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The Interchange - Solution or Problem

Remember back in the giddy days? The days of 4-2-0 and 12 points in six? The days of Nine Goals in 6, only 3 sacrificed and none of those by Keller!

Remember the days when the Supporter Shield was a goal, and not a dream? Remember the days of Sigi's Game, that nice flowing attack at all times soccer with great pace? What happened to those days?

Those days ended with a nine match stretch at 1-1-7 for 10 points in 9 played. I called it Red Card Hell. It was brutal, at least we thought than. The offense seemed stagnant (it wasn't - 1.33 Goals For). The defense seemed suspect (it wasn't either - 1.33 Goals Against). But Sounders fans worried, and maybe the team did a bit to. The luster wore off a bit.

The team was capable of being average. The team no longer looked like a top tier MLS squad. It looked like a team in the Wild Card hunt. Something needed to change.

So Sigi adjusted.

That adjustment was what I termed "The Interchange." Where the wide midfielders and forwards swapped roles for 15-20 minute stretches. It provided an immediate offensive spark (3-0 over Colorado). I interviewed Zakuani and Le Toux about the switch in tactics, about how it would sow confusion in the opposition trying to figure out how to defend the very different talents of Ljungberg, Montero, Jaqua, Zakuani and Le Toux.

Oddly, since the switch, the club has looked like an expansion squad. The passes in the central midfield are generally poor. The offensive flow has dissipated. The goals scoring has dropped below one a game (0.89), the defense is still strongish (0.89), but the record is stagnantl (3-3-3).

The Interchange is tactically sound in general. It makes sense to try, and is the model that Arsenal uses (not a bad team to copy). There is just one problem.

Seattle didn't start the season with the tactic. They tried to implement it during the season. During a season in which no more than two offensive players had experience in that system (Zakuani and Ljungberg), during a season in which no more than two Starters or Rotationals played together last year, during a season where the fans started to expect greatness a new system launched.

The Interchange requires any player entering the offense (in this case up to 8 outfield players) to know multiple roles. It particularly requires the players to understand not just where that role is supposed to be on the pitch, but how the individual prefers to receive the pass. The Interchange is tactically advanced and beautiful soccer.

But it means that a player on the wing not only has to know that he has short passes to two players, a long pass to two players and a back pass to one but as many seven different players at the end of that same pass. It becomes not just an issue of geometry but of permutations. It takes time for a team to have that kind of chemistry and knowledge. It takes a team that has had dozens of games and hundreds of hours of pre-season training to gain that depth of knowledge.

Maybe a more stable system is required in the short term in order to make the MLS Cup Playoffs. Each player in excellence in their role. Because Seattle didn't look like an expansion team until the second half of their expansion season.

Pre-Interchange Post-Interchange
For Against For Against
1.40 1.00 0.89 0.89
7 of 15 4 of 15 3 of 9 4 of 9
over 2 at 0 over 2 at 0

Seattle Sounders are the brink of their first Cup; but dammit, I'm greedy and I would love to take two.

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