The home game last Sunday night ended 1-0 to the good guys, and the Seattle Sounders dominated play for much of the game. The Houston Dynamo were contained by a strong Seattle defense that limited opportunities for the away side while creating its own chances throughout the game. Once again the Sounders showed they’re very capable at home, and the first-choice defense contributed with its third shutout in a row. This bodes well for a team that’s likely to add some offensive firepower soon.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community 6.9
Frei has quietly jumped to second in the league in shutouts, with 5 on the season including one in each of the last three home games. His back four are finally getting healthy, and when the first-choice group plays, Seattle is very tough to score against. Stefan has an ugly G.A.A via the hemorrhaging of 10 goals in a recent three road game stretch, but those games did not have strong lineups defensively.
Against Houston Frei was tested early by Erick “Cubo” Torres, and keeper positioning in the 13th minute was perfect; a near-post shot was parried away. In the 20th it looked like Stefan misjudged a through ball which caused some alarm before he could retreat to the box and dive on it. A few minutes later Mauro Manotas tried a 30-yard shot which Frei easily caught.
The second half was more active for the Sounders keeper, especially after the inclusion of Alberth Elis. Frei was out quick to stop an over the top try in the 59th, and multiple times it was a cohesive back five moving in unison to deny chances. Stef closed out the game with a strong catch in traffic in minute 93 to secure his shutout.
Having an experienced back line did wonders for Frei, and his distribution was effective all night. There was one return pass to Roldan late that went out of bounds, but otherwise his decision making was strong in possession.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community 6.7
Man, it’s great to see Jones back in his comfortable left back spot, and the improvement in his play from the Columbus game was enormous. Jones attacks better from a defensive spot than a winger position as it allows him to choose when to go forward, something he is excellent at. His speed entering the open space on the left allows him more freedom in the attack, instead of camping out and getting lost in the offense as a stagnant player who doesn’t move unless the ball is near him.
Jones was very active in the first half, starting with an 8th minute overlap and great near-post pass to Fernandez. Another cross a minute later to Bruin was an early, angled pass that was a welcome new look to the attack. In the 17th Joevin dialed up a dangerous shross, forcing Houston keeper Tyler Deric into a save. He wasn’t done yet, with a great low service in the 26th before just missing a wide-open Bruin in the 27th. These attacks were close, but the final bit of class was lacking in the offense, and part of that was Jones missing open teammates. Specifically, there were 31st and 41st minute plays that should have been more dangerous with improved play by the left back.
The second half was slower for Jones, who faded from the attack until late. His defense suffered as well, with Elis being a menace. Joevin kept the Houston attacker onside during a chance in the 56th, and lost an important mark in the 84th. Offensively Jones made a good run in minute 81 but missed a sliding shot after a perfect Lodeiro pass, as well as whiffing on an open goal via a beautiful Nouhou setup in the 91st.
Chad Marshall – 8 | Community - 7.7
The Houston game was Chad’s THIRD game in a row without misplacing a pass; this is so valuable to a Sounders team that wants to control the tempo of play and dictate possession. Every time Marshall completes a pass, it’s one less chance for an opponent to put pressure on the defense and allows the backline to get into defensive position. To not misplace a single pass out of hundreds is spectacular. He also had 6 headers won, 6 clearances, 2 interceptions, and 4 tackles won in a complete performance.
Chad wasn’t just tidy with the ball; he was tremendous defensively all match. In the 5th minute he stepped across to win possession, and another 13th minute play was huge, this time sliding in behind both Torres and Evans to clear a deflection that was directly on goal. When not protecting his teammates, Chad was consistently out-muscling Cubo Torres, something I noted five times in the game and which likely prompted the strikers’ early substitution. Marshall was across to cover for an advanced Roman Torres in the 49th, and recovered well in minute 56 after Elis had beaten the Sounders’ trap. Chad ate Elis with a devastating slide tackle in the 64th and closed the Houston forward in the 87th, helping force an errant shot.
