It’s amazing how quickly the public perception of a team can change. Suddenly what was a horrible team with an inflexible coach is a valiant group of scrappers with a leader who masterfully adjusted his team to beat “the best team ever assembled.” Seattle has had failed plays each game this season that cost the team points, and boy was it fun to see them capitalize on those chances this time to beat Toronto 2-1 in Canada. The staff was willing to change tactics, and the Sounders responded with a game that was filled with desire, plus a level of execution that had been lacking in previous matches. It was wonderful watching a Seattle team execute their game plan and force their opponents to adjust.
Stefan Frei – 8 | Community – 7.6 (MOTM)
A few matches back Frei had a pretty big blunder which directly cost Seattle a point. He didn’t respond with any fiery press conferences or sound bites about what happened. He just laced up his boots, worked hard, and continued to be one of the best keepers in the league while holding two very potent offenses to a single goal. Against Toronto Frei was fantastic, playing behind a makeshift backline that likely had a single day to practice. Stef was leading the back nine all match, shouting out orders and keeping people organized. His distribution was smart and useful. When asked to make big saves, Stefan did just that on multiple occasions and deserves a ton of credit for this road victory.
In the first minute Frei recognized Sebastian Giovinco trying to get in behind and was off his line quickly to recover. When Jay Chapman got in behind 10 minutes later, Stefan was prepared for it, stuffing the Toronto player in a 1v1. Frei correctly set up his post to block a Giovinco set piece in the 37th, and he closed out the half saving near post on another Gio shot.
The second half saw Toronto amass a lot of pressure and a number of shots, but Frei wasn’t to be denied a win. He had a bit of a fumble on a 50th minute Giovinco shot that luckily didn’t go anywhere dangerous. Still coaching, I loved seeing Frei point to Alfaro where to drop a pass in the 71st, allowing a clean clearance. Stef locked down the box and refused to be beaten in the last 20 minutes, repeatedly organizing his team and limiting any clear chances. In the 87th Stef punched clear a dangerous cross and followed up with an absolutely fantastic knee save in the 94th minute to preserve all three points, denying Tossaint Ricketts from point blank range. Huge effort from Frei.
Waylon Francis – 6 | Community – 5.9
After a shaky start, Francis settled in and had a solid game as a wide defender who occasionally got up the field. He had four tackles, a team high five interceptions, and multiple clearances. I was hoping to see more offensively from Francis, who has a decent attacking game, but he was invisible going forward.
The start wasn’t great, with Francis caught outside of Jay Chapman in the 7th minute for a good Toronto chance. Waylon has struggled to stay goal side defensively this year, but after this moment did a much better job being in appropriate defensive position. In the 11th this positioning came in handy, as a long Michael Bradley switching pass was easily retrieved. One of the few times Francis got forward was in the 20th minute, and he did well to pursue the ball all the way to the end line and not give up, creating a half chance for Seattle. Four minutes later a beautiful splitting pass from Bwana put Waylon in space on the left with an open pass to Bruin in on goal, but Francis was overtaken and lost the ball.
In the 53rd a similar play happened, where an accurate, early cross to Bruin may have seen the forward with an open look at goal, but again Francis missed the delivery. Defensively, Waylon and Alfaro were surprisingly efficient in the second half, cutting off multiple efforts from Toronto to reproduce an effective first half of targeting them. The Sounders also found nearly half of all their attacks up the left wing, with Waylon making great choices about when to push forward and when to stay back.
Tony Alfaro – 6 | Community – 5.2
Tony was fairly strong in this match, and after a rough first 20 minutes settled down nicely and finished with three tackles, four interceptions, and four clearances. More importantly, his positioning and control was improved. A highlight from his play was his service from the back, which consistently skipped lines and found a checking forward in a strong tactical position.
Giovinco immediately got in behind him in the 1st minute and 10 minutes later Alfaro was stepping up to no one in space, leaving an opportunity behind. Tony settled in though, and won a nice tackle in the 16th but missed Bruin going forward. His 20th minute service to Francis down the line was beautiful, and after fouling Gio in a bad spot in the 36th was across to clear a Marshall mistouch moments later. Right before half Alfaro was caught way up field out of position and had a terrible midfield tackle late that was an easy yellow for the ref.
