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Seattle Sounders vs. Columbus Crew: Player Ratings

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Flaco Fernandez gets his first MOTM of 2017.

So, Seattle took a decidedly “B” team into Columbus and got smacked around. The score line was 0-3, and at times it didn’t look that close. Most of the issues I saw revolved around poor teamwork in the first half, which was exacerbated by some peculiar lineup changes. It’s possible that the entire backline on Sunday against Houston is a different one, and that’s telling for a team that looked disorganized. I think the staff out-thought themselves in this one, and there was marked improvement after the halftime break but still not enough talent to earn a result.


KEEPER:

Stefan Frei – 5 | Community – 5.5

Frei faced two shots on goal in the first half, and they both scored in the side netting. He saw few shots against in the second half, and one hit the post and another scored in the side netting. These were fantastic finishes that I still think he could have done better on. There is a lot more than just saves involved in goalkeeping, and he looked below average on the night.

In the 10th minute Frei was screened on a shot that beat him to the far post, but a lot of the problem was the failure of his defense to clear the ball appropriately. Especially with a young team, Frei needs to be very assertive with his decision making. That might mean just clearing long instead of continuing to force short passes to beleaguered teammates, as well as getting them to close attackers quicker. When Justin Meram scored in the 21st minute it was again a long, shielded shot that was well placed, but I am starting to see a habit of Frei missing these shots from outside the box; it’s something he needs be do better on. I noted a good save on a questionable no call that resulted in a scramble play 9 minutes later, Stefan saving a point blank try and keeping Seattle in the game, but the rest of the half was full of Columbus pressure.

The second half had a better defensive setup, and other than a couple breakdowns Frei wasn’t forced into too many acrobatic saves. Unfortunately, one of these breakdowns led to a shot off the post due to great keeper positioning and another to a goal; again, a difficult shot hit side net and you have to give Columbus credit for finishing.

This was a game we needed an exceptional effort from the goalie, including perfect decision making and some “whoa” saves. Neither of these things happened.

DEFENSE:

Oniel Fisher – 3 | Community – 3.7 (off 64’)

Once again Fisher was very good filling in at left back…. till he wasn’t. Early Oniel was working hard, and in the 8th minute handled a dangerous 1v2 situation. This was to be a theme of his evening, as the winger in front of him (Jones) completely disregarded any defensive duties and allowed Columbus to repeatedly smash down the Sounders left side unchecked.

Fisher bears some responsibility for the 10th minute goal, failing to step to the ball quickly and allowing a long shot. The biggest issue with the young players on this team defensively appears to be a lack of confidence in positioning and teammates, which results in giving WAY too much space to MLS attackers. Good players are going to punish you if you leave them that open, and each young player on the backline was guilty of giving too much space consistently in this match. After getting upfield and earning a corner in the 20th minute, Fisher showed off a terrible cross to no one in the 28th. Seattle was lucky not to concede in the 35th as once again Oniel was beaten badly; this time it was a slick pass forward around him into the box. A majority of his first half struggles would have been alleviated immensely if he had any sort of support from Jones, and Fisher proved authoritatively that he is not ready to lock down a side without help.

The second half was better for Oniel, who looked more comfortable on the right. Multiple times he got forward successfully, but his crossing was abject. His best push came in the 52nd including a dribble aggressively to the middle, which prevented him from crossing into the fans. He subbed out a bit after the 59th minute goal, and again there was blame to be given to Fisher who backed off Meram, allowing too much space to make an assisting pass.

Tony Alfaro – 3 | Community – 3.9

I don’t think Alfaro is ready to play heavy MLS minutes yet. He has looked OK when surrounded by guys like Marshall and Jones who can support him heavily, but in this game some huge flaws were brutally exposed. Like the other young defenders, Tony is marking space and not players, and doesn’t adequately pick up his marker tight enough, allowing smart attackers to move around him. At times Alfaro looks to be deliberately dropping off to make a spectacular sliding tackle, which is very sub-optimal. He also is making very bad decisions with the ball, with poor distribution failing to alleviate pressure on the defense. I am not expecting the 100% of Marshall, but 67% completion from the back fails the entire possession style of the Sounders.

