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Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo: Player ratings

Morris provides a bit of magic, the defense shuts the door, and Sounders leave Houston with three more points.

After a disheartening home loss, the Sounders could have hung their heads on a road trip to Houston, where they’ve historically struggled. Instead, they fought hard and left with a 1-0 win, grabbing a full three points to catapult them back into second place in the conference. Seattle was missing a few starters and came out fairly flat, and other than a couple of chances, looked like they might just concede the match. But some good halftime adjustments got players to where they should be on the field, and a rejuvenated Sounders team did enough to get a goal and protect the lead.


Goalkeeper

Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 6.7

I often struggle to rate Frei in a match like this one as he didn’t have a lot to do. He had three saves, none of which were particularly amazing, but he was a rock in the back and did well to organize yet another new defensive group all match. In doing so, he collected his seventh shutout of the year.

One thing I liked: With the home team scraping together some sustained pressure in the 84th minute, Frei came out nimbly to catch a cross in traffic and delivered an absolute laser beam throw to a breaking Nicolás Lodeiro. This stopped a good chance and gave the team some valuable breathing room.

One thing I didn’t like: With the defense playing well, Stefan forced the ball short on a number of occasions to players that were marked. They responded well enough, either clearing or controlling in tight quarters, but it didn’t make a lot of sense to force into traffic.

Going forward: Frei got away with one spill into the box in the 12th minute and afterward never looked like he was going to give up a goal. This is the kind of result Frei and company should get every game, but haven’t been able to recently.

Defense

Nouhou – 8 | Community – 7.3

Nouhou gets an 8 on the Nouhou scale based on incredible defense that completely shut down his side, and as a result, 71 percent of the Houston attack came from the middle or their left side. He had an awesome 16 defensive actions including three tackles, three interceptions, and four clearances. His defense locked down the left and allowed teammates to push forward with impunity.

One thing I liked: His defense is so dependable, but other aspects of his game are improving too. A nice 25th minute cross found Jordan Morris in a great spot for a header. His decision making going forward and ball control are improving. After a good defensive play from Nouhou, Seattle turned the resulting possession into the only goal of the match.

One thing I didn’t like: There were a few times when the young left back got into the attack and lost. Right before half he overcommitted playing free safety on a set piece and Seattle nearly paid. These are fixable things, but he can do better.

Going forward: This is the kind of defensive output that you can expect from Nouhou. He doesn’t offer a lot going forward but it’s no coincidence he’s on the field when Seattle gets a shutout. If Morris hadn’t scored, Nouhou would likely win MOTM.

Kim Kee-hee – 7 | Community – 6.6

Kim appeared to have a quiet game until you look at the work from top Houston scorer Mauro Manotas. While the striker had a game-high seven shots, only two were on frame and Kim was a big reason why. He tracked Manotas in between the 18 and was strong in matching his physicality and speed.

One thing I liked: You rarely heard from Kim because he was quietly going about his business. Defensively, he stopped everything coming at him, and offensively, he completed 92 percent of his passes while consistently stepping up to drive the ball back into the attack when it was being switched around the back.

One thing I didn’t like: Manotas beat Kim once in the 38th and Houston should have taken the lead. It wasn’t a terrible play by Kim but the Dynamo striker beat him to the spot near-post, and Kim needs to do better.

Going forward: Another solid performance that had but the one big noticeable mistake. Kim is showing great consistency and remains the best central defender for Seattle right now.

Román Torres – 6 | Community – 6.2

While Kim was steady, Román was more up and down. He had some great plays, and then also some head-scratching decisions and defensive struggles. On the good side, he had seven big clearances and a respectful 83 percent passing rate. He also made some poor decisions in distribution and failed to mark a few runs down his side of the field.

One thing I liked: Frei gave him a tough pass in the 9th minute in traffic and Roman did extremely well to control and release the ball back to Stefan. Any mis-touch there would likely have ended in disaster.

One thing I didn’t like: There were a number of passes that weren’t great, and when those passes were toward the middle things got dicey for the Sounders. A heavy touch in the 54th gave Tommy McNamara the ball inside the six on a weird play that had a little bit of everything.

Going forward: Another okay outing from Torres won’t likely slow down the desire for many to see Xavier Arreaga and Kim together, but at the end of the day it’s a shutout win on the road to a tough team, and hopefully all egos are satisfied.

Saad Abdul-Salaam – 7 | Community – 6.3

Abdul-Salaam was once again not only solid, but above average starting at right back. He absolutely filled the stat book to the tune of three aerials won, three tackles, four interceptions, two clearances, and seven recoveries. While Nouhou completely shut down his side with positioning and pace, Saad reflected this effort with great physical play, combining with Román to deal with the consistent pressure down the right.

One thing I liked: There’s the hint of a sneaky good attacker in Saad, and in the 36th minute he glided past two defenders to find Cristian Roldan on a run through the box. I would love to see more of this in the future.

One thing I didn’t like: His passing percentage was only 70, and he seems to have a bit more to offer going up the wings in the attack. His side was picked on, employing more of a bend-but-don’t-break style that worked for the most part.

