After playing an overtime game with starters midweek, everyone knew that Sporting Kansas City would bring a less than first-choice starting lineup. We also knew they wouldn’t change their tactics one bit. SKC came out and pressed, stayed compact in the back, and were generally uncreative in their possession. They managed just 2 decent scoring attempts and Seattle did a good job with their own defensive duties. On the other side, the Sounders scored a quality first-half goal and made it hold up for a 1-0 win. The offensive opportunities favored the home team, who ground out a win that moved them to the top of the conference.
Stefan Frei – 5 | Community – 7.1
Frei had to make 3 saves all game. None were particularly difficult, with James Musa’s shot in the 74th through traffic forcing a dive to Frei’s left being the toughest. The other two were near-post shots in the 52nd and 62nd that Stef covered easily due to strong positioning. On all three attempts Frei handled the shot cleanly, which he doesn’t always get enough credit for. There were zero bobbles or second attempts.
The big issue with Frei in this match was his decision making when dealing with the press. Few teams can press like SKC, but it was a very big problem for the Seattle defense that did not adequately adjust to the pressure. In the 2nd minute it was clear that the home team was going to play short, and the obstinacy in not changing tactics sooner was a huge problem. Frei made a bad touch in the 5th to again put himself under undue pressure, and he forced a ball to Torres in a terrible spot. Another bad touch 20 minutes later handcuffed the keeper, forcing a left-footed desperation clear out of bounds with a player bearing down on him. Attempting a soft pass through the middle to Svensson with a player all over him was insanity, and only a desperate sliding pass from the Swedish midfielder in the 33rd prevented the ball being rammed right down Frei’s throat.
The second half was better, but it shouldn’t take that long to figure out a tactic isn’t working. You simply can’t give advanced possession to a team unable to create offense from the run of play, and Frei failed to adjust appropriately until way too late. Even in the 73rd minute Coach Schmetzer was yelling at the keeper after a short clear, gesturing to kick it long. I understand the team works on control, and short passing from the back, but this team took too long to adjust tactically, and that is Frei’s responsibility.
Joevin Jones – 7 | Community – 6.7
The last few games Jones looks comfortable at left back and again showed off an exciting combination of lock-down defense and devastating offense. He was matched up with the speed of Gerso Fernandes for much of the game and shut the SKC right side down, while also leading the team with 4 key passes rampaging up the left side with excellent timing.
In the 2nd minute Jones got a perfect ball over the top from Roldan, but then held onto it too long and turned it over, but most of the time when Jones got the ball in advanced positions, good things happened. Joevin made good decisions on when to burst forward and always had smart defensive help when he did so, lessening the defensive impact of his forays forward. Jones put his side on lockdown in the 28th before popping up on offense and contributing a great pass in the 35th. His awareness to find Roldan on a nifty dive to the goal in the 83rd was a hint too late, but the pass was great.
There were some mistakes, and Joevin needs to limit the number of fouls in bad spots he gives up (67’, 73’) as they allow a lesser team set pieces. Some of his clearances could be cleaner. However, his offensive thrust vastly outweighs these small nitpicks. Jones can and did tilt the field to the left and created chances from his pace and attacking while at the same time putting in solid defensive work.
Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 7.6
As usual Chad was rock solid in the middle of the defense. He had 6 interceptions, 3 clearances, blocked shots, directed his defensive headers to teammates, and was a positional stalwart. He completed 93% of his passes and was a menace on set pieces both offensively and defensively.
Marshall was only asked to play 1v1 defense a few times, but like the 6th minute he easily dominated Soony Saad when matched up in space. Even more importantly Chad was always either perfectly positioned behind a Jones wing attack or sliding across to support Torres. I cannot over-compliment Marshall’s tactical positioning; it was near perfect. One excellent example was Gerso trying to slide past Torres in the 26th, and Marshall was literally there before the SKC player got a step past Roman, clearing the ball out for a corner. In the 32nd Chad easily beat Saad to a spot in the box, running his give and go better than the opponent and easily winning the ball and a foul.
When Marshall plays like this it is a joy to watch. There was nothing flashy, and I have few notes on specific plays, but Chad just anticipated every attack before it happened. He was there to push SKC into harmless, hopeful shots and meaningless, negative possession. He did have an 8th minute wide open header that should have been redirected into the path of a teammate or on goal that instead was nodded over.
