In one of the most dramatic and exciting finishes of the year, Seattle hosted the San Jose Earthquakes and came back from a deficit to win 2-1. The Sounders continue to find ways to win, and last Sunday the team captured the second seed, delighted its fans, and catapulted themselves into the 2018 MLS CUP Playoffs on a high note. Although on the back foot in the first half, Seattle asserted its will slowly on the match and overcame some bad luck to not only win late, but earn a deserved week off. The adjustments at half and the subs were fantastic, putting Seattle comfortably in the driver’s seat within the match. It was a matter of when the Sounders would score not if, and the end result was largely due to the tremendous faith this team has shown in itself over the course of the season.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.2
Unlike the Houston match, Frei had a quiet game against San Jose. The opponents only managed seven total shots in the match, and Frei was credited with three saves, two of which were tame efforts right to him. In the second half the Earthquakes had but a single shot off target and one blocked, yet still managed to have the lead for 15 minutes.
One thing I liked: San Jose was semi-dangerous much of the time, but failed to convert that potential into tangible efforts on goal, other than a nasty dipping shot from Danny Hoesen in the 12th. Stef was up to the task, diving to his left and parrying it away from goal.
One thing I didn’t like: The Earthquakes’ formation seemed to confuse Seattle in the first half, and the away side was able to put a lot of sustained pressure on the Sounders defense. Frei took a while to adjust, and his distribution was very hit and miss.
Going forward: An own goal was all that Seattle was forced to concede, with the defense strong and Frei coming up big when needed. He should earn GKOTY and rightly so.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 6.8 (off 86’ for Francis)
I love watching Nouhou’s development. He’s been invigorated with positive play in the last month, leading to more confidence from his teammates, and Nouhou saw the ball the second most on the Sounders’ side. Sometimes the best offense is to funnel the ball to the army of small soldiers in front of you and let them work, and Nouhou did this very well. He doesn’t provide a ton with the ball but his off-ball work was good and led to Seattle attacking more down his side than the right while keeping 82% passing. Defensively he was a rock: game high five tackles, two interceptions, two clearances and a huge blocked shot.
One thing I liked: Coach and I are just going to disagree about his frankly spectacular hustle in the 83rd minute. Expecting a simple wide pass (or at least a foul call), Nouhou was suddenly presented with a situation late in the match where Bwana lost possession near midfield and Magnus Eriksson and Chris Wondolowski were unmarked and in on goal. With inside position and about a five yard head start, Eriksson dashed towards goal with Wondo as a central option. Nouhou put his head down and hustled his ass off and caught Eriksson in 25 yards, making up the ground and the angle to get goal side. He wasn’t done, and after forcing a pass from Eriksson (who felt the HouTrain coming), Nouhou chugged over and prevented Wondo from earning the all-time scoring title. This was about 80 yards of sprinting to save the game late, and he deserves all the credit in the world for that. If a veteran had made that play the narrative likely would be different, and that’s a shame.
One thing I didn’t like: Nouhou is always a wide option and is being used more by Víctor Rodríguez and Nicolás Lodeiro, but he needs to develop quicker decision making in order to capitalize on the chances his athleticism and teammates provide him.
Going forward: There are clear instances where someone (like Brad Smith or Joevin Jones) would be preferable to Nouhou going forward, as he lacks offensive polish — that is a given. We are, however, seeing some real growth on the mental side of his game going forward with good decisions and positive results. Credit to him, the staff, and his teammates for navigating some tumultuous times mid-season. Nouhou’s defense was, and is, fantastic.
Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 6.9
This was pretty much a Chad Marshall special. He let his positioning eliminate Wondolowski from chances, had five clearances and two interceptions defensively, and completely ruled the air (five aerials). His 92% passing was the best of anyone who started the match, and as usual, it nearly always put a teammate in a position to succeed.
One thing I liked: Chad was tremendous all match, and his consistency in narrowing angles for players makes Frei better. And geez, his daughter helping him warm up and then back on the field after the match was just adorable.
