The first half of the Seattle Sounders' 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Saturday was a microcosm of their season to date. A deep, and at times staunch defense, was paired with a high anemic attack that ultimately failed to give the defense breathing room and the chance to reset. Only some woeful finishing from Columbus and heads up play from Stefan Frei allowed the Sounders to escape the first half without conceding.
The second half was much different. Much like his addition during the loss to the Colorado Rapids, the introduction of Erik Friberg in the 62nd minute breathed life into the Sounders. With Friberg in the side again, the Sounders have found their ability to transition play between the lines. But more than that, they've struck a midfield balance between the 3-man defensive midfield of early season with the straight four-man midfield that the Sounders have reverted to in recent weeks.
Saturday's key in neutralizing the Columbus Crew attack in the second half was Cristian Roldan who played as an out-and-out defensive midfielder for the first time this season. But with a well developed passing skillset, Roldan was able to freely shuttle play between the Sounders defensive lines allowing Friberg and Osvaldo Alonso more freedom. Friberg and Alonso for their parts formed a more advanced duo, pushing the line of confrontation higher up the pitch and restricting the ability of the Columbus fullbacks to push far forward. With Roldan linking play between the zones (as well as marking Federico Higuain into obscurity), Friberg and Alonso combined with Clint Dempsey, Joevin Jones, or Tyrone Mears to push the Sounders forward. The Sounders finally showed off true coordinated attacking teamwork for the first time since their loss to Sporting KC.
The plan isn't entirely without its roots though. The Sounders tried much the same approach earlier in the season with Ivanschitz in that midfield role and while early returns were promising, the approach stagnated as oppositions easily learned to stretch the Sounders' lines. To Sigi Schmid's credit, he tried every combination he could think of from dropping Dempsey deeper or wider to moving Ivanschitz wide to swapping his strikers and wide forwards. Friberg's shift has shown greater dynamism and mobility, allowing the Sounders more space to freely transition forward as opposed to the more static approach Ivanschitz's lack of movement forced on the Sounders.
And there's still room in this side for the Sounders' best attackers. Jordan Morris for his part excelled from wide spaces just as he has excelled when paired with Clint Dempsey underneath him. Herculez Gomez spent extensive minutes dropping deep into defensive spots in wide midfield areas supporting both Jones and Mears and making late runs. That's the exact skillset where Ivanschitz has shone brightest this season. And Nelson Valdez is still here to be the all-around "I'm amazing at literally everything except actually scoring" option who seems to work best for everyone else on the pitch.
With Copa America approaching, the Sounders really need to figure out how they're going to weather a storm without the majority of their offense. And a midfield trio that won't be missing and is showing very positive returns already might be just what Schmid needs to weather, or possibly make a jump in the standings, over the next two months.