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The Thrill of Forward Defense

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Against Marathon we all get to see the ultimate payoff of a forward who pursues the ball as if it is goal #1. The first goal by Mike Fucito was purely because of his defensive pressure. When the Sounders were at New York last year, it was Fredy Montero who pressured a defender, snagged the ball and finished cleanly.

These moments highlight the benefits of forward defense.

The idea is simple, because defenders are so poor at dribbling and passing (if they were better they would be midfielders), the theory is that forwards can pursue the ball when it is in the opponents control within their own defensive third. Now, modern formations have one to three forwards, though at times attacking midfielders can be brought up to harass and harry as well, depending on the strategy of the coach. But let's just assume that only "pure" attacking players would apply defense. For Seattle that would be Blaise Nkufo, Fredy Montero and probably Steve Zakuani in their standard formations.

This is where we start to learn why Seattle can't sell out and always apply forward defense. Problem one is that Nkufo doesn't have the speed to pressure effectively along the back line, and likely doesn't have the endurance to do it for a full appearance. Problem two is that slightly unbalanced formation means that the easy outlet for the opposition would be to their left. If Montero oversells the pass to the left than the easy pass is straight forward.

Allowing easy passes makes the concept of forward defense merely physically taxing on the offensive players. It also would mean that the payoff is less likely to happen.

What Seattle can do though with forward defense is use it when they have at least two attacking players on the pitch with strong endurance and speed. Last night that was Fucito and Levesque (average speed, but great endurance). This strategy is one that capitalizes on "work rate" and when combined with skill can lead to easy goals.

If we assume Sigi's Arrow, or a 4-2-3-1 with stacked midfielders and wingbacks and just focus on that line of four let's look at how that compares to standard four back defensive lines with a Central Defensive Mid. There will always be passing lanes open. But can Seattle's attacking four provide the pressure necessary to create lapses and attack the ball and then the goal?

 

 

 

Keeper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Center Back

 

Center Back

 

 

Left Back

 

 

NKUFO

 

 

Right Back

 

 

 

MONTERO

 

 

 

 

ZAKUANI

 

Center Mid

 

SOMEONE

 

We can see from the table that Seattle has speed in two known positions, though not with endurance for 90 minutes of forward defense. We would hate to see the attacking players so tired that they couldn't work their magic with ball. If Blaise is used as a foil and block of a simple lane between the CBs and the CDM that allows Montero to pressure (something he has been doing of late) and it allows the outside mids (Zakauni and who?) to pressure the outside backs.

Sanna Nyassi and David Estrada have both shown that they will apply that pressure, but have not shown in games that they are the best answer in standard run of play for offense. Levesque doesn't have the speed to start regularly and apply this pressure, but is a solid sub because he can change up and add this pressure late.

While Fucito hasn't seen much time on the right, except in during interchanges, I think we saw last night that he definitely attacks the ball and then the goal. His speed and endurance is solid and he can patiently pass the ball after capturing it or instead take the open lane. As we've discussed in the past, having a strong inside foot is an asset for wingers, as it lets them cut inside and get the best angle on goal.

It is notable that a primary thing that allows Seattle to use extensive forward pressure is having a great defensive triangle that is able to slow the opposition down, so that the Sounders can return to a more standard defense of 8 men behind the ball. If the opponent gets through the forward defense they will have a 5 on 5 situation, which is to the advantage of the attacking team. Players like Osvaldo Alonso and whichever two centre backs are playing don't always need to win the ball to do their job. Sometimes just slowing the pace so that the defense can restructure is enough.