I was mentally prepared for a tough game on Saturday when the Seattle Sounders faced a tough San Jose Earthquakes team that always gives them trouble, especially when we were missing all three DPs and more, so it didn’t surprise me when the Earthquakes started the match by controlling much of the play. But after a brief blip, the Sounders played great and worked hard to limit the Earthquakes from getting more than a few quality chances. In the second half the persistent, scrappy Seattle side, led by an inspired midfield, found a way to not only score, but put San Jose away and hold onto a clean sheet. The 3-0 scoreline represented a team effort on both ends of the field and was even more notable because many players started in new or unfamiliar positions.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.3
It was great to see Frei back between the sticks on Sunday, and he made a huge difference. His defense was much more organized, he was assertive in commanding his line, and when Seattle needed a big stop, he was there.
The first such stop happened in just the 2nd minute when Frei excellently covered a shot at his near post against the ever-elusive Chris Wondolowski. I can’t imagine how ugly this game could have gotten if Frei was slow to start his game, and that save seemed to send a wakeup call to everyone in Sounders colors. In the 15th minute he flew out to catch a cross in traffic and 3 minutes later again showed some class, albeit in a slightly subtle manner: on a near-post shot to his left, Frei simply placed his foot against the post, perfectly blocking any chance for the ball to score. It was impressive form and ensured the Earthquakes had no chance to score. In the 40th minute his positioning was solid and he caught a shot harmlessly right to him.
These were the only 3 shots San Jose managed to put on goal, but I cannot overstate how effective Frei was in commanding the defense. His communication was great, he was always an outlet with his feet for support of the back line, and Stefan’s choices with clearances were spot on, other than a single 83rd minute clearance short and to the middle. The shutout took one great early save, and an entire game of vigilance from the reigning MLS Cup MVP.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 6.9
Everyone loves the HOU, and this game was a great example of why. He is all at once amazing and frustrating and terrifying and cocky and confident and when you roll it all up out comes this absolute missile of a player who earns himself playing time before our eyes. He makes many positioning errors, but with electric speed Nouhou recovers successfully. His dribbling is direct, the crosses he sends are stellar, but at the same time he is still learning about timing and tactical decision making. Yet through all this, he touched the ball more than the rest of the team and rarely lost possession.
In the first minute Nouhou missed a wide-open Roldan up the wing, and in the second Nick Lima rounded him too easily. A minute later Nouhou followed the ball on defense, allowing Jahmir Hyka tons of space. After this rocky start things settled down, and when needed in the 10th minute he turned on the afterburners and showed incredible recovery pace to stop a break. Fully warmed up, it was time to show off his offensive chops; in the 17th minute, Nouhou stormed forward breaking the lines of defense and crossed a ball to Bruin that was redirected wide. In the 22nd it was speed, speed, speed followed by a decent cross into danger. While he did have an impressive 2 key passes, Nouhou doesn’t shirk his defensive duties and in the 26th showed the ability to shut down a 1v2 break all by himself, forcing a harmless long shot over the bar. He had less luck in the 40th, losing Lima twice on the same play and allowing a shot after some very suspect positioning.
In the 59th minute the Houtrain choo-choo’d up the left flank before breaking a defender’s ankles and dropping a perfect off-footed cross to Roldan that nearly earned an assist, and in the 88th I loved seeing the sturdy left back win a free kick in possession to help close out the game. There are many, many things to work on for this raw player, but his improvement every week is exciting.
Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 6.7
One of the reasons Seattle earned a shutout was Marshall playing much better than he did at midweek on the gimpy ankle. Gone was the hesitation, replaced by a 92% passing rate that included 6/7 successful long balls and an overall calm, confident defense.
Chad clearly knows Wondo’s tendencies and did well to shadow him most of the night when the Earthquakes striker attempted to ghost around behind him. Chad blocked his shot in the 17th and charged across the pitch to defend in the 22nd. Multiple semi-dangerous attacks for San Jose were just gobbled up by the superior positioning of Marshall, who calmly headed or chest-passed the ball to teammates and out of trouble.
Chad and Torres were split by Danny Hoesen in the 12th and Marshall was individually beat in the 28th but nothing much came of these chances. At the same time Chad nearly had a header redirect via a 38th minute corner kick. He looked much more comfortable and his communication with Frei was superb as well.
Roman Torres – 6 | Community – 6.4
Having speed at the right back position seemed to allow Torres to relax on defense, and the hulking center back held much better possession as a result. Still tasked with many of the risky passes from the back, Roman had a strong game picking out teammates. His defense was also very robust, mirroring the effort Marshall put in to contain Wondo.
