all game. Alonso did have a nice sliding shot block in the 15th, and got stronger defensively in the second half. I was especially impressed at Ozzie outsprinting Darlington Nagbe for a ball in the 49th, simply wanting the ball more than the Portland player.
There were a few rough passes from the Cuban mid, and these tended to be in ugly spots, but Seattle was fortunate to have other defenders immediately move to rectify these mistakes. The movement from Alonso and Roldan is mesmerizing, each separate yet connected, moving in beautiful unison. There were several times in this game where the game got really chippy and it was encouraging to see Alonso allowing his game play to speak, rather than being involved.
Cristian Roldan – 8 | Community – 8.2 (MOTM)
Roldan did it all against Portland, and got the heck beat out of him for his troubles. Three tackles, 4 interceptions, 2 clearances, 88% passing, a bloody nose, scissor tackled, kicked in the face, oh and he scored the game-winning goal (while being fouled mercilessly via the Heimlich maneuver defense). This was a guy who was the best midfielder on a field full of stars, buzzing around menacing opposing players and creating opportunities for his team.
Roldan has that radar great players have that tells them where the ball is going to be. It allows him to interpret plays faster than others, and helps his defensive positioning by anticipating plays. All game Cristian was a terror in the middle, forcing Nagbe and Valeri well out of their comfort zone when they were unable to get around the force of his 1v1 defending. This radar also led Roldan to post up Valentin and he instinctively redirected Marshall’s shot into the net for the only goal needed on the day.
Cristian had a few mistakes in the middle connecting passes forward that could have led to dangerous attacks for Seattle but it was a 12th minute horrible cross-field pass that went directly to Nagbe that he will be most upset with. As we have come to expect, however, Roldan hustled back tremendously all afternoon when he committed a turnover, and his effort in recovery was spectacular. A lot of what Cristian does doesn’t end up on a stat sheet because he puts in so much work off the ball to limit his need for amazing plays. He did get beat up after a few good plays, with his positioning forcing Portland into awful fouls that this amazingly tough Roldan somehow played through. He is being penalized for his toughness, as some of the fouls he bounces up from likely earn cautions if he rolls around “hurt”.
Jordan Morris – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 90’)
Morris brought a lot of energy to the match, but didn’t seem to ever get the engine fully opened and looked frustrated at times. I rated him at attacking midfield, because nearly all his actions were from the left wing but he supposedly started up top. Even though he struggled to really get going, there were moments where Morris almost took the game into his own hands and returned fantastic plays. It’s encouraging that these moments are increasing in frequency.
One reason that Morris spent a lot of time on the wing was an increased defensive desire, something we haven’t seen a lot of before. Jordan consistently helped Jones, who had his hands full with Blanco for most of the first half. In the 41st it was Morris playing left back in fact, and earning his team a goal kick after exhibiting surprising 1v1 defensive skills deep in his own box.
Jordan isn’t a defensive dynamo however, and it was his offense that nearly broke open a close game. In the 53rd he missed a wide-open Jones overlapping that had two willing runners into the box as well. Multiple times he would win headers against the smaller midfielders he was matched up with, nodding down to Dempsey or Lodeiro. In the 61st his holdup play from a wide position was strong, laying off a pass to Jones on an overlap. When presented with a flatfooted defense in the 65th minute, Morris had a fantastic direct lifted dribble to beat two lines of defense with a powerful burst of speed, only to try to lay off a pass to Dempsey which was blocked. Another run 5 minutes later again had no finish, but it’s encouraging that he is getting into strong positions consistently and people are finding his vertical runs. His decision-making needs to be more clinical in the box.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 6.8
Nico is the engine of this team and boy does it never stop moving. This presents some challenges for the players around him, but the sheer amount of running he does every match never ceases to impress me. This was a hot noon game that saw visible wilting from the Portland midfield, while Lodeiro’s work rate increased as the game went on. As usual he led the team with key passes and touches and was a consistent pest against Portland, popping up defensively as well.
Given some space in the 3rd minute Nico had a great crack, forcing a tough save from Portland keeper Jake Gleeson, and earning a corner. This direct chance on goal is a good sign from a team that has been a bit reluctant to pull the trigger. Lodeiro followed up with a perfect corner kick service to the able heads of Marshall/Roldan for the only goal in the match. Nico did miss a wide-open Evans a few minutes later, and will need to learn to utilize Brads overlapping runs.
Nico had an otherwise-quiet first half defending well but it wasn’t until the second half when his insane work rate started to poke holes in Portland’s defense. In the 56th he just missed Dempsey over the top in on goal, and 2 minutes later his perfect set piece service was headed over by Marshall. It was unfortunate that Lodeiro missed a wide-open Dempsey in the 69th; his right-footed cross is likely an assist if it’s a few feet closer. Ten minutes later Nico was dropping a perfectly weighted pass to Morris into a dangerous spot. Lodeiro had great movement, but just didn’t quite connect a few times that could have put this game to bed early.
Harry Shipp – 7 | Community – 6.1 (off 80’)
There wasn’t a lot of talk about Shipp after this game, but I am noticing a big change in his play, and it’s no coincidence that this is coming with the inclusion of Evans behind him. Again, this match saw great composure from Shipp, who was exceedingly tidy (88%) passing while filling in behind the movement of the attacking players in front of him. Harry seems to be relishing the role of glue player, and is starting to add more confident touches and vertical passing to his early season off-ball runs.
