Last Saturday, the Sounders ran out as close to a first team lineup as they have had this preseason against the Charleston Battery. While the game finished as a 1-1 draw, the Seattle Sounders deployed a very fluid 4-2-3-1 formation that focused on the talents of Nicolas Lodeiro.
The Sounders were dynamic, but it wasn’t a performance without hiccups, and how they respond to those on Wednesday against Atlanta United FC and Saturday against Columbus Crew SC should provide clues to whether or not the Sounders have a viable structure going forward.
How the Sounders fullbacks provide width
When Nicolas Lodeiro moves centrally from wide play, the Sounders width is solely on the head of the fullback. On Saturday, that was Darrius Barnes. The 30-year-old centerback was horrific when attacking wide right. Without a legitimate attacking threat, the Battery were more than happy to pack the middle to stop the Sounders.
If the sides were reversed, i.e. Lodeiro on the left moving central, the potent attacking threats of Joevin Jones would come into play. The Sounders know what Jones can provide, so look at how the Sounders balance attacking threats from the fullback position on the right versus the left with their needs to assess players fit for the final roster.
The odd-man out on the attacking line
The odd man out is the attacking player who specifically plays with fullback support. On Saturday that man was Alvaro Fernandez. The Uruguayan had a fantastic performance but it was decidedly a solo effort. How the odd-man out on that attacking line develops a partnership with their fullback is going to be the incredibly important for long term success. Not using Joevin Jones (or Brad Evans or Oniel Fisher) in attacking forays is not going to be an option for the Sounders in the regular season.
How much of their lack of connection on Saturday was because of the emphasis and positioning of Darrius Barnes lead to restraining play on the left is tough to tell. It is certainly a factor in assessing their partnership and still at such as early stage of preseason it’s only worth keeping a casual eye on how it develops.
This team lives and dies in defensive midfield
There were two broad themes to the first half of the Sounders game against the Battery: Lodeiro’s outside-in movement and how the Sounders build play from the back. Jordy Delem was an unequivocal nightmare on Saturday and killed the Sounders’ possession before it could even start as the deep lying playmaker. Cristian Roldan performed much more admirably in the role when they swapped halfway through the first 45, but it was striking to see the impact the introduction of Zach Mathers had on creating a functional defensive midfield in the second half.
That underscores one major tactical point: moving Brad Evans out of the centerback role costs the Sounders quite a bit of their deep playmaking. That means more of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of Alonso and Roldan. Those two are more than capable of bearing the load, but what options the Sounders have in the absence of those two and how — or if — they bring the advanced fullback into crafting possession are keys to avoiding potential roster crises later in the season.