Roman Torres – 6 | Community – 6.3
Torres seems to be rounding into better form; this was a game where he contributed a very solid, steady performance from the back. The roaming that has gotten him in trouble this season was mostly gone, and he did a good job staying connected to his teammates. The SKC pressing strategy forced the ball to Roman a lot, and he responded well. Making decisions on the side of caution, I was happy to see Torres satisfied with longer clearances that, while not sexy plays, limited the anemic SKC attack from easy chances.
In the 17th minute Torres showed perfect defensive position, and his marking was great through the box. With Roman calmer in possession, he could look forward and find quality passes that bypassed the midfield, something he did on numerous occasions with success. While he did chunk the ball forward without a plan in the 14th and 32nd, he also had a tremendous forward switch to Jones in the 58th and over the top pass to Morris in the 64th.
Roman struggles in space, as evidenced by Latif Blessing beating him 1v1 in the 62nd and Torres being forced into a tactical foul in the 66th (which earned him a yellow), but when he wasn’t isolated against quicker players Torres was rock solid.
Kelvin Leerdam – 7 | Community – 7.0
While Jones’ play tends to be flashier on the other side, Leerdam just fills up my notebook with great plays. Stats-wise he had a bit of everything: a shot, 2 key passes, 76% completion rate, 2 interceptions, 3 clearances, and 3 aerials won. This doesn’t do his play justice, however, as all the little things that Leerdam does increase the effectiveness of those around him. Kelvin’s defensive positioning makes Torres a viable center back again. Kelvin’s offensive runs and shape allow Nico to float without worry, and at the same time Leerdam is an actively dangerous threat up the wing if a defense shifts to follow Lodeiro.
In the 2nd minute we witnessed just how smooth Leerdam is on the ball, easily gliding out of a double team with possession and driving forward cleanly into the SKC half. Although he doesn’t push forward a ton, when he does there is always a purpose. In the 17th Kelvin was in perfect position in the center of the box to both cover the center backs and clear the cross that came into a dangerous spot. Three minutes later he was calmly preventing a break out counter off a corner kick from a central safety position.
Leerdam doesn’t just charge forward and chunk in crosses from wide, he is constantly looking for dangerous attack angles. At times, that means he dribbles to central areas, putting direct pressure on center backs. Other attacks see him overlap wide, and sometimes, like in the 29th, he finds a ridiculous cross field pass to put Morris in on goal. Kelvin is even starting to be a dangerous option on set pieces, finding a header in the 78th and 86th by using his ridiculous aerial ability to win first time crosses. The decision making and execution is impressively smooth and other than a couple passes that didn’t go to open players in the attack, this was a complete performance.
Cristian Roldan – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.2
I hope people appreciate what we’re seeing as this guy develops. He is becoming a star in front of our eyes and was fantastic again against SKC: 3 shots, 82% passing, 4 tackles, 2 clearances and a key pass all the while shredding any attacks that attempted to get from midfield to Seattle’s 18. Roldan was inside clogging passing lanes, he was wide supporting wing play, and he was bursting through the middle to offer a late option in attack.
In minute 13 Roldan was covering on the wing, smoothly supporting Jones up the width. Eight minutes later he looked for Joevin over the top with a beautiful pass. A minute after that it was Cristian following up an attack in the middle and just missing wide with a shot. In the 29th he hustled back and won possession with a recovery tackle. Right before half he again dialed up a perfect chip over the top, this time to his friend Jordan.
Seattle really works to take advantage of Roldan’s mobility. He covers so much ground that it frees up others to float into dangerous areas. His versatility makes him effective dropping in behind Jones to defend, playing a wide position like he did after the first sub, or as the amazing attacking destroyer that closed out the game. When pushed wide Cristian played up the left wing in the 77th and found Jones. He followed this up in the 83rd with a direct dive on goal and nearly redirected a cross into the net. Moving Roldan to the tip in front of Alonso and Svensson was genius, and it allowed Roldan to dominate the last five minutes of the game. Somehow with the freshest legs on the field, Cristian held the ball perfectly in possession in the 88th, won the ball back a minute later in the middle and kept it, and then finished off the game by beating 4 players in the 92nd, cherry picking a 5th and getting off a shot. Amazing.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 7.0
The Goose has been a perfect partner for Roldan in this stretch of matches, quietly going about the business of being everywhere that Cristian is not. He’s less apt to get far forward and tends to play a little narrower than his midfield partner, but Svensson is very effective at removing any attacks before they happen while taking great care of the ball. This is evidenced by his team-leading 5 tackles and stellar 92% pass completion rate.
