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Sounders exploit LA Galaxy’s focus on Clint Dempsey, predictably can’t convert

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Seattle's supporting cast had all of the space they needed with Clint Dempsey occupying multiple defenders. They couldn't take advantage.

Mike Russell Foto

At some point, you would think that the Seattle Sounders would just score a goal. In their 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy, the Sounder put together 21 shots and nearly 90 minutes of aggressive, possession-based attacking soccer. It was miles better than their 1-1 draw with Toronto FC and light years ahead of what they put together in an pitiful game against New York City FC.

But try as they might, the Sounders couldn’t get their best players fully engaged in the loss to LA. Clint Dempsey found himself in the middle of a stranglehold formed by a disciplined double team from Baggio Husidic and Jeff Larentowicz. To the Sounders credit, they exploited that double team with almost reckless abandon pushing Cristian Roldan to freely attack the lanes their movements opened and running out the backside of the fullbacks or centerbacks. In conjunction with Tyrone Mears in possession the Sounders were able to easily craft penetration into the LA half.

But again as has been the familiar refrain for all of the Sounders season, that’s where the attacks died. Fullback overlaps became hopeless crosses into the heads of the LA Galaxy centerbacks who combined for 18 of the 36(!) clearances LA mustered in the match.

And it all really starts for the Sounders with the fact that Clint Dempsey is their lone creator. Dempsey’s relative inability to work outside of the space behind the main striker has caused the Sounders issues all season, first with his inability to find any sort of coordination with Ivanschitz — who since has turned into a thoroughly abject player — and his lack of cohesion with Nelson Haedo Valdez.

For the strike partnership, much of that comes down to the differences between their styles of play. The Paraguayan picks up balls via his physicality and speed, focusing on small passing to work his way out of tight areas and retain possession. It’s a style that works best in congested areas which are areas the spatially dominant Dempsey tends to avoid. The end result is the isolation of Dempsey and Valdez from one another during transition and build up play.

For Jordan Morris’ part, his speed and willingness to play off the shoulder of the centerback opens space between oppositions centerbacks and the defensive midfield. That provides more space for a player like Dempsey, but at the same time it still doesn’t address the very large elephant in the room in how the Sounders break down oppositions in defensive midfield.

It took both of Baggio Husidic and Jeff Larentowicz to neuter Dempsey against LA and that cost them the ability to shutdown Cristian Roldan. But what happens when it’s Nigel de Jong, Victor Ulloa, Kyle Beckerman, or Jermaine Jones who check into that space? They are all single handedly capable of eliminating Dempsey’s influence while the remaining parts of the defensive midfield contain the play of Friberg or Roldan that allows Seattle to dominate possession. That’s the situation the Sounders have found themselves in for much of this season and it’s a situation seemingly bereft of an answer without the addition of new talent to this team.