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Tactics Analyst Mailbag: Tiki-taka, set pieces and team selection

Sounder at Heart is nothing without its community. Every now and then, we will give you the opportunity to ask SaH tactician Liviu Bird anything you would like to know about Sounders FC and soccer tactics. This is the first of many installments of the Tactics Analyst Mailbag.

I sent out a call for questions earlier this week on Twitter, asking readers what they would like to know about tactics. Here are five of the many submissions and my attempts to answer them.

In a way, I've often wondered this myself. It doesn't seem like a lot of forwards do this often anymore, but Fredy Montero seemed to do it quite often when he played for the Sounders.

Part of being a forward is about the element of surprise, and defenders are often most surprised when they don't see a run developing. For most, that means lingering on a center back's back shoulder and cutting across them at the most opportune moment.

However, staying just a step or two offside also puts the defender at ease, even if they know a forward is there. "If he wants to hang out offside, that's cool with me," they may think. "I'll just step up if they play a through ball."

Of course, if they step back into an onside position at the right moment or if another defender tracks back and plays them onside, that line of thinking is moot. Remember, it's not an offense in itself to be in an offside position.

Without being personally close to Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid, I can't answer this with any certainty. But when I coach, several basic ideas come to mind when selecting a starting team.

Fitness is a big one. If a player is injured, sick, otherwise indisposed or on international duty, he obviously cannot be selected. If a player is coming back from injury, wherever he is on the fitness spectrum — pro teams have heart-rate monitors and fitness coaches to help them tell; college and youth coaches rely on visual evidence — determines whether he starts or comes off the bench.

Form is another major consideration. Match form is more important than training form, but if players are performing similarly in match situations, training form may be the determining factor. Confidence is a sub-category of form; if a player is playing well, he will be confident.

Matchups with certain opponents fall farther down the list than you might think. Coaches generally worry about their own team first, before the opposition crosses their mind. But if a player tends to score more against a certain opponent, for example, that might weigh in.

This is a limited list, and other factors are taken into consideration — the date of the next game, the date of the previous game, whether certain players need rest — but form and fitness are the two big ones.

Great question.

The most important thing is to not fall into a defensive shell. When FC Barcelona's opponents sit in and try to keep the ball in front of them, that's when the Barça machine really gets into a rhythm and can draw teams out by knocking the ball around.

Pressure high when good possession teams have the ball in the back. Don't let them play short on goal kicks, and don't let them get comfortable switching the point of attack in the back. It starts with forwards maintaining a good defensive posture, cutting off one half of the field by bending their runs to close off passing lanes.

Barça has a team rule that applies from the youngest teams in La Masia to the first team: If they lose the ball, they try to win it back within three seconds. If you can't win it back that quickly, then find your shape and pounce on any poor touches.

Finally, take advantage of the moments when you have the ball. Teams that keep the ball well generally don't defend as resolutely as they attack (think Portland Timbers, for an example close to home).

As this is a Sounders blog, I feel like at least two of the questions here should be Sounders-centric. Here is one, and another will follow.

To answer this question in one word: No. I don't think DeAndre Yedlin would perform better in any position other than the one he currently plays. I don't think his vision is good enough to play in the midfield, and I don't think he makes the best decisions regarding pass selection often enough.

That being said, he has immense potential. As a rookie, Yedlin is still young enough to learn these things, as well as improve the other aspects of his game he needs — one-on-one defending being probably the biggest.

For now, Yedlin is best used as an overlapping right back that slots into the space Mauro Rosales vacates when he drifts into the middle, which he so often does.

I received several questions about set pieces. Apparently, Sounders fans are quite concerned about the team's perceived lack of ability in attacking dead-ball situations. I'm not so sure there is much cause for concern here.

As both of our inquisitors above have stated, free kicks are much more than the service provided. That does play a big part, but a lot of players should be able to aim a cross toward a certain space.

Beyond that, it comes down to the quality of the runs. Are players getting free and losing their markers? Are they making runs into the correct spaces?

Losing a defender is about running through traffic, spinning away at the right moment or using a well-placed change of pace to get half a yard of space. Getting wide open with nobody around isn't necessary — gaining enough separation to get a shot off without getting blocked is the goal.

On corners and free kicks, players will often run to the near post, far post and around the penalty spot (for "garbage" that pops back out). Most teams will have certain plays that dictate where each player runs.

When the Montreal Impact was in town, I noticed several diagrams in their locker room that showed these various plays. Each one was named after a famous player (I distinctly remember Pele, Zico and Zidane).

But soccer isn't basketball. About the only thing coaches can dictate is where players will run and where the service will go. After that, teams have to react to what the play gives them.

Of course, a little bit of creativity — as Real Salt Lake showed on that short corner a couple weeks ago — also goes a long way.

I hope you enjoyed this first installment of the Tactics Analyst Mailbag. Stay tuned for further opportunities to ask questions. As always, if you want to talk at any point, hit me up on Twitter or via email.

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