One thing I didn’t like: His passing was great as noted above, but of his incomplete attempts there were a few that were particularly bad. A 39th minute clearance was poor and directly led to a chance for San Jose. There was nothing he could do about the unlucky own goal.
Going forward: Chad might not win CMOY and that will be a shame because he does nearly everything well and it’s so common and consistent that people take it for granted. He truly is amazing and we should remember that even if silly voters do not.
Kim Kee-hee – 7 | Community – 7.1
Kim was quietly amazing in this match. This combination in the back is just incredible to watch; their communication and the way they play off each other is a joy. Kim had a few clearances and 87% passing but it’s the way his speed and style so elegantly complements Marshall’s consistent positioning that continues to impress.
One thing I liked: With the right side high, Kim covered a huge amount of ground, from the right sideline across the field (even popping up on the left a few times). His range is good, but his decision making is great, and this combination allows Seattle to do so much with him sweeping across the back.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 38th minute he nearly got Wondo’d. It happens to everyone, but Wondolowski nearly slipped in at the back post and got on the end of a cross, with Kim none the wiser.
Going forward: This player is such a great fit with the team, and the defense is dominating due not just to their individual abilities, but to the cohesion as a unit. It’s fun.
Kelvin Leerdam – 5 | Community – 6.1 (off 75’ for Bwana)
Leerdam put in a game effort, but again looked somewhat hampered before subbing off. His positioning was very high, and often in front of Roldan. 87% completion was a nice rate but didn’t create any chances. Defensively Leerdam wasn’t active, with a single successful tackle and four recoveries as his only actions.
One thing I liked: In minute 38 Wondo ghosted into the box behind Kim and a hustling Leerdam helped usher the ball out for a goal kick. Frei likely had it covered, but this was a nice piece of defending on the back post by Leerdam.
One thing I didn’t like: Leerdam was often upfield and not defending, allowing Shea Salinas a few good opportunities, the best an open cross to danger in the 53rd minute.
Going forward: Kelvin again was very advanced, yet failed to be a great option to create from the wide right. It likely wasn’t coincidence that Seattle scored off a cross from his position four minutes after he subbed off. He needs to get healthy and get right.
Osvaldo Alonso – 7 | Community – 6.8
Live I thought Alonso struggled, but the tape showed me again how smart he’s playing. The mobility is down for sure but time and again Alonso made intelligent, useful plays that reverberated through the team. He had four tackles but an otherwise quiet defensive outing that highlighted his central positioning. An addition to the attack, Alonso had a key pass and a shot on goal, with 91% passing through the middle in a productive outing.
One thing I liked: In minute 25 Alonso connected on the left channel to help move the ball forward then followed the play and got a great shot off from the edge of the 18 on the right side of the field. This shot forced a save and Nico slammed the rebound off the post.
One thing I didn’t like: There were multiple times Ozzie gave up possession dribbling, and he has to stop this bad habit. It seems to happen more often late in matches when he is tired, and is a huge problem due to where these errors are happening.
Going forward: I liked seeing how effective Ozzie’s vertical passes can be. He needs to keep providing that offensive support even though he stays deeper and roams less.
Gustav Svensson – 7 | Community – 6.7 (off 88’ for Bruin)
The Goose was indeed loose against San Jose and I absolutely loved his output. He did a little bit of everything, roaming from side to side, covering huge swaths of turf while completing 88% of his passes and winning three aerials in midfield. A massive five midfield clearances highlighted a hard-working defensive outing that included multiple tackles and interceptions. He even had two shots that were both on goal and deflected out for corners.
One thing I liked: In the 32nd and 47th Svensson rotated over to the right side and effectively played right back, stopping attacks and showing off some impressive range.
One thing I didn’t like: A couple of his passes were a little wonky, and a 10th minute miscommunication with Kim in the back gave away possession in a bad spot.
Going forward: Live I thought Goose the better midfielder and was confused by him subbing. In retrospect it was a coin toss on performance in the middle, as both were very good and their combination looks strong for the playoffs.