Alfaro was the weak link of the center three going into the game and early on he did little to dispute that. His penchant for errant slide tackles instead of proper defensive positioning has been a consistent issue and this game contained a number in the first half (7’, 33’) but he did better in the second and I especially liked his service to the front line in the 64th, a strong pass that forced Toronto onto their heels. I had few notes in the second period with Alfaro keeping his feet and playing strong positional defense.
Chad Marshall – 7 | Community – 7.1
In an interesting new position as the middle of a five-man backline, Marshall did quite well. Consistent as usual, he led the defense with 80% completion and a massive six clearances. A lot of credit should be given to Chad for organizing all the assorted pieces around him, while still floating around and being effective himself with the least (other than Wingo) touches on the team.
Giovinco immediately got in behind Chad in the first minute and I was a little concerned with trying to keep an offside line with that many players involved, but Seattle did a good job of limiting the space in behind them. One way to do so was chase Gio, something Marshall did beautifully in the 3rd minute, following the little Italian for about 40 yards. In the 12th and 15th Chad again showed nice range, across to defend behind on either side of the goal. Marshall was caught moments later in no-mans-land by Chapman though, who got a free header from an over the top pass that was lucky not to score. In the 21st with Seattle very spread up the field, it was lone defender Marshall’s positioning that stopped a counter.
Marshall had a number of errant clearances and looked lost at times trying to find his positioning with an unfamiliar tactical setup but was brave in the 78th to head with a high boot near and cleared multiple late plays. His decision making was superb. While Marshall didn’t look super comfortable in a back five, Chad was efficient and did his job as always, anchoring a stout defensive effort.
Gustav Svensson – 6 | Community – 7.0
The Goose again started in the back and had a solid defensive match. He had a few tackles and defensive plays and did a good job ranging both vertically and horizontally on defense. Svensson rarely touched the ball, instead concentrating on positioning and supporting those around him, starting in the 1st minute when he quickly dropped in behind McCrary.
Svensson was excellent stepping forward to stop Toronto’s midfield, and did so in the 12th to completely flummox Victor Vasquez, who was quickly dispossessed. In the 23rd, matched up with Gio 1v1 it was the Swede who won the battle and moved up field with the ball. Two minutes later these two players were again matched up and again it was the Goose who triumphed, with Gio diving and Seattle scoring moments later. In the 28th Svensson again stepped forward well to force a wide shot from Marky Delgado. This aggression wasn’t always great, however and in the 21st and 35th Gustav left gaping holes behind him as he was too far up the field. In the 41st Svensson needed to either step earlier or go with the man, and by doing neither contributed to Toronto scoring their only goal.
In the second half Svensson was quieter, although a 57th minute dive on defense was nearly disastrous with Jonathan Osorio gliding past him for a shot. Goose stepped perfectly to deny another attack in the 64th and continued to play solid, positional defense for the remainder of the half on a back line that bent but didn’t break.
Jordan McCrary – 5 | Community – 5.8
McCrary played a solid backup-level right back against his former team. He led the team with five clearances on defense and added a number of other defensive actions but it was his early offensive combination with Wolff that provided a nice spark for Seattle.
He started off poorly, fumbling an early ball in a bad spot in the first few minutes, but he grew into the game and started to push forward as a wide outlet. Jordan put in very nice crosses when he got into the attack, and his 6th minute ball was a beauty. After being slipped up the sideline, he outpaced the Toronto defense to get this service in. McCrary’s speed repeatedly helped on offense, unbalancing the opponent’s defensive shape. His biggest play of the match came in the 18th minute, when Jordan had an errant hand strike the face of his opponent near the sideline. McCrary was lucky to not get at least a yellow card there, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one holding my breath. Instead, his history with Toronto and friendliness with the team likely played a part as Ashtone Morgan got up quickly and accepted McCrary’s apology. Jordan got the better of Morgan in the 38th minute twice within seconds, showing superior speed.
In the second half McCrary was beat a number of times wide by Gio, and a last-minute shot by Ricketts came because the Toronto player beat Jordan to the ball. After the early offensive flurry, Jordan wasn’t able to get in behind and offer offensive support, and a tiring midfield in front of him was unable to combine on the right for much of the second period.
