The Seattle Sounders came into the 2017 season with high hopes in their defense of the MLS Cup. They got off to a rough start, notching 45 fairly terrible minutes before dominating the Houston Dynamo in the second half. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to dig themselves out of the two-goal hole they had secured for themselves.
High-risk, high-reward tactical lineups
From the get go the Sounders and Dynamo were in a setup that both sides could exploit. Houston’s aggressive offensive posture didn’t include either of their wingers supporting defense. That duty instead relied solely on the Dynamo midfield which was out manned by the Sounders 4-man midfield. With a 4v3 advantage in midfield, the Sounders were naturally aggressive with both Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan in an an attempt to break the Dynamo defense early.
With Nicolas Lodeiro functionally behaving as a false 10 behind Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey in “Whereever I May Roam” mode, the Sounders kept Joevin Jones more conservative on the left side of the field. The Sounders used Gustav Svensson as the more aggressive of the fullback duo in the first half. The broad intent was to sustain possession and control of the match in the Houston attacking third as Brian Schmetzer alluded to at halftime.
Unfortunately, the Sounders fell flat on their face.
All the possessive intent in the world can’t save you when your rusty offense turns the ball over nine times at the half way point or inside your own half in the first 45 minutes. That was the situation the Sounders found themselves in.
With Gustav Svensson advancing, the Sounders were exposed in defensive midfield as soon the ball was turned over. With Svensson slow in recovery and Romelo Quioto so high to start, the Swede was unable to keep himself goalside of the Honduran. Those struggles required support from either Roldan or Alonso to shut down quick attacks and with the Sounders keen on pressing their midfield advantage they lacked the positioning to help Svensson. Without aid, Quioto burned Svensson repeatedly for much of the first half.
Enter stage left, Joevin Jones
Addressing the trouble caused by Quioto was easy for the Sounders. They pulled Svensson deeper and marked Quioto out of the match. Pulling Svensson deeper came with the requirement that Nicolas Lodeiro play more on the left as Alvaro Fernandez was more conservative without his supporting fullback.
This allowed Joevin Jones to adapt and cover the entirety of the left on his own with support as needed. To his credit he obliterated the rightside of Houston as his quick passing and movement. in conjunction with Nicolas Lodeiro, defined the Sounders attack. Alberth Elis was as equally loathe to play defense as Quioto, allowing Jones unfettered reign to attack the more offensively oriented AJ De La Garza.
With De La Garza continually exposed, the Sounders drew out the covering Adolfo Machado and broke down the Houston backline. Coupled with their numerical superiority in midfield, the Sounders were finally able to free space in midfield and ease up on the turnovers.
On defense, Jones was able to do what Svensson proved unable. The slower and more deliberate attacks from Elis and De La Garza allowed Jones plenty of time to regain positioning in conjunction with his speed. With the Sounders sustaining possession in the Houston half and having contained their entire offense, the second half proved to be a one way flow of the ball towards the Houston goal.
The Sounders were able to capitalize with one well worked goal but sadly proved unable to get a second.
Late dual sweeping centerbacks was an odd choice
After Henry Wingo came on for Gustav Svensson, Brian Schmetzer went for the surreal with his tactics asking both centerbacks to play as sweepers. While Marshall operated like a traditional defensive sweeper, cleaning up messes behind the fullbacks and in the middle, Torres pushed forward from the backline as a libero. Torres attacked from deep positions with secondary runs looking to be an aerial threat in the box, and was then expected to hustle back into defensive positioning.
This was a double edged knife for the Sounders. With Torres occupying positions more germaine to Roldan the Sounders took one of their more potent offensive weapons off the table. Roldan and Alonso instead operated deeper supporting Marshall and the aggressive fullbacks. It was definitely not an alien ask for the Sounders, but given that the last kick of the match was skied by a wide open late run from Roman Torres, it’s not hard to imagine what Roldan or Alonso could have done with that ball instead.