What was witnessed yesterday was a mastery of the league's roster rules by Adrian Hanauer, a General whose plan adapts to circumstances that are beyond the control of mortals and proof that the quality on the pitch will always matter more than the passion in the stands.
I am going to assume that you have read plenty of match reports (Times, Prost Amerika, Onward!, 24thMinute) and must agree with all that the early play in the match showed that Seattle quickly adapted to the high winds, while Toronto tried so hard to make the ball do things in the air. I was the guest player rater for Prost Amerika, so check those out here and we are having a poll to determine the Man of the Match.
With the stress and strain of the Montero situation (latest from his agent here) Seattle showed a roster depth and focus that was vital. Fredy was replaced by Freddie with his same tenacity and style. The strong midfield play was the key to this victory, but let's look at an overall philosophy that is becoming apparent, beyond the roster depth and coaching through the wind.
What we are starting see is a team that presses the Full Acre and rapidly transitions off of turnovers into an attack. There is rarely slow build-up nor horizontal play in the middle third. Seattle often captures the ball through the fine play of Alonso. When Alonso gets it, he does not look for the outlet, but instead dribbles up the pitch looking for the attack.
This Acre wide press and rapid attack will tire Sounders FC when they play during Open Cup weeks, but it will also cause consternation for the opposition. It will be mentally trying for the opposition for they will not be able to sit and wait for things to happen. There would be risk to this, but with Keller in goal, the higher risk immediate transition to attack will be nullified by a keeper who has shown himself to be worthy of the higher contract.
Sigi has stuck with what most are calling a 4-4-2 with Alonso as a holding midfielder, but as I continue to watch the match I see that the players aren't locked into positions, but have zones that they know are theirs on attack and defense, and that there are four layers in these zones. Jaqua was alone up top today, but held that fine, as Freddie Ljungberg tracked back much more often than Fredy. Today I would say that we saw a 4-2-3-1 with Alonso in the traditional defensive midfield, and Evans back much more often than in past matches. But neither of these two play like typical MLS defensive mids who look for the easy outlet quickly, but instead again the rapid transition to the attack.
Sigi's style seems to be of flexibility and adaptable. It is one that does not recognize Forwards/Midfielder/Defender, but instead sees each player as having roles in the Attack, Transition and Defense. Within this style the club truly defends the full acre, pressuring players who are used to a little more patience and tracking back. It seems after three matches that Seattle doesn't feel the need for its second layer on offense to track back when they can just win the ball immediately.
I am still looking for a few key words as metaphor for what we have seen, but the short list bears repeating
Full Acre Pressure Defense
Four Layers of Shape
Rapid Transition to the Attack
I could say "The Enemy's Gate is Down" but I don't think enough of my readers would get that one.
Goal One - Freddie Ljungberg - 15' - This goal clearly demonstrates the concept of Rapid Transition to the Strike. James Riley gathered up a sloppy TFC pass in the Seattle defensive third. He then passed it forward to Seba Le Toux at the half (less than 2 seconds go by and the ball advances about 40 yards on the ground). Seba finds Alonso to his left on a run and pushes it forward again. Now with Seattle in possession for just about 7 seconds they have pushed past the centerline with Ljungberg and Jaqua both forward of the ball, Zakuani wide to the left and James Riley (initiator of the attack from the Right Back) wide to the right. Even with Alonso and the ball are Seba and Brad Evans. Alonso literally has 6 passing options available when the Reds close in on him. Alonso wisely finds the most talented on-ball open space player and passes to Freddie Ljungberg who had a text book give-and-go with Nate Jaqua. In 13 seconds the ball went from about 85 yards to the a goal on the board while touching five different players and off ball runs from two others. Evans, Le Toux, Riley, Zakuani and Alonso were all ready to immediately pressure the Reds if Ljungberg hadn't reached the net.
Goal Two - Steve Zakuani - 45 - While most are calling this a garbage goal, this featured another example of the attacking wave. James Riley, Brad Evans, Ljungberg, Le Toux, Jaqua were all involved in the play on the right elbow and wing and while only 1 Seattle player was on the left side of the pitch, Steve was there by himself. So yes, he collected a rebound, but the flood of Seattle players overwhelmed Toronto and the Reds left a Green unmarked inside the area.