For the player that was supposed to be the Seattle Sounders' creative hub since signing last summer, Andreas Ivanschitz endured a pretty tough start to the season. Leading up to last weekend's matchup with the Philadelphia Union, Ivanschitz (who has started in every league match thus far) attempted 57 crosses, and only connected with a teammate on seven occasions. Ivanschitz is also the team's usual corner taker, yet he only found a teammate with 7/33 he took on those five matches. While he did create a number of chances, he only racked up one assist -- a corner kick that found Dempsey for the Sounders' lone goal against Montreal.
But the 2-1 home win against the Union may well be the match that turns around Ivanschitz's season. Lining up in a semi-unfamiliar position on the right wing, the Austrian changed up the way he played and churned out his best performance of the season after assisting both of Seattle's goals. The first was from a corner kick that went right to Chad Marshall, and the second was a stunning pass over the top for Jordan Morris. Ivanschitz said that while it was different, it obviously worked for him and for the team as a whole. "I started as a right winger, which isn't a new position for me, but I haven't played it a lot for the Sounders. For me, it's no problem: I can play right midfield or left midfield or even in the center. Those are my three positions. The coach asked me to play on the right, and there was no problem with that."
Having started on the left or middle in the five matches prior, shifting to the right forced Ivanschitz to focus less on crossing and more on passing and shooting. "Sometimes it's even better to come from the right wing, you can drive the ball inside and then shoot with your left foot. Sometimes it's a better position as a lefty, to cut in and get those shots." The Sounders' lack of goals this season likely contributed to this switch, and head coach Sigi Schmid knew that Ivanschitz and his powerful left foot could provide the creative spark that had been lacking when he played on the left.
The team's lack of creativity also contributed to Clint Dempsey's shift closer to midfield, as Schmid tries out new ways of creating goals from the midfield. But that role, which has been something of a hybrid #10 and left-sided midfielder so far this season, often means that Dempsey and Ivanschitz would overlap or swap spots often in a match. "We didn't switch as much as the games before, I think now the coach asked Clint to be more of a second striker, to be more high up." Moving Ivanschitz to the right was another way of forcing Dempsey to stick to a role and own the position. "He's a good passer, he's a good scorer, so I think to have Clint twenty meters in front of the opponent's goal is always a dangerous situation. The coach asked him to stay more in the center and find those gaps between the defenders and the midfielders." Even though he and Dempsey don't find themselves playing as close to each other, Ivanschitz stressed that as the two most creative players on the team, working together is still important. "We didn't switch as much as the other games, but still we have to try to find each other."
Both players are also the Sounders' designated free kick takers, but Ivanschitz says that he and Dempsey have an understanding and that it's never a problem. "We decide it on the pitch, it's very spontaneous. Clint's obviously very good and he's scored many such goals already, and I scored one this season. No problems with it, we decide it during the game and that's that."
The Sounders' attack has seen some shifting and changing over the past few matches, and Ivanschitz says that it's something they're constantly working on. "All three offensive positions, we have to play together, to find each other and make the game." But now that the players and coaches have started to find a rhythm and put the players in their best positions, things are starting to happen and goals are getting scored. Ivanschitz stresses that the players are working hard to build on the success of the last few matches, and that they're constantly trying to improve in every area. "Seven points out of the last three games, of course we have to do many things better, but it's still early in the season and I think we're in a good way."