There are many story threads being discussed to describe the Seattle Sounders 2014 season. Clint Dempsey tries stuff and is leading the Golden Boot race. Obafemi Martins has suddenly become a creative playmaking force and leads the league in assists. Deuce and Oba have set a standard of excellence and the rest of the team is rising to the challenge. The Sounders bench depth is incredibly skilled by MLS standards and it provides the team with a wealth of tactical options.
The Sounders are using multiple tactical formations this season that all share a common attacking flair. This season isn't about running a formational system. Instead the team focuses on playing the game with a particular mindset.
After each new example of the Sounders fighting back from a deficit, the fan base and the players' confidence grows. In the stands, supporters whisper their confidence. They don't hope the team will earn a result. They know. And the basic numbers reinforce the feeling even if they are not a warranty of success. The Sounders have more second half goals this season than 17 other MLS teams have total goals.
Wednesday night FC Dallas played the Sounders for the second time this season and for the second time they surrendered an early lead and lost the game. Oscar Pareja entered the game with a new game plan and played a tight diamond formation that clogged the midfield in an effort to force the Sounders to play crosses from the flanks into the forest of tall Dallas players. Dallas coupled these efforts with an attempt to close down space on both Dempsey and Martins and deny them time to create. Unfortunately for Dallas, it didn't work for 90 minutes. And more importantly for Sounders fans, it hasn't been working for anyone this season.
At the national media level, all of the focus has been on the question of whether anyone can stop a Seattle attack spearheaded by Deuce and Oba. Of course, MLS managers have been "trying stuff" in an effort to do just that all year. Pareja's creative game plan was just the latest attempt to devise a tactical approach to defeating the 2014 Sounders. Unlike previous seasons, the league has yet to devise an effective strategy for defeating or even containing the Sounders. But that doesn't mean that they aren't trying. Which leads to an interesting question concerning the Sounders second half statistics, "What if it is taking the Sounders a half to acclimate to what opposing teams are attempting this week?"
Each week Sigi and the team are faced with some new tactical wrinkle. Most teams are trying something slightly different than what they normally do in an effort to disrupt Seattle's flow and rhythm. This makes it difficult for Seattle to prepare completely. What if the Sounders' slower starts aren't a sign of coming out of the locker room a bit flat, but instead a reaction to getting their mind around what the opposing team is trying to accomplish? This idea puts the season into an intriguing perspective. Each half time intermission has seen Sigi and the coaching staff making critical adjustments and preparing key substitutions.
The team's bench flexibility, depth of skill and overarching attitude enables the coaching staff to adjust the team's tactics on the fly in ways that we haven't seen in previous seasons. It is also leading to game after game where the Sounders have gotten stronger and more dangerous with every passing minute of the second half. Everyone in the stadium can feel the pressure building and the opposition unravels before our eyes. Suddenly the Sounders consistency becomes more than just a run of incredible form. It's a function of the way in which the team is constructed and operates. It's sustainable in a way that mere luck is not.
Statistically, we could expect that a simple run of luck would have petered out by now. There appears to be more than fortunate bounces at play in this run of form. Chance favors the prepared mind and this team appears prepared. And the truly scary thing is that they don't feel as if they are even close to peaking yet. They are earning results in spite of making mistakes. As they become more comfortable with one another and continue to grow as a unit, they should become even more dangerous. Their performance will ebb at some point. It's a long season and the World Cup call-ups loom on the near horizon. But if the late game heroics are indeed a sign of a team that adapts on the fly and not simply a statistical anomaly, the rest of the league should prepare for a long, green summer. I like the Sounder's chances.