Going forward: The inspired signing of Abdul-Salaam by GM Garth Lagerway has to be one of the better pickups in the league this year. SAS plays two positions well, giving excellent backup or starting power for a cheap price.

Defensive Midfield

Jordy Delem – 6 | Community – 6.0 (off 80’ for Arreaga)

Delem came into the starting lineup and did what he does best — defend and play safe from the back. Showing off excellent control at all times, Jordy sat deep and distributed through the width while protecting zone five. He had a sparkling 92 percent passing rate, finding his teammates and keeping the ball moving through the middle.

One thing I liked: Delem was active through the middle, being the enforcer on the team and stopping any runs through his zone. He ended with a tackle, two interceptions, a clearance, two blocked shots, and three recoveries in a strong defensive-minded performance.

One thing I didn’t like: Jordy rarely got out from sitting deep in front or between the center backs, and his passing, while strong completion-wise, wasn’t urgent or direct.

Going forward: It’s great that we can nitpick a performance where Delem misses three passes all match. He has come a long way from outside back struggles, and he is such a nice piece to call on when you need a dependable midfielder to lock down central defense.

Danny Leyva – 7 | Community – 6.6

While Delem was defending deep and distributing wide, Leyva was a great complement with his work rate in ranging from side to side, disrupting Houston’s play and finding teammates. Leyva’s passing was much more direct than Delem’s, and he often looked forward to the width to take advantage of the right side of Seattle’s offense. He ended the match with 89 percent passing, much of that searching out offensive chances.

One thing I liked: Not content to be the one-touch passer he was in previous matches, Danny found the ball and space in the 13th minute and took it. I loved seeing the young midfielder unabashedly charging into the midfield on the dribble with his head up looking for a teammate.

One thing I didn’t like: Leyva had five incomplete passes and four of them were deep in his own half. He must limit those turnovers to areas where they won’t be immediately shoved down the Sounders’ throats.

Going forward: Age shouldn’t matter in ratings, but I’m still amazed to be giving a 16-year-old MLS average or above grades. This was a game that truly showed how much he is learning and improving, as even a few weeks ago he wasn’t making the passes or creating the movement that he does now. He should continue to grow and that is exciting.

Attacking Midfield

Brad Smith – 5 | Community – 5.0 (off 31’ injured for Shipp)

With other outside midfielders on the bench, Smith was moved from left back forward to try his luck at midfielder. He didn’t do much, struggling to get involved before leaving the game for Harry Shipp. Before subbing out, he registered eight passes, completing five.

One thing I liked: Brad tried to match his left back success to being a winger, and in the 25th minute he got in behind to cross to a dangerous area.

One thing I didn’t like: All of his completions were backwards passing, and he failed to connect on any of his three crosses into the box.

Going forward: Smith didn’t show that he’s a guy who can fight for minutes at two positions, and it’s possible playing him out of position helped lead to the injury. With his blazing start to the season in the rearview mirror and his loan extended, it will be interesting to see what he can bring to the team (and at what position he brings it).

Nicolas Lodeiro – 6 | Community – 6.9

This wasn’t one of Nico’s best performances, and two Sounders (Nouhou and Kim) touched the ball more than he did. Lodeiro had a shot and a key pass to go with 81 percent passing but struggled to put his imprint on the match.

One thing I liked: Seattle asked Nico to be a “false 9” in the second half and it worked, leveraging Lodeiro’s great work rate and movement into occupying the defense and creating space for Roldan to dominate. In the 62nd minute with the ball at his feet, Nico drove directly at goal, forcing multiple defenders onto their heels in a brilliantly aggressive manner.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 48th minute Nico found the ball on the six and cut to his left foot. Instead of shooting he found Morris to his left, but in that position, with the ball on his strong foot, I want our best player to shoot.

Going forward: A bit of an off night for Nico is still easily MLS average. Lodeiro makes so many intelligent runs and moves off the ball to get touches and include teammates that even when not directly affecting the score, he’s helping Seattle out.

Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 6.8

Roldan had a very quiet first half, struggling to do much of anything on the wing. When moved into a central area after halftime, however, he came alive, dominating the second 45. He ended with 82 percent completion while handing out a team-high three key passes to go with nine defensive actions.

One thing I liked: His 36th minute first-time pull back cross from a nifty SAS through ball found Shipp and should have found the net moments later.

One thing I didn’t like: Asked to start at wide midfield, Roldan was a meager five of eight on passing in the first half. This just wasn’t a great fit for him. In contrast, he was 17 of 19 in the second half.

Going forward: It’s no coincidence that getting Roldan into the middle changed this match. He is one of the best central players in the league, and he should continue to only be used wide late when chasing a result.

Forward

Jordan Morris – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.4 (MOTM) (off 73’ for Jones)

Asked to play all over, Morris did exactly that and was the difference in this match. His effort from first centrally and then wide areas tilted the game in Seattle’s favor. Jordan had four of the seven Seattle shots, a won aerial, should have earned a penalty kick, and scored the game-winning goal while also tracking back all the way to his own box defensively at times.

