After playing three games in eight days, it’s nice to take a breath. Seattle tied a good Columbus team at home and went to Toronto four days later to beat the best team ever. Then just four days after that they travelled to take on an in-form Portland team, and the combination of injuries, 100-degree heat, and fatigue was too much. The 0-1 loss was disappointing as it came on a late defensive mistake from a Seattle team that had been stout all match prior. There isn’t too much to take from this game. Again, the Sounders were able to create and follow a great game plan but failed to adjust when forced away from that plan. Seattle desperately needs to get more points from these close matches.
Stefan Frei – 6 | Community – 6.8
Frei had a decent game in Portland, organizing yet another new defensive lineup in front of him. Stefan only had a single save, which accounted for half of Portland’s shots on goal for the entire match.
In the 3rd minute Frei was out nicely to catch the ball on a free kick and again five minutes later was big in traffic. Twice in the first 15 minutes I thought Stef made poor choices with the ball at his feet, once clearing directly to Portland and on the second occasion forcing a ball to Nouhou that immediately put the left back in trouble. With the home team failing to pressure Seattle’s goal with any conviction in the first half, another punch in the 43rd was the only action the keeper saw before the break.
The second half saw a little more action, and Frei nearly earned a shutout. His 68th minute save on an Andy Polo shot was excellent, and Stefan did well with a bad drop in the 75th. After yet another catch in traffic in the 80th unfortunately Frei couldn’t muster up the heroic save needed to keep the clean sheet in the 86th minute. Frei was OK in this game, but it would have been better if he could have made up for the LAFC gaffe with some late magic against our rivals.
Nouhou – 6 (MOTM) | Community – 5.4 (off 60’ for McCrary)
This was a very nice outing from the young defender, and Nouhou was strong on both sides of the ball, earning his first MOTM as a Sounder in a sluggish game where “good” stood out. Defensively, I liked his aggressiveness, leading Seattle with five tackles and consistently shutting Sebastian Blanco and Alvas Powell down from the wide left. Nouhou led Seattle with 74 touches and had a very solid 78% completion rate on 50 passes. One of these was a key pass, and the left wingback was tops for Seattle with three shots as well. He had a very effective match, marred only by the bizarre circumstances that saw him exit the game in the 60th minute.
In the 5th minute Nouhou churned up the left side and got a shot off after good control, earning a corner kick. Seven minutes later he dominated Powell on the left defense. He again got the better of the Portland right back in the 21st. Defensively Nouhou was very diligent, and I especially liked seeing him cover Valeri cutting into the box in the 27th, showing great awareness of runners. After a great combination play on the right through Wolff, it was the Houtrain that chugged into open space on the left and settled a pass before putting a shot just wide of goal. The second half was more of the same, with Nouhou splitting time defending compactly before bursting up field to take advantage of huge space on his side. His best chance came in the 48th, again arriving unmarked on the left but his trap of a Cristian Roldan through ball forced him into a less comfortable shot that didn’t find the back of the net.
Nouhou was forced to the sideline in the 60th minute and Valeri almost immediately scored through his left defensive area. The Seattle left back curiously subbed, seemingly unable to continue in what was one of his better matches as a Sounder. This formation is probably the best possible one to have a Joevin Jones type wide defender who is more of an attacking threat but Nouhou showed he can offer quite a lot both offensively and defensively from this spot.
Gustav Svensson – 6 | Community – 7.3 (MOTM)
Starting and playing his third 90 in a week, the dependable Svensson was consistent all match, only showing a few cracks late as fatigue inevitably crept into his play. He had the second most touches for Seattle and filled up the stat sheet with three tackles, two interceptions, and three clearances, while completing a stellar 87% of his passes. Svensson is amazingly tactically flexible, showing that he’s comfortable in a back five.
