Portland invited Seattle to play a defensive match, and then was frustrated when they got that. With Seattle refusing to get stretched out of position, the home team had no space to counter attack into and settled for long, speculative shots that found the crowd or a willing Sounder in the way. Seattle didn’t create a ton of chances, but the quality of these chances directly pressured Portland, and it’s no coincidence that this forced a fatal mistake. Own goal aside, this 1-0 Seattle win was nothing pretty, with few stellar plays or much flow to the match. Instead it was a tightly contested, hard fought, defensive struggle with few chances and plenty of animosity. Just like it should be.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.4
When you get a shutout on the road against your biggest rival I don’t care how many stupid or misguided shots they took, you did a lot right. And Frei did, continually organizing his defense and staying in sound position all match. He only had three “saves” on mainly weak outside shots, but he commanded his area strongly, made good distribution choices, and kept a defense compact and focused all match.
One thing I liked: In the 80th minute Frei punched a ball well outside of his area, clearing the danger and recognizing the right choice. He made a lot of right choices.
One thing I didn’t like: A tough knuckling shot from Diego Valeri in the 48th minute was fumbled in front of goal, and I thought he could have caught a 90th minute ball that he chose to awkwardly clear.
Going forward: Some games Frei is going to wow you with his saves and acrobatic play. But more impressive is being so good defensively that you force the opponent into predictable and non-threatening play.
Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 6.2 (off 86’ for Nouhou Tolo)
Brad’s first rivalry game wasn’t a great one, as he struggled at times to show cohesion on either offense or defense. There were moments of very nice soccer, and he was ultimately part of a shutout, but there were some definite flaws. Smith seemed to struggle (as did many others) with the poor field conditions in Portland.
One thing I liked: His offensive passing is clearly a step up from other left backs, and his ability to curl in an early pass into vertical runs is a huge bonus to a team looking for more offense from wide areas.
One thing I didn’t like: In a five minute span starting in the 15th minute, Smith first missed a wide-open Harry Shipp in the middle of the box for an assist on offense, then completely bungled his defense of Alvas Powell, which led to a Portland break the other way.
Going forward: Smith had a rough match defensively and while he will likely usually contribute enough offensively to offset that, he didn’t do anything above average against Portland. His offensive skillset and pure pace are things I hope we see more of.
Chad Marshall – 8 | Community – 7.9
Marshall didn’t put a foot wrong all match. Two tackles, five interceptions, seven clearances, three blocked shots, and 91% passing. He was so good and he continually supported everyone around him almost perfectly.
One thing I liked: Right before halftime Samuel Armenteros got pinned up against Marshall 1-v-1 and Chad just made it look so easy, casually dispossessing him and turning the ball back over cleanly to a teammate. He does this time and time again and I’m just going to keep pointing out how easy he makes being one of the two best center backs in the league look.
One thing I didn’t like: He didn’t score.
Going forward: Chad may finally be getting some of the national attention he deserves, but let’s face it: we’ve known for years how good this guy is. The addition of Kim Kee-hee’s pace complements Marshall’s positioning so well and they are anchoring a defense that refuses to allow anything clean on goal. It’s awesome to watch.
Kim Kee-hee – 9 (MOTM) | Community – 8.4 (MOTM)
Although it was an ugly defensive battle, there was magical beauty in the way Kim played. His raw speed and communication with Marshall just exponentially increases both of their defensive ranges and although Portland created a lot of half chances, there was never a point that these guys looked overmatched defensively. He had four interceptions and three tackles to go with a huge nine clearances, turning away the Timbers time and time again.
Two plus things I liked: In the 76th minute Kim made a great run forward and forced the winning own goal by diagonally attacking the goal box on the dribble and putting in a low, hard cross. But my other two favorite things were: 1. Winning every single 1-v-1 defensive battle on the evening with Armenteros, Sebastian Blanco, Valeri, etc. and 2. In the 50th minute he made a spectacular line-splitting pass all the way through Portland’s defense to pick out Raul Ruidiaz. This vision and ability to bypass lines is awesome, and something to keep an eye on in the future.
One thing I didn’t like: in the 9th minute he was beat on a corner kick header and still struggles at times to win aerials.