Although they were split the one time, the central defenders quickly plugged this hole; other than a risky header in the 20th that went to an opponent, this was a vastly improved central pairing. Torres stayed compact with Marshall and showed off his ability to break open opponents by bypassing lines. One such time was in the 14th minute when he found Bruin’s feet from deep in the Sounders half. Roman always has his head up looking for the incisive pass forward.
I credited Roman with the “Torres” effect on the 65th minute goal, as he absolutely dunked on about 3 Earthquake players, forcing them to duck and hide as the ball floated over them all and to Leerdam. He is a great aerial target but in this case, it was the fear he put in the opponents that helped. I thought Roman struggled when Leerdam wasn’t around to cover his width, and he lost Quincy Amarikwa in the 83rd which resulted in a dangerous shot just wide. This was the best Torres performance in quite a while.
Kelvin Leerdam – 7 | Community – 7.7 (off 84’)
After a brief cameo last week Leerdam got his first start for Seattle and didn’t disappoint. First off, his defense is strong, both from a positional standpoint and in his decision-making. Leerdam consistently read the sometimes erratic movement of Torres to his left and was nearly always made his way across to defend any gaps that opened between the center backs. He also has the offensive tools this team has desperately missed from the right, which balances out the attack and opens so much space for his teammates to work.
In the 5th minute Leerdam underlapped his winger, finding Bruin who eventually got the ball to Roldan for a cross. This was a natural run and a nifty understanding of game state that showed a high level of tactical prowess. In the 13th he showed off his hops, winning a header on a corner kick. He did have an 18th minute turnover, which was quickly forgotten as he repeatedly slid across to support his defense or quickly got wide as an outlet.
Although he didn’t bomb forward to get the ball wide and cross like Jones, Leerdam still found ways to get involved offensively. His first long throw of the game was in the 41st minute and found Svensson, who flicked into a dangerous spot. Leerdam would repeat this in the 53rd, 54th, and 56th minutes as he got involved in both Roldan goals. In the 65th he made San Jose pay for losing him on a corner, calmly tapping-in a goal to ice the game. He wasn’t done though, as he showed off a vicious volley from (yet another) long throw-in rebound, just about killing Bruin with a rocket that looked goal bound before a deflection.
Leerdam tired and lost his mark right before being subbed, but this was an excellent illustration of his quality. While not showing off amazing speed or skills, he quietly and efficiently got involved in big play after big play and it’s even more exciting to see him already make those around him much better. He definitely needs to work on his goal celebration though.
Gustav Svensson – 8 | Community – 7.1
I honestly debated giving Svensson MOTM. I know that seems wild but he was really, REALLY good: 85% passing. FOUR key passes. 3 aerials won, 4 tackles won, 4 interceptions, and an assist made him the singular driving force of the Seattle counter that could have produced even more goals. Svensson was repeatedly in the right spot to break up plays, but that wasn’t all he did – Goose consistently made amazing passes to force Seattle up the field into devastating counter attacks.
It was Svensson’s mis-touch in the box that led to Wondo’s shot in the 2nd minute and while it was scary, a wasted free kick in the 58th minute was the only other negative mark in the book. The rest was all gravy, as Goose had highlight after highlight. In the 7th minute he picked up a loose ball in the midfield and made a quick outlet to release Jones, something that happened over and over. In the 12th minute Svensson won a header on the 18 to Bruin (and got an elbow for his troubles) on the way to a shot attempt. In the 13th Gustav stepped up and won a ball in the midfield again to Joevin, and did it again in the 33rd. He finished the half in the 42nd minute by flicking a header into the goalmouth from a long throw, which foreshadowed the brilliant second half to come.
Svensson worked great with fellow CM Jordy Delem, each trading off seamlessly to clog the middle and mark runners through the channels. Each player did well to communicate with the other, and San Jose had very little luck breaking down the defense. When they tried, Svensson often stole the ball and played it to his attacking teammates. In the 54th Svensson and Leerdam connected on a long throw, earning an assist for both to some guy named Cristian. In the 78th Goose deserved another assist, this time dropping an amazing cross field pass to Kovar who he somehow spotted with a step on the defense. A minute later Svensson stole a ball in the middle and put Roldan in on goal, only to see the post deny Seattle a 4-0 scoreline.
This was a continuation of the second half play from the DC game, where Svensson suddenly turned into a dominant and quick player reluctant to give up any playing time.
Jordy Delem – 7 | Community – 6.1
Delem came back from the Gold Cup with confidence and the opportunity to play a more comfortable position and he took it greedily. In by far his best Sounders performance, Delem was fantastic in the middle. He was clean with the ball (89% completion, 2/2 long balls) chipped in 4 tackles and was amazing at clogging passing lanes, continually being in the right place to get a steal or deflection.