Víctor Rodríguez – 7 | Community – 7.2
Rodríguez is everywhere on the field and is a guy who is instant offense every time he touches the ball. He led the team with five shots, combined excellently with his teammates, and showed a nice set piece option as well.
One thing I liked: In minute 42 V-Rod picked up the ball in the attacking third, drove by two defenders and put a hard left-footed shot that the keeper could only parry, nearly into the path of Raúl Ruidíaz and Leerdam who unfortunately both overran the ball.
One thing I didn’t like: Víctor didn’t set up his teammates as much as I would like, and in the 63rd his decision making was too slow on a great team break out.
Going forward: The game winning goal was born in the soccer intelligence of Rodríguez, Lodeiro, and Ruidíaz to combine with one-touch passing through the defense to score. It’s an absolute pleasure to watch smart soccer players pass and move, and when these guys are on the same page they are nearly impossible to stop.
Nicolás Lodeiro – 8 | Community – 8.0
Lodeiro is so fun to watch. His motor is unparalleled, his technique is gorgeous, and he consistently does such high level soccering that, similarly to Marshall, we take it for granted. Nico had nine key passes in this match, meaning he directly set up half of the Sounders’ shots from his distribution and hit the post as well. He continues to show just how valuable he is for this team.
One thing I liked: The game winning goal started with Lodeiro fighting Aníbal Godoy (someone who has nearly half a foot and 25 pounds on him) for a header. This was enough to force the ball to Alonso. Many players would be done there but Nico then runs past Godoy to support V-Rod, and eventually assists on the goal. That header challenge doesn’t show on the stat sheet like the assist does, but it was equally important and shows this player’s desire.
One thing I didn’t like: Right after San Jose scored, Seattle flew down the field and Nico had a chance to cross to a wide-open Roldan on the penalty spot but took too many touches and missed his opportunity.
Going forward: He should be on everyone’s best XI for this season but Nico doesn’t care about that. He has a trophy to lead us to.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.3
Roldan was excellent against San Jose. Two shots, three key passes, three aerials won and a brilliant assist were fine offensive numbers that he mixed in with a number of defensive plays from all over the field. His first half was muted in results, but the second half repeatedly saw the elder Roldan in great spots and combining well with teammates.
One thing I liked: Throw-in from Roldan to Goose. He passes to Marshall, then Nouhou, then Lodeiro, then Ozzie. Back to Nico, over to V-Rod who finds Roldan who puts an absolute perfect cross to Ruidíaz to tie the game. Eight different players touched the ball (Kim, Bwana, Frei did not) and it ended with Roldan showing the kind of pass he can give you from the wing. Beautiful.
One thing I didn’t like: Roldan makes good runs forward every match but then looks lost. His positioning in conjunction with Leerdam was all over the place.
Going forward: Everything Roldan does makes the team better. When Nouhou was chasing down the Earthquakes in the 83rd it was also Víctor from the top of the 18 and Cristian from the PK spot who arrived after sprinting the length of the field to help defensively, showing incredible effort from these guys late in a match.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.6 (MOTM)
21 touches aren’t a lot in a match. It’s 10 fewer than Frei had, and only nine more than Bwana had in some 75 fewer minutes played. None of that matters. What matters are the two touches that coincided with Raúl’s only two shots on goal against San Jose. Both went in the back of the net.
One thing I liked: The goals were so unorthodox yet so effective. Not only does RR get separation in the box, but when the ball is near him he finds a way to find the net. His first goal was a bit of a lower midsection thrust, but it was exactly what was needed to get the ball in the net. His game winner was even better, a beautifully efficient scoring play. Ruidíaz has such a compact shot and gets so much power that his first-time winner was not only disguised from James Marcinkowski and perfectly placed, but also in the net so fast the keeper had no chance and the courtesy dive was for show only.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 39th minute Nico curled a nice through ball to Raúl and he was a step slow to get on the end of it. I’d love to see this sort of play more often, as I think going directly vertical is a great option if these two can get on the same page.
