Well, now. After some disappointing matches, Seattle went to Portland and beat the Timbers 2-1. Suddenly all the holes in the team were forgotten, at least for one night. Instead, there were solid performances all around, as stars and role players alike executed a smart, compact game plan that enabled the away side to dictate the match while keeping a strong defensive presence. Seattle forced Portland into a ridiculous 45 crosses, which the Sounders dealt with well. The offense rode opportunistic play to score when they could and the defense bent, but didn’t break. I was impressed with not just the tactical set-up, but the execution that followed, as suddenly the entire team seemed on the same page for the first time in a month.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.3
Frei didn’t get a shutout, but he did enough for the win. He was credited with five saves but was integrated well into a defensive structure that had a plan, and he executed it well. When asked to make a big stop, Stefan did that well in the 59th minute, keeping out a well-struck ball from Diego Valeri.
One thing I liked: Especially in the first half, the Sounders’ plan was to play out of the back and Frei was extremely strong in distribution. His ability to be an outlet for any of the defenders forced Portland to extend farther than they wanted to.
One thing I didn’t like: Although his distribution was nice, Frei forced some things too quickly, I thought, and he put Nicolás Lodeiro and Raúl Ruidíaz in one-versus-the-entire-defense on a few occasions, instead of more constructive possession.
Going forward: The defense looked much stronger, and I don’t know whether that is due to form, tactics, or leadership. A big test will be incoming this weekend.
Joevin Jones – 6 | Community – 6.0 (off 77’ for Cecchini)
Jones has certainly struggled this season as a Sounder, but this was his best lengthy time on the field. Starting as a stay-at-home left back, Joevin displayed a number of solid defensive actions while supporting what looked to be a very deliberate, defense-first mentality.
One thing I liked: Having Jones stay at home prevented his dynamic offensive potential, but it seemed to slow the game down for him, allowing him to make smarter decisions. One such decision came in the 65th minute where he was badly beat, and took a yellow card to stop what was a potentially devastating counterattack.
One thing I didn’t like: Jones was only okay defensively, and was nearly beat by the more offensive winger Jeremy Ebobisse when he was introduced at halftime. Jones added nothing offensively, with but a single 63rd minute successful pass in the attacking third.
Going forward: Jones showed he can be a decent defensive player, which is great, but I don’t know that forcing him to be a stay-at-home defender is better than trying to force Nouhou to be a winger.
Xavier Arreaga – 8 | Community – 7.0
This was by far Arreaga’s best performance as a Sounder and you could tell that he already gets the rivalry intensity. He was excellent, with an incredible 12 clearances to lead a suddenly cohesive back line. His reading of the match and support of the left wing was absolutely phenomenal, and vastly improved over recent outings.
One thing I liked: We haven’t had a central defender with foot skills like Arreaga’s since Brad Evans, and he was straight up dealing against Portland. He displayed a dizzying array of forward passing, linking with Nico or Raúl to cut out lines of defense, as well as showing off slick touches, dribbling out of trouble on numerous occasions while never looking out of control or shaky.
One thing I didn’t like: On a scramble in the 55th minute, after Frei pushed a ball wide, he completely lost Cristhian Paredes in behind him for an open header and was lucky to see it go wide.
Going forward: Arreaga may have the physical skills to hang with Zlatan better than Kim, and I would at least consider that going into this weekend.
Kim Kee-hee – 7 | Community – 6.4
Kim was much improved in this match, as the central defense of Seattle coalesced to deny a dangerous Timbers team from scoring a run of play goal.
One thing I liked: Kim has struggled in the air in his Sounders tenure, but he was excellent against a Portland offense that shipped 40+ crosses. Positioning and anticipation will go a long way to help his aerial deficiency.
One thing I didn’t like: Of his four unsuccessful passes, three were deep in Seattle’s defensive third and Kim needs to be extra careful in those danger areas.
Going forward: Kim didn’t score in Portland but he showed he could shrug off getting posterized by a Dick Dastardly lookalike and come back with a great performance.
Kelvin Leerdam – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 74’ for Abdul-Salaam)
Like Jones, Leerdam was clearly asked to stay home in this match, and he did that well. At the same time, he was collecting eight clearances and three tackles. His 90 percent passing was clean if not very dangerous, and Seattle was strong defending on the right with Leerdam and Cristian Roldan combining to cover Portland well.
One thing I liked: Kelvin is really smart on the backside and on multiple occasions he sucked back and into the middle to support the central defenders. It’s a small positioning thing, but it allowed him to prevent anyone from popping up back post and scoring.
One thing I didn’t like: I am unsure why Leerdam subbed, perhaps fatigue or injury prevention. It’s an odd sub to make and could have put undue stress on a defense that was holding on fairly well.