I noted early (6’) Alfaro marking space and this was to be a recurring theme. In the 10th minute Alfaro made a good slide tackle only to force a bad pass to Jones, which resulted in a turnover. This is another bad habit that Alfaro will need to fix, as he tends to turn his body and push the ball wide – this allows the sideline to be an extra defender and forces Alfaro into limited options upfield. No one closed down Federico Higuaín after this turnover and the Columbus star was happy to tee up a goal. In the 15th minute Tony was spun like a top on defense, getting pulled too high and out of position, and 2 minutes later was abused by a give and go; he chased the ball and was easy to beat. In the 21st minute Alfaro had a chance to step to Meram but failed to do so, once again marking a space and once again a Columbus star took that space and produced a goal. I noted Alfaro dribbling to the sideline to chunk passes forward to no one in the 24th and 31st, while also not closing on Artur in the box in the 30th.

The second half was improved overall with better positioning, but there were just as many cataclysmic mistakes from Tony in the back. In the 51st he back pedaled into holding people onside and attempted to bail himself out with another slide that failed. 7 minutes later Ola Kamara got open over the top on the 6-yard box. Somehow in the 59th (but one minute later) Kamara again got easily past Alfaro, who (broken record) was caught too far away and desperation slide tackling defense was beaten by a well-placed shot for a third goal. There were a couple other bad passes forward that put pressure on the defense immediately to close out the game.

Alfaro really struggled, and I think he was really exposed this game. He isn’t marking players adequately through his zone and until he gets that down, none of the rest of the flaws matter, because it’s just not good enough.

Gustav Svensson – 5 | Community – 5.8

Svensson was tasked with carrying 3 inexperienced defenders and it showed. He really tried to do his part, but was unable to do enough to compensate. He had 98% passing completion on the 5th most touches for the Sounders and was sound defending his position. I think he had a chance to really shine in this game and failed, with multiple times a clear lack of communication being evident and being unable to carry everyone around him.

Goose tried valiantly to put out the fires around him in the first half, with a 6th minute dash across to the space Alfaro should have been and a 17th minute defensive possession creating a rare turnover for Seattle to exploit. He was the only player marking on the 21st minute goal, but I thought he should have urged the passive defenders around him to get tighter. Svensson stepped strongly to the ball at appropriate times such as a 31st minute intervention, but he also gave up a foul in the 38th in a dangerous area.

As with the rest of the team, Gustav improved with a stronger defense around him in the second half, showing strong 1v1 defense against Ethan Finlay in the 61st and positioning in the 64th. Unfamiliarity with the dangerous Kekuta Manneh likely led to his bad stabbing defensive attempt in the 86th, but otherwise Goose was a calming, controlled defender amidst a bunch of flailing chaos.

Jordy Delem – 3 | Community – 3.6

Even though the clear majority of attacks for Columbus came down the opposite side, I was still hugely disappointed in Delem, who’s positioning was quite rough and affected the entire defensive shape. Svensson was constantly forced to support, which stressed the struggling Alfaro more. Jordy did move to a defensive midfield spot in the second half, where I was even less impressed.

After getting the better of Meram in the 9th minute, Jordy had FOUR opportunities to stop the Columbus winger in his 21st minute goal scoring run, and Delem failed atrociously to do anything to bother his run, eventually dropping off to mark his usual space. This was terrible defending. In the 30th minute Meram badly beat him again, this time on the far post and it took the quick reflexes of Frei to stop a sure goal. A lot of the first half involved Delem marking crossing runs through the box and he had mixed results doing so. The one time he got forward to support the attack was rewarded with a hilarious ballooning cross to no one.

Moved to his “correct” position of defensive mid didn’t impress me in the slightest after halftime. While Delem has decent first touch, he looked completely scared to use it to gain advantage, instead choosing to kick the ball forward at the earliest convenience, often first timing a pass at an unprepared teammate. When he got a wide opportunity after a corner in the 54th his cross was… very bad. A few minutes later his nonconstructive movement muddled up an attack in the Columbus area. In the 57th he couldn’t control a ball in the midfield leading to a turnover. On the 59th minute goal, it was Jordy “traffic cone” Delem watching Meram give and go around him to assist.

