Often when one talks about tactics and formations it is a notation or nomenclature that implies certain small things happening in general. The Seattle Sounders have shifted from an Arrow (4-1-3-1-1), to various versions of the Diamond (4-<4>-2), and against Toronto we saw a more traditional 4-2-3-1. Now Sigi Schmid was public in saying that Fredy Montero was in a "free" role, and in notation that meant that he was in the center of that band of 3. But the terminology as I tend to use it responds to what we have seen; not what we will see. Even when I say prior to a match that Seattle or their opponent will be in a 4-4-2 it is not what I think the coaching staff has said to the team, but how things may wind up looking. Free roles make it more difficult. Because how does one note in simple ASCII that one guy is going to be all over the place?
Also, what does it mean when a player who is known to drop back to get the ball is called by the coach a "Free" prior to the match starting as opposed to a more traditional forward?
One thing was clear: Though Montero dropped back, notably to the far post on defense at least once, he was not expected to be a CAM. He was not necessarily the intended creative force for the match. If the ball was at his feet and creation was to happen, he did it, but he was not the focal point of a passing series. His was not to be the final pass before a shot on goal. That still happened most often by Mauro Rosales, with the two center mids and, by intent, Lamar Neagle would have had that final pass as well.
The kind of player we saw against Toronto FC was free to wander, to pick up the ball and spark a series, but he was also intended to be at that end of that series as well. Since every player knew at the beginning that Fredy would be in any place at any time it forced a greater level of overall awareness. It may also explain why the team passed better when down a man. They were already 49 minutes into a game where one player would not be in expected places. When Seattle went down, the 4-1-3-1 we saw was more structured again, but in essence the same. A player would not be there that would be there in a traditional 4-2-3-1.
By the end of the match we saw the difference between having a recognized free man from the start, and what happens when one wonders free by nature. Passing was crisper. Seattle normally averages 72.1% pass completion, but against Toronto down a man for 41+ minutes they still averaged 72%. They maintained their season average in possession as well.
Declaring Montero free doesn't just allow him more freedom, but places more structure on the rest of the team. In the past, this meant having a Target Forward around to run off of, to win headers, to open space. Against Toronto the structure shifted, as Mike Fucito does not fit that mold. He maintained a traditional Left Forward's space. Rosales was like a Right Wing. Brad Evans and Osvaldo Alonso often, particularly during Seattle's two long stretches of successful passes (over a dozen each time in build-up), were where center mids are expected to be. This left the large spaces available for Montero to operate and receive passes. Both James Riley and Mauro found him there, and other times were clearly looking.
It was a demonstration of fluidity combined with structure. There were times when it struggled. Minutes 15-45 were particularly rough, but Seattle generated long sequences. For some time we have wondered how Montero and Fucito could be on the pitch at the some time. This seems to be discovered and portends to a future, through practice and on-the-job-training, where Seattle finds space for Montero not through a large body, but through strategic and tactical implementations. Yes, he only had one shot, on goal, but the way he played is what caused him to be called an artist last summer, and a golden god this weekend.