In the 4th minute Delem won a ball in the midfield and you could see the new confidence in his play. Two aspects of his game that are above average are his heading ability and touch, both of which were on display against SJ. In the 22nd minute that touch was shown, controlling a long ball easily and smoothly. The half had its share of nervy moments, with a 34th minute poor back pass almost handing the visitors a goal and a few bad decisions on who to pass to clouding an otherwise stellar performance.
The second half was even better from Jordy, starting in the 50th when he pushed Tommy Thompson wide and into a predictable shot for Frei after a mini break towards goal. When Nouhou blasted a howitzer pass at him in the midfield, Delem calmly and gently controlled it without breaking a sweat. Often it was Delem’s defense that forced San Jose into risky passes or dribbles, which were prime meat for a hungry Goose. Many of the steals and transition plays started with Jordy making impressive decisions. He even had a turn in the midfield under pressure that elicited a comparison to Alonso.
I am not saying this guy is Ozzie, but his play was so far above expectations that a little hyperbole seems appropriate. I was continually impressed with the touch and decision making from the middle of the field by a player who has taken his lumps this year.
Joevin Jones – 7 | Community – 7.2 (off 86’)
I don’t think Jones should play winger when this team is at full strength, but this game gave us an idea what he can do from an advanced position with a lineup which hid his weaknesses. Tasked with playing zero defense (I believe he had zero defensive actions, in fact usually staying as high as Bruin), Jones was the lynchpin to Seattle breaking out from a deep defensive position and transitioning into quick, biting attacks. This turned Jones loose into a free-flowing role to probe through the SJ back three, and his decision-making going forward was great, leading to 4 key passes.
Joevin made nice off ball runs, but they are mainly directly at goal. This was a good thing in the 3rd minute when he found himself unmarked with only “the simplest of finishes” between him and an early score. Unfortunately, he mis-touched the chance, showing a bit of a fullback’s shooting touch. In the 10th minute Jones had a bad control turnover and followed this up with the unusual “tag-you’re-it” defensive method, where he tapped the opponent on the shoulder and then watched as San Jose moved forward with possession. In the 21st Jones missed a diagonal Bruin run that killed an attack, but I loved seeing him perfectly correct this same pass later in the 39th. Joevin had great weight to his passes, and decision making on crosses was improved from last outing.
In the 25th Jones beat Victor Bernardez but completely wasted a chance for a wide-open Evans on the far post for a missed opportunity. In the 33rd he took a strong shot from outside the box and he should continue to have a go when left open, as he can hit those. A few minutes later Seattle gave Jones set piece duty, and he showed some excellent touch on most of his free kicks. A 38th minute corner found Marshall, and his 65th minute ball eluded everyone to land on the feet of Leerdam.
This position for Jones let him be a pure counterattacking force, absent any other responsibilities. He was very dangerous due to some fantastic decision-making when in the open field with space. I am not sure how often we can reproduce this tactical matchup and configuration, but it was one that allowed Jones to excel in a free role.
Cristian Roldan – 9 (MOTM) | Community – 9.1 (MOTM)
Reviewing the game and the stats, there were about 60 minutes of very solid, yet unspectacular play from Roldan followed by 30 minutes of absolute Beast Mode when San Jose had no answer for him. Cristian simply took over the game and had the most incredible period of sustained excellence we have seen from him as a Sounder. Along the way he led the team with a massive 7 tackles, took 5 shots, added 3 key passes, could have had 3 assists to go with 3 goals, and still ended up with only a post denying him a hat trick. Roldan was pulling up from mid-court and swishing 3’s and the Earthquakes had no answer.
Tasked with being a playmaker, Roldan drifted wide in the 3rd minute and put a perfect pass onto the feet of Jones in what should have been an assist. A similar pass in the 5th was blocked. In the 29th he beat his man and dropped a cross to Bruin in the box, but for the rest of the half San Jose possessed the ball a majority of the time and Roldan was active defensively more than in the attack. He did dribble too much a few times trying to create, and was removed from free kick duty after struggling on multiple opportunities to send in set pieces.
The second half was the awakening of a sleeping giant. As the Earthquakes lost concentration via fatigue, Roldan floated into the box and scored in the 54th. He stole the ensuing kickoff, but even that didn’t wake the opponents up and when San Jose was too nonchalant in the back, it was the pesky Roldan who dominated Bernardez, stole the ball, and finished clean to the far post for his second goal minutes after the first. Cristian wasn’t done either; after floating around in the box, Nouhou dialed him up and his header forced a huge save from keeper David Bingham. In the 67th Roldan played creator, this time releasing Bruin in on goal. In the 68th he made a run diagonally that ripped the Earthquake back line into a pitiful zig zag. In the 79th he showed awesome strength and balance to shrug off defender Florian Jungwirth and put a left footed shot off the post searching for the hat trick. I don’t even care that he had Jones wide open on the play. To close out the game it was Cristian playing fantastic defense in the in 88th.
This was a mind-blowing explosion of dominance from Roldan, who put his hands around the neck of the game and shook it. If this is a glimpse into the future of his play, we are in for an amazing legacy.
Brad Evans – 7 | Community – 6.2 (off 71’)
While his counterpart on the opposite flank Jones was waiting casually for counters, Brad was doing all the dirty work on the other side to make those plays happen. Asked to be a two-way player, Evans was exactly that, hustling up and down the wing being a facilitator, rarely tasked with creating for others. I had nearly zero complaints about his play, and he combined with Leerdam to protect their side and force nearly all the Earthquake chances to the opposite flank.
Brad consistently did things like slide under Delem when he rose to win a header or subtly pull an opponent wide to create a passing lane for Torres. In the 17th he was “just doing everything right, if unspectacularly”. When defending he made it easy for the middle. On offense Brad was wide open in the box and should have been passed to by a teammate. In the 21st and 24th minutes he broke up plays and released Jones up the field to spear the defense. Right before halftime, I noted both a slick dribble to get out of trouble and some nice hustle that forced Bingham to clear out of bounds and give Seattle a needed breather. Evans’ relentless pressure in the 64th earned the corner on which Leerdam scored. His 67th minute control and vision found the hot hand in Roldan, who nearly reached Bruin for another. Brad was the “pass before the pass” a lot in this one, and while not flashy, he was a big reason the Sounders easily handled the San Jose possession advantage.
Will Bruin – 6 | Community – 6.9
Bruin was quieter after two early spectacular efforts, but he still managed to be an integral part of the Sounders attack. Many times, an important touch or run was just enough to open space for others, although he failed to get many shots or scoring opportunities on his own.
In the 5th minute his movement opened up a chance for Roldan. A few minutes later Will forced a turnover in the middle by coming back and pressing from the front. I liked the defensive intensity from Bruin, as it was especially necessary with Jones playing none. After failing to make the right run earlier, Bruin made a near post move in the 17th and nearly connected with a Nouhou cross. This same run opened other options in the 25th, clearing out a swath of space to work. Even with big name players out, Seattle consistently saw four or more guys getting into the box in the attack, as Evans, Bruin, Roldan, etc. all worked hard to support offensively. In the 56th Bruin got just enough touch on a flick to let the Roldanimal loose towards goal: he scored. Eleven minutes later Will himself got a chance, but his shot was blocked.
Bruin struggled some with touch, and turned the ball over at times trying to bring others into the play. His passing was just okay, but the strength in his game was the off-ball movement, which was stellar.
Aaron Kovar – 6 | Community – 5.9 (on 71’)
Kovar immediately stepped into free kick duty in the 72nd and dropped a perfect ball in the box. Holding a lead, Aaron was defensive first and did great in the 75th, when he dropped in to help and then went on the counter to give Seattle numbers quickly going forward. Three minutes later, Kovar floated to the back post and found a ridiculous Svensson pass coming his way. He calmly trapped the ball and in one motion put a strong shot on goal that somehow Bingham saved. This was highlight reel stuff that unfortunately didn’t find the net.
Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 5.5 (on 84’)
Shipp came in to control the game and see it out, which he did well. His control in the 85th minute was some smart play and again in the 92nd he stole the ball and controlled it. Shipp is having trouble fitting into the team, but when put centrally and asked to control play he does exactly that and well.
Tony Alfaro – 5 | Community – 5.2 (on 86’)
The only thing notable was a terrible pass forward to San Jose from the back in the 89th minute.
Alan Kelly – 7 | Community – 6.5
Kelly was overall good, and very consistent. My main problem was that this consistency involved letting a lot go, which luckily didn’t turn into an issue. The play did get chippy at times by the visiting team. Seattle only committed 5 fouls in the game! The referee did allow advantage well and for the most part kept things in check.
In the 9th minute Evans was fouled, then Roldan was fouled, and although the ball got to Bruin there was no advantage in my opinion, although it was given. Svensson was punched in the back of the head in the 12th and Delem was undercut in the 29th with neither play getting a whistle. I thought Imperiale in the 52nd and Salinas in the 85th deserved yellows for cynical fouls where neither was close to playing the ball.
Kelly did give out a few appropriate yellows and his use of warnings was sufficient to keep the physicality (of mostly SJ) in check.
San Jose MOTM
Chris Wondolowski gets the nod from the voters here with just over 28%. Luckily, though, he wasn’t able to convert his one or two dangerous chances against the Sounders, since he often does.
No time to rest on our 3-game winning streak: next up is the LA Galaxy, a team that is lousy at home, has lost FIVE in a row, and that we plastered away earlier this year. Let’s go into California and grab 3 points—and then start to integrate some (hopefully) fancy new pieces into this suddenly deep, quality roster.