One of the more interesting conundrums facing the Sounders next season will be how do they adjust their approach so that they can get Zakuani, Flaco and Rosales on the pitch with Montero at the same time? Assuming that Zakuani returns to full health, these 3 players represent the heart of the Sounders attacking talent along with Fredy. They will also represent a significant chunk of the Sounders cap restricted payroll. Leaving one of them on the bench for extended periods if they are all healthy is a poor use of limited cap resources. But all three have seen the majority of their time on the wings. There are only two wings in the formation the Sounders have been using. Something has to give.
So what is the solution? There are many possibilities. Here are some options in no particular order.
- Move one of the three players to CM alongside or in front of Alonso. The logical candidates for this are Flaco or Rosales. Both have the potential to play here. This option would allow the team to move or lose either Friberg or Evans and use the cap flexibility they gain to shore up another position such as FB or FWD. It would also clear some space for young players like Neagle and Estrada to get meaningful minutes off of the bench and in the multiple fixture matches. The question would be can Rosales or Flaco be effective in the middle?
- Move one of the 3 up into the other Forward role alongside Fredy. Rosales would be the least likely, simply because he plays a withdrawn forward like Fredy. But both Zak and Flaco could provide an interesting option up top. This would enable the team to leverage the strength at CM and clear room for the young players to come off of the bench on the wings. The question would be can Zak and Flaco be successful in a more central forward position and take the pounding they will get from MLS CBs?
- A third option would be for the team to adopt a different strategic formation. Create an offensive foursome up top and allow the four players to weave diagonally through the attacking third without a traditional fixed role. Essentially allow them to generate offense by responding to each other more than through responding to their position within a structured system. This is a more playground approach and could be called, Cry Havoc! And let slip the dogs of war! The four players are good enough to work in this type of system. It would ask a lot of young players, but these young players could pull it off. The team could then rely on its CMs and FBs to provide a defensive umbrella and service into the attacking third. The system would be entertaining and cause opposing teams fits. But it is not without risks. Substitutions would require the team to revert to a more traditional system. And as entertaining as this would be, would it help these young players continue to develop so that they can move into the upper echelons of the global game? Long term the Sounders success will depend on their ability to sell themselves as a training ground where young players can come to help launch themselves into the upper leagues.
- A fourth option would be for the team to move one of these players through trade or transfer. As much as this option is heresy, it is not without some merit. The salary space they team could realize could be applied to a more traditional player like a striker. I personally am not a fan of trading a bird in the hand for an unknown commodity, but the option is there.
- A fifth option would be to not start all three simultaneously, but rotate them through the Sounders fixture congestion and use the depth to be highly competitive in multiple competitions. This hedges against injury and allows the coaching staff tactical flexibility. They can work different combinations of players to tactically address specific opponents and at the same time make it much more difficult for opposing teams to prepare to play the Sounders. With multiple stylistic options facing them, opposing teams will be forced to prepare for multiple options. The Sounders become very unpredictable and can significantly change their tactics on the fly with a deep and varied bench. Much of this year’s success arose from precisely this type of flexibility. Who says the Sounders have to have a single Starting 11?
How do you see the Sounders addressing this situation?