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Seattle Sounders at Portland Timbers: Player ratings

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Just another run-of-the-mill 6-2 nail-biter barnburner rivalry match highlighted by stellar defensive play.

Seattle went down I-5 to play rival Portland Timbers, and for the first 50 minutes or so it looked like their recent MLS games: choppy play, inconsistent output, some quality moments, but also some shocking defensive lapses. Then midfield changes galvanized the team into the wrecking ball that demolished Tigres, and the Sounders rattled off four straight goals for a dominant 6-2 final tally. This match was somehow very close and at the same time a deliberate massacre. When Portland played well, they got close; when Seattle played well, they scored goals by the handful.


Goalkeeper

Stefan Cleveland – 8 (MOTM) | Community – 8.5

I doubt whether I’ve rated an 8 for a keeper who conceded twice, or given MOTM to a goalie who gave up multiple goals, but Cleveland deserved both. Without his heroic goalkeeping, the Sounders would have had an impossible match, and this was by far his best performance in pure shot-stopping. He had one acrobatic intervention after another, ending with eight crucial saves.

One thing I liked: Seattle never trailed in this one, due to amazing goalkeeping from Cleveland. It started with a 9th minute 1-v-1, and it was absolutely essential in this rivalry match to not fall behind. Stefan did concede twice, but he refused to allow Portland the lead, and the mental edge this provided was huge.

One thing I didn’t like: The Timbers scored their second on a shot that Stef could perhaps have parried wider and further from frame.

Going forward: Cleveland is trying out for a full time MLS job right now, and the performance in Oregon likely made him a lot of money. With Frei returning soon, hopefully Cleveland can continue to impress.

Defense

Shane O’Neill – 5 | Community – 6.4

O’Neill looked okay on the stat sheet — a tackle, two blocks, an interception, two clearances, 40 of 44 passing. Defensively though, his side was a mess and consistently victimized by Portland. He was disconnected from the midfield and played the match on an island, defending at his own discretion.

One thing I liked: When Jimmy Medranda entered, Shane was able (or chose) to play tighter and more aggressively on the left, and his defense improved. A nice step from a zonal corner kick defense helped in the 58th minute.

One thing I didn’t like: Xavier Arreaga completed 12 fewer passes than O’Neill, yet they went a combined 20 yards further up field. This is due to poor positioning, constant square and back passes, and a penchant for putting others into rough spots. It also indicates a dreadful partnership with any midfielders.

Going forward: I can’t overlook how terrible his positioning is in a back three, and Seattle fails to generate any pressure or control from the back left as a direct result. Fredy Montero was screaming at him to take some space and support at one point and he just ... didn’t. With so many players playing above MLS average, it’s hard to tell exactly where Shane rates out, but this was a rough outing. I miss Nouhou.

Xavier Arreaga – 7 | Community – 7.0

Arreaga was again the general in the middle and again showcased a strong, controlled central defensive effort. His ability to be both enforcer and distributor fits neatly into the middle of the back, and flanked by strong defenders, he relies on positioning and lateral speed to defend in space. Against Portland he had 12 pressures, three interceptions, two blocked shots, and six clearances while winning all his aerial duels.

One thing I liked: I was impressed by Arreaga’s coverage horizontally, tracking back behind the wide center backs on a number of crucial interventions. His support made Seattle difficult to break down, forcing Portland into over-the-top diagonals and crosses.

One thing I didn’t like: The passing lanes were tighter in this match, and Xavi had a number of sloppy passes that were luckily not converted by Portland into anything of substance during a frantic first half.

Going forward: Nico Lodeiro’s return adds a huge (metaphorically) target for outlets from the back, and that should only highlight Xavi’s smart vision and slick passing going forward.

Yeimar Gómez Andrade – 8 | Community – 7.8

YGA was active across the back with physical forwards and was excellent stepping high into passing lanes, using his pace and size to match up with vertical service. His stats were again impressive: four blocks, 21 pressures, three interceptions, three tackles and a game-high nine clearances. Maybe most impressive was his ridiculous 20 recoveries, nearly double anyone else on the field.

