Sounders vs. Toronto Tactics: Attack the Channels

Bradley's proactive defending was key for Toronto - Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

The Sounders attack through the channels, Bradley provides defensive pressure, and Seattle makes 2nd half changes. You should also welcome our new front page author.

Sounders’ Asymmetry on the Wings

The most prominent tactical feature of the Sounders’ attack was the asymmetrical setup of their wide players. Sigi outlined this after the match, saying, "we wanted Pappa tucked in on the right and we wanted Neagle to be high and wide on the left". Pappa routinely came inside, looking to get onto his stronger left foot. On the other side, Neagle’s positioning meant he stretched the defense, both horizontally and vertically. Though he was fairly ineffective in his role as a pure winger, his positioning pulled Mark Bloom wide in defense, ensuring the Seattle attack did not become too congested. Additionally, he made several diagonal runs behind the Toronto back four which gave Seattle an option over the top of the Toronto defense and gave Seattle a bit more room to operate in midfield.

Important products of the wingers’ positioning were the roles of the fullbacks, as they played in asymmetrical fashion in the first half as well.

Neagle’s pure winger role meant that Remick was not necessarily needed for width, and he was able to hang back and forestall counterattacks. With Toronto using two high strikers, keeping Remick on the backline helped to prevent dangerous two-on-two counterattacks with the Seattle centerbacks. On the other hand, Yedlin’s advanced positioning was effective in drawing out Justin Morrow, and created space in the channel between Morrow and Henry.

In the above gif, you can see that Morrow comes wide to mark Yedlin. Henry, who is preoccupied with marking Oba, does not slide over, creating this "channel" that Ozzie moves into. With a better timed run from Ozzie and a better pass from Yedlin, Ozzie is in this space with his momentum going forward and the Sounders have a pretty decent chance on their hands, especially considering that Oba was unmarked for a short time after Henry moves to close down Ozzie.

Toronto’s Compact Defense

Going into the game, one tactical point I was keeping an eye on was how Toronto would compete with their man disadvantage in midfield. They did so by dropping their defensive lines deep, staying in two compact banks of four. This made it more difficult to break them down, but also completely conceded possession to Seattle.

The key man in this defense was Michael Bradley. He played in a fascinating role, a sort of hybrid between holding midfielder and "forward destroyer" (not in the sense that he "destroys forwards" though). Bradley started by dropping in alongside Osorio, protecting the back four. However, he would often maraud forward in defense, surging up the field to put pressure on the Seattle player in possession. He is often praised for his intelligence and ability to read the game, and it was on display here. He picked his spots intelligently, and his ability to cover large swaths of ground and technical tackling skills made him extremely effective in this role, as he completed a game-high 7 tackles.

Ryan Nelsen praised Bradley after the game, saying "He initiates a lot of pressure and he backs it up. He causes turnovers by his presence". Bradley contributed to Toronto’s second goal, as Pappa was put under pressure from one of these bursts.

Toronto Goal

Both of Toronto’s goals were a bit fluky in a way, as neither were part of the tactical patterns that occurred throughout the game. Toronto’s first goal was the result of a combination of several factors. Perhaps the most important was Brad’s injury. During the play, he is jogging back onto the field slowly, inhibited by his injury, and the play occurs in the exact spot he would have been covering. Pappa, who possibly is covering for Brad, makes a poor challenge on Osorio, leaving him with time and space to pick his pass. The gap for Defoe opens up when Marshall leaves the backline to stick close to DeRosario. This could be a result of last week, when Zusi was often free between the lines because neither of the centerbacks stepped up to confront him. Traore is also at fault here, as he should have noticed the gap and closed it down sooner.

Credit goes to Toronto though, as it was an excellent run and finish from Defoe and an excellent pass from Osorio. This play demonstrates the advantage of using a pure poacher, a player who is constantly and exclusively looking for scoring opportunities. Defoe completed no crosses, dribbles, tackles, or clearances, and only completed 10 passes, yet he was arguably man of the match.

2nd Half

In the 2nd half, Sigi made a slight tactical change as he looked to get the Sounders back into the game. He instructed Dylan Remick to push forward in support of the attack more, as seen by the graphic below.

This move had a similar impact to Yedlin’s aggressive game, as now the left-sided channel opened up for Sounders to attack into.

This play is a bit different, as Bloom has been caught out of position and Oba finds space between the two centerbacks as Caldwell shifts over to cover. Dempsey also created a dangerous moment in the box from a similar play in the 50th minute.

Cooper Substitution Changes the Attack

In the 64th minute, Kenny Cooper subbed onto the left, moving Neagle to the right and Pappa out. With this change, Dylan Remick became the game’s featured player. Cooper played extremely narrow, and looked to get in the box and on the end of crosses. Immediately after Cooper came on, Nelsen swapped out Alvaro Rey for right back Bradley Orr, with Mark Bloom moving to right mid. This is presumably because Cooper would have an advantage in the box against the lighter Bloom and Orr offered a more physical presence. With Cooper drifting into the box and Orr marking him closely, space opened up for Remick to find good positions to get crosses in. In the time Cooper was on the pitch, Remick attempted 6 crosses, all within 18 yards of the endline, while in the previous 65 minutes he only had one such cross.

This did pose one issue, however, as this set-up had Cooper on the near post runs while Oba looked to attack the far post, which is opposite of the ideal. The Sounders did get one look with their ideal situation in the 75th minute, with Cooper making the run across goal early, clearing out a lane for Obafemi to make a near post run.

Conclusion

In the end, Seattle was a bit unfortunate to leave without at least a point, but they only have themselves to blame. They created plenty of opportunities for danger, but execution in the final third let them down and some costly mistakes gave Toronto opportunities, of which they took full advantage.

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