Going forward: Kelvin was good, and steady. Hopefully he can build on this and be more offensive-minded against teams not so dependent on counters.
Gustav Svensson – 8 | Community – 7.7
Svensson didn’t sub off this match, instead hanging out with all his Portland friends in the middle of the field and flushing their creation dreams down the toilet. He had only 62 touches but completed 90 percent of his passes and was everywhere on defense. Goose combined excellently with Jordy Delem to cover the spaces that Portland wanted to attack into with possession, which cut off service forward.
One thing I liked: Svensson had seven tackles won, and numerous huge defensive plays. After creating a wasteland in the middle for 94 minutes, he completely stuffed Tomas Conechny with a beautiful play, winning a foul and a breather for Seattle to see out the win.
One thing I didn’t like: There were a few times where Goose didn’t step quickly enough to a shooter, and against Portland that could have been a huge problem. These happened in the 10th and 17th minutes, with Seattle cleaning this issue up afterwards.
Going forward: Last week I said Gustav needed to be a huge part in fixing a leaky defense and he was excellent in this game. Svensson is not only great at defending, his one-touch passing from the back creates important transitions for the team.
Jordy Delem – 6 | Community – 5.9
Delem did what he does well, namely having 13 defensive actions while defending first, second, and third. Staying strong in the middle, Delem combined well with Svensson to force everything for Portland wide and was a big part of why the Timbers attempted so many crosses.
One thing I liked: It didn’t look pretty, but when Jordy drew four defenders to the middle on the dribble in the 21st minute, he was able to find a slip pass to Nico. Portland may have thought the defensive mid cutting out a few midfielders was no big deal, except 12 seconds later they were taking a kickoff.
One thing I didn’t like: Delem is limited in what he can do, and needs to stay true to what he’s good at. When he gets excited, or tries to force the ball to Nico, there can be issues.
Going forward: Delem has been consistent with his play, which makes him a very useful tool when coach Schmetzer is looking to design tactics for specific needs. He’s a good option when this sort of strategy is warranted, but he might get pushed out with a suddenly crowded (and healthy) midfield.
Jordan Morris – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.4 (MOTM) (off 66’ for Smith)
Absolute game changer. Morris attacked the goal with abandon and was the driving force in Seattle’s ability to make Portland pay for getting numbers forward. He only had 32 touches and was credited with two key passes but he was a complete headache every time he got the ball, driving into space and creating mismatches.
One thing I liked: Seattle isolated Morris wide in the 3rd, 16th, 21st, and 47th minutes and he torched the Portland defense with plays that created two goals, and could have had more. He was absolutely dynamic, and made excellent decisions each time he pushed forward. In a game defined by big moments, Seattle’s big ones were all Morris moments.
One thing I didn’t like: Morris looked to have a bit of a groin pull in the first half and even though he played 20 minutes into the second, anything that might limit his incredible acceleration (or keep him off the field altogether) is bad.
Going forward: In the offseason a lot of fans were down on the long-term contract offered up to Morris. He is proving all of them wrong with a fantastic season that only looks to keep improving.
Nicolas Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.4
Nico was strong, imposing his will throughout the entire field. He had the most touches on the field (110) and completed a quality 83 percent. He was credited with two key passes and a shot, but as usual was involved in nearly every single build-up for Seattle.
One thing I liked: Lodeiro understands timing so well, and when he got a rather innocuous ball in the 21st minute in the middle he knew exactly what to do. His immediate diagonal ball into the path of Morris set Seattle instantly into a 3-v-3 situation that snowballed into a goal. This definitive passing was perfect and put the Sounders into a massive early lead.
One thing I didn’t like: Although he was facilitating and working hard, there weren’t too many direct contributions. A number of his passes were just a little off, and the turf seemed to remove some of his touch at times.
Going forward: A rested Nico is a scary thing. Watch out, LA.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.3
Cristian played at the wing for the first time in a while and responded with an excellent match. He did some of everything, only touching the ball 54 times but getting two shots, a key pass, eight defensive actions and an absolutely massive first goal.
One thing I liked: Roldan has a great nose for scoring, and even more impressive than his 22nd minute tap-in from great positioning was his movement that helped create goal number two. It started with wing possession by Cristian before he found Raúl as a release valve. Roldan then drove across the box diagonally as the ball was switched to Morris and it was his near-post run that pulled three defenders away from Ruidíaz and allowed him to score.
One thing I didn’t like: Roldan doesn’t play your typical wing and at times gets somewhat lost creating.
