Super Mauro for forward? - Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest questions going into preseason were about depth at centerback and a set of questions that revolve around the attack. None of those questions are answered yet, but when they are the strategy of Seattle will be defined even if individual games see specific tactics.
With a strong midfield Sigi Schmid is offered many choices as to who will start where. The list of starting caliber players at the two wide spots and the non-Johnson forward is long, and likely to define how the team approaches the season - assuming that a new player is not added. There are seven players who could start in those three roles, or 210 combinations (if I remember this section of math correctly). Sigi doesn't have enough time to try all of these and a few of the guys don't make sense at some of the wide roles, or don't quite make sense as the withdrawn forward, so it is a bit smaller still there are many dozen ways the players could be combined.
How true to a 4-4-2 (or variants) or a a 4-2-3-1 (or variants) the Sounders will play comes down to these choices. All of this assumes no new starting, or near starting caliber attacking player is added. This is not assured, but it is the current state of the Sounders. Let's break down the list of players and three primary skills they bring to the table.
David Estrada - work rate, speed, willing shooter - He exploded onto the 2013 season taking advantage of the opportunity to show that he is capable of playing at this level. If he is up top Seattle becomes the most 4-4-2 like offering a second speed option on long balls centrally. He is also the most likely to pester defenders. When wide he tracks back more effectively on defense than any of the other traditional wide players which could lead to the opposite wing able to play a bit higher as the two center mids shift over to cover that space.
Brad Evans - off ball runs, positioning, versatility - If Evans starts in one of the three attacking spots that are open it means that Tiffert is certain to start as the central midfielder. His time as a forward was the least successful and would indicate a type of 4-2-3-1 that attacks along the flanks, is defensively sound in the middle and would count on him and the band of two popping in on late runs.
Mario Martinez - short passing, distance shooting, crosses - Martinez was the primary funnel of the Honduran offense in their victory on Wednesday. He has also shown he is capable of shooting from anywhere. Like several other options he lacks defensive posture and so if he is on the wings it would create pressure on Alonso and the fullbacks. As the withdrawn forward he could get assist numbers similar to Montero while also creating a scoring threat with a few amazing goals.
Lamar Neagle - willing shooter, high pressure, work rate - His most success at any level was mainly as a forward with the Battery, but also played both wide mid slots as a Sounder. He will take shots, but is also a decent enough defender for an attacking player and could create the kind of pressure on sloppy passing defenders that lead to transition opportunities. As a forward he would be in the Montero space but more likely to shoot and there would be less effective passing from that space.
Mauro Rosales - crossing, short passes, ball handling - Most familiar on the right, he can also go up top. When he played the forward last year he dropped further back than Montero to get the ball and looked primarily to assist. His passing numbers were slightly worse than Fredy's in that role and the team created less shots but they were more often on goal. It was also over portions of five games where the Rosales played that role.
Christian Tiffert - on ball defense, positioning, long passes - If he is up top it limits his strengths and is also a 4-2-3-1 type move. If he moves to the flank it would likely be on the right, where his crosses would be most accurate. This would also prevent most opponents from countering along their left, even if Johansson gets forward.
Steve Zakuani - burst speed, shot accuracy, short passes - Best on the left flank, he is also being mentioned as an option at the withdrawn forward. If he is the other forward expect more short passes to Johnson, interchanging with who is on the left and rather than the drop and shoot of Montero, a drop and sprint.
While there are others that could step in (Caskey, Rose, Ochoa) each has more limitations than those listed. Of the seven which three do you start at left wing, withdrawn forward and right wing? Does that leave Evans, Tiffert or Rose as the non-Alonso? How many variants to you expect Sigi to use in Tucson swing of training that starts next Monday?