One thing I liked: In the 58th minute Yeimar stepped up high, anticipating a central through ball, and killed a counter attack by Portland. In itself it was an innocuous play, but taken as a whole it was very impressive. His reading of the game state allowed him to abandon the shape in the back and create an inflection point further upfield, giving an advantage to Seattle from a play that, if executed incorrectly, could have been big for the Timbers. It’s this kind of instinctual defensive win that makes him such a great defender, and why over 90 minutes his impact repeatedly doing similar keeps adding up.

One thing I didn’t like: In the 21st minute Felipe Mora got in behind him, and it took Cleveland Rocking for Portland to be held scoreless. The Timbers’ first goal came through space he had left to defend higher up field.

Going forward: Yeimar is getting deserved national recognition for his outstanding play. Moving him wide allows him to be even more aggressive and unlocks his ability to combine great instincts and incredible range.

Defensive Midfield

Brad Smith – 4 | Community – 5.8 (off 62’ for Medranda)

After subbing in earlier this week, Brad received a rivalry match start and underwhelmed. He was credited with a single offensive action (a weak off-foot shot) and a single defensive action (an intercepted pass). He completed 78 percent of his passes and had 33 touches.

One thing I liked: Brad tried to cut inside a couple times, showing a bit of a different look.

One thing I didn’t like: A 17th minute clearance whiff got all of Mora, and Smith was lucky not to concede a PK after clattering into the Timbers forward in the box. Then in the 52nd minute, he casually strolled forward, allowing George Fochive behind him to score an equalizing goal for Portland.

Going forward: The stats (and eye test) are overwhelmingly in favor of Medranda out wide, and at this point Smith will depend on fixture congestion to create playing opportunities. Maybe getting Nico back can help unlock his vertical style, and possibly Nouhou defending behind him can offset his defensive deficiencies.

Kelyn Rowe – 6 | Community – 6.3 (off 46’ for Lodeiro)

Rowe got the start and brought a lot of grit to the midfield, battling centrally during a very physical first half. He was fouled about six times (two of which were called) and did all the dirty work centrally that was essential to keep Seattle involved in a first half where they were often on the back foot.

One thing I liked: In the 12th minute he tried a first-time over the top cross that just missed connecting with Montero on the back post. A minute later he hit a similar, even better pass directly onto the head of Raúl Ruidíaz, who forced a big save and started the opening goal scoring sequence. Recognizing the right pass and spot to attack when the momentum favored the Timbers was excellent, and he punished the home team with a nifty look.

One thing I didn’t like: Seventy percent passing was worst among the Sounders field players, and Rowe’s penchant for missing simple passes and conceding possession is frustrating.

Going forward: Rowe does a lot well, and his combination with JP has been strong. With Nico and Josh Atencio returning, it’s likely that he becomes more of a spot starter and a ridiculously strong bench asset when not in the gameday lineup.

João Paulo – 8 | Community – 8.0 (off 87’ for Benezet)

João Paulo was the best midfielder in the game, showing his ability to dominate both sides of the field. Defensively he was excellent, leading Seattle with four tackles and adding two blocks and three interceptions. Offensively he had a shot, three key passes, and two assists.

One thing I liked: A lot of his assists have come from excellent set piece service, but his first of this game was from the run of play. In the 29th minute JP stole a pass centrally, juked an opponent out of his socks, dribbled forward 35 yards and found Montero in space. João then created space for Fredy to do his thing. This ability to move from stout defensive positioning into full speed counter and display great decision making on the fly is brilliant.

One thing I didn’t like: João had a few lunging tackles that were benefitted by the light refereeing in the first half. He wasn’t so lucky after the intermission, earning a soft yellow for an innocuous sideline challenge.

Going forward: Thinking that JP might take a back seat with Nico returning was a clear mistake. They appear to feed off each other, which is an incredibly exciting thought for the future. The next few weeks will be interesting to see who pairs next to him centrally.

Alex Roldan – 6 | Community – 6.7

Alex was good against Portland, rarely being beat down his wing and making smart choices in timing runs to join the attack. His timing on ball pressures and composure under duress continues to improve, and his wide play is evolving impressively.

