On Saturday, the Seattle Sounders pulled out a 3-1 win over the Colorado Rapids despite the fact that the Rapids managed 27 shots in the match. Fourteen of those shots came in the first half, seven of which were on target. Of the subsequent 13 that the Rapids managed in the second half, only two were on target. That clear dichotomy of chance creation between the two halves was a direct result of the tactics employed by the Rapids to start the match as they sought to control the space in the defensive third of the Sounders.
Colorado's control of the midfield
This was yet another match where the opponent outnumbered the Sounders in midfield. It's one of the most common refrains when discussing the tactical schema and this match was not different. The three-man midfield of the Rapids had control of the center of the pitch from the word go and then didn't relinquish it until the start of the second half. With Sarvas and Pittinari pulling the strings from deep the Sounders used Andy Rose to press against those two. Yet the presence of Dillon Power forced Osvaldo Alonso to remain deep giving Colorado the man advantage.
The Sounders normally solve this by dropping someone into the midfield -- usually Clint Dempsey -- but in this match they kept the pair of Martins and Dempsey high. With the aggressiveness of Colorado, the Sounders opted to leave space in attacking midfield encouraging Colorado to push men forward and leave the Sounders open to viciously counterattack. As a whole it was a strategy that was extremely effective for the Sounders and shouldn't be widely criticized.
But that the first half was pure chaos was a direct result of that choice. With the man advantage in midfield, the Rapids found time and space to pick out their attacking channels. Those attacks came in two forms:
- An attack through the left wing with Juan Ramirez stretching Tyrone Mears wide and stretching the Sounders defense in the middle. With Rose pushed forward and Alonso occupied with Powers, this gave Vincente Sanchez free reign to cut into the middle overloading the zone directly in front of the centerbacks.
- An attack through the middle with Powers combining with Torres while again Sanchez blazed into the middle overloading Alonso with targets.
In essence what the Sounders were dealing with was a 4-man midfield against a 2-man midfield. Any team will struggle with that.
Tactical Tweaks by Schmid
The second half from the Sounders was much better defensively as Sigi Schmid gave his midfield new instructions. In particular, Andy Rose was dropped deeper and stopped pressuring the duo of Pittinari and Sarvas. In conjunction with that, Rose parked himself in line with the runs of Sanchez neutering his ability cut inside and overload with Power. With Rose pinned home more, Alonso was given more free reign to step up and attack Sarvas and Pittinari which was a vastly more effective defensive strategy.
This match was an important reminder that tactical changes do not always have to come from substitutions of massive swaps, but sometimes the littlest change can have biggest impacts on the entire match.