Seattle made the short flight south to face the Portland Timbers on Mother’s Day, and it was similar to most rivalry games. An ugly, contentious match saw neither team look great, and no one would mistake that game for free-flowing soccer. The Timbers controlled a lot of the ball in spurts but failed to consistently threaten the Seattle goal. The Sounders defended resolutely, created big chances and finished enough to coast comfortably. Portland scored a stoppage time goal that no doubt helped their pride, but the game finished 2-1 for the good guys in a battle of teams that are at opposite ends of the Supporters’ Shield standings.
Stefan Frei – 7 | Community – 7.5
his third shutout on the season, a third win on the season, Stefan was faced with the most chaos in front of him this year, although the Timbers only managed four shots on frame. The defense bent and dealt well with the pressure Portland tried to force through the middle, and most of Frei’s night was organizing a compact defense and dealing with a few harmless shots right at him.
One thing I liked: Frei hasn’t made his career on saving PKs, but he’s saved his last three in a row that I can remember. With the Timbers gifted a golden chance to take a lead, it was Frei who not once but twice covered the goal and forced Diego Valeri into bad penalties. Seattle survived without conceding and then took over the match.
One thing I didn’t like: Set pieces are the only way Seattle has conceded this year, and again there were issues with dead balls against Portland. Concentration seemed to fade at the end of halves: in the 44th minute a Sounders miscommunication was nearly taken advantage of, and a 94th minute Timbers’ goal looked to be due to another wall that wasn’t positioned correctly.
Going forward: This was another match wherein Frei and his defense did nearly enough to earn a shutout, losing out on a clean sheet mere seconds before the end whistle. It’s inconsequential other than goal differential, but Stefan and Co. need to play these games out and get the correct result.
Nouhou – 7 | Community – 7.0
Another game, another Nouhou dominance display. Three tackles, two interceptions, three clearances, and an astounding 92 percent passing on a team-high 69 touches. While not getting across the midfield stripe much, Nouhou shut down his side of the field and repeatedly played teammates into good spaces.
One thing I liked: Nouhou showed the total package again against Portland. Defensively he was dominant, shutting down his side of the field to the point that Yimmy Chará on multiple occasions saw his opponent and just turned and recycled possession back the other way. When not scaring people away, the left center back was dropping absolute dimes across field into the right corner, opening huge spaces for Seattle to work.
One thing I didn’t like: A bad angle led Nouhou to being baited into a cheap yellow by Diego Chará in the 17th minute, forcing him to play most of the game with a card. Nouhou was fine, and never in danger of being booted, but tempering his aggression can be a potential problem if he continues to get early cards.
Going forward: Nouhou is doing whatever he wants with the opponents defensively, and it’s fun to watch.
Shane O’Neill – 5 | Community – 5.6
Shane returned to the center of the field and was much more active due to the Timbers pushing more numbers into the middle and attacking his space. O’Neill had excellent passing, but only a single attempt was forward, instead choosing safe, short, wide passes to either side. His defensive actions were limited to four clearances from inside his own penalty box. Shane’s positioning was problematic, as he drifted deep and too close to Frei, creating wide gaps from his defensive teammates and ultimately resulting in a fatal mistake in an area where his teammates couldn’t save him.
One thing I liked: O’Neill did well in the 54th and 81st to help wide, making good decisions to support defensively, even showing off a nice dribble up the line at one point.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle was creating the better chances, but Shane gifted the Timbers the ball in the 55th minute. Just having the confidence to take another dribble into the middle creates better angles, forcing Portland to react, pushing Jeremy Ebobisse offside and opening width to Nouhou. Instead, a casual O’Neill pass from deep towards Kelyn Rowe was stolen by Portland and created a 1-v-1 situation. This was a poor giveaway, but Rowe hustled back to support, and Nouhou, Yeimar, JP, and Frei were all getting to great defensive spots to support. Instead of forcing Ebobisse into a predictable direction or shot, O’Neill compounded his error by diving in, hacking down the Timbers player, and giving away a penalty kick. Even after the bad pass, Shane could have saved the play but made a second wrong choice.
