After the Seattle Sounders’ big 3-1 win over Orlando City last weekend, all the talk was about Clint Dempsey, and rightly so. His three-goal haul underlined what was his best performance of the season. But much of it was possible thanks to a constantly-improving Jordan Morris, as well as the individual brilliance of Nicolas Lodeiro. Head coach Brian Schmetzer said that this isn’t an accident: "That’s what we brought [Lodeiro] here for—if we can push Clint a little higher to goal, and you get Lodeiro to do what he does."
Lodeiro’s ability has improved the overall Sounders attack, but he’s also made a positive impact on the team’s top two forwards. Morris said that, immediately upon arriving in Seattle, Lodeiro told him that "he’s gonna look for me when I make those runs." This fits Morris’ preferred way of playing as a forward, something he hasn’t really had all season.
The addition of Lodeiro has also inflated the team in indirect ways as well, as the partnership between Dempsey and Morris looked better than it has all season against Orlando. Morris says that their chemistry is improving a lot, but Schmetzer urged that "it’s always a work in progress. This is Jordan’s first year. Give them a little time to gel and get into the fold."
It might not have been as obvious during the match, but one of Schmetzer’s biggest takeaways from Sunday’s match was the defensive contribution of his forwards. Sigi Schmid hadn’t addressed that too much this year, though it’s notable that Morris has had a number of hard-working defensive performances this season. "Jordan’s contribution to the attack—phenomenal," Schmetzer said, "but his commitment to the defense was just as high." He also pointed out that one of the reasons that Dempsey came off the pitch a little early on Sunday was because he had sprinted the entire length of the field to help out his defenders. "We had a corner kick, and the ball got cleared, Dempsey was at the top of the D, he chased the ball all the way to the goalkeeper down there and made the goalkeeper head it out of play for a throw-in for us, thirty-five yards into their half."
This is clearly a point of pride for Schmetzer, and it’s probably an insight of what’s to come in the Schmetzer era. "My message to all the players is that you have to be a smart individual defender first, and we have to play good team defense." This idea of team defense and well-rounded players is just another bullet point in the slow reveal of Schmetzer’s coaching philosophy, what he likes to call "smart soccer." It’s a good philosophy, one that has already started to transform the Sounders’ season. If it works, Schmetzer could just pull off a miracle in 2016.