Goose repeatedly stepped up to repel inquisitive passes from Portland, and in the first five minutes his movement befuddled the home team’s attempts to provide entry to Fanendo Adi. Other than this defensive positioning, however, I didn’t mark much down for Gustav, who played smart defense and funneled the ball forward to his midfield. With Seattle very comfortable in the first period, much of the game was played in front of Svensson. The second half was a bit more active, with Goose getting the better of Valeri and forcing a foul in the 48th. In the 51st Svensson showed a beautiful slide tackle and again used this tool to perfection in the 59th. With Nouhou off the field, an undermanned Seattle defense looked to have been beaten by Valeri only to have Gustav show up out of nowhere to block the former MVP’s shot. This was nearly a game-saving tackle except in the 86th Svensson was caught holding a deep line that Portland and Blanco took advantage of, sliding a through ball that a too-deep Svensson barely missed, allowing the game winning goal.
Chad Marshall – 6 | Community – 6.5
Asked to again anchor a back five for Seattle, Marshall was consistent but very quiet against Portland. He had an uncharacteristically low 73% passing rate, but won a massive seven aerials, most against Fanendo Adi, who was thoroughly outplayed by Marshall. Chad added four interceptions and two blocked shots.
Instead of floating as Toronto allowed Chad to do, Portland posted up Adi consistently against Marshall in a poorly thought out strategy that saw Marshall get the better of the Timbers striker all afternoon. When he wasn’t bodying up with Adi physically, Chad was tracking a 6th minute Blanco run neatly through the box or stepping forward in the 10th to compact the field. With so many defenders Marshall isn’t asked to cover as much ground, but he showed how smart and surprisingly quick he can be with an excellent 16th minute recovery run that covered for teammates. On this play Chad took a perfect angle and used his big frame to cut down a Portland chance.
Marshall was beaten in behind early in the second half but was lucky that Adi stopped his run, and he put Frei in a jam in the 75th with a risky back pass, but otherwise the game was a lot of organization and positional play for Chad. There weren’t many opportunities for him to show off his precise passing, and when pushed forward late, Marshall was unable to add to the offense.
Kim Kee-hee – 6 | Community – 6.7 (off 71’ for Bwana)
Kim just keeps on getting better, showing consistent improvement interacting with teammates while displaying a strong and well-rounded skillset. His speed and anticipation defensively is stellar and adds an element to the defense that has been lacking from central areas. Kim led the team with 93% passing but wasn’t able to provide more than accurate passes to the next level, failing to spark the offense with more dynamic choices from the back line.
In the 2nd minute Kim stepped well to win the ball and he repeatedly showed off quick decision making to get forward and deny Portland success into his zone. Both he and Svensson were excellent at doing this, charging forward repeatedly to protect any gaps when the players outside them pushed forward. A 4th minute vertical pass looked to be exactly what Seattle needed, but he didn’t offer much more to jumpstart Seattle attacks. In the 28th Marshall handed off his mark to Kim and he did well to cover Adi who was searching for an easier mark. In the 43rd Kim made one of his few mistakes in the match, stepping off the pitch chasing a wide ball and incorrectly assuming that Portland wouldn’t immediately try to gain advantage by throwing in quickly in the gap he left.
The second half was more of Portland seemingly without any ideas, and Kim and the Sounders stuffing all their attacks. Kim ate Blanco in the 53rd and again in the 57th, on the latter occasion showing off as much if not more speed than anything the Timbers had on the wing. It was unfortunate that Kim caught an elbow in the 71st and was forced off, as Seattle didn’t look the least bit vulnerable at 11v11 until Kim was subbed. His injury altered the game plan, and the Sounders again showed the inability to adjust mid-match to change.
Kelvin Leerdam – 5 | Community – 6.1
Leerdam started for the first time as a wide defender in the back five and was decent defensively but failed to offer much going forward in support of Eikrem in front of him. Kelvin did lead the team with five clearances and added three tackles defensively, but he failed to add anything to the offense and had a terrible 64% passing rate (including 0/6 crosses and 0/5 long balls).