Handwalla Bwana – 7 | Community – 6.5 (off 63’ for A. Roldan)
Only a few days ago Bwana was tentative, unwilling to attack, and ineffective. Against Toronto, with a plethora of defenders behind him, Handwalla excelled as a counterattacking, offensive threat. The cautious play was almost completely gone, replaced by a player interested in getting forward and not scared to try things. This showed up in the stat sheet: he led Seattle with four shots, scored a huge winning goal, and added a key pass and two dribbles. He even threw in a few defensive actions as well, supporting the left wing. This was a much-improved performance from Bwana, but there were still some errors to improve upon.
Immediately after the kickoff Bwana was muscled off the ball, and then he pressed high (similarly to Columbus) with no support, which Toronto easily broke. He tried a nice 6th minute run up the field but was unable to get a shot off. A minute later he did get a chance, forcing a save from keeper Alex Bono. After randomly defending on the right side, I thought Bwana should have closed down Gio much quicker in the 15th, which allowed a beautiful pass that nearly ended up as a headed goal. In the 24th Bwana played a magnificent splitting pass through the lines to Francis that deserved a much better play from his overlapping wingback. Moments later Handwalla was caught in possession in the box and needs to make quicker decisions at this level.
Bwana started the second half pressing high, and got in behind in the 46th to put a near-post shot into the side netting. He wasn’t done and, positioned perfectly inside the defense in the 54th, Handwalla received a pass and calmly slotted home his first MLS goal. This play was very smart, sliding inside Auro and timing his run well to get in behind. After the goal Bwana looked a bit tired, getting pushed off the ball again in the 58th and beaten badly by Ager Aketxe in the 60th. After an errant central pass was nearly disastrous for Seattle, Bwana was subbed in the 63rd. This was clearly Handwalla’s best match as a Sounder whose offensive threat helped balance the field, and there remains tremendous room for improvement.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.0
The central midfielders worked their asses off against Toronto, and both were absolutely tremendous in their defensive coverage for the entire match. I was impressed by how incredibly connected Cristian and Jordy Delem were at nearly all times, moving in unison to cover each other flawlessly. Roldan had four tackles, two interceptions, two clearances and countless defensive actions in a midfield dead zone that Toronto repeatedly entered with little success.
After a nifty defensive play earned the ball in the 4th Roldan made a quick pass forward, driving the counter attack through his decisiveness, something he did all match. His communication with Delem was wonderful, and in the 13th minute as he stepped forward to press the ball, Jordy smoothly slid in behind to defend, adding another layer of defense in the middle. Cristian was everywhere in the 24th minute, defending from side to side before latching onto a loose ball and quickly playing it forward to Magnus Wolff Eikrem, who did amazing things. Unlike the previous game where the ball was dribbled a lot, I noted crisp, one-touch passing through the middle in the 30th and Seattle showed a team-wide interest in speed of play. In the 34th Roldan gave up a cheap free kick to Giovinco in a rough spot and had a loose pass just before half.
In the second half I again loved seeing Delem and Roldan combine through the middle, with a great 52nd minute interchange that carved up space through Toronto. When Auro tried to dribble through his zone in the 56th Roldan handed him a stop sign and took the ball the other direction. Late in the game he played Leerdam nicely into space on offense, then headed a dangerous set piece away on defense. There were a lot of times when Roldan just chunked a ball forward or looked out of sorts in possession, but the communication and effort of the central pair was impressive.
Jordy Delem – 7 | Community – 5.9
Known goal scorer Delem traded in his pretty striker cleats and laced up a pair of good old fashioned, mud covered, defensive stopper boots against Toronto. He then turned in an understated, hugely efficient shift in the central midfield that saw him and Roldan keep impeccable shape and make great decisions nearly all match. He had four tackles, an interception, and a clearance, but most importantly he played compact, positionally sound, smart soccer for 94 minutes.
Early on, similar to Roldan, Delem showed the desire to play quickly and immediately passed to Bwana after recovering a ball in midfield. In the 9th minute he was covering the backline and blocked a shot, willing to body up Gio when necessary. This was more than evident in the 16th when a hard (but fair) tackle dispossessed the Italian and left him crying on the ground. The next time these two met on the field Gio bailed out, diving to the ground and allowing Delem a look to Bwana on the break as referee Ted Unkel gave Gio an 8.5 (the Russian judge gave him a 10). This pass went awry, and while Delem had a pretty nice 69% passing rate, Seattle could have used better connection from the middle out. One such miss was a beautiful over the top look to an offside Bruin that was a nice change of pace in the 25th. Delem closed down a Chapman shot in the 33rd when the defense was a bit flat footed.