Going forward: A lot of his issues in this match, including the fatal error, were due to positioning that forces Shane into bad or less dynamic options. When soccer gets complicated, Shane can struggle, and he did several times in this match. I don’t think anyone should be benched due to a single defensive mistake, but this positioning needs to improve if Seattle keeps running O’Neill out in the middle of the field.
Yeimar Gomez Andrade – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 7.8 (MOTM)
Yeimar again started, and again he reminded everyone why he was one of the very best in the league last year. His play against Portland was spectacular, and he was dominant in nearly every facet. He had 18 defensive actions including three tackles, two interceptions and a game-high nine clearances, repeatedly preventing the Timbers from getting a shot off. When Portland thought they had a chance, it was usually YGA who rebuffed their attacks and pushed the ball to a Sounders teammate.
One thing I liked: Defensively Yeimar won everything. He had four aerials gained, continually dominating any cross into the box. He was constantly thwarting pressure by showing superior anticipation and athletic skill, jumping passing lanes and using his size and speed to cut out opponents. His closing ability is incredible, getting into adversaries before they know what to do, and by then YGA has stolen possession and pushed the ball to a teammate.
One thing I didn’t like: It took until stoppage time for egregious errors, but in the 92nd minute he passed short and central on an attempted wide ball that was stolen. A minute later he was turned by an admittedly neat spin by Felipe Mora, and Portland would score off the ensuing free kick.
Going forward: Whatever held him out of the first few starting lineups is hopefully being quickly erased by the absolutely dominant play from Yeimar in his two starts this season. He looks incredibly strong defending in wide positions, covering huge ground, and his play indicates a level that should be impossible to bench.
Brad Smith – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 81’ for Arreaga)
After a few big performances offensively, Smith had a quiet match against Portland, only attempting four passes into the box, failing to record a shot, and being a more supplementary player against the Cascadian rivals. The Timbers inverted their wingers, and both Sounders wingbacks and defensive midfielders took time to adjust to the different spacing.
One thing I liked: Brad led the team with three key passes, and on the few times he got put into space made good choices with crosses. The best of these was a pretty four-man combination up the left in the 15th minute that saw Smith freed up the line to dial up a cross that Cristian Roldan was unable to redirect on frame.
One thing I didn’t like: Smith struggled defensively, getting beat a startling number of times for a guy who until this year was playing left back. He ended with a single tackle, clearance, and interception, and Portland victimized the gaps around him a lot in the first half, frequently forcing Nouhou to do Nouhou things.
Going forward: Although he subbed out, it was for defensive reasons and Smith did nothing to play himself out of starting. Seattle does need to get production out of wide areas, (especially if the opponent is going to invert wings and compact the central spaces,) and Brad must be eager to see the magical through-ball maestro Nicolás Lodeiro get healthy.
Kelyn Rowe – 7 | Community – 6.4 (off 72’ for Delem)
Rowe again played well, although in a less creative role this week. He didn’t record a shot or key pass but was instrumental in forcing the midfield turnovers that led to most of Seattle’s good chances. He had a sparkling 89 percent passing rate even though he was consistently hacked through the middle (four fouls suffered).
One thing I liked: With inverted wingers, Rowe made a beautifully cerebral play in the 30th, pushing wide all the way to the sideline and then playing a backheel to put Smith in a footrace up the line and free of the defense.
One thing I didn’t like: Seattle could have broken the game open on either his 15th or 18th minute central passes but Kelyn missed both, and then settled into playing wide, ignoring the potential of direct central balls.
Going forward: Rowe has played well and executed his job, enabling those around him, and that is exactly what Seattle needs centrally right now. With fixture congestion coming up it’s unclear how much the Sounders will rotate players, but Kelyn is clearly in the picture to take all available minutes fatigue will provide.
João Paulo – 8 | Community – 7.4 (off 90’ for Leyva)
JP clearly understands rivalry games. He knows exactly how much physicality he can get away with and not be carded, and this was on display all afternoon. João filled up the stat sheet with team highs in touches and key passes, and complemented that with 77 percent passing, a massive five tackles, two interceptions, a clearance and a blocked shot. He did it all.
One thing I liked: Yeah, yeah, he had a perfect set piece ball for an assist, but did you see his 26th minute textbook hook tackle? This was pure old-school retribution, a skill they don’t even teach anymore. JP was having none of Valeri’s nonsense, completely dispossessing him and earning the ball back for Seattle. It may have only been a single tackle, but it was glorious, and I guarantee you other players are listening for footsteps after seeing that.