I just don’t have a lot of good things to say about this performance, other than his 88% passing completion at least signifying that he was passing the ball to his own team, a marked improvement on most other Sounders.

DEF MIDFIELD:

Osvaldo Alonso – 6 | Community – 5.7

This game needed a few Seattle players to really step up and take charge, and I was disappointed when Alonso turned in a pedestrian, so-so effort. Although Columbus had great movement through the middle, the Sounders defensive midfield was often out of position in the first half, unable to cover enough ground to help create any offense as well as a massively struggling defense.

Early on Ozzie struggled, losing the ball and chunking an awful free kick out of bounds both in the first 5 minutes. I noted he looked slow in the first half, and this was one of the Alonso games where he was missing any burst speed, which was compounded by a startling lack of positional cohesiveness with the players around him. Forced to cover for absent teammates, Ozzie was playing left wing as Meram was scoring in the 21st minute, the Crew player taking full advantage of his missing presence. Multiple times to close out the half I noted Alonso slow to recover and cover midfield runs, and he lost possession badly in the middle numerous times.

The second half was a vast improvement, which saw the Sounders midfielder start to exert more consistent pressure. In the 52nd he read a Meram pass perfectly and stole it before dropping a perfect cross field switch to Fisher in space. More great anticipation in the 67th resulted in a steal and driving dribble forward, forcing Jonathan Mensah into a yellow card foul as Ozzie was away. The best scoring chance of the day came off an alert pass by Alonso in the 72nd; he quickly found Fernandez in space for a shot.

Alonso was very tidy with the ball when he touched it, but I would have liked much more input from him on how the score line would go, especially in the first half when the Sounders looked to be missing both his effort and leadership

Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.1

It’s not so much that the Roldan/Alonso partnership was bad this game, but it was vastly ineffective. This is partly due to the great movement of the Crew attackers, notably Higuaín and Meram, but also because these Seattle mids were asked to cover so much ground. Roldan was constantly forced wide to cover for a nonexistent Jones and lagging outside backs. Cristian converted a lot of his midrange passes, but nearly all his touches were outside the width of the 18, which shows just how much area Roldan was forced to cover and part of the lack of central defending from Seattle.

Roldan was one of the few first half standouts for the Sounders, racking up notes with aggressive play and repeatedly bailing out teammates who were beat. A 13th minute steal in the middle led to an Adekoya shot, but many of his passes failed to connect with teammates when looking direct. Flaco was open and missed in the 15th and simple connection with Alonso minutes later was lacking. Cristian did have another gut busting pinballing run up the field in the 34th, charging up the pitch past defenders galore only to run out of steam and options near the penalty area.

Cristian was quiet in the second half, with a few defensive actions and lots of running with little effect on the game. A crummy 87th minute cross was indicative of an unusually sloppy, mundane performance.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD

Joevin Jones – 3 | Community – 4.8 (off 74’)

I think the staff blundered in playing Jones as an attacking midfielder, and once again he was quite awful in this position. I understand the concept of defending like the first half in SKC, and using Jones as the speed outlet in place of Morris, however this plan failed miserably, and a lot of it due to Joevin underperforming immensely. He wasn’t good at all in this match, and much of what he did badly immediately impacted those around him and domino’d into a disaster. Not only did his failure to help anyone around him defensively vastly impact the team, there were multiple times that the tiniest of movement or effort would have made a difference, and he failed to do so repeatedly.

The first half was an awful effort from Jones. In the 6th minute Jones quit on a play and 2 minutes later he was watching Fisher defend 1v2. When given a chance to at least be a positive offense counterbalance an 8th minute cross was no good. A beautiful trap and push to the end line in the 9th showed that Jones still had some ability to positively change the game, but his cross missed an open Lodeiro. Joevin repeatedly checked to the ball half-assed, and one resulted in a terrible turnover and subsequent goal in the 10th minute. In the 18th he again lost the ball leading to a counter attack that was casually watched at a brisk standing position by Jones. Speaking of watching, it was his 21st minute terrible pass forward that was stolen and converted to a goal, with Jones a passive observer from near midfield. A 31st minute lackadaisical effort after a turnover was directly prior to a strong run and cross to the back post, one of Jones’ best plays. Another poor checking run in the 44th ended a miserable half.