Going forward: He might be better than Marshall, and the fact I even wrote that is a testament to how amazing both have played this entire season. Sorry to Roman Torres, but these two may split votes for the Chad Marshall of the Year award.
Kelvin Leerdam – 5 | Community – 6.1 (off 59’ for Bruin)
Even though his team earned a shutout, I thought Leerdam struggled before rolling his ankle badly in the first half and limping through till the 60th minute. The right half of the Sounders was less effective for a majority of the match, and much of this had to do with Kelvin struggling and getting hurt.
One thing I liked: Even clearly hobbled after halftime Leerdam put Blanco in his pocket for much of the match and his 53rd minute 1-v-1 defense on the Portland DP was excellent, completely shutting him down.
One thing I didn’t like: His offense was nonexistent, but it was surprising struggles defensively that stood out, with communication between him and Cristian Roldan failing at times and Leerdam just having a hard time keeping up.
Going forward: Leerdam is the best right back we have, but he needs to be healthy to help balance out the team and he clearly was not in this match. Hopefully this is only a minor setback and he can be ready to go this weekend.
Gustav Svensson –7 | Community – 7.2
Svensson played about five positions in this match and played them all well. Historic stats like five tackles and four blocks from defensive midfield were via immense hustle and endurance that saw Goose everywhere. He put out fires continuously from the midfield, and constantly does all the little things that make this team work fluidly.
One thing I liked: It’s telling that the time he was (foolishly?) pushed into the back line saw Seattle’s midfield fall apart and leak chances, and wasn’t solid again till he was reintroduced to a defensive midfield role.
One thing I didn’t like: A bit nonchalantly, Svensson tried to work the ball from the back in the 8th minute and Armenteros stole and converted into a near-post shot.
Going forward: Sign this guy to a multi-year contract asap.
Osvaldo Alonso – 8 | Community – 7.7
Although there were still some issues, this was clearly Ozzie’s best outing of the year. This game showed he has an increased understanding of his limitations. A massive seven tackles and six interceptions showed Alonso laying waste to the midfield chances of the Timbers, turning them away time and again with strong positioning and effort.
One thing I liked: There were plenty of nice statistical plays, but telling to me was Alonso playing defense on both sidelines in the 96th minute, showing incredible stamina and desire and frankly range we haven’t seen from him this season, especially late game. I hope it’s more than just the rivalry passion spurring on this effort, because it was glorious.
One thing I didn’t like: in the 11th and 36th minutes he completely lost runners right down the center of the field and either could have been an easy goal had Portland found these wide-open runs.
Going forward: This was a very strong outing, and one that makes starting him in the future an easy decision. If Alonso can understand his limitations and play within them better, he can and will be a key part of the team moving forward.
Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 6.0 (off 79’ for Torres)
This performance was kind of a mystery at first glance and you likely remember one of his three or four notable gaffes. Shipp missed a near wide-open shot, which was one of the best chances in the game. He missed two or three passes so badly as to be comical. What the re-watch showed, however, was other than these highly visible errors, Shipp had a very strong match. His positioning continually probed the Timbers’ back line and a better entry pass may have seen him score multiple goals. Defensively he covered well, and the left side saw 41% of the Sounders’ attacks.
One thing I liked: a 46th minute direct through ball to Ruidiaz was inch perfect and came from a deep central channel, with a unique look and a pass that I would love to see more of from the Sounders.
One thing I didn’t like: Just last match he had a great assist to Roldan and in the 51st minute a near carbon copy play presented itself but instead of finding the again wide-open Roldan for another goal, he forced a pass near post to Ruidiaz.
Going forward: The Shipp/Smith left side was more effective than the right, but there was a sloppiness of play that needs to be cleaned up. We know Nouhou and Shipp can work together; let’s see how Smith does.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 7.0
This was one of Nico’s less impressive matches, with passes consistently going awry and Lodeiro struggling to exert any control over the match. The stats backed this up, with 78% completion (0/7 crossing) and only a single key pass to his name in a game where he was bottled up for long stretches.