One thing I liked: Quality over quantity is the name of the game for Alex, and he showed this against Portland. The decision making on when to get into the attack was perfect, and when Seattle got forward against the run of play in the 13th minute it was A-Rold who popped up in the box, got the ball, head-faked his man into another dimension, and delivered an outstanding ball into the goalmouth to create the opening tally.

One thing I didn’t like: There were some uncharacteristic gaps in between Alex and Yeimar in this match, with Portland taking advantage of their brief cohesion issues.

Going forward: Alex adds confident possession on the wing and is finding more central passes than ever, which is perfectly timed for the reintroduction of the best central midfielder in the league.

Attacking Midfield

Cristian Roldan – 7 | Community – 7.8

Cristian did a little bit of everything against Portland. He started high, pressing diagonally into the wide channels before dropping back and helping dominate the central areas from a deeper position. He ended pressing high, had two key passes and assisted on the final goal of the match.

One thing I liked: There were multiple occasions when Roldan broke the Portland press single-handedly in the first half, attacking smartly into the gaps in the corners. His movement created indecision all over the field, which Seattle eventually capitalized on.

One thing I didn’t like: Either Kelyn or Cristian needed to go with the runner in the 32nd minute. Since Sebastián Blanco started high with Roldan, he should have done better to assist defending the vertical run directly downfield.

Going forward: Only the coaching staff knows where the elder Roldan will start, we just know he will start somewhere. He is effective in an aggressive forward position and can also play deeper and more defensive. It’s likely that we’ll see Cristian moving around the formation throughout the game as the coaching staff leverages his versatility to bring in fresh pieces around him.

Fredy Montero – 8 | Community – 8.1 (off 63’ for Atencio)

Portland dominated most of the best chances in the first half, but they didn’t have Montero. Almost from nothing, the Sounders legend scored twice, giving Seattle a multiple goal lead and showing attacking and link-up skill throughout.

One thing I liked: With Seattle struggling, it was Montero not once but twice who found a way to score. The second was a cut back off foot rocket from 20 yards out to give the Sounders a 2-0 lead.

One thing I didn’t like: Fredy defended a lot, but some of his passes in the defensive half were a little off, and he was nearly punished for some loose touches when asked to possess deep.

Going forward: Fredy has a magnificent combination of scoring acumen and ability to link up and connect with teammates in tight areas. His combination play with Ruidíaz is excellent, and he now has six goals and three assists on the season. With Nico returning, it will be hard to drop Fredy from the starting lineup, but it’s likely he’ll get some rotation in congested weeks.

Forward

Raúl Ruidíaz – 8 | Community – 9.0 (MOTM) (off 92’ for Leyva)

Ruidíaz stormed back into the MLS goal-scoring lead on the back of a brace against Portland.

One thing I liked: Raúl displayed his multiple ways of scoring for Seattle, adding his first direct set piece goal in the 55th minute. Just seconds after Portland had tied the match, Ruidíaz got a brilliant pass from Montero and earned a dangerous set piece at the top of the box. He finished it off himself, blasting an unstoppable hit into the right corner.

One thing I didn’t like: Raúl had his second potential diving-header goal in a row prevented by yet another keeper diving save in the 12th minute, just before Fredy opened the scoring.

Going forward: Raúl and Nico have a beautiful partnership already and Fredy quickly joined right in, with the front of the Sounders offense vibing beautifully. With all of these technical parts moving around and turning defenses in circles, look for Ruidíaz to take advantage of increased scoring chances.

Substitutes

Nico Lodeiro – 7 | Community – 7.9 (on 46’ for Rowe)

Nico started the second half and as soon as he got acclimated to the pace of the match, he started to exert his influence. He ended with 39 touches and 79 percent passing, but converted that into two shots, a key pass, and a set piece that forced a fumble which Ruidaz finished from a yard out.

One thing I liked: Lodeiro is a release valve who can control anything in the center, but he also has the ability to rip defenses apart with his passing and movement. Seattle looked dominant as soon as they started to combine through Nico’s possession, and his passing and shots put Portland under more pressure than they could handle.

One thing I didn’t like: Forty-five minutes of Nico is not enough Nico.