In the second half Jones was moved back to his normal left back position and showed improvement as a defensive player, which isn’t exactly glowing praise. In doing so he didn’t have many notes, but at least they weren’t the terrible sort for the first period. He did fail to help Alfaro in the 58th minute, allowing Kamara to get service in the 6-yard box and didn’t link going forward at all, but the overall defensive shape and positioning was greatly improved. If Jones is going to continue to be tried as an attacking player, great adjustments for his “style” of play must be committed.

Alvaro Fernandez – 7 (MOTM) | Community – 4.8

Look, a lot of people like to talk about what Flaco isn’t. And his salary. He isn’t the dynamic winger from yesteryear, a goal scoring force, or the guy who’s going to break down defenses. He makes a lot of money. Let’s talk about what he is, because he was exactly that against Columbus and was quite successful. I think we should appreciate what he’s doing, even if it’s not sexy or eye opening. He’s a player who makes smart, constructive runs. He’s a player who defends very well, combining aerial prowess, positional savvy, and intensity on the defensive side of the ball. He’s a player who is willing to do all the dirty work off the ball to make his team better, and the kind of guy who can help mask the struggles defensive players around him.

In the 4th minute Flaco was in the middle, filling a gap and earning a foul. 4 minutes later he was controlling the advance, combining tightly on the sideline with Alonso and Lodeiro. His pressure in the 14th created a turnover for the Sounders, and he followed that up with a great off ball run a minute later that Roldan was unable to capitalize on. Alvaro missed an early give and go that might have opened some space, but then hustled back and pressed defensively all half. Columbus attacked massively down their right side and avoided the left and the struggling Delem, partially because Fernandez was consistently breaking up chances any time they attempted to push that wing.

In the second half Flaco held the ball up more, after moving forward to assist Adekoya. I liked his decision making, especially a 54th minute flick into a great spot and a run forward in the 56th where he was sandwiched and unable to get a shot off. Minute 72 was a great example of both Flaco’s strengths and limitations. Dropping back into midfield, he first flick/dummied a pass forward to Seyi for holdup, who found Alonso, who then spotted the ever-hustling Fernandez (who had smartly turned and followed up this play) in the box for a shot. This was one of the best Sounder chances on the night created by Flaco’s hustle and while not hit assertively, it did nearly beat keeper Zach Steffen who was forced to reach behind him to save it. It was perfect tactical movement with imperfect technical follow through. Alvaro turned in a few more good defensive actions, notably a header on a corner to clear and made an 80th minute run that was wide open without a cross that was a likely goal.

If you didn’t know what kind of player Fernandez is, this was it. He worked hard, did what he does well, and was one of the most effective Sounders on the field. Expecting him to be anything else based on salary or past play is likely to be a fruitless endeavor.

Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 6.0 (MOTM)

I love seeing Nico play, and his work ethic alone is worth the price of admission. Its games like this that really increase my appreciation for him, because amidst a lot of adversity he still stood out with the ability to turn up that quality pass that no one else in the league even sees. Asked to be a bit more offensive Nico led the team in shots, completed nearly 80% of his passes, and dropped in 2 key passes. There were also definite communication errors with the players around him and his lack of cohesion with Adekoya and Jones was very evident.

A 9th minute run forward could have changed the entire game, as Nico found space on the penalty spot but no service from Jones. In the 13th minute another chance to change the game was created as Lodeiro released Adekoya into a “shot” attempt. After a 24th minute dangerous corner service Nico pressed high multiple times and earned a steal in the 28th. He closed the first half finally connecting on an over the top pass, this time releasing Seyi into space but without result when the young forward was called for hand ball.