In the second half the central pair were unable to do much more than hold defensively. Delem and Roldan tired and yet both adjusted to have much less range and still be somewhat effective through the middle. Jordy had one of the smartest yellow cards I‘ve seen in the 88th, missing a pass and when Giovinco picked it up and was breaking out casually grabbed his shirt and pulled him back. This is a professional foul and the type of play Seattle rarely uses strategically. This is also the kind of break from which Seattle is repeatedly scored on, so in this case it was quick thinking by a player who quietly did a ton of great stuff against Toronto.
Magnus Wolff Eikrem – 8 | Community – 7.4 (off 71’ for Leerdam)
Given a start against Toronto, Eikrem was clearly expected to be a creative force and was exactly that. Wolff drove the offense with three key passes, two dribbles, a beautiful assist, and still added a few tackles and interceptions in a strong defensive effort. Finally showing some of the potential that many have been predicting from this player, the midweek game showed that Wolff has some rare abilities that this team sorely lacks.
In the 4th minute MWE showed extremely intelligent defense, cutting off half the field and shortening the spaces needed to defend. In the 5th he nearly sprung Roldan and was always ready to pull the trigger attacking forward. His 6th minute backheel was inspired, opening McCrary up the sideline for a Sounders chance. In the 14th minute he had a beautiful flick pass from a checking run and service via Goose that opened up the width again.
The difference between players in MLS is often pretty small, with certain guys having somewhat more speed, or control, or vision. What often sets players apart is their ability to do something no one else on the field can do, and in that moment, completely change a game. That is what Wolff did in this match in the 25th, showing off the most dynamic individual play of the year by a Sounders player. It was absolutely beautiful. Opening space wide, he received a pass from Roldan and charged forward, cherry picking Bradley before nutmegging Marky Delgado. This alone was a startling display of dribbling genius, but he followed it up with a breathtaking pass, inch perfect to Bruin. This assist was so perfect — it beat the last defender for Toronto while at the same time putting Will directly on goal. Any further to the near side and it likely gets blocked by Van Der Wiel, and anything further to the far side pulls the forward away from goal and forces him to win a footrace and potentially hinders the shot angle. This pass was incredible.
Magnus wasn’t done, casually playing a pass to the middle in the 30th with his head up, before getting it back and finding Francis up the wing. In the second half he was less effective, but still had a great pass to Bruin in the 59th and likely had a good chance on frame had his quality support run been rewarded with a return pass. With a big size advantage, I was disappointed in a 65th minute corner that went short. MWE is a creative, quick thinking attacker who excels in space and in this match showed exactly why he was brought in on a TAM deal, displaying a creative ability otherwise missing from Seattle.
Will Bruin – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.4 (off 74’ for Wingo)
In a game where Seattle wasn’t set up in an obviously offensive lineup, Bruin managed to create a lot of space and looked very good in doing so. Will had two shots and put both on frame. He also had two key passes and his assist to Bwana was a game winner. There were a number of times I hoped Bruin would do something different, but he ran his ass off up front and worked hard using his skill set to help Seattle get a road win.
After a failed holdup in the 3rd minute (and another five minutes later), I was worried an offense dependent on Bruin to play with his back to goal and help Seattle out of the bunker was a huge mistake. The Sounders adjusted a bit, ceasing hopeful clearances to the forward and instead played the ball quicker through gaps in the lines, or off Bruin’s flicks and small touches, with much more success. Bruin had a nice sequence in the 7th minute where he was back on defense helping earn possession before charging forward and getting a touch wide to Bwana for a shot. Will dropped in and gummed up the Toronto midfield passing often. His flick to Bwana in the 20th was nice directly off a goal kick and in the 24th Bruin made a tremendous run that Francis missed, or he was likely in alone. Moments later Will made no mistakes, staying onside and receiving an absolutely amazing Eikrem pass before charging into the box and finishing well from 12 yards out. This was such a confident finish and a joy to watch.
The second half was more up and down for Bruin. In the 52nd he completely sealed off Bradley goalside on the 18 but Waylon’s cross was out of reach. A minute later was his best standard hold up, and that seemed to inspire him in the 54th to check to a throw in, drop the ball off to Roldan, patiently find space, and get the return pass. This was exactly what was missing from the Columbus game, this vertical movement from Bruin, and when he looked up and found Bwana with inside position he followed it with a pretty through pass for the game winning assist. Will was clearly ailing for at least the last 10 minutes he was on the field, and he missed a wide-open Wolff in the 59th, instead taking a long, weak shot. Bruin was big in the big moments in this game, and minimized his mistakes in critical moments, instead executing well and earning a deserved MOTM.