Going forward: I loved seeing Morris try a diagonal through ball to a sneaky good Roldan run in the 7th minute. This sort of connection between the two wingers would absolutely devastate defenses if Seattle can figure out how to do it more often.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 | Community – 7.4
At first I thought Ruidíaz was just okay, and then the re-watch showed me how wrong I was. Raúl was massive against Portland, showing a fantastic two-way game that Seattle desperately needed from the front. He had a goal, an assist, led Seattle with five shots, and completely outplayed the opposing forward.
One thing I liked: Raúl had the 4th most touches of the Sounders, and it was exactly what was needed. He constantly came back into his own half to support teammates, showing off excellent hold up (90 percent completion rate) and the ability to create space for others. He had nine recoveries!
One thing I didn’t like: Until he calmly finished a tricky pass from Morris at the start of the second half, Ruidíaz looked to be pressing. He forced a few passes and took a speculative shot from way out that had little chance to threaten Portland.
Going forward: Ruidíaz has five goals against the Timbers now, and looks ready to score at his one per game clip for the rest of the year. That would be great.
Brad Smith – 5 | Community – 6.0 (on 66’ for Morris)
Smith came into the match and pushed Jones up a line. It didn’t do a lot, but the defense held and he wasn’t exposed. Brad only touched the ball 11 times, and was credited with but two defensive actions.
One thing I liked: It was great to see Brad back on the field, and he looked the part, instantly charging up the wing and overlapping Joevin before apparently being admonished by the coaches and asked to stay home. His offensive angles when he did go forward were dynamic and a fresh look.
One thing I didn’t like: Smith had only 57 percent completion and struggled to connect with his teammates.
Going forward: Seattle is in a weird spot with the left backs, as each offers different skills that appeal in a starting role, but each has some pretty large reasons they shouldn’t start. I think Smith is the incumbent at this point, pending his health.
Saad Abdul-Salaam – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 74’ for Leerdam)
I am not sure what to think about this sub. It worked, so I suppose it was the right thing to do. I know that Seattle is monitoring Leerdam’s health, but it was a bit odd to remove a strong defensive player for the man who is ostensibly his backup at that point in the match.
One thing I liked: What a massive confidence boost to be thrust into a single goal lead away at Portland for a guy who was playing well. Coach trusted SAS and he delivered, playing strong enough defense, dropping in a key pass, and winning an aerial.
One thing I didn’t like: Saad wasn’t amazing, and he was nearly victimized by a smart Valeri run in the 80th and a backside Brian Fernandez run in the 81st. This second was only not a goal due to offside, and if that had counted, this is a very different grade.
Going forward: Coach has a lot of faith in the depth that SAS brings, and we should expect to see him when his skillset is an asset on both defense and offense.
Emanuel Cecchini – 6 | Community – 6.1 (on 77’ for Jones)
If nothing else, Cecchini brought a lot of energy to the midfield in his first appearance as a Sounder. He touched the ball eight times, had a perfect passing percentage, and even dropped in a key pass.
One thing I liked: In the 88th minute, a busted play showed a delightful bit of skill from Emanuel. He picked up a loose ball and beat three defenders on the dribble before getting a shot off to earn a valuable corner kick. Most exciting was his willingness to take people on and create offense.
One thing I didn’t like: Cecchini was fairly lost for a while, dropping into a midfield in front of two dedicated defensive players with the buzzing bee of Lodeiro all around him.
Going forward: I liked what little I saw of this player; he looks composed on the ball with the ability to enforce his will on the game, a trait Seattle is missing at times.
Jair Marrufo – 7 | Community – 6.0
I was worried about Marrufo going into this match, but he did fairly well. He called only 19 total fouls, which could have been a huge problem had the match gotten more out of control, but in the end his work in the middle helped keep the match flowing.
One thing I liked: There weren’t any big VAR issues (other than a disputed handball and an offside goal) but I thought Marrufo did a great job reffing “his game” without it taking over the match. By this I mean he let a lot go, which we all knew he would, but he also kept it under control and did enough that the game didn’t degenerate.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle was called for six fouls and got four yellows. On the flip side Paredes should have been given a yellow on a number of occasions, but “advantage” was played.
Going forward: I still don’t know what a handball is, and if Delem isn’t called for one there, I have no idea why he was a few games back. Marrufo isn’t going to call a lot, but somehow it worked in this match.
Portland Timbers MOTM
Valeri always finds a way to make things happen. While Seattle did a great job of restricting his space and limiting his influence in the run of play, there’s just no accounting for that huge deflection on a free kick, as Frei will be quick to tell you.
Now, the rematch with LAG. Their defense is still porous, they are still going to force the ball to Zlatan, and sometime between now and Sunday, I would love to see the team game plan for those things.