One thing I didn’t like: JP has just enough physicality, and there’s definitely a skill to his judgement, but I thought he got lucky a few times. Depending on MLS referees to be consistent in how they call rough play is not a good gamble to take.
Going forward: With Nico out João has been everywhere, doing his job and covering immense areas of the field. Getting a few minutes of extra rest every game is nice, but I worry he can’t do three games in a week, and not having JP will create a massive hole to fill.
Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.3
Cristian was very good as usual against Portland, but he was victimized by a few great Portland plays as well as mistakes by teammates who failed to capitalize on his good work. He didn’t create as much throughout the match but had a shot, a key pass, multiple defensive actions, and tirelessly ran into the channels to pull and prod Portland until they made the fatal mistake.
One thing I liked: Roldan created a lot more than the scoresheet said, as it was his hustling steal, dribble through traffic, and cross into a dangerous area that created the penalty kick in the 61st minute. In the 84th he served up a perfect pass by heading on to Raúl Ruidíaz who was called offside.
One thing I didn’t like: An uncharacteristic 25th minute drop was slow and central, requiring an alert O’Neill to hustle from a deep position and clear the ball away. This and several other passes were just a little off from the usually dependable elder Roldan.
Going forward: Hopefully Nico is back this week, but Seattle and Roldan have adjusted well to his absence. Cristian is one of the few players likely to go in every match this year regardless of rest, and he has excelled anywhere he’s played.
Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.3
Another quiet match saw the younger Roldan play a lot of defense and relinquish some of the deeper runs into the right corner to his teammates.
One thing I liked: Portland put Seattle under pressure a number of times and Alex did excellently in the 43rd minute to mark the back-post runner, heading a cross away. This is the kind of play the Sounders have been victimized on in the past, and it was great recognition of defensive positioning needed.
One thing I didn’t like: Alex only completed a single pass into the box all match. It was a good one, but he only attempted five, and he needs to find a way to get involved more offensively on a team that needs service from the width.
Going forward: Seattle gave the reins of this position to A-Rold and he has been solid this year. With the star power on the team that should be enough, but we have gotten glimpses of more potential from this player, and hopefully he will continue to develop even more.
Will Bruin – 5 | Community – 6.6 (off 72’ for Montero)
Bruin again started up front as a playmaker underneath Raúl but struggled mightily. Aside from a few highlights, Will was a possession black hole, and he only completed a dreary 43 percent of his passes. Trying to hold up play, Bruin struggled much of the match to make a positive impact.
One thing I liked: Amidst a game of personal struggles, Will found some absolute magic in the 11th minute. He took down a pass from Cristian inside the area, juked a defender, and put a perfect cross to Ruidíaz that should have opened the scoring early.
One thing I didn’t like: Still no shots in
three games four games is a concern for a player ostensibly playing forward. Will had a single completed forward pass (going 3/11 ) in the attacking half. This must be better.
Going forward: Will brings a lot of energy and effort but has only created a few chances for others and hasn’t gotten close to any for himself. This coupled with the dynamism that Fredy Montero has now shown twice in substitution efforts has to be fueling thoughts of switching these two at some point. Currently the rotation is working well (and Seattle is winning) but Bruin needs to find some results soon.
Raúl Ruidíaz – 6 | Community – 7.1
Raúl was a bit off in this match, but still scored a goal. He led the game with seven shots, put two on frame and had a key pass, while completing 81 percent of his passes. Ruidíaz was continually surrounded by opponents and tried to come back and help connect from the back to the front, which Seattle struggled with.
One thing I liked: Even struggling most of the match, Raúl helped create the PK he would score, hustling through the box and being fouled. He was also fouled in the box in the 76th minute and could have earned a second PK. His best play might have been a goal he scored in the 84th on a fantastic far post shot from a ridiculous angle, but he was called offside.
One thing I didn’t like: Raúl missed a sitter in the 11th minute after some Will Bruin magic, and he forced it after that, attempting hopeful shots in the 26th and 32nd minutes. He also missed another big chance in the 49th, flubbing an open first timer from the penalty spot after working himself completely unmarked. Getting the first goal was huge in this game, and it should have come much earlier.
