90 minutes of pseudo-horrible unattractive soccer and with a grand total of zero shots on goal, Saturday's 0-0 draw between the Seattle Sounders and FC Dallas was as close to a stalemate as exists in the game of soccer. Neither Stefan Frei nor Chris Seitz were necessary parts of their teams respective defenses as the majority of the play happened between the opposing centerback duos.
Starting Tactical Lineups
Sigi Schmid rolled out his heavily depleted lineup in a standard 4-2-3-1 formation using Chad Barrett as the lone striker with Lamar Neagle on the left wing and Cristian Roldan on the right. It was a fairly defensive strategy from the Sounders as they were content to let Dallas and possession dictate the flow of the game.
For Oscar Pareja, his lineup was decidedly designed around getting Fabian Castillo into the most dangerous positions they could using Hollingshead and Akindele as supplemental pieces to drive his performance. For the Sounders, their focus in the early parts of the match was shutting down Castillo which they did with relative ease as Tyrone Mears proved very adept at disrupting the Colombian attacker.
Almost that entire plan went right out the window in the 16th minute when Dallas leftback Kellyn Acosta decided to stick his boot into Andy Rose's torso in a move that would have made Jean-Claude Van Damme proud, earning a deserved red card from Kevin Stott.
The Acosta Red Card Shift
At the point of the Acosta red card, the Dallas plan shifted as they sent Ryan Hollingshead to the leftback spot and shifted their midfield defensive line into a three-man setup with a two striker press. It was an aggressive strategy from Pareja as it forced the Sounders out of the middle of the field and relegated them to wing play. However without a viable striker in the box, the Sounders were unable to target the Dallas box effectively via the cross nor could they target it with long balls over the compact midfield of Akindele, Ulloa, and Michel. This left the Sounders with few viable options in attack.
In response to Pareja's adjustment, the Sounders tried to push Lamar Neagle forward --the operative word being tried -- alongside Chad Barrett while Cristian Roldan appeared to drop into the midfield in a diamond-style formation. With Roldan it's hard to know if this propensity to drop into the middle was by design -- which considering the positional acumen he showed in the San Jose loss and the Tijuana friendly is likely -- or a natural product of being a more centrally styled midfielder. With the compact Dallas midfield in play, this gave the Sounders a fighting chance by mitigating the numerical advantage in the zone directly above the Dallas centerbacks.
Ideally, that structure from the Sounders combined with a two striker set up top would be enough to force Dallas into compromising situations where Seattle could exploit space around that zone. Unfortunately, that's where the lack of a technical player up front came to bite the Sounders in the ass. With Neagle's directness he naturally loses the ball in 1v1 situations more often while Chad Barrett is the last option the Sounders want when they're forced to play technical tight quarters soccer.
Those two facts together with a relatively inexperienced Cristian Roldan gave Dallas all the interceptions, dispossessions, misplaced passes, and free balls they could dream of. Coupled with the space on the wings from shifting both Roldan and Neagle into the middle and Dallas were off to the races with Dallas fullbacks Atiba Harris and Hollngshead content to push the game up the pitch. This let them control the match in the first half working both Fabian Castillo and David Texeira into dangerous spaces on the counterattack. The unfortunate followup was this often left Lamar Neagle caught in transition between playing as a left-sided midfielder and a striker that tended to compound the issue for the Sounders.
Rapid Switches: Dallas goes defensive, Sigi elects to stretch the field
Nothing changed for either side after the halftime break. The Sounders played more fluidly with a more solidified gameplan for dealing with the Dallas fullbacks that included pushing Leo Gonzalez much higher and forcing Harris back and pinning Lamar Neagle high alongside Barrett. Then Oscar Pareja substituted Walker Zimmerman for David Texeira in the 60th minute and the Dallas counterattack evaporated. Pareja pushed Loyd from the centerback spot out to the leftback position while Hollingshead moved into the left midfield role as the Dallas defense transitioned to two banks of four. That left the Sounders with a 4v2 advantage in midfield which was immediately dropped to a 3v2 as Sigi Schmid brought on Aaron Kovar for Roldan two minutes later.
Kovar was an immediate improvement as his width helped stretch the Dallas midfield defensive line and allowed the Sounders to finally force dangerous balls through to both Neagle and Barrett. Considering that Chad Barrett accounted for 1 touch inside the penalty area from the first through the 60th minute, then notched 4 in his next 13 minutes before being substituted, it was a very dramatic turnaround from the Sounders as Gonzalo Pineda was finally able to dictate the tempo and play through the middle.
Adding Victor Mansaray in place of Barrett gave the Sounders a pair of fresh speedy legs and a player capable of going body to body with the Dallas centerbacks. That Mansaray nearly assisted a late goal from a fantastic deep run from Andy Rose was nearly the icing on the cake from Sigi Schmid's post-halftime substitutions.
Ultimately this game wasn't so much that the Sounders weren't good enough to beat a Dallas team down a man or that Dallas was somehow superior to the Sounders. It was mostly the fact that the Sounders were missing the technical players they needed at the exact moment and in the exact type of game where those players were needed the absolute most. The Acosta red card may have actually been one of the worst things that could have happened to the Sounders in this game.