Marshall was a rock in defense and put every single pass on the foot of another Sounder, amidst a very impressive outing. A dangerous Houston team was forced into speculative shots and contrary to what their Old Wrinkly version of Bruno Mars coach said, the away team rarely threatened.
Roman Torres – 5 | Community - 6.2
Torres looked OK in his return to the starting lineup. He managed a few clearances and interceptions, but was still quite tentative in positioning. Torres also went on a few adventures forward, which put stress on those around him. Roman was an entirely acceptable 6/11 on long balls (Marshall 7/7) but his 76% accuracy overall was both indicative of a player willing to take risks and one who at times found himself without options.
In minute 6, Torres assertively stepped forward and won the ball; this was repeated often in the match with varying degrees of success. When he cheated to Evans’ side in the 13th, Torres’ miss-header created a breakaway for Houston that forced some Marshall heroics. In the 10th and 29th Roman forced the ball forward and both were easy turnovers for the away team. These moments sandwiched a nice play in the 22nd when he showed great awareness to come across behind Marshall and force the ball out for a corner. Right before halftime Roman used a beautiful two line pass to find Roldan in an advanced position and greatly opened the field, illustrating the value of his attacking nature.
The second half was more of the same, Torres playing solid defense but generally making passes that were recycled back into pressure. Roman was especially vulnerable to Elis, who used his speed to befuddle the defender. After missing badly trying to trap the Houston player in minute 56, it was Torres who was again caught up field marking nothing after a turnover, allowing Elis into space in the 87th for a shot that was one of Houston’s best chances. Roman showed he still can be a great defender, but he should be much more consistent to hold his starting spot over a very capable Svensson.
Brad Evans – 6 (off 54’) | Community - 6.6
I was somewhat surprised at Brad’s early exit, but once again he was intrinsically involved with a Sounders shutout. This game was more about positioning for Evans than bombing forward offensively, and he showed his tactical acumen to be in great spots, making play easy for teammates. A lot of his contribution at right back doesn’t show in stat books, but he makes the opposing offense so predictable, which allows the defensive mids to feast on probable movement and passing lanes.
After a 4th minute overlap and fancy control on the sideline kept position for SSFC I thought Brad might be more aggressive, but against Houston he stayed home often, which was a good choice as Jones was pushing very high on the left. Brad still knew when to advance, however, and his 17th minute movement pulled the defense of Houston wide to his threat, which opened a huge lane for Svensson to find Lodeiro in space. Defensively, Evans shut down Manotas almost completely, limiting him to one shot from well outside the box. Brad was also strong in helping fill the gaps behind Torres, while linking well with the midfield.
Brad had a few errant passes, and none of his three crosses were particularly dangerous. He does offer a great long throw which changed the entire defensive setup when Evans was forward for throws. Brad could add more going forward in linkup play, but I was pleased with the obvious organization and defensive leadership across the back line.
Osvaldo Alonso – 6 | Community - 7.1
Alonso was solid as usual in this game, keeping possession (94% passing) while switching field often enough to create space (10/12 long balls). He had almost 30 more passes than anyone else on the field but rarely was he involved in the attack. The defensive midfielders took turns dropping deep to cover, but Alonso was rarely able to change the offense when it was his turn to push forward. This led to a steady defensive performance, which was needed against a Houston team that likes to overload the midfield and spring quick attacks.
The first 20 minutes were an Alonso defensive show, first stepping up in the 8th to keep the ball in the attacking third for Seattle before destroying/winning the ball on defense in minute 11. In the 13th Cubo Torres got free for a shot and Ozzie made an intelligent move to shoulder him just enough to disrupt the shot. This was adequate in throwing the striker off, but not enough for the Houston player to look for a penalty via half gainer. Ozzie needed Svensson to cover for him multiple times later in the half. Alonso was beat by a transition flick in the 32nd and made a little kick out at Cubo in the 37th for which he was lucky not to be caught. He almost found Bruin over the top in the 33rd and a minute later started a great counter attack, staying involved after he passed the ball off and even receiving it again, pushing the offense forward.