In the 7th minute Leerdam had a nice chest trap on the sideline from a Frei clearance and nearly found Alex Roldan up the field. Four minutes later he made a good pass into the box that missed everyone. I expected much more going forward from Kelvin and was disappointed in the lack of crisp passing that limited his ability to join the attack. A 29th minute foray into the Portland defense was a mess, but somehow Leerdam earned a corner. Kelvin was very tentative to put numbers up front and left Seattle with very few options when trying to transition forward.
The second half was more of the same from Leerdam, who couldn’t get untracked offensively other than a nice combination on the edge of the Portland area in the 80th and a cross in the 88th that missed Marshall. This was a very quiet game from a player who I hoped would show off more of his quality attacking ability and decision making going forward.
Alex Roldan – 4 | Community – 4.8
This is turning into somewhat of a broken record with Alex. He is a good possession player who defends well but offers very little going forward and is unable to provide necessary creativity in the attack for a team that desperately needs it. 75% passing, a single shot not on target, and a few defensive actions is all Alex managed against Portland wide, and when pushed inside as a central midfielder, he looked lost and uncomfortable. Young Roldan had a single successful pass outside the Sounders half that was completed towards goal. Blech.
In the 7th Roldan had an excellent outside-in run, filling a hole created by Clint Dempsey’s movement, but was just too slow to get onto the ball in what could have been a breakaway 1v1. Roldan the Younger supported Nouhou defensively in the 11th and won a corner off of a throw-in seven minutes later, but his first half was almost entirely passes backwards. It was tough watching him play such mundane soccer when we have seen him be much more aggressive (against SKC) with fewer defenders behind him. The second half was no better, although he did have his only offensive completion in the attacking third in the 50th minute. Alex seemed to tire badly around the 60th minute, racking up turnovers in the 61st and 67th, and he earned a yellow card after being beat badly in the 76th.
Alex is getting more first team playing time than his brother did in his rookie season, which is a little wild to me. I still think he might outperform my prediction on his ceiling, but he has completely plateaued as a player and is struggling badly. He might be a nice fit when there are more creative pieces around him but right now he’s just a guy.
Jordy Delem – 4 | Community – 5.1
Asked to play a big role for the second game in a row, Delem faltered, struggling to replicate the excellent play against Toronto days prior. His two tackles, and two clearances were average, and 77% passing merely okay. What wasn’t okay were some huge, game altering negative decisions that unfortunately came at the wrong moments for Seattle.
Early on Cristian and Delem looked strong again, holding the midfield and limiting interplay through the center of the field. Their movement together was logical, and each stepped in good positions forward — like Delem in the 6th. Unfortunately, this was a game where Delem just lost his mind a few times. In the 16th, with Seattle and Portland playing a cagey match, Jordy pointlessly crushed a Timbers player well behind the play in the midfield and was spared a card by advantage and a ref who was very lenient. In the 24th he sprung an ineffective Alex Roldan into space. Again, with both teams playing controlled and solid soccer, suddenly Delem made a completely unnecessarily aggressive 34th minute tackle on Valeri that could easily have been a red card. This tackle came out of nowhere, and once again after being lucky (yellow only), Jordy went back to playing calm central midfield defense. Delem’s best play of the match came in the 44th, laying off a pass to Wolff and being absolutely crushed by Liam Ridgewell seconds later. Delem was mostly solid in the second half but had a few huge mistakes. His 49th minute weak back pass was nearly disastrous, and center back Delem lost Larrys Mabiala for an open header on a free kick in the 85th. Most importantly, Jordy was badly beaten by Blanco who checked to the ball and then dove to goal in the 86th, eventually scoring the game winner.
Delem probably should have been sent off, and his propensity to have an enormously over-physical tackle out of the blue is something that needs to be curbed immediately. Asking him to be an above average MLS player twice in the same week appears to be too tall of an ask.
Cristian Roldan – 6 | Community – 5.9
Roldan was one of the players who was asked to play a third 90 in a week and he looked clearly gassed in this match. It wasn’t that he was bad, Roldan just didn’t have the impact that we are used to seeing from the young Sounders star. Cristian had 85% passing and a key pass offensively but a quiet two tackles and one interception defensively, and really struggled to put his stamp on a rivalry that has seen some excellent performances in the past.