Going forward: 10 goals on the year: It’s safe to say that Garth and Co. got the right guy. He’s a wonderful fit with the team and community already, and I can’t wait to see what he does in the playoffs.
Handwalla Bwana – 5 | Community – 6.7 (on 75’ for Leerdam)
Bwana was a curious sub with Shipp on the bench, but he offered a direct wide player and did pretty well. Handwalla’s strengths are with the ball at his feet, and he was able to create opportunity with the dribble and movement. He only completed half of his eight passes and didn’t record any defensive actions, but had an open header in the box and generally got into good spots.
One thing I liked: Immediately after subbing in he ran at two defenders, beat one and earned a corner.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 83rd minute it was Bwana caught holding the ball too long centrally that was nearly a disaster for Seattle. Interestingly enough, this play started when he failed to control a ball at the top of the box on a corner. Instead, Bwana tried to head it back into the area and his header went awry. Seconds later he was in possession at midfield with an Earthquake pressing him and Nouhou a wide option. Although he was fouled by Eriksson, Bwana just can’t hold the ball that long in the middle. When the referee swallowed his whistle, it took amazing effort from his teammates to prevent a goal.
Going forward: Bwana gives a nice goal-direct attacking option on the wing and should continue to be a change of pace should that be needed in the postseason.
Waylon Francis – 5 | Community – 5.8 (on 84’ for Nouhou)
Again, Francis came in late for Nouhou and again he did nothing notable.
One thing I liked: He was available on the overlap immediately on entrance and he completed all four of his pass attempts.
One thing I didn’t like: I would have liked to see the fresh Francis get forward and be more of a wide option late, although the coaches may have asked him to stay home.
Going forward: Francis was asked to do his job and he did that.
Will Bruin – 6 | Community – 5.7 (on 88’ for Svensson)
I liked what Bruin did in a very short cameo. He only had a single pass (which he completed) but his energy and off-ball work was nice and impacted the final score.
One thing I liked: Bruin’s general activity was great. Dropping back to get a touch in the 89th, pressing hard in the 90th to nearly create a turnover, and making a hard near-post run in the 91st to open Bwana up for a far-post header. On the game-winning goal his run opened up channels for Nico/V-Rod/Ruidíaz to work.*
Another thing I liked: Getting another attacking player a few minutes and a positive impact on the game may go far in helping a playoff push with guys on the bench ready and able to inject exactly what Seattle needs later in matches.
Going forward: Bruin showed that he can impact the game positively, even in a short amount of time.
Hilario Grajeda – 7 | Community – 5.2
I was impressed with Grajeda for much of the match, and he did a good job in regulating the match fairly. There were a few issues with persistent fouling by San Jose’s midfield and there was a clear foul on Bwana in the 83rd, but otherwise it was a clean, fair job.
One thing I liked: Multiple strong no-calls, such as a 15th minute strong but fair Alonso challenge or a Ruidíaz dive that wasn’t rewarded. He did a good job of allowing advantage when applicable.
One thing I didn’t like: My biggest complaint was consistency with cards. When Alonso fouled Godoy on a breakaway in the 35th he didn’t get a yellow, neither did Godoy himself when he pulled Nico’s shirt in a similar play in the 50th, but Eric Calvillo got a yellow in the 53rd for a similar foul and Salinas did not for one in the 75th. I’m okay with all of these “professional” fouls being carded.
Going forward: A clean match where the entire referee team worked together and made most of the right calls is a group I won’t mind seeing again.
San Jose Earthquakes MOTM
Such an even dispersal of votes either means San Jose has a bunch of great players, or ... a bunch of not great players. In a match in which their only goal was provided by a Sounder, Danny Hoesen comes away with MOTM for forcing Frei into a save, I guess. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Seattle got that second seed and the extra rest. Now they need to take advantage and go on the road next Sunday and build a nice lead.
*Someone nickname these guys already!