The second half was very quiet from Alonso, with few notable plays due to strong defense through the middle. Ozzie did commit a couple of unnecessary fouls that led to dangerous Houston free kicks. For the most part, Alonso was very measured and controlled defensively, picking few times to push forward. One of these was in minute 69, when he smartly collapsed the defense pressing into the middle. Faking a shot, Alonso pushed the ball wide to Roldan for the game-winning assist.
Gustav Svensson – 8 MOTM | Community - 7.5
After starring on the backline in recent weeks, the Goose was finally in his “preferred” spot and he didn’t disappoint. Equal parts defensive barrier and offensive facilitator, Svensson was fantastic. He helped completely erase Alex from the game, forcing him to be subbed off early. Svensson won 5 aerials in the midfield, had 5 interceptions and 6 tackles to lead the team. At the same time Gustav was pushing attacks forward, consistently finding dangerous passes in connection with Nico and Bruin.
In the 5th minute he had a long throw flick, then passed the ball forward. Two minutes later he took a smart foul up field, preventing any counter behind him. One of his few errors in the half came when he dove in and missed up field in minute 13, which ended in a Cubo Torres shot. The rest of the half was wonderful play from Gustav. When Alonso was beat in the 32nd minute Svensson was already there to cover the space. When Houston tried to counter attack after a 38th minute turnover Svensson popped up to destroy the chance. A minute later another Alonso turnover had Houston thinking counter, only to see their forward progress Goosed. I was impressed with how well Svensson read plays and he often stopped them before they even materialized.
Offensively Gustav was also tremendous, with a 44th minute flip pass to the 18 setting up Flaco as one highlight. Another nice play came after the half as Svensson got forward and put in a tantalizing back post cross. He had a few mistakes when forward which at times left the defense on the back foot, but for most of the match Svensson was rock solid in position and driving the ball to the offensive difference makers.
Alvaro Fernandez – 7 (off 75’) | Community - 6.2
Once again Flaco was tremendously effective in doing the little things that make this team work, and his ability to recognize the runs of others is exceptional. He’s not a player who blows you away with stats; his 77% passing and 59 touches weren’t amazing, but his two key passes led the team and he should have been the recipient of a penalty call. At the same time he capably filled in behind as attackers roamed around.
With Jones frequently pushing high in the first half, it was an alert Flaco who seamlessly slid in behind to support both offensively and defensively. His pressure on the front line was relentless, including a 7th minute chase down of a wide pass that allowed possession to be recycled deep in Houston territory. Two minutes later it was more of the same, first winning a ball at the offensive 18 and then regaining possession on the left wing via strong effort. After Jones’ shross in the 17th, Fernandez popped up on the right wing, pushing an intelligent dink pass back to the penalty spot for a chance. Flaco refused to give up on a play in the 27th, helping Jones earn a corner kick. Six minutes later he found Alonso à Nico who almost got Bruin into scoring position. Alvaro did have a poor drop pass that started a dangerous counter in the 38th and made a peculiar choice to head backwards in minute 44 when it looked like he was free on goal.
The second half was more impressive stuff from Fernandez who made a 60-yard run forward before just missing Bruin early. Alvaro had a weak claim for PK as AJ DeLaGarza held him down on a header attempt in the 54th but a much better claim for one in the 59th; this was started by a fake header that released Fernandez into space to run into the box before a cross to a wide-open Bruin was handled by defender Leonardo for Houston, preventing a likely goal. As usual in the eventual goal-scoring play Flaco was moving in support of others and stressed the defense with a near post run that helped hold the keeper honest.