One thing I liked: Jordan was the Seattle offense, constantly breaking into the box on runs and finding great positions to attack the goal. When presented with a half chance in the 59th minute he capitalized, showing off strength and balance to maintain his position before excellent first and second touches, followed by tenacious finishing.

One thing I didn’t like: Seattle wasn’t great with him in the front, but this seemed to be more of a distributing issue than anything he was doing wrong.

Going forward: Morris isn’t getting the credit he deserves for five goals and two assists in 15 matches with quite a few more that should have been padding his stats. This match was a nice example of how he contributes each and every game for Seattle.

Substitutes

Harry Shipp – 6 | Community – 6.0 (on 31’ for Smith)

Shipp entered the game much earlier than he likely expected, but Seattle immediately improved through his positioning and reading of the match. Harry ended up with multiple clearances, interceptions, tackles, and five recoveries defensively while hitting on 82 percent of his passes.

One thing I liked: Shipp missed a big chance in the 36th on a first-time shot off a great Roldan cross. Although he missed it, it was exactly where the space was and exactly where he needed to be. That kind of tactical understanding is impressive, and his read of the movement of teammates and opponents was excellent.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 50th minute Seattle worked the ball around nicely and into the attack only to have it die from a lousy Shipp pass. He needs to do much better there.

Going forward: Seattle had two big chances off of fairly innocuous Shipp crosses, one of which ended with a Sounders goal. His ability to read the game and put the ball into dangerous areas shouldn’t go unnoticed, even though he’s not as flashy as some might like.

Joevin Jones – 5 | Community – 5.5 (on 73’ for Morris)

I barely noticed Jones coming in, which was both good and bad. There wasn’t much to his night, touching the ball only seven times in 20 minutes. He did have a pristine 100 percent completion rate on four passes, but only had two recoveries and one clear defensively.

One thing I liked: In the 77th minute Jones showed just how hard he is to dispossess, holding the ball in between multiple defenders, spinning away and controlling the ball after making a nice steal defensively.

One thing I didn’t like: I don’t know whether he was brought in to be offense or defense, but he did little of either. A 94th minute dribble through traffic saw him stripped, and Houston earned a late corner.

Going forward: Joevin is okay in possession, but either he isn’t making dangerous runs or Seattle isn’t utilizing him in a way that is effective. At this point he is approaching the skillset of Alex Roldan, a nice piece who can give you some control and maybe a rare pass but little else. He costs $471,000 more. I hope he shows that isn’t wasted money soon.

Xavier Arreaga – 5 | Community – 6.2 (on 80’ for Delem)

Arreaga got some playing time, moving Seattle into a back five, and he was active in his left center back position. Although only touching the ball eight times, he had three clearances, an interception, and a recovery.

One thing I liked: Xavier can tackle, and his 85th minute perfectly-timed crunching slide tackle was glorious.

One thing I didn’t like: An 85th minute clear was poor, right-footed to the middle and stolen, part of his 50 percent pass completion rate.

Going forward: Xavier is big, fast, and makes great decisions in the back. He is doing enough to warrant some more playing time, if the coaches agree.

Referee

Nima Saghafi – 7 | Community – 5.8

Strong refereeing from this crew, with a mere 17 fouls called between the two teams to go with three cards. Saghafi did a generally good job controlling the match, limiting dangerous play, and allowing advantage when appropriate.

One thing I liked: His cards made sense. All three were deserved and helped control the game well. He also correctly waved off a penalty dive attempt in the box in the 91st.

One thing I didn’t like: Jordan Morris was fouled in the box in the 13th minute and deserved a penalty. At least a VAR look.

Going forward: Houston coach Wilmer Cabrera whined after the game about how little Houston was respected and “that would have been a foul anywhere else on the field” in regard to the Morris goal sequence. He is kind of right, in that in the 3rd minute a guy jumped over Delem in the midfield and a foul was called … on the jumper. Silly coaches aside, that play was a judgement call. I can see it going either way and would have liked him to take a second look on the VAR monitor to verify he didn’t make an egregious mistake. In re-watching, I can argue either way but don’t see enough to overrule the call on the field as a “clear and obvious error.” Oddly enough, there was another play that “would have been a foul anywhere else on the field” and it would have been a red card. That was Tommy McNamara mistouching a ball inside the area and then two-footed lunging forward to scissor/cleats up into Torres in the 54th. I think that is a red anywhere else and deserved another look.

Houston Dynamo MOTM

Mauro Manotas was out there, doing dangerous things throughout the night. He ripped shots with reckless abandon, and Frei and the rest of the Seattle defense were thankful to see many of them taken from outside the area, and make their way into the stands instead of the back of the net.


Seattle’s ankles will be happy to hear that Roger Espinoza is suspended for their matchup with Sporting Kansas City this weekend. Hopefully someone will remind the team to guard Johnny Russell this time.

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