One thing I liked: Even struggling, Nico still managed to (mis-trap and then) get the ball into the onrushing path of Kim for the game changing goal. His touch was off and the turf continually frustrated him, but in this moment he did enough to get the ball where it needed to be, even if it wasn’t pretty.
One thing I didn’t like: His passing was sloppy and there were way too many easy giveaways. When Seattle desperately needed someone to step up and create offense, Nico was conspicuously absent.
Going forward: Even struggling against Portland, he has still averaged a rating of nearly 7.5 during this win streak. Lodeiro needs more help creatively.
Cristian Roldan – 8 | Community – 6.8
(If you’re reading this, Cristian, that’s really a 10 )
This game definitely showed off the versatility of Cristian’s game, as he played numerous wide roles while the coaching staff tinkered with various successful and unsuccessful formations. Throughout all the moves he managed an excellent 87% completion percentage, a key pass, completed all three of his crosses and had an immense four tackles and four clearances defensively.
One thing I liked: In the 62nd minute (from a wingback position) Roldan made a tremendous spirited run forward the length of the field, shouldering off multiple defensive attempts from frail Portland players before getting off a great cross.
One thing I didn’t like: Cristian and Kelvin never seemed on the same page and Roldan looked best to me when he was moved back to wingback. In the 21st minute these two right-sided players ran upfield next to each other, failing to convert and giving up a harmless goal kick.
Going forward: Roldan was the best player on this team last season at defensive midfield and Seattle is playing him at winger. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I love this guy and his effort at that position is great, but just like when he played wide in 2015, it’s not his best spot. He still manages to positively impact the game wherever he plays, though, so here we are.
Raul Ruidiaz – 6 | Community – 6.7
After a completely dominant match against LAG, RR was quieter against Portland. He seemed to struggle with the turf, having a number of bad touches and controls that let the defense close him quickly. This affected his ability to get shots off (only one in the game) but his possession was tremendous, completing 26 of 27 passes. Ruidiaz also managed a number of solid defensive actions, especially dropping late to help.
One thing I liked: Raul created problems for Portland, and his pressure helped ensure the own goal happened. Any time the ball was near him in the box Seattle looked massively more dangerous than anything Portland created all night, and if he had scored the 89th minute bicycle kick to seal the win in Oregon, I might have exploded.
One thing I didn’t like: As I mentioned before, his touch was off and at times he was too easily pushed off the ball. He needs to be more goal dangerous in the good (but few) chances the team gets him.
Going forward: One day he is going to get on the end of one of those bicycle kicks and it’s going to be amazing.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 6.3 (on 59’ for Leerdam)
The idea that Bruin is magically opening up Ruidiaz and the two-forward setup is some amazing offensive answer just doesn’t currently hold up on deeper analysis. If anything, there is correlation from Nico dropping deeper and hitting more direct through balls, but there is little, if any, evidence of Bruin being a reason for Ruidiaz’ offensive success. About the idea that “big body Bruin” is holding up the ball for Raul: in fact, the opposite has been true, with Ruidiaz more active, more composed on the ball, and more willing to go get the ball and create space for Bruin, who has been fairly immobile. What’s perhaps more concerning is Bruin with fresh legs did zero defensive work, forcing Raul to pick up the slack. After Bruin subbed in, Ruidiaz had three recoveries, an interception, and a tackle defensively while Will was credited with a single defensive action, a 70th minute corner kick clearance.
One thing I liked: In the 72nd minute he did one time what everyone seems to think he’s doing a lot of, and it was beautiful: he received a pass in traffic and dropped a nifty through pass to an onrushing Ruidiaz, who failed to capitalize.
One thing I didn’t like: Ruidiaz clearly out-hustling him was striking. In the 61st, 67th, 78th and 91st I saw a distinct lack of effort to even challenge for long clearances from Frei and the defense, allowing Portland to quickly and easily reset their offense. Bruin is a big guy, and he could easily have won balls from the likes of Chara and substantially helped Seattle, who clearly struggled in possession when Will was on the field.