Asked to be more of a two-way player, Harry has responded, showing defensive intensity from his wing starting position. This was very helpful in limiting the Portland attack, as evidenced by Shipp sticking with Nagbe in the 3rd minute 60 yards cross field, forcing a shot into the ECS. In the 25th he was across to break up passing lanes. This defensive intensity from Shipp (and Lodeiro) has been vital in these last two shutouts.
Harry is connecting much better lately with Dempsey and Nico, and is starting to show some of the little intricate passes I thought we would see in the attack as well as passes such as his 15th minute over-the-top release of Clint on goal. In the 29th Shipp had a beautiful combination through the middle with Dempsey and Morris, which resulted in a shot over the bar. Morris might have been a better option curling around, but I still like the direct try from Harry. A wonderful first-time throughball in the 60th found Dempsey in such a good position that he was fouled by Amobi Okugo, earning a yellow for stopping a promising attack. Another notable play happened with Shipp sliding to the left and working a great interchange with Jones and Lodeiro, eventually seeing Harry put Nico free to the end line with space. There is a ton of room for improvement in these combinations and it’s exciting to see these guys start to click a bit more consistently.
Clint Dempsey – 6 | Community – 5.9
Dempsey had a very quiet game against Portland, a team he usually dominates. When watching the game and looking at movement and stats though, there were a lot of hidden gems of play within the match. He had a strong passing game (92%), took a good shot on goal while setting up others’ multiple good chances.
There wasn’t a lot notable from Clint in the first half, other than some late period scuffles including himself and primarily defender Roy Miller. As usual Dempsey was up for the battle, and came out with increased intensity after halftime. He was almost released over the top in the 56th, before earning a yellow on Portland breaking out 4 minutes later. Clint missed a wide open Lodeiro in the 63rd during a 2v2 breakout, and the favor was returned in the 65th; I think Dempsey likely scores while open in the box only to see Lodeiro’s pass go too far in front of him. This stretch of the game Clint really played well, and he put Morris through on goal in the 70th, before a minute later taking a wicked left-footed shot parried wide for a corner. In the 83rd, playing a lone forward spot, Dempsey showed off awesome control to trap a long pass and nearly turned his defender, which would have created a direct chance.
Clint didn’t do a lot in the first half other than bang around with the fullbacks, but he was a strong offensive option after halftime.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 5.1 (on 80’)
Did Delem play? I noted him diving in on defense once but otherwise he took up space and I suppose that’s why he was subbed on. He went 2/3 passing and barely touched the ball (5x).
Oniel Fisher– 5 | Community – 5.3 (on 90’)
Brought in to lock down the left side defensively, Fisher subbed in as a left winger, and looked capable in his limited minutes. At one time Jones got well ahead of him which was confusing after 90 min in a 1-0 game, but Fisher was quick to recover defensively. He touched the ball almost as much as Delem.
Mark Geiger – 4 | Community – 4.1
There were many exciting plays in this game, and I think Geiger did fine in most of them. What I really disagreed with was his general control of a hot rivalry game between two teams who don’t get along. There were multiple times a card was warranted, and would likely have helped control a game. Instead, the only two cautions were for a professional foul and a debatable time-wasting infraction.
I thought Valentin should be carded in the 4th minute, he simply isn’t making anything near a soccer play, and bear-hugging Roldan should be yellow regardless of result. It’s annoying that this likely wasn’t called merely because Roldan fought through the mugging and scored. This is similar to the 70th minute run from Morris, who is being mugged by Vytas for 20 yards, but fights him off and shoots. In the least I would expect a yellow outside the box where the most egregious fouling happened, but Geiger allowed “advantage” play. I thought Guzman was very lucky not to get a card in the 22nd minute, his foul on Dempsey was egregious and only him getting an eye poke seemed to save him the caution, which is silly.
Not carding Dempsey for a high elbow in the 42nd minute led to Miller and Dempsey banging into each other for the entire second half, including in the 48th, 51st, and 57th, all of which were potentially cardable offenses on their own for Miller. I have no idea how Blanco gets away with first a nasty scissor tackle into the back of Roldan’s ankles, then secondly grasping him on the head and neck to “soothe” him. Neither resulted in a yellow, even with increased emphasis on hands to head/neck. Even more egregious was Roldan getting kicked in the face by Asprilla, and somehow the young Sounders playing through fouls is being penalized by the referees who aren’t crediting them with deserved cards or penalties earned when they fight through contact. These things were not carded, but Frei taking 12 seconds to kick a goal kick (I counted) was deemed time wasting and earned a booking.
There were a couple of shouts for hand ball PKs, and while both have some merit, the first was textbook ball to hand and the second likely should have been called a foul on Adi for hooking Alonso and pulling him around. Speaking of this, Adi got away with a ton of these plays shielded from the referee, including a blatant push against Svensson which created a dangerous attempt late. In all I am confident that the lack of calls was very even for both teams, and trying to shape this as a one-sided refereeing performance is a quite false narrative from my watch.
The ref did a decent job running the game, but early and consistent bookings for both teams would have greatly improved the gameplay.
The credit/blame for the Timbers was spread about pretty evenly, although Jake Gleeson edged out Darlington Nagbe for the top spot in the poll.
That’s a great homestand, with 2 wins in a row that were fueled by defensively strong outings. This will need to again be the case as short rest and callups indicate a weakened attack is likely for the next few matches. If we can defend well I have faith that even a depleted offense can score (Marshall is heating up!)