In the second half Nico was still chased by defenders, usually Artur who nipped at his heels constantly. In the 56th Lodeiro got a through ball to go and went direct with a nice shot from distance a minute later. I like to see Nico ripping more shots, and good things are happening as a result. One side effect of the missing attackers is Lodeiro was a turnover machine, consistently forcing passes to where he thought people would/should be, or dribbling into traffic and losing the ball due to lack of options. I thought Nico was especially wasteful on set pieces, and in a game where offense is at a premium, he must be better (or let someone else take some? Roldan?) Corners out of bounds, free kicks into the stands or to the keeper are especially hurtful to a struggling team, and I expect better from our superstar.

FORWARD:

Seyi Adekoya – 6 | Community – 4.1 (off 64’)

In his first run out as a starter in MLS I was pleasantly surprised by the work of the young homegrown Sounder. Although there were some definite hiccups, Seyi showed MLS-ready skills and I thought performed very well, especially for his first extended time.

It started rough, with Seyi getting a talking to by the ref in the 2nd minute before a soft yellow card not even 4 minutes into the game. Because he was on a yellow he was unable to challenge hard for a 50/50 ball a few minutes later, clearly tempering his aggressiveness after the caution. This lack of aggression may have spilled over into a 13th minute golden chance, when the forward was put into space by Lodeiro but froze, finally choosing to awkwardly off-foot poke the ball over the bar harmlessly. Another time Nico just missed him over the top as Seyi was called for a hand ball but showed he could get in behind. Adekoya even got into the “help play defense because Jones isn’t” act, defending strong on the left wing in the 43rd minute.

There were times Adekoya got bodied off the ball in the first half, leading to the coach adding another striker to support him, and Seyi responded with great holdup play. His angles were strong, and he looked natural as a forward. The best was a 56th minute holdup, layoff, backside run combo although I noted at least 4 other good plays with his back to goal. There is a lot of potential from this young sounder and he was a bright spot within an ugly game.

SUBS:

Brad Evans – 6 | Community – 5.7 (on 64’)

Brad came in, got a nice run, worked hard, and brought a lot of leadership to a struggling Sounder team. His positioning helped the midfield start to push forward a bit, and he earned an 81st minute free kick after a strong run. Brad isn’t afraid to dribble with the ball, something that was severely missing from all non-Lodeiro Sounders.

Nouhou – 6 | Community – 4.9 (on 64’)

Along with Adekoya, Nouhou was a pleasant surprise. He looked MLS ready, exhibiting strong defensive instincts and tremendous pace. In the 66th he shut down his side via positioning and 10 minutes later again, but this time with a crushing tackle. He did miss a wide-open Fernandez in the 80th minute, as he was unable to cross the ball to his teammate for an assist after a strong run up the wing.

Roman Torres – 6 | Community – 5.2 (on 74’)

It was nice to see Torres back on the field and playing center back, but there were few notable actions. Several times Roman used his size to his advantage but was beat for speed once. By the time he entered, Columbus wasn’t pressing with as much urgency, and it was nice for Torres to get a little fitness in.

REFEREE:

Dave Gantar – 8 Community – 5.2

This wasn’t an overly physical game, and I thought Gantar handled the flow of the match very well. I had few notes overall (always a good thing) and only a few contentious whistles in my book.

I thought the warning on Adekoya good in the 2nd, but the instant yellow a bit harsh, even though he had just warned him. The second yellow of the game was for a professional pullback on Mensah, and was immediate and appropriate. I didn’t see any other egregious fouls and both Artur and Alonso were correctly warned after 3 fouls committed apiece.

I thought perhaps Roldan was fouled directly prior to Higuaín’s goal and both Fernandez and Meram got away with no calls that directly led to shots for the opposing team. These borderline calls are tough, but I’d prefer not to give such an advantage from a foul that the direct result is a goal or shot. Otherwise Gantar was great, and should be commended on facilitating a clean game that was about the players, not the referees.

COLUMBUS CREW MOTM:

We have a tight one this week, with Justin Meram edging out Federico Higuain with just under 45 percent of the vote. Wil Trapp couldn’t get much traction, even with the help of being on the list twice.


Time to look forward to Sunday, and a chance to regroup at home with a few more starters. We are getting close to “must” games as far as earning points, and a win against a very successful Houston squad that has already beat us would be a huge boost to a Sounders team that is listing a bit.