Rumors of Fernandez’s departure come at a time where he is starting to play very well, and the Sounders are using him in ways where his abilities are important for the team. The improvement in the defense is accentuated by Flaco, whose willingness to cover for Nico or Jones is fabulous and his work rate as a two-way player is awesome. If that was his last game in Seattle, it was a very strong outing.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community - 7.5
Roldan had a bit of an up and down game, moving to an advanced role where he looked comfortable in spells. He showed a nice attacking acumen but was unable to impact the game offensively until moved to right back later in the match. I liked some of the glimpses we had of a potential attacking player within play from Roldan, and he did a very good job of possessing the ball from wide areas.
One thing that Roldan gives from a midfield spot is consistent chips and over the top looks, which he tried all night. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by more defenders than normal and wasn’t too successful dribbling into trouble in the 14th and 16th, losing the ball both times. Cristian adjusted and showed defensive strength from wide in the 28th, stealing the ball and forcing a bad foul from Alex. In the 41st Roldan checked to the middle, received a great pass from Roman Torres, and opened an overlapping Jones.
With the introduction of Aaron Kovar for Evans, Roldan was moved to right back in the 54th minute. Showing scary positioning at times, it was a rollercoaster performance in the back with Cristian often able to get forward into space with Kovar stretching the defense in front of him. In the 56th I liked seeing Roldan defensively track the winger while also being able to help centrally, and when matched up with Elis 1v1 in the 68th it was the Sounder who came out authoritatively on top, outpacing the Houston star and winning the ball. Roldan got caught in possession on top of his own box, perhaps dribbling too much in the 62nd, before passing out of bounds a minute later trying to connect with Kovar. A 65th minute blunder saw him well out of position and beat on the back post; luckily nothing came of it.
When presented with a chance to open the game, Roldan took it with both hands in minute 69. Supporting an attack wide, Cristian got the ball in space and put in an absolutely perfect cross to Bruin for the game winning goal. This was simply fantastic, and showed very impressive touch that improves as the season progresses.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community - 7.0
Minus a few weapons up front Lodeiro adjusted perfectly, changing his service shorter for Bruin and moving even more (if that’s possible). He contributed 2 key passes and a shot, while running the Houston midfield in circles all match.
A 2nd minute free kick was served into a perfect spot but somehow eluded both Marshall and Torres. Although many passes went awry, Nico found Jones in space in the 17th and just missed a perfect defense-splitting through ball in the 25th. I didn’t like his blatant dive in the 27th minute but he made up for it with a nasty nutmeg on Ricardo Clark three minutes later. Lodeiro’s first half highlight was a defensive press exerted in the 32nd minute to win a turnover before springing a counter and nearly finding an open Bruin through on goal.
After halftime Nico again showed his stamina, clearly being more active as the Houston midfield flagged. Smart defense was needed in the 48th, as Roman had a bad turnover but Lodeiro was there to defend. The introduction of Kovar energized Nico, giving him a wide, speed option. Lodeiro immediately worked a breakout with Aaron in the 56th, and in the 59th combined with Kovar before dropping in a through ball to Flaco. A 66th minute near post cross to Bruin originated from the left side and earned a corner. Nico’s corners weren’t great in this one, so Seattle smartly worked a short corner play with Kovar and Lodeiro, with both players capable of putting in a quality cross. In the 81st minute Nico put in a fantastic right footed pass through traffic and onto Jones who was unable to seal the game.
Will Bruin – 7 (off 88’) | Community - 7.2
First off, it’s incredible that Bruin even played, having a dislocated elbow a few weeks ago and still wearing a giant sling during the game. Secondly, he looked good playing up top. Bruin takes smart angles on his runs, and they make passing in to him easy. Tasked with holding the ball up as well as stretching the field to make room for the midfield, Bruin was strong, and when given the chance to finish did exactly that.
In minute one Will picked up a ball off a long clearance and played it wide in possession, and he got the first of many bumps from the overly physical Leonardo. In the 16th he held up the ball from a Torres pass and in the 23rd made a strong run far post but failed to get adequate service from Jones. Bruin was a willing runner throughout the first half but seemed a step too slow to catch up to multiple passes that would have sprung him on goal.
