One of the more tense, dramatic matches thus far in the Brian Schmetzer era, Saturday’s 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps stood out to the Sounders head coach as one of his strongest team performances to date. He directed praise at a variety of players, especially highlighting the play of Roman Torres, who is quickly becoming an essential part of Schmetzer’s team.
Schmetzer said Torres is bringing entirely new angles of defense and possession to the team. He said Torres got “into a couple situations where he was actually able to remain calm and connect the pass instead of lumping it downfield.”
Since Schmetzer’s plan is for the team to be possession-based, this ability to calmly start an attack by playing it out from defense is absolutely key. Rather than punt the ball forward and create a 50/50, Schmetzer said he’d rather his team built their attacks slowly from the back because it keeps possession. “If we can keep 100% possession, why not?”
Torres’ calmness under pressure in Saturday’s match clearly had an effect on Schmetzer, who gushed about another tiny moment from the defender that he suspected had gone unnoticed. At some point in the match, Torres found himself having to deal with a long ball near the corner of the box while under pressure from a Vancouver attacker. Tyrone Mears wasn’t close enough to deal with it directly, so the simplest move would have been to head it out of play.
Here’s how Schmetzer described it: “So instead of his heading the ball out for a throw-in for them deep in our half, he actually took some off the ball and it dropped to Tyrone, and Tyrone gave it back to Roman and we’re out the other side. I was impressed.”
It sounds like Schmetzer didn’t even prepare his team to play in such a way on Saturday, because he didn’t expect such technical play from Torres. He called the Panamanian’s performance a “bonus” on top of the solid play from the rest of the squad. The game plan against Vancouver was to avoid the “box” created by their holding midfielders, Matias Laba and Pedro Morales, as much as possible. He wanted his Sounders to build through the full-backs, and crash into the midfield box after the ball was already in the attacking third. But perhaps the biggest key, and why Torres’ play was so vital, was keeping possession as much as possible.
Rather than allow a player like Mears to just whip in a cross as soon as he’s in the final third, Schmetzer wanted his players to stay calm and make the best possible decision. “If it didn’t go for Tyrone he wasn’t going to panic or just throw a cross into the box for no reason, he was gonna come back down the other side and keep them on a little bit more pressure.”
As for next weekend’s important road match in Los Angeles, Schmetzer said that Brad Evans will likely be another game-time decision due to his back injury, and offered no update on a timetable for a Clint Dempsey return. Schmetzer said he hasn’t “dissected” LA’s draw with Sporting KC from the weekend, but he was pleased to see that Landon Donovan had scored so quickly on his return from retirement: ”I wish he would have scored one more, I mean you never know. It could push Kansas City a little closer to us.”