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Full health in attack opens up Brian Schmetzer’s tool box

There are more attacking options than there are bench spots. That will help substitutes change the tactical structure of the team.

It took two months, but the Seattle Sounders attack is nearing full health. Long-ish injuries to