Cristian was the more offensive of the two central midfielders, and did a good job trying to get others into the match going forward but spent a lot of time defending the left channel and rarely got forward himself. I liked seeing Roldan get on the ball more than midweek, but he didn’t find the kind of dynamic passes or runs necessary to break down Portland. In the 42nd it was Roldan who expertly slid across behind Kim as Portland tried to sneak in behind with the central defender off the field, and Cristian’s defense was brilliant. Roldan the elder had two first time touches from central areas that opened up Nouhou into space on the wing in the 48th and 49th minutes, each presenting the left back with some of the best attacking opportunities in the match.
When Roldan tired late, Seattle struggled. A fresh Cristian doesn’t lose a 50/50 tackle with Samuel Armenteros in the 86th that directly led to the game winning goal, and numerous other second half issues would have been fixed by Roldan playing closer to his usual match effectiveness. He was still very good but needed more central help than he received.
Magnus Wolff Eikrem – 6 | Community – 5.8 (off 78’ for Wingo)
Once again most of the creativity from the Sounders came via the quick feet of the Wolff, but he was lacking that final pass that would have led to an offensive breakthrough. Magnus only had a single key pass but had multiple occasions of dangerous dribbles and passes through the Portland box and just couldn’t seem to connect in key moments. Defensively MWE chipped in with a nice four tackles and an interception, often cutting the field in half and forcing Portland to ineffectively work through congested areas on the far side of the field.
In the 4th minute we saw some of his tactical smarts, as Wolff checked into the midfield and then played over the top. I was disappointed with the combination of Eikrem and Leerdam on the right, and these two rarely connected going forward. Wolff did an excellent job defending in lanes, repeatedly dropping in defensively and forcing play elsewhere, very similar to the way Andreas Ivanschitz defended on the wing. His 5th and 18th minute corner kicks were woefully short and it wasn’t until the 29th that the promise of Eikrem’s stellar set piece delivery was realized. Right before half we saw how devastating the Wolff can be when his pack helps out, as Magnus pushed a ball forward and made a fantastic direct run and upon receiving a Delem touch burst through the defensive lines with his head up dribbling into the box. MWE found the wide-open run of Nouhou but Seattle was unable to finish.
After finally combining with Leerdam in the 50th Wolff got into the box twice, but Seattle had little to show for it with Magnus forcing the ball to Dempsey and then later missing a connection inside the box. I would love to see him get more goal direct, especially when there are so few other quality attacking players on the team.
Clint Dempsey – 6 | Community – 4.6
Lost on an island up top isn’t likely Dempsey’s preferred position, but he did an admirable job as a lone striker against Portland. It showed that with a few more creative pieces capable of actually getting the ball into the attack, he might be a good central forward option as the season continues. Clint ended without a key pass and only a single shot, but his movement and holdup play was strong and his 92% completion rate was indicative of a guy who found teammates but just wasn’t getting the ball in great spots.
Early on Clint’s movement opened up big spaces, including a 7th minute checking run that allowed A-Rold in behind but just missing the over the top ball. Two minutes later Dempsey nicely held up the ball to Cristian. Clint was sent over the top in the 24th by A-Rold only to have goalkeeper Jeff Attinella beat him in a footrace. Another holdup in the 25th released Nouhou into the attack before switching the field with yet another seconds later. Right before half Dempsey floated through the box pulling three defenders and opening up Nouhou for a shot, and then Clint nearly redirected this shot into the net as he smartly put on the brakes and stayed onside.
The second half was more of the same, with Dempsey often matched up with multiple center backs but Seattle unable to take advantage. A 46th minute counter put Dempsey again forward with the ball but similarly without support. A nice 47th minute holdup to A-Rold was immediately passed backwards. A minute later another holdup touch to Roldan opened up Nouhou for a shot. As the game went on Clint became more and more frustrated with the lack of service, he clearly tired and his runs got less frequent and decisive. I actually thought Clint looked pretty good in this role, but Seattle had very little ability to get the ball into positions to score and as a result he saw very little of the ball.
