Every single pundit said the Seattle Sounders would have the speed advantage against the Los Angeles Galaxy. Part of this was because David Beckham is not fast, not really mobile even. Part of it was because of Todd Dunivant was expected to be the left back. Part of it was because LA is a much better offensive team with Donovan as a withdrawn forward.
The Sounders wide men were expected to dominate, but instead Bruce Arena out-coached Sigi Schmid with some minor changes, and Seattle wasted its few great opportunities from width.
Los Angeles first shift was to put Landon Donovan out wide as a left midfielder. This lineup change shut down most of the width on the right side. Not because he shut down Sanna Nyassi, but because of where Seattle's best width arises.
The other shift was the injury to Dunivant, which led to veteran Eddie Lewis starting. Seattle should have dominated pure match-up of Sanna Nyassi v Lewis, and in the second half v Steve Zakuani.
Third was the shift to being a much more defensive posture. LA went to a bunker system and turned its best two attacking midfielders into nearly wide defenders.
Sigi addressed that third item with Jeremiah during practice yesterday
On freeing up outside players: I think they did a good job. They were very disciplined defensively. Beckham and Donovan, you have to take your hats off to them. They sacrificed a lot of their offensive games to get back and help defend. If they do that again, we just have to be a little bit better at breaking them down. The most important thing is that when we do break them down, because we did break them down a few times, we have to finish the goal. If you finish the goal, everything changes, the whole game changes.
A coach that is willing to turn David Beckham and Landon Donovan into a primarily line of defense changes the tenor of the game. Seattle's wide offense had both fullbacks and wide mids to contend with while LA also had two centerbacks and CDM around to limit the effect of Nkufo and Montero.
Sure that turned the Galaxy into a bunker and counter team, despite their great offensive season. It would limit a majority of their attacks to long balls to Edson Buddle (one that scored) and a speedy Donovan breaking out either on the wing or centrally.
Seattle used both diagonals and straight balls to feed Sanna, but because he plays like an inverted winger diving inside early. This exposed an issue with Seattle's offensive width on the right. Often the threat of service comes from James Riley, but when the best offensive American player is his match up he can't get forward as often. Riley had to be ready to respond to those long penetrating runs, and even with the ball at his feet Landon is fast enough that he can get space.
With Riley not entering that wide space along the elbow as often as he usually does that placed Sanna in situations where he didn't have the outlet to width, instead only able to retreat with a backpass to a worse angle, to attempt a cross in tight coverage or to try and force the ball through a double team on the dribble. All three tactics were attempted. None were particularly successful from the right.
Lewis was particularly good at baiting Seattle into those diagonal passes to Nyassi, knowing that those would lead to turnovers. He could give some space to Nyassi knowing that he could close and he'd have at least one player (Landon, A.J. DeLaGarza or Dema Kovalenko) able to close in a heart beat. Knowing that he would be physically beat, he instead forced the young speedster into situations where Sanna had to make proper footballing decisions.
That didn't happen.
But let's not forget. The left side wasn't much help offensively either, at least not when Steve Zakuani was out there. Seattle used a lot of balls in tight space to spring Zakuani, but with Beckham tight and Sean Franklin loose it packed things in so that the normal interplay between Leo Gonzalez and our favorite former GA left wing couldn't occur at speed. The young Congolese couldn't make his dynamic runs because the entry passes were framed.
Much of what struggled in the first half was again due to the coaching decision that caught Zakuani off guard.
I was a bit surprised. Probably their two best players were playing so defensive. David on one side and Landon on the other. It also reminded me how important these games are. We have to find different ways to beat them. It will be the same at Home Depot. We just have to find a way to be better. Myself, Sanna, Fredy, Blaise and all of that. They can be broken down. We had our chances. We’ve watched tape. We know exactly what we can do. In that game, we still could have scored 2 or 3 goals. Going down there, we need to be patient. They are going to try to frustrate us and they have guys that are there just to frustrate us. It’s just about being patient. When we get one goal, it changes their approach too. So that’s our aim.
Many of Seattle's threats came not when Steve was out wide, but instead when Blaise Nkufo got the ball out there and played with Zakuani on a darting run across a 45 degree angle from the elbow and Montero at the spot ready for a short lob.
That worked well, so maybe having Blaise drift wide to enable Seattle to explore long diagonals to the left side. Whether that results in a Nkufo header to a running Zakauni or the padawan running the ball down as the defense mistakenly plays to the mentor there are chances to be created.
There will be an intense bunker, as it worked in Leg One, and it was a particular way to shut down Seattle's biggest advantages. Pushing the success on the left side early should grant Seattle the opportunity to shift the game tactically and force the more natural open game of both sides.
ESPN2 and MLS would be happy to see it. Both sides play great soccer, with a mix of ball-on-floor and well placed long balls. Sigi would like it too.
I think it matters how the game goes early on. We will get a good taste and we will get a good feel for it. We will see if they are a little more offensively inclined at home. If they are going to play the same way that’s something we will determine early on in the game and then the rest of the game will flow out of that.
Shifting that flow early to a game that Seattle loves to play will lead to Beckham in a central position more often, granting Zakuani more freedom. With Landon Donovan up top (his best position) his responsibility shifts to the center mids and allows Riley to give wide service and maybe add another assist to his total.