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The Central Midfield is Broken

The current design of Seattle's midfield cannot simultaneously account for the absence of Osvaldo Alonso on the defensive side of the ball and missing Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins up front.


Gonzalo Pineda's role has evolved in his time with the Seattle Sounders. When he first seized a starting role early in 2014, he seemed to compliment Osvaldo Alonso's strength on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. He recorded 7 or more defensive actions in 7 of his first 9 games (an average MLS starting midfielder registered about 6.4 defensive actions for every 90 minutes), accounting for nearly 10% of the team's defense over that stretch (average midfielder: 8.1%). He combined solid defense with accurate short passing, good vision down the field, and strong set piece service. Although his defense dropped off over the course of the year, the team came to rely on his distribution to an even greater extent, a trend that has carried over into his 2015 starts:


In the 38 games Pineda has spent at least 45 minutes on the field, he has been responsible for about 14.8% of the team's passes (as defined by; midfielder average ~10.4%), and his average for 13 games in 2015 is 16.3% (higher than any regular MLS starting midfielder last year). The increased usage has coincided with a surprising drop in production. After failing to create a chance on goal (key passes + assists) only twice in 2014, 9 of his 13 2015 starts bear that dubious distinction.

Part of that change must be by team design - either attributable to an increased emphasis on deliberate possession or greater reliance on Marco Pappa as the midfield creator. Some of Pineda's decline could also be blamed on fitness and injury. Whatever the reason, in the absence of key players on both sides of the ball, it's not a stat line indicative of a working midfield.

The 8 games Osvaldo Alonso has missed in 2015 is his highest mark since the 2010 season. In those games, the Seattle Sounders have 2 wins, a draw, and 5 of their 7 losses on the year. Although Micheal Azira has done admirable work compensating for the Honey Badger's absence, he can't fully account for Alonso's contributions on both sides of the ball. Pineda hasn't been able to pick up the slack:


The open-filled symbols with error bars mark the overall averages (+/- 1 standard deviation) for Pineda's usage. The modest increase in passing share could be attributed to the aforementioned difference between 2015 and 2014 performances (with the majority of Alonso's missing games coming this season). Pineda accounts for much the same amount of on-field play no matter his partner in the middle (compare the difference in usage with and without Alonso to Servando Carrasco's role shift under similar circumstances - albeit with a modest sample size). In Sunday's embarrassing loss to the Portland Timbers, attackers regularly found space to roam and provide service through Seattle's defensive midfield. Through every stage of the game. The team adjusted at half with more help from the wide midfielders, to limited effect... and the change only exacerbated Seattle's struggles on the offensive end.

Erik Friberg's impending arrival is not a cure-all for Seattle's troubles, but it's clear he must be part of the solution, finding the personnel to account for defensive responsibility while creating for the forward players. Unlike Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins, they will struggle to make chances on their own.

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