The Seattle Sounders, who played five of their first seven matches of the 2017 season on the road, get to come home for the first of two straight matches at CenturyLink Field this weekend. They’re set to face the New England Revolution, hoping to replicate the form they had in LA last week. One thing they’re really working on ahead of that match is communication, according to goalkeeper Stefan Frei. "Communication is vital in training, because it’s actually one of the times you can try to communicate what you see and try to instill it and make it second nature for them when the game comes around."
This is especially important at CenturyLink Field, which often boasts a better atmosphere than anywhere else in the league. Midfielder Cristian Roldan noted that "it’s a special place for all of us, I think we play much better here for some reason." But as positive of a place as it is for Seattle, the Sounders know that when you have 43,000+ screaming fans around you, you have to be completely in sync with your teammates.
As we’ve pointed out, the Sounders defense in LA was made up of players pretty far down the depth chart—but that particular backline boasts the only clean sheets of the season. The chemistry has started to form between guys like Tony Alfaro and Jordy Delem, and their ability to be on the same page as each other has been key to their success so far. "I’m happy with the guys," Frei said, "it can be an added pressure when you’re not getting that many minutes and you’re asked to go down to LA, a tough spot against a desperate team with a lot of firepower, and get asked to hold a clean sheet there is quite an accomplishment."
Another big component to the defense’s success has been Gustav Svensson, who has taken charge of the backline in the absence of guys like Brad Evans and Chad Marshall. Frei said Svensson’s success starts with his "soccer IQ," which allows him to thrive at any position in which he’s placed. Add to that Svensson’s experience in the game, and he’s been key to linking that communication from Frei to the rest of defense and midfield. It’s certainly helped that Frei and Svensson are roommates on road trips, which has allowed them to get to know each other well.
Because Frei has a unique view of the game, he’s able to see the gaps and nuances on the field in real time. "If I have to communicate that to the back four, they have to communicate that to the midfield, it takes a certain process," Frei said, "sometimes we don’t have the luxury of that extra time." Whereas in training, they go through these scenarios in order to establish a way of communicating certain problems or issues so that the team can efficiently adjust on the fly. "If I can communicate that in practices and Tony or Gustav or someone can sense that on their own now and have a quick shout to Ozzie, it eliminates it, it’s done."
Frei also uses training sessions to show his teammates how he prefers certain types of attacks and attackers to be dealt with. He uses the example of LA’s Romain Alessandrini, a right winger who likes to cut inside: "you might not want to give him that inside, and if he does we have to have the left center back be close enough to go and help out." To keep the team from having to sacrifice a central defender, Frei tries to work with Joevin Jones regarding how he approaches a player like Alessandrini. He said that if Jones allows a player to cut inside like that in training, he "lets him have it." This isn’t really meant to discipline or humiliate his teammate, but rather to help him work on that aspect of his game. "These are all things you can kind of get started in training, so that when a game comes around, we’re all on the same page."
All of this training will be especially important this weekend, as the Sounders will be back in that raucous CenturyLink atmosphere, against a team with the 4th-most accurate crosses in the league this year. Both Roldan and Frei pointed out the dangerous service of Lee Nguyen and the finishing ability of Kei Kamara and Juan Agudelo as the main threats posed by New England.
Roldan said he plans to keep Nguyen from getting the ball as much as possible, because "if he doesn’t get the ball, he can’t affect the game as much." Frei mentioned that the Revs should be kept from crossing the ball as much as possible, in order to limit the chances on goal for Kamara. Frei summed up the team’s approach best: "We can’t take this one lightly. We’re at home, which we’re happy to be, but we have to make that count. We’re going to want to dominate possession and dictate the pace of the game, and take it to them and make them feel uncomfortable and get some goals."