Sounders fell to Impact on opening day, bringing Sounders opening day record to 3 wins and 2 losses. I was on a night bus from Arequipa to Cuzco, Peru. Admittedly, that's my way of saying I didn't actually see the match, but am consuming highlights, comments, stats and reviews as much as possible. As a result, this is going to be based heavily on the scoring opportunities I saw on MLSsoccer.com So yes, this is a match analysis from a guy who didn't see the whole match. That said, I can't get into my hostel yet, it's freezing outside and I'm having my first cup of American-style coffee in ten months. It's a fricking fan post, so deal with it. ;)
It was quite clear that we had a Puget Sound sized hole in the central defence. We were weak there without Alonso and with Scott starting. We all knew it was coming... so did Montreal. Montreal did an excellent job of getting into spaces that forced Rose and Hurtado to draw themselves out of position and creating space for De Vaio and the attacking mids in the central of the pitch. Sometimes this space was with the ball, other times it was created for a runner. Either way, Montreal got a few chances, including the eventual winner by playing a variation on this strategy.
Going back and watching the goal is quite telling. Rose gets pulled out of position by Arnaud who runs far offside. This causes space in the defensive midfield which Kennedy moves to cover. Rose ends up at central defence watching a far-offside Arnaud while Kennedy is the nominal DM. Montreal slides the ball to De Vaio isolating him on Scott. Arnaud is far offside, so Rose takes the opportunity to return to a more natural DM position, which is where Scott has been forced to step up and cover De Vaio. Kennedy beats feet back to help mark the single striker, who is now in a space usually occupied by the DM. Arnaud slides back onside while all three central defenders are marking De Vaio. It took a nifty play to finish the goal, but the defensive breakdown happened well before De Vaio even got the ball as all three central defenders looked like New Yorkers trying to figure out what I-5 is.
This was more of an organization problem as much as a skill-based problem. I like Jhon and he has skills, but he doesn't seem to marshal the defence well. Traore or Joseph may have been able to organize the squad a bit better. They might be old and slow, but I doubt either loses track of Arnaud.
It bodes well that we will likely have Alonso, plus some combination of Ianni, Traore and Joseph to help plug this hole throughout the season. On the other hand, all three of those possible central defenders were out injured and/or out of fitness this week. Relying on injury prone and ageing central defenders means that Zack may end up with more minutes in the central defence. This tactic worked well for Montreal this week, but it won't work as a blueprint for how to beat the Sounders defence for the rest of the season.
Offensively, we ended up as a one trick pony. Everything was run through the Johnson. The only scoring opportunity appearing in the highlights that didn't involve EJ was a Zakuani chance on a loose corner. More worrying from my perspective is the time EJ smacked the ball off the post from six yards. Forwards miss chances, it happens. The problem I saw was the nifty little back heel that set him up. The announcers identified the heel as being from Evans, but I believe it was Caskey. The problem was that this is a blind-sided backheel inside of ten yards. This is a very low-percentage pass built to setup the top striker. It worked out and we ended up with the best chance of the match, but it shows me that Caskey didn't want the chance. Attacking mids need to pull the trigger in that situation.
Zakuani didn't appear in the highlights except for a single moment where he picked up a corner in the box. This is a problem for two reasons. First, I want to see him streaking the wing and burning defenders, but that's a game-to-game situation, maybe he was just off for the day.
More importantly, Zakuani didn't end up in the box on crosses. This offence is clearly built for Mario, Zakuani, Caskey, Mauro, and the other mids to get wide and cross the ball into EJ. That's fine, but he can't be the only option in the box. More often than not, when the cross came EJ ended up alone. Johnson is obviously our best chance here, but he was going up against two central defenders and usually an outside back or a defensive midfielder. At minimum, we need the off-side midfielder to get onto the far-post. This might not be the top strength for any of the creative or speedy guys that we have playing behind Eddie, but we need to get bodies into the box, even if that means sacrificing some midfield creativity for a workhorse like Estrada.
All that said, we had the lions share of the game and had enough chances where we could have pulled it out if a couple bounces had gone our way.
All that said, a loss is a loss and Montreal got three points at our house. Its not acceptable, but this isn't the full-on implosion of the team I thought at first. This is a team identifying the holes created by our missing personal and exploiting them while bunkering in and hoping EJ has an off-night.
There are two takeaways here. First, we need to make sure to have a defensive marshal in one of the central three defensive positions. Second, we need the midfielders to accept goal-scoring responsibility. If we're going to play with one striker then the mids need to get into the box and finish.