On the whole, there are two words I would use to describe the Seattle Sounders' play over the month of May: sloppy and uninspired. Yesterday, by and large, was no different; but the result was probably one of the better in this team's still short MLS history.
It seems that Sigi Schmid has settled on the diamond midfield as his default shape, which probably follows the lack of wingers available on this team. Alvaro Fernandez is far more suited to being a midfield shuttler and lacks the speed and aggressiveness to run at defenders effectively. Brad Evans, although used as a wide midfielder often in the first half of '09, is far too much of a CM-type of player to be able to embrace the winger's role.
The diamond is a narrower formation, and is actually designed to do two things: clog the middle with possession-oriented players; and facillitate the CAM to effectively run the attack. The best 4-diamond-2's feature a dynamic CAM, a playmaker/scorer is is often the best player on the roster. In the case of yesterday, it was Erik Friberg, who simply lacks the pedigree and ability to be that player. Friberg probably had the worst match of anyone in green yesterday.
Montero was moved to the bench and gave way to Nate Jaqua, who came in alongside Mike Fucito in a bit of a return to the classic Sounders' striker duo of a bigger target man and a second striker. However, with a true CAM in behind, the two forwards are largely expected to play along the same vertical axis. It was Fucito who seemed to be the main engine in the attack early on, and despite a couple challenges verging on stupid he looked willing to do what it would take to try to make something happen, a trait that would eventually pay off.
The CB rotation saw Jeff Parke's and Patrick Ianni's names drawn, James Riley back at his usual RB spot, and Tyson Wahl resume at the LB spot he seems to have won over Leo Gonzalez. As usual Osvaldo Alonso was in at CDM, a position which is a bit more rigid in the diamond midfield.
One of the elements of a high-quality diamond team is the ability of the fullbacks to get forward and provide width to the attack. In fact, on many 4-diamond-2 and 4-1-2-3 teams (the two have a very similar shape to the midfield) one or both fullbacks often have a higher average positon than the CDM. This has hardly been the case with the Sounders, whose fullbacks look to be instructed not to take chances. Even more telling is that Alonso had 4 shots, tied for the team lead with Neagle.
The starting iineup only lasted 18 minutes before Fernandez had to come off with a hamstring injury picked up in pregame warmups. Lamar Neagle came on and probably proceded to be the team's best attacking player, which isn't necessarily expected out of one of your shuttlers in the diamond.
What this team's formational approach is exactly is certainly open to much interpretation. If nothing else, Sigi seems to be winging it tactically, hoping that a realitvely small part of his 28-man roster can contiune to grind out results. One wonders how long that will last.
The first half was dominated by sloppy play and the inability of either team to really get anything established. The weather was no help, which seems a familiar tune for the Sounders this year. A severely compromised RSL team couldn't do anything with their edge in possession. At half-time this one certainly had the markings of 0-0 all over it.
It was after the second-half whistle that RSL seemed determined to get the result. They came agonizingly close in the 51' when Keller got just enough of the ball to force an aggressive Jamison Olave header against the crossbar and out. Keller seemed to once again get himself caught out by stepping off his line to pursue a ball coming in through the air, something that has been happening with alarming frequency lately.
Seven minutes later Olave would turn to goat as he was sent off for dragging down Fucito just outside the penalty area. Fucito was trying desperately to make something out of very little, and had managed to get just enough of a touch to a 50-50 ball that he looked to have turned Olave, and was about to get by when he was dragged down. A certain bookable offense anywhere on the pitch, the referree saw fit to upgrade the infraction given the proximity to the goal.
Even after seeing their opponents reduced to 10 men it looked as though the 0-0 result would still be acceptable to the Sounders. Fredy Montero was brought on for the hard-working Fucito in the 70' and within a minute the Sounders would take the lead, however.
In all reality it was a good corner kick from Wahl and well-won header from Jaqua which lead to Ianni putting the Sounders out front on what is certainly best described as a bit of a jammy goal. Given how close RSL had come to scoring on a handful of similar situations earlier in the match one can forgive them for cursing the gods for being a man down and goal down after 71 minutes.
Just 12 minutes later Neagle would double the lead with an absolutely pornographic goal. It was the kind of shot players like Montero have been geting paid good money to make, but to this point this season has largely eluded this team. That it came from a player on somewhat of the margins must raise questions as to what other suprises lie in the depths of this roster. Neagle's match yesterday was about far more than just one great shot, he put in a fabulous shift and for much of the match was the most dynamic player in the Sounder XI.
With little more to do than see out a 2 goal lead against a depleted side, the Sounders nearly managed a rather tragicomic cock-up. RSL's Nelson Gonzalez dribbled right around Ianni at the by line to the right of Keller's goal and then seemed almost surprised to find himself out in front of the goal with plenty of space to shoot. Professional players ought not to miss from there, and while it is convienent to blame Ianni for getting beat it is also worth asking where his help was, considering that 3 other rave-green clad defenders where in the proximity.
In fact, Keller was forced to make a couple of clutch saves in the dying minutes, and the 3 minutes of added time were far too panicky from a Sounders presepctive. The final whistle couldn't have come soon enough.
It has been a busy month for this team and it is probably for the best not to dwell too much on how this team has performed on a match-to-match basis. It could quite rightly be said that the soccer gods owed the Sounders something, and some of that debt was paid off yesterday. Four points in their 3-match homestand was far too little, but some of that sting is taken off now with this result. Given how the month started with an outright injury crisis in the attack, 8 points through 5 matches is probably very fair for this team. How those results actually unfolded is a bit confounding, but until we see a continued streak of higher-quality play from this team this is just how it is going to be.