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Sounders On Pitch Ethos

As requested in a recent FanPost a look at the consistent strategy and tactics of Sounders FC

Doug Pensinger

A recent FanPost laid out how ethos affects soccer teams. Several around the world take their guiding principles beyond the business offices and implement those principles in their on field decisions. It then requested that Sounder at Heart figure out what the ethos of Seattle Sounders FC is in regards to game-play.

This is a difficult proposition. Actions on the field expressed in ethos-like value statements can come off as absurd. Rather than attempt to assign value-judgements to what the Sounders under Adrian/Sigi do it may be better to judge them through a guiding principles system. What actions take place on the field? How do those actions impact game results and drive decision making processes are similar functionally to ethos, but are a bit more familiar to those that don't study Latin/Greek.

Sounders are fairly clear about their business room ethos. Their fairly consistent decisions based on their announced values and powered by Democracy in Sports while supplemented with the highly successful partnership with the Seahawks leads them to being the top brand in American soccer and shooting up world brand lists.

On the pitch it is a bit more difficult to figure out. The club, in the current incarnation, still has Coach number one, GM number one, Scout number one, etc. Calling what has been done so far an ethos would be difficult. But there are still patterns of behavior at this time.


Let's call this segment things like player acquisition, trophies pursued and overall non-game specific philosophy.

Player Acquisition

Domestically the Sounders lean heavily on areas where their coaches and scouts have a history. This has meant a fairly heavy lean on Washington and California as origin states. In many ways this is similar to the companies based in the Greater Puget Sound.

Foreign talents are in some ways diverse, but there are a few subregions mined more than others. Scandanavia, Central Europe and Central America are prime spots for this current staff. While there are players from other regions, these get the most players. This is a departure from Puget Sound's corporate hiring which tends to lean to Western Europe, former Soviet states and East Asia.

Overall much of this stratagem is likely due to the size of the scouting staff. With small budgets the team can not have scouts every where. Instead find small-ish regions where a scout (or coach working as a scout) knows the talent as well as possible and maximize their results. The club is also trying to expand efforts into East Africa and the Caribbean. The pursuit of DPs is not necessarily limited to these regions and in fact has focused on Western Europe and South America.

Trophies Pursued

To reiterate, this team guns for all the trophies. The goal is dynasty and a shift in how American soccer teams view other tournaments. Many words have been written about this, but this target does shape how the team builds rosters.

Attacking Philosophy

At the Annual Business Meeting Adrian Hanauer mentioned that the Sounders are not scoring enough goals. His target was simple - two goals a match on average. The orientation of the team is not just to represent Puget Sound, but to entertain. Outside of the Keller and Gspurning signings the majority of known talents brought in were to maximize the attack.

That looks to continue this Winter Transfer Window. Seattle's defense is getting a touch weaker, but the additions being pursued are smaller names, but ones known for their ability to score. Despite Seattle being one of the top defenses of their four year MLS stretch the goal is goals.

Together these actions do not have simple words that capture their meaning. At most it could be stated the brain trust is attempting to maximize their efforts despite limitations while entertaining themselves, which means entertaining you.


How do those decision work on gameday?

Big/Small Up Top

A vast majority of play in the Rave Green has featured a target forward and withdrawn forward. It would be tempting to say that this was to maximize Fredy Montero's skill set, but it is also likely due to how the head coach has worked the majority of his MLS career. Look back at how Sigi Schmid used GBS with the Crew and it will feel very similar to the general orientation of the Sounders. In some ways this protects an asset by drawing them away from crowds. It also makes one of the opposing centerbacks operate in unusual spaces or sit back and be more reactive (forcing more reactive defensive postures will be a theme).

Unbalanced Wingers

Seattle has at times used two fast wingers, but for the most part there is one high, speedy winger and another that sits back in a more box-to-box role. In 2012 this was less common due to injury and a lack of the speedsters being better options. Instead there became a pairing of crossing winger and a technical wingers (Rosales & Alvaro) and later a crossing winger and a B2B (Rosales/Tiffert & Evans/Caskey).

When the Sounders have speedy winger on one side they force a fullback to run backwards. When their crossing winger sits back and dumps long and high that corner is emptied for one of the forwards to flash into for a triangle. It is again about forcing a defense out of its comfort zone.

No CAM and Super D-Mid

Seattle's shape does not use a CAM. Instead, like the Crew, a forward drops back into that space and operates on offense. Despite this essentially meaning that the standard number of players in attack is a tiny 4 or 5, the team scores goals. What this does though is power the defense.

Because when a team has a CAM they are forced to go through one of the best on-ball defenders in the league. That man also has ready help of his CM partner. These two do not use a left/right orientation. Their average position maps are more vertical as they relate to each other. This tactic is designed specifically to take away teams that run their offense through the center. It forces most of the opposition into flank play, counters or dead-ball play. This again forces the other team to react to Seattle.

Keeper Leads Defense

Seattle's backline has never featured the most talented defenders in MLS, and yet it keeps the ball out of the net. It does this first and foremost through that Alonso guy setting them up to succeed. Secondly, it happens because the starting keepers here have been down right amazing.

The more hidden aspect is that Seattle's defenders are cerebral rather than physical. While there are plenty of times where they body up, leap in the air or deliver crushing tackles they are more often better at stepping into a passing lane and intercepting the ball. Even better are those times that they close the passing lane down early enough that the pass is never made and the midfielders get back to help. Parke, Hurtado, Ianni, Marshall would flash in and out of those spaces and prevent the simple shot. That may be why so many of the goals that beat Gspurning and Keller over the years are of the "Goal of the Week" variety.

These tactics are designed around the simple concept of forcing the other side to react and think. It is a stance of aggression, not necessarily possession. In fact Seattle's possession by design is to be quick into the final third where it becomes a rapid shot or a long developing play.

Together the tactics and strategy are likely not yet an ethos. That will be tested later. But what they are is a combination of Know, Think, Choose, Do - but done in a fashion where the expertise of the staff and players becomes instinctive and places the initiative with the Green leaving the other with Assess, React, Recover.

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