Going forward: Raúl just keeps kicking the ball into the net, and Seattle is getting him the ball in good spots to do so. This is a winning combination.
Jordy Delem – 5 | Community – 5.2 (on 72’ for Rowe)
Delem came on to defend and see out the match, while providing some extra rest to Rowe. He did all these things, but it wasn’t super clean.
One thing I liked: In the 83rd minute Jordy had a great defensive play, helping the left side and clearing away. This was bolstered by 100 percent passing.
One thing I didn’t like: Live I thought the yellow card was a smart play from Delem in the 93rd minute, but seeing our set piece defense, I prefer he not let the play happen in the first place.
Going forward: Unfortunately, this goes down as “committed the foul that we got scored on from” so by the transitory Arreaga theorem ... that means he won’t start next match, which is probably okay.
Fredy Montero – 7 | Community – 7.3 (on 72’ for Bruin)
For the second time this season Montero subbed on and instantly took a game the Sounders were controlling and turned it into dominance. He has now played 36 minutes this year and scored two goals. He ended this match with two more shots than Bruin has had all season.
One thing I liked: Like the confidence I feel when Nouhou is wide defending, Fredy just gives that extra oxygen when he subs into the offense. His touch, vision, and creativity open the central areas so much for Seattle, and after he came in traversing the middle of the pitch was much improved. He wasn’t always connecting, but he was always helping Seattle get out of their own end.
One thing I didn’t like: Forty-seven percent passing is much less than you want when trying to put a game away.
Going forward: His passing was like Bruin, but Fredy created so much more offensively in his short time that he should be in the conversation for more minutes, if not starting.
Xavier Arreaga – 6 | Community – 6.4 (on 81’ for Smith)
Xavi played great and showed his skills well in a substitute appearance. Earning 19 touches, he was a perfect 100 percent passing while winning three tackles and having an interception. An inch-perfect tackle in the 88th minute showed no hesitation in the box to make the necessary play, thwarting a Timbers chance.
One thing I liked: Arreaga not only completed all his passes, they were not square or back passes. His ability to pass with both feet was on full display, calmly finding the central mids in the middle in space, instead of getting caught losing possession up the wing.
One thing I didn’t like: He lost a late tackle wide.
Going forward: Arreaga showed the passing ability to link the back to the front that was sorely missing earlier in this match. He responded to being benched by coming in and playing near-flawlessly, possibly improving his chances of earning more playing time.
Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 5.7 (on 90’ for JP)
Leyva came on and played well for a few minutes of game time.
One thing I liked: Two passes, both completed, and a defensive recovery.
One thing I didn’t like: He only got stoppage time minutes and will need more game time to see if he can help this team in a greater capacity.
Going forward: Leyva is young, but at some point, we need to see what he looks like. This might not be the right time to do it as the team is rolling, but I would be tempted to get him some serious minutes in these weeks where the team is playing multiple times.
Chris Penso – 5 | Community – 5.7
This was another match from Penso that I was dissatisfied with; there are always so many questions. While not horrible, this match had many calls and decisions that were confusing. In real time this was an ok job, but the re-watch really highlighted some big misses.
One thing I liked: The Seattle-Portland rivalry can get out of hand, but this one didn’t. Early cards and great positioning from the ref helped.
One thing I didn’t like: I counted a handful times a guy wasn’t carded and should have been, first with Claudio Bravo on Alex Roldan in the 28th. Bruin was fouled badly, Yeimar kicked a ball away deliberately, multiple players from both teams could have been carded in the 52nd minute dustup, Eryk Williamson had a cynical foul on Arreaga, and Diego Chará cleaned out Fredy on the foul that led to Montero’s goal. None were carded.
Going forward: Penso was okay. It wouldn’t have taken much to be improved though, and VAR was questionable.
Portland Timbers MOTM
Free kick man Bill Tuiloma subbed into the match early when Larrys Mabiala went down. In the end, he gave Portland’s loss a bit of respectability thanks to a well-taken free kick.
A condensed week features an opponent currently second in the Supporters’ Shield race (ask me who number one is :D ) with San Jose on the schedule midweek. They are a very active team that isn’t as talented as Seattle but has been taking advantage of the chaos their style has brought.