With the loss of Obafemi Martins, the main theme of the Seattle Sounders off-season was called into question. From utilizing a three-man frontline in their previous preseason matches to varying degrees of success, it was possible that the loss of their best striker and reduction in depth would make the three-man front line untenable. Sigi Schmid has instead doubled down using Clint Dempsey and Andreas Ivanschitz as his lynch pins.
And if Wednesday's 4-0 thrashing of the LA Galaxy is anything to go by, this iteration of the Seattle Sounders could be extremely good.
The biggest change was to the roles of Dempsey and Ivanschitz. In previous iterations, Dempsey had occupied a wide left role that dropped into the middle to support Martins while Ivanschitz dictated play moving from a much deeper position on the pitch. In this new, post-Martins setup, both players occupy the central role alternating spells as the support striker and the third midfielder.
Nelson Valdez moved from the wide right role he'd played to occupy the central striker role. This was entirely expected as no one else in the attacking corps really has the aerial or physical prowess to go body-to-body with opposition centerbacks with success.
However, the real fundamental key to this structure and the way the Sounders play is Joevin Jones. The young Trinidadian has speed to burn, passes extremely well, crosses well and in many ways fills the same role and skillset that DeAndre Yedlin occupied before he left. The main benefit is that Jones can occupy much of the left flank on his own, keeping opposition defenses stretched to deal with his two-step explosiveness and crossing ability. This gives Dempsey the freedom in the middle to interplay with Ivanschitz in a setup that's designed to stretch the middle of the park. This may be one of the hallmarks of how the Sounders play this year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Sounders fundamentally use a 3-man press but just like their offensive setup it comes with a lopsided structure. Utilizing Morris, Valdez and Dempsey as the front three, Ivanschitz moves into positions under the main strikers to occupy the opposition in a primary or secondary presser role. The main intent is to supplement the winger - in this case Dempsey or Morris -- who drops deep into the midfield band as the opposition attacks. In conjunction with that drop, the alternate winger pushes high to provide a counterattacking outlet and restrict the opposition fullback from moving forward and overloading either of Mears or Jones.
In the middle, it's Osvaldo Alonso and Erik Friberg doing the messy business, working in concert as a double pivot. That gives the Sounders both the freedom to push Ivanschitz higher without sacrificing defense while ensuring that either is in a position to supplement the press applied when one of the wingers drops deep.
Does the loss of Martins affect the Sounders?
Given the way Sigi Schmid has reshuffled his forces, the loss of Obafemi Martins at worst leaves the Sounders on equal footing as to when he was here. It's hard to imagine that the Sounders losing their very best player makes them better, but in a nutshell it slides Nelson Valdez into a position where his best offensive and defensive skills can shine brightest.
With Martins' propensity to drop deep no longer in the equation either, both Ivanschitz and Dempsey can push into that space and rather than relying on the complex interchange of three parties, the Sounders can focus on developing the rapport between their two attacking playmakers. While it will definitely be a loss to no longer see the magic of Martins and Dempsey together, Ivanschitz and Dempsey could provide just as many sparks considering they have the likes of Valdez and Morris on the end of their through balls.