Well, in case you didn't get the memo this week, the Sounders are running a 4-4-2 diamond. Yes, the dreaded "diamond" I have demonstrated my pathological hatred for. I was perfectly fine despising yet admiring RSL's ruthless efficiency with it, and otherwise relegating it to the level of tactics they use in high school and Italy. I had entirely written off any and all of Sigi and the Sounders dabbling in it; there was always a readily rational explanation as to why it was just a short-term fix, and that it could never, possibly be a long-term solution for the Sounders.
Yet, here we are; and I am sitting here typing this full well knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that if the Seattle Sounders are going to beat the Portland Timbers and go on to win the 2013 MLS Cup, they will do it running a diamond.
The immediate repercussions of this are that we will no longer see Wide Attacking Midfielders. That, right there, ought to be somewhat shocking to anyone who's actually paid attention to what Sigi runs - and not what we'd wish he runs. Wide Attacking Midfielders have defined the Sounders attack since their first MLS match, even more so than a guy named Fredy Montero. Whiled everyone wondered where the single CAM was in Sigi's system, we were running 2 WAM's. Zakuani, Le Toux, Nyassi, Fernandez, Rosales, Neagle. The only reason we didn't refer to Sigi's arrow as a 4-2-3-1 was a quirk of outdated nomenclature. That was always my main reason against the diamond: Sigi simply loved his WAM's too much.
What this means is the likelihood of the Sounders running out a starting XI that includes neither of Rosales or Neagle is quite high, provided Obafemi Martins is fit enough to start a playoff match (which probably won't happen until Thursday at the earliest). The diamond calls for box-to-box midfielders lined up either side of a true CDM and CAM central midfield. It's the perfect role for versatile midfielders likeAdam Moffat and Brad Evans. Brad Evans and Adam Moffat are the kind of guys you don't mind playing a half at right back if they need to; guys who will pop up in the right place at the right time and bang one in.
But the secondary, but perhaps most important repercussion of the switch to the diamond is what it says about the Seattle Sounders and even more so, Clint Dempsey.
There are two reasons, as I see it, to run the diamond. The first is the RSL way, and quite appropriately, it's about pressure. RSL pressures goals out of you like oil from an olive. They were MLS's best passing team and scored the 2nd-most goals this season. This came in a year where certain naive souls thought they'd struggle after what seemed like a bit of a fire sale of talent last offseason.
The second reason to run the diamond is much more pragmatic: you feel as though you have good players who can win enough one-on-ones and this is a structured, somewhat stifling system where you can control the midfield. Both systems work, and obviously there's an axis between the two poles and most teams land somewhere in the middle; but it outlines the basic approach that any and all formations are decided on: system-driven or talent driven.
The Sounders obviously have no time to perfect, or even really begin to work on, their system. RSL has been doing it for 5 years now and the Sounders for what, 2 matches?! What the Sounders are saying is that theirs is entirely player driven, and that pretty much means one player.
Another thing about the diamond: the true brilliance from the diamond usually comes from the CAM. The CAM in the diamond is the last vestige of the most romantic notion of the classic No. 10: a swashbuckling playmaker almost single-handedly matching wits against an entire opposing defense. In many cases, this has simply been abandoned for very practical reasons, as anyone who watched poor Lionel Messi be shadowed by 4 Germans can tell you. "A single stream is easily dammed" someone said. So, there's that.
That's not to say that Dempsey won't have help, He's got Eddie Johnson, who couldn't possibly be more supremely motivated in these playoffs. I can't help but wonder if opposing players are a little worried about how motivated EJ is right now. He's a bit of a ticking time bomb, to be honest, but in a good way.
The back 4 are as solid and reliable a group as there is in MLS. No one cares about the 9 goals in 2 games any more. You've suffered those indignities but neither of those foes are playing any longer, and you are. Ozzie Alonso is about the best man in the business for the CDM role, and the aforementioned Evans and Moffat are everything you need from the other two midfielders.
So there it is. MLS Cup or bust.