Most of the things that I noted about Svensson were tactical, and his positioning was spot on. The rapport that this midfield tandem has created in a few games is tremendous, and I was repeatedly amazed at how effortless their movements looked. Nico and Cristian get a lot of credit for work rate, but I would put the Goose up with them both: he is always moving into a better position and balancing the lines. Svensson had one nervy moment in the 33rd on a risky Frei pass from the back, but he could slide tackle/pass the ball to Marshall to avoid a very bad situation.
With Alonso coming back it’s highly likely that Svensson will get his first rest of the year, and that says amazing things about the depth of the team. He has been really, really good lately and complements the players around him in a fashion that, like Leerdam, elevates the entire team play.
Jordan Morris – 6 | Community – 7.1 (off 91’)
Starting again on the wing, Morris was active early, finding some room to get forward. With Jones very active, it was nice to see Jordan being sure to cover defensively on his wing, and he played some of his best defensive soccer of the year in the first half. Jordan should work on cleaner passing, as he misses a lot of simple balls and I’m not sure why.
Early on Jordan looked quick, but lost possession in the 3rd after a tough touch and then short armed a 5th minute pass back. In the 8th minute Morris RRBH*, but was ultimately unable to pick out a teammate. He dropped back and covered for an exposed Jones a few moments later, defending his way into the box but losing Saad Abdul-Salaam behind him.
In the 36th Morris switched wings with Nico and was nearly in on goal but a pass got caught in the spokes. Jordan didn’t quit however, resetting himself on the play and getting a wide ball in space. Morris hit a perfect cross to Dempsey for a goal and reminded everyone that his service from the right is still pretty nice.
Unfortunately, other than this play his offensive impact was mostly mundane, and he failed to combine with Jones really at all. Moving to the forward position helped open Jordan up into space in the 76th, which earned a corner, and he was in behind again in the 83rd but unable to pull the trigger. Morris does a lot of nice shape and defensive things but wasn’t a dynamic attacker against KC.
Clint Dempsey – 7 | Community – 7.9 (MOTM) (off 87’)
This game was a microcosm of Clint’s season. He touched the ball 35 times, completed nearly 90% of his passes, scored a goal, and set up teammates multiple other times. He even kicked in some defensive intensity, both pressing high on SKC as well as dropping into defense in the center of the pitch on multiple occasions.
In the 9th minute Clint followed up the play and found a loose ball, firing it at goal and forcing a save from Tim Melia. He just has a knack for finding the ball in the box, and his touch is good enough to get him time to set up shots. In the 22nd Dempsey dropped back and played holdup forward, alleviating pressure and switching the field wide, something he has done well all year. Just as I was wondering where Clint had been in the 35th, he popped up with a perfect run, stepping inside a defender but putting an open header wide of frame. Instead of pouting, a minute later Morris lofted in a cross that once again saw Dempsey step inside a defender; this time his header was true and he scored the game winning goal. He wasn’t done, as three minutes later he played a perfect ball into Jones who had a great chance. After showing off a nice 48th minute defensive shift, Clint couldn’t get much going offensively, instead running off teammates and keeping possession with accurate passing. Up a goal late he found himself 1v2 in the corner yet pulled some Deuce magic and came out with the ball and possession for the good guys. In the 83rd Dempsey released Morris into the box with tons of space and two minutes later he did the same for Nico.
Dempsey wasn’t on the ball pulling the strings all game and his influence drifted in and out a bit, but when given opportunity he was able to finish a very important goal, and he remained dangerous all night.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.0
Nico looks increasingly like the player from last summer, and he’s starting to connect beautifully with his teammates. Add another 3 key passes to his ridiculous tally this season as well as 3 shots, all of which were in dangerous spots. It’s a shame he’s getting hacked so much (he was on the losing end of 5 of the 13 total fouls called on SKC) but he showed that he can change the game with or without the ball.