Going forward: Don’t @ me about his “key pass” either, his mis-timed and wrong direction header didn’t look like it was supposed to be a pass and even if so, was so far behind Ruidiaz to force him to perform a ridiculously acrobatic overhead kick to even have a chance at getting it on frame. People really want this to be a thing, but in this game, I didn’t see it. Bruin has a ton of value and can do a lot of things well, but its unfair to build up this false narrative that the two-forward setup is magically fixing deeper offensive issues. Bruin has yet to create any more for Raul than he did for Clint.
Roman Torres – 6 | Community – 6.6 (on 79’ for Shipp)
Roman struggled early in this season likely due to being out of shape after a short offseason and yet he was still decent as a starter. Then he went to the World Cup and has been relegated to the bench, something that speaks more to the amazing play of Kim than as an indictment of Torres. He didn’t do anything great in this match, but he was solid and comfortable on the ball and cleared it whenever it was near him, which is what I assume were his instructions. His introduction to the game also allowed Svensson to move back to the midfield, where Alonso was hopelessly outmatched by himself.
One thing I liked: He touched the ball five times and had three clearances and two completed passes. That’s good. He was part of the solution to the 5-1-2-2 or whatever Schmetzer tried for a while there, pushing Svensson up to rescue a badly overrun Alonso. I think it’s important to point out that Seattle has the depth to make this move and fix a clear tactical error.
One thing I didn’t like: With Roman playing centrally, the communication was poor at times, with a back line that clearly hadn’t practiced this setup together much, if ever.
Going forward: Roman has been quietly playing well since returning from Russia, and while Kim is the clear starter in my eyes, it’s nice to know that, should the coach decide to overload the back, we can put a World Cup starter on as an afterthought.
Nouhou – 6 | Community – 6.1 (on 86’ for Smith)
The Nouhou sub was an excellent tactical decision, adding the tremendous defensive ability of the young Cameroonian as well as his energy to a team struggling to hold on. He immediately solidified a sagging left side and even added a few offensive forays that were well timed. In his limited minutes he had three clutch clearances while adding an offensive capability that was in no way a downgrade from Smith.
One thing I liked: In 10 minutes of play, Nouhou not only had multiple strong defensive actions, he also looked great in the attack, playing a number of slick passes in the 91st minute and nearly unlocking Portland’s defense with a game-sealing assist.
One thing I didn’t like: In the 96th minute he took a bad angle and was beaten around the end, needing Alonso to intervene and giving up an unnecessary corner kick. The changing back line was confusing, but that is no excuse for a late game hiccup like that.
Going forward: Although he had the late mix-up, I thought Nouhou looked strong. It will be an interesting road ahead as Seattle figures out which combination of him and/or Smith they ultimately go with on the left. This was a strong outing that should make that decision a tough one.
Chris Penso – 6 | Community – 5.1
Penso let Diego Chara get away with way too much in this match, and likely should have carded Shipp and a few others as well. In not doing so, this game got chippy, and a bad dead ball foul from Blanco and a horrible tackle from Dairon Asprilla were direct results of not strongly regulating the game from the beginning.
One thing I liked: The Chara yellow was quickly given and the right call, especially as this was a retaliation foul.
Two things I have no idea about: What the heck did Brad Smith get a yellow for, getting plowed into by Blanco in a borderline red-cardable dead ball hack from behind? How did Chara commit six cardable fouls including a 60th minute series that saw him first elbow Ruidiaz’s face and then undercut Shipp all after being on a yellow in the 22nd minute? Getting an early card doesn’t mean you are then able to do whatever you want, yet this was clearly the message sent as Penso was wildly inconsistent and didn’t even warn Chara after multiple infractions.
Going forward: Penso had a lot to deal with in a hostile rivalry match, and the players didn’t kill each other.
Portland Timbers MOTM
Let’s be honest: From a Sounders perspective, Cascante was fantastic.
Seattle has a chance to be the first team to win eight in a row and that chance comes at home against SKC, who are playing well lately. I don’t expect a pretty game (I never do with that thuggish coach) but I do expect Seattle to play considerably better at home on Saturday than they did in Portland. One guy who immediately showed the ability to unlock Ruidiaz is Victor Rodriguez, and I hope he’s available this weekend. Look for playoff intensity soccer on Saturday.
*Clint, you will be missed ☹