Alex Roldan – 5 | Community – 5.6 (on 63’ for Bwana)
Roldan came in and defended. He could have been cleaner with the ball — he had a number of turnovers — but he had a tremendous four tackles in a third of a match. He stole possession with his first touch in the 63rd minute and pressed keeper Bono nicely in the 85th. Younger Roldan did get badly beat by van der Wiel in the 71st and when a cross came in towards goal in the 74th with a chance to put the game out of reach, Alex was not backside offensively to seal the game. He compounded this by immediately turning the ball over. This was a good role for Roldan, who’s intelligence and control immediately strengthened a tiring defense.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 6.3 (on 71’ for Wolff)
I was surprised to see Leerdam sub in at midfield, and not push McCrary higher, a choice that ended up being a good one with Kelvin offering a nice change of pace and wide attacking flare from the right. While not offering much defensive cover, Leerdam repeatedly got forward and helped play defense via his offense. His 74th minute pass to Wingo was wonderful and could have been a game clincher. In the 81st he beat multiple defenders and earned a corner kick, allowing Seattle to set up a dead ball play and take a breather. His hustle in the 92nd minute started on the right as he ran diagonally through the entire Toronto defense, nearly getting in behind but showing nice offensive push and helping kill the game off as an attacking piece.
Henry Wingo – 6 | Community – 5.5 (on 74’ for Bruin)
I loved what Wingo did in this match. Although only on the field for a short while, he had a tackle and clearance on defense, a shot, an aerial won, and went 9/10 passing. He played defense from the front of the field, and immediately got possession and kept it in the attack. A tremendous run in the 74th saw him with a shot on goal but instead of striking it hard he tried an unnecessary fancy heel flick shot to drag across frame. His press in the 85th on the keeper was beautiful, and he ended the game with two perfect checking runs in the 92nd and 93rd minutes. Each of these showed Wingo strong against a center back, holding the ball under pressure before releasing it neatly to a teammate. He looked very strong at the point of the attack.
Ted Unkel – 8 | Community – 5.7
I was very impressed with Unkel in this match, which wasn’t a surprise as he has consistently been one of the best referees in my ratings over the years. In Toronto he did a very good job of officiating the match and keeping bad blood from turning into a hack fest, while also allowing play to flow. This created a fairly fluid match, with a referee who was always in control.
The far side AR was very reluctant to raise his flag, and though he correctly called Giovinco onside in the 14th it was no surprise that similar close calls on his end of the field for Osorio’s and Bwana’s goals were similarly not flagged. In the 16th Unkel refused to buy a Gio dive, something he repeated multiple times, most notably again in the 87th as the Toronto forward continually attempted to bait the referees into advantageous set pieces or penalty kicks. The ref was fair, though, and ignored a Bwana dive in the 31st as well. He played tremendous advantage throughout the match, ignoring plays such as an inadvertent Francis trip of Jordan Hamilton, instead allowing the match to flow cleanly.
I thought all the cards were appropriate (especially the dissent cards for the DPs in the game) but there were a few calls that deserved a booking. The first, an errant hand to the face from McCrary was called just a foul, and I thought Jordan was very fortunate not to have at the minimum a yellow there. Alex Roldan also got away with a 71st minute professional foul that should have been carded.
Credit Unkel and his team for making quick decisions all evening and not relying on VAR as a crutch to be hesitant. He did take out Wolff in the 9th minute, showing remarkable balance.
Toronto FC MOTM
Sebastian Giovinco controlled Man of the Match voting in a manner similar to his control of the Toronto FC attack. While he didn’t score Toronto’s goal, he did pretty much everything else, creating constant danger for the Seattle back five thanks in large part to his intelligent movement.
If Frei had made that save, and if Seattle had broken the bunker, this team would have 12 points and be firmly in the top 10 in ppg. Instead, Sounders sit on eight and need to travel to enemy territory this weekend to play a huge rivalry game and get points. Coach Schmetzer will have to dial up a similarly inspired team in a tactical formation and playstyle that can break down the counterattack style of the Timbers.