Going forward: Seattle has an embarrassment of riches to surround Nico with, and since they have been successful without him, the team has learned to not be as dependent on him. This means less watching Lodeiro, and more moving for him, which is even scarier for opponents.

Jimmy Medranda – 7 | Community – 7.7 (on 62’ for Smith)

Medranda came in as part of a midfield switch, and possession immediately improved. Jimmy was also a huge defensive upgrade on the wing, adding two-way play and increased effort in the back. He locked down his side and provided impressive offensive action.

One thing I liked: 77’. Holy shit.

One thing I didn’t like: Jimmy should have had another in the 82nd minute, but he failed to get a shot off after getting on the end of a cross deep inside the Timbers box.

Going forward: Medranda defended all the way across the field in the 86th minute up 5-2 and forced a turnover. He scores bangers. He is the best left wingback for a stacked team, and likely starts as much as fixture congestion allows.

Josh Atencio – 6 | Community – 6.5 (on 63’ for Montero)

Josh entered and did his job: defend and keep possession. Eighty-five percent passing, multiple defensive actions, and combination through the middle was a big part of why Seattle pulled away in the second half.

One thing I liked: Atencio has deceptively long legs that he uses perfectly to bait opponents into attempting to get by him. Spoiler alert: they are rarely successful.

One thing I didn’t like: His dancing leaves a lot to be desired.

Going forward: It’s too early to tell whether Atencio would be an everyday starter over Rowe, and with fixture congestion and matchup differences it may be a moot point.

Nicolas Benezet – 6 | Community – 6.9 (on 87’ for João Paulo)

Benezet got his first action for Seattle and fit in flawlessly. His ability to link up on the wing, transition centrally, make off-ball runs, and combine with teammates was near-perfect.

One thing I liked: His smart movement was rewarded in the 94th minute with a goal on his debut.

One thing I didn’t like: People have forgotten that this guy started an MLS Cup against us a year and a half ago and led Toronto in shots that match. Don’t sleep on this guy, he is very good, very motivated, likes the team, and he has a skill set that fits Seattle well. He already has more goals than Will Bruin this season.

Going forward: He hasn’t gotten the hype of other past additions to the team, but Benezet has offensive creation numbers in MLS that are intriguing. Surrounded by the right team, it’s clear he can create chances in this league, and he looks to have the kind of intricate touch and movement needed to help Seattle succeed. As Jeremiah Oshan has pointed out, there are strong Víctor Rodríguez vibes here.

Danny Leyva – 5 | Community – 5.9 (on 92’ for Ruidíaz)

Leyva got some garbage time against Seattle’s biggest rivals.

One thing I liked: The weight on his passes is sublime, and his ability to link up with the wide runs of Medranda was impressive on a number of occasions when surrounded by defenders.

One thing I didn’t like: Danny lost possession once and needed to be a bit cleaner overall.

Going forward: Leyva has been overshadowed by some of the big names returning, but he’s still young and has huge potential, although it’s likely that he will get most of his minutes off the bench in the future.

Referee

Jair Marrufo – 4 | Community – 5.7

Marrufo-Toledo tag team. Who thought that was a good idea for the biggest rivalry in the league? Marrufo was as bad as he was predictable. Knowing that he was not going to call anything, creating injury situations for a half, and then give out a handful of retaliatory yellow cards in the second half didn’t make it feel any better when that exact thing happened.

One thing I liked: He tried to play advantage a few times, I guess.

Things I didn’t like: He is known for this, but it doesn’t make it okay. He had to call fouls early and card things like Cleveland and Mora each getting taken out on separate plays. Rowe getting undercut, Smith being clipped blatantly behind the play, all this pointless physical stuff was allowed, forcing both teams into unnecessarily dangerous play. Overcorrecting and flashing cards around when it was too late is textbook Marrufo.

Going forward: This referee creates dangerous soccer, and both teams are frankly lucky that they didn’t have any injuries because of the lack of adjudication by the center.

Portland Timbers MOTM

On a scale from 0 to 500, Portland had one good player. The rest of them were basically negligible. We won’t argue with the data.


Busy few weeks of soccer coming up. Last time we played Dallas they got a stupid late draw. Time to show them it was a fluke.