Jordan McCrary – 6 | Community – 5.5 (on 60’ for Nouhou)
Asked to play left back on zero notice, I was impressed by McCrary. He was energetic, willing to take people on, and provided the kind of spark that Seattle needed as a sub. McCrary had a key pass, a team high two dribbles, and surprising three aerials won. Jordan got forward multiple times down the wing, attacking in the 64th and 66th, each time adding a counter ability that put Portland on their heels. Jordan also got forward nicely in the 85th and had a slick dribble on the end line but was unable to find the right pass with little team support. His long throws from the left were an added weapon.
Handwalla Bwana – 4 | Community – 4.5 (on 71’ for Kim)
Similarly to McCrary, Bwana was an injury sub, but when asked to come in and provide a spark he wasn’t able to do much. He had eight touches in over 25 minutes and other than a 74th minute dribble into the box that was stuffed and an 82nd minute corner won, Handwalla did nothing notable.
Henry Wingo – 4 | Community – 4.5 (on 78’ for Wolff)
Wingo had 57% passing with 10 total touches and did nearly nothing other than foul Alvas Powell in the 83rd.
Robert Sibiga – 3 | Community – 5.5
A lot of players will say that they want consistency from the ref more than anything else. While I can buy into that on some levels, this was a consistency that I don’t appreciate: namely Sibiga consistently let players get away with awful, dangerous plays and refusing to protect the athletes as he should. I think some of this may be due to Daniel Radford driving the 4th official spot. With an over-zealous Stott giving Dempsey a phantom red from VAR (and Penso agreeing), we are used to that referee with an itchy trigger finger on the sidelines. In this match, we saw what happens when the assistant crew is scared to make the big call and a center lets too much go early.
The precedent was set initially by the ref ignoring a hard Delem tackle behind the ball in the 16th minute. When Delem again had a hard foul and there was no advantage to be called, the referees chose yellow, on a foul against Valeri that I would have had no problem being a red card. The cynical, missing the ball, super dangerous foul out of nowhere is something I believe referees should be regulating for the safety of players. Two minutes later Blanco had a completely ridiculous hack on Nouhou that should have seen yellow but did not. With the Delem/Valeri foul only a yellow, Sibiga and company were stuck in the 44th minute when Liam Ridgewell made zero play on the ball and came through the back of Delem that was another red card worthy play that again was given only yellow (and not given the VAR treatment).
Late in the match Sibiga completely lost it. Adi was allowed to jump into the box in the 69th minute with his hand high over his head in a completely unnatural position — this play opened a huge gash in Kim’s skull with a flailing elbow, and he was forced to sub with zero penalty to the Portland striker. In the 81st the ref correctly decided that Armenteros dove into the box, but then failed to give him a yellow for simulation. (He was later fined!) After Blanco scored he was somehow allowed to put on a mask and parade around the pitch even though this is clearly a cautionable offense. Alex Roldan was undercut badly by Armenteros in the 89th. Mabiala led with a high elbow in the 92nd. Valeri took out McCrary dangerously in the 93rd, and finally a yellow was given to Blanco in the 96th on yet another borderline red-cardable offense and definitely what should have been his second or third yellow of the match.
It’s a testament to luck and the physical fitness of Valeri, Delem, Kim, etc. that they weren’t seriously hurt by these fouls. Not using the cards effectively allowed way too much dangerous physicality in a game that might have been helped just by calling the first damn Delem foul yellow as he should have.
Portland Timbers MOTM
Sebastian Blanco was Portland’s MOTM, not only for his match-deciding goal, but also for his dangerous movement throughout the contest.
It’s a crummy result and again, Seattle wasn’t able to overcome necessary in-game adjustments, but the week was a fairly successful one and the West is doing nothing to run away from them. Seattle has mounting injury woes and some guys leaving for the World Cup, but they are in every single game and I think there is much to look forward to in the upcoming matches.