As far as Cascadia Cup matches go, BC Place doesn’t have quite the same sense of foreboding intimidation that Providence Park carries, but the Sounders nevertheless can’t seem to stop dropping the ball when they visit their Cascadia rivals to the north.
On Friday against the Whitecaps it was yet another outing where Seattle’s anemic attack showcased an inability to put the ball anywhere near goal. It was an offense that ran out of ideas — and space — in the final third before opting to plant their flag and die on the hill labeled “Crosses”. Which is unfortunately an all too familiar feeling for Sounders fans over the last 13 months.
Narrow, thy definition is the Sounders offense
At this point in time, the Sounders derive most of their attacking influence solely from their fullbacks. With Nicolas Lodeiro in the middle and Harry Shipp playing a supplementary role, this leaves Joevin Jones and Oniel Fisher as the sole outlets for sustaining the Sounders’ attacks. Clint Dempsey drifted far off the backline and operated more as an attacking midfielder, so the Sounders were not able to create separation in the Vancouver block.
With little space in which to work, the Sounders only found success attacking down the left thanks to the aggressiveness of Joevin Jones. The left back combined well with the inside-out runs of Morris and Lodeiro to break down the Vancouver defense. But with no one in the box, the Sounders ran out of options for sustaining their attacks in the final third.
At the heart of this issue was Oniel Fisher. With Lodeiro focused on building play on the left, he was unable to support Fisher in transition play. Vancouver consistently brought pressure and numbers on Seattle’s right side. Fisher to his credit provided effective, though not lock down, defense but he was ineffective in attack as his defensive duties occupied the bulk of his attention.
Gustav Svensson comes with some big pros but he’s not a centerback
The biggest change the Sounders have made this season in offense — besides apparently not having one — has been their emphasis on building play out of the back. The Sounders almost always rely on doninating possession. They play Harry Shipp and Lodeiro narrow and rely on the fullbacks to provide all their width. To rely on your fullbacks so extensively on both sides of the field you have to provide the time for them to get forward. No player has epitomized this change more so than Gustav Svensson, who has been an enlightening addition to this team.
Svensson’s range of passing and defensive acumen are powerful tools for the Sounders, and he essentially brings the fully polished skillset of Brad Evans to the role. The Sounders centerbacks as a duo did a fantastic job of shutting down the Whitecaps from open play. But at the end of the day, Svensson is still a midfielder and he’s going to defend like a midfielder at times.
65' @_fredymontero sneaks behind the defence and converts Techera beauty service #VANvSEA 'Caps lead 1-0 pic.twitter.com/lMAmOjdFRf— Vancouver Whitecaps (@WhitecapsFC) April 15, 2017
In this goal, Svensson is tracking Montero but when the floating cross comes in he chooses to attack the header, aiming to hit the ball into space to start the counterattack. He whiffed completely and Fredy Montero easily headed it home to give the Whitecaps their first goal.
As the last line of defense, Svensson has to be more conservative on plays like this, opting just for a simple clearance. It was one of a few times where the Swede chose the more aggressive play, and while it’s nice to see an aggressive centerback committed to jump starting attacks, Svensson has to remember that the stakes are high in his position.
Can Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey work well together?
When the Sounders brought on Will Bruin midway through the second half, the Sounders sparked, especially Clint Dempsey, who found more time and space to get on the ball. His beautiful curling strike off the post was evidence of finding that seam of separation between the Vancouver lines.
Prior to Bruin’s introduction, Dempsey was largely absent whenever the Sounders got within 30 yards of goal. That was down to the Vancouver defense closing ranks quickly, their low block eliminating space and forcing Dempsey away from goal. With Morris’ speed, he was more effective attacking into space on the left in conjunction with Nicolas Lodeiro and Joevin Jones as the Sounders pushed down the left. This left Dempsey alone on an island in the middle against four defenders. As he drifted deeper to find the ball and draw holding midfielders with him, he ran into positional conflicts with Lodeiro and Shipp.
Whether Dempsey and Morris can work together as an effective strike partnership is a very serious concern, and right now the Sounders are short on answers and long on questions.
Stat of the Day
2 - The number of times Fredy Montero broke my heart on Friday