Two matches into the Nicolas Lodeiro era in Seattle and the Uruguayan playmaker is already the fulcrum of the Seattle Sounders. Four points and dominating displays against the LA Galaxy and Orlando City SC show a side benefiting tremendously from his passing in attack. But juxtaposed to his offensive prowess, it’s the diminutive playmaker’s defensive ability that proved to be the biggest boost to Brian Schmetzer’s side in Orlando.
With the ball at their feet, the Sounders run a 4-2-3-1 straight up. Considering the bastardized 4-4-2/4-3-3 hybrid they ran most of this season under Sigi Schmid, it’s refreshing to see an offensive tactical plan that is simple and gives players the attacking freedom to execute it. The caveat there is that Lodeiro’s impact makes the key difference for the Sounders and that’s simply an option Schmid never had.
Against LA, the attacking midfield trio of Morris, Dempsey, and Lodeiro was more relaxed as they freely swapped and pushed high to complement Nelson Valdez as the lone striker. It was an attack in flux that was equal parts freedom of movement and the players simply trying to figure out how to work with each other.
Against Orlando City, the free-flowing look of the week before gave way to a rigid attacking philosophy built around Lodeiro. The presence of Andreas Ivanschitz on the left was likely the biggest reason for this rather than any intentional effect as the Austrian international served to play focused defense while serving as a secondary attacking option. Ivanschitz’s stoic presence on the left allowed Dempsey and Lodeiro to focus on controlling the center and right. Rather than the almost wild forays that were seen against LA, Lodeiro focused on working in concert with Mears and Dempsey and peppered the space in behind the Orlando fullbacks with throughball after throughball for Jordan Morris.
Defensive Control of the Midfield
The attacking flux of the LA draw necessarily created a very open defensive stance. It more resembled an amalgamation of open thoughts than a cohesive defensive plan. Though again, given just several practices under Schmetzer and with Lodeiro, it’s not exactly like they had time to craft their version of The Last Supper.
That free-flowing defense was more structured against Orlando City and in this match we saw what Lodeiro’s work rate can bring to the table defensively. The key hallmark here is the overloaded midfield. With Ivanschitz’s lack of pace on the left, the Sounders kept him and Joevin Jones tight to the the sideline. But rather than relying on the holding midfield to control the middle of the park, Dempsey dropped back while Lodeiro tucked into midfield.
This was important for two reasons: a) it restricted space between the Orlando midfield and Kaka, preventing the Brazilian from receiving the ball and b) restricted Orlando’s long passing options ensuring they either stuck to attacking Ivanschitz/Jones or shuttled the ball around the backline to get it into the feet of the speedy Brek Shea. This allowed Lodeiro with his impressive work rate to transition from overloading the midfield to playing defense in a band of four.
Isolating those two main components of the Orlando City attack whilst ensuring Lodeiro could support Mears, created an imbalance in the Orlando City attack while taking the center of the park out of play. They became predictable while Seattle got its two main attacking threats perfectly positioned to receive the ball and transition forward quickly through the opposition midfield.
How this defensive tactical plan works moving forward is going to depend on the opposition. Against the likes of Portland or Vancouver, the Sounders likely will have a huge advantage in containing their key threats. But against those teams who stay compact and rely on pace like the LA Galaxy or FC Dallas, this Sounders defensive strategy could be an issue. That said, the Sounders have already taken down both types of teams, even if the LA draw was more a product of run-and-gun than a true plan.