The second half started similarly. When presented with a nice setup from Flaco in the 59th Bruin presented ECS with a souvenir before again making a perfect run and having Leonardo swat the pass away before it could reach the Sounders striker. Bruin lost a holdup chance in the 65th but earned a corner with a neat near-post run a minute later. It was the 69th minute goal that will be remembered most, a smart run to the 6-yard box and clean finish on a perfect Roldan pass, but it was late game that saw Bruin excel. A 77th minute pressure on the keeper won a throw in, and an 81st minute holdup opened Joevin for a shot. More pressure on the defense solo from a seemingly harmless long ball earned Seattle a corner right before Bruin was subbed to deserved applause.
Aaron Kovar – 6 (on 54’) | Community - 6.4
Welcome back Aaron! Kovar came into the game in the 54th and immediately was directly taking on players. This was a great change of pace for the Sounders, and it put Houston on their heels. A quick right-footed cross showed the ability, before Aaron cut multiple times in to his stronger left and looked for chances. This paid off quickly in minute 57 with his pace springing a 2-man counter and Nico and earning a corner for Seattle. The goal scoring play had a large helping of Kovar in it, with Aaron pressing high with pace and opening space before getting the ball, dribbling into the middle, and pushing a contested pass to Alonso while sandwiched by two defenders. I was impressed with the two man play on a short corner and Nico appears to like using Kovar’s movement and pace to advance the attack.
Defensively he had a few mistakes, most notably a poor turnover in the midfield that led to an Elis shot in the 87th and some control issues, but Aaron showed good intensity and willingness to be physical.
Nouhou Tolo – 6 (on 75’) | Community - 6.2
Getting another run out against Houston we saw the increasingly confident play of Nouhou. Although he was caught in possession once in the 77th and bailed out by the whistle, otherwise the young left back was very impressive. His pace and willingness to cover opened Jones some on the wing, and Nouhou himself got into the attack in the 91st via a gorgeous anticipation steal and pull-back pass that should have earned an assist. Nouhou looks to have MLS- ready skills, and his 1v1 defense was greatly improved from S2 matches early in the season.
Jordy Delem – 5 (on 88’) | Community - 4.9
Delem came on to play… I am not sure. He meandered around and didn’t do much. He did lose Manotas in the 91st and had a risky slide in his own penalty area on defense. Despite being around the ball he didn’t record a single action, and didn’t touch the ball.
Baldemero Toledo – 7 | Community - 5.3
Whoa, Toledo wasn’t bad! This was a very cleanly-played game from two finesse teams that didn’t feel the need to beat the heck out of each other. This translated well to a Toledo-reffed match and he did a good job of running the show.
Leonardo was the one person who didn’t get the memo about rough play; he spent 90 minutes trying to knock Bruin out of the game. He started in the 1st minute, targeting the Sounder and knocking him down to earn one foul and another two minutes later. Toledo called a 19th minute handball and nicely allowed some advantage before pulling it back when it didn’t make sense. He ignored a blatant Nico dive in the 27th and appropriately booked Alex in the 28th for a hack on Roldan. In the 52nd he again checked advantage before bringing the ball back for a foul and was in perfect position to decide on an 85th minute potential penalty.
I thought Toledo blew the handball call on Leonardo, but admittedly his angle was bad and he deserved more help from the AR in the 59th minute potential PK. Leonardo should have been called for a high elbow in the 40th and carded for his multiple fouls throughout the game. In the 86th minute Toledo curiously overruled a call made by his AR mere feet in front of him. Alonso should have earned a foul in the 90th minute that went uncalled.
I have seen this ref be awful in games and it was nice to watch a game where he was quite good.
Dynamo Player of the Game:
Sounder at Heart readers had a clear first place vote among Dynamo players in keeper Tyler Deric, with second place being widely distributed.
Now we have a break before Seattle returns to the field in MLS play. It is essential that the Sounders build off this momentum, especially on the defensive side of the ball.