Lodeiro was active early but just off in the 2nd and 10th trying to hit through balls. He had better luck with a perfect 8th minute corner, picking out the head of Marshall for an excellent chance. He was good on about half of his corners, but a few are still not getting over the first defender. In the 15th he drifted all the way to the left to overload with Jones, which resulted in a stretch of chances culminating in a corner. On the 36th minute goal scoring play it was the gravitational pull of Lodeiro that drew FOUR defenders towards his off-ball run, opening Morris in tons of space to pick out Dempsey. This was true all game, with Nico pulling and prodding the SKC defense with his incessant movement. Right before half Nico played Jones in nicely, then followed up the run and found himself all alone with a deflected cross inside the box. His shot hit side netting and sooner rather than later he should start to put these clear chances away.
Lodeiro kept working all game even though he was kicked a lot, and it was no surprise that in the 85th minute the Uruguayan had energy to get into the box and test the keeper from close range. Nico lost the ball a few times by dribbling too much, and he really needs a vertical speed option to offset the short passing with Dempsey but otherwise looks dangerous nearly every time he touches the ball.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 6.1 (off 59’)
There wasn’t much to write about Bruin this week. He only touched the ball 9 times in nearly 60 minutes. He had a nice flick give and go with Jones in the 22nd and was active throughout defensively to support both pressing and dropping into the middle, but he was ineffective otherwise. He didn’t get near a shot attempt, and while his runs were constructive and opened room for others, his substitution was likely because of ineffectiveness.
Osvaldo Alonso – 6 | Community – 6.7 (on 59’)
Welcome back Ozzie! Introduced to help control the middle, Alonso didn’t skip a beat. His 93% passing rate was best on the team and his presence immediately gave the team an option other than passing directly backwards. Alonso’s tight control in space and ability to turn towards the middle of the field opened spaces and helped get possession back in Seattle’s favor. He even got a half volley off towards goal in the 69th.
Alonso did lose possession in a bad spot due to indecision in the 85th and needed a 93rd minute desperation tackle to recover from a situation he was unable to cleanly dribble out of.
Nouhou – 5 | Community – 6.1 (on 87’)
Lamar Neagle – 5 | Community – 6.2 (on 91’)
This was Neagle’s best grade since October 4th, 2015. Asked to be a hustle defender from the top, he did that. Won a header.
Baldomero Toledo – 4 | Community – 5.3
This was reffed very similarly to the previous game, with most of the small calls all being well measured but two red card decisions again not made correctly, in my opinion.
Look, I understand not wanting to change a tie game and make it about you, but in the 27th minute Musa took a full kick at Torres, hitting him in the chest from a near sitting position and Toledo needed to have the fortitude to make the right call. This attempt had zero chance to play the ball, was reckless, endangered the safety of the Sounders player and was completely a red card foul to me. A kick out with 1/10th the aggression of this kick was already given against Seattle, and I have a hard time seeing how this wasn’t red. If similar force were used as part of a tackle that had equal (0) percent chance of getting the ball while going through a player, it would be a red card tackle.
The yellow on Nico was ridiculous, especially considering him personally receiving 40% of the fouls awarded in the game. Worse than that was Toledo’s failure (again) to show a red in the 93rd minute. The foul by Jimmy Medranda was so late that Alonso had time to try to jump out of the way and save a broken leg, but the intent was there. You CANNOT ALLOW a losing team to just take shots at opponents in the last minute of a game, and that was a really bad foul that deserved more than a yellow. Both red card fouls in this game need to be legislated to protect the players.
It was Toledo: so many small fouls were ignored throughout, and then late he started to call everything and brandish cards. One thing that I noticed was he was reffing to the score a bit, as SKC was really getting the benefit of “helpful” calls as soon as they were scored on. Their lead in fouls was quickly evened out in the second half.
The AR’s did an excellent job in this match, especially calling offside on each team on tricky plays where attackers were coming back from an offside position. These guys have a big input on the game as well.
Sporting KC MOTM
Matt Besler played his usual brand of solid defense, and was a big part of the scoreline not being much worse for SKC. He earns just over 44 percent of the vote.
Seattle did a good job to earn a deserved 3 points against a tough defensive team last weekend and needs to do the same against a likely wide-open squad when Minnesota comes to town. We cannot allow the defensive breakdowns we did away and anything less than three points against this team will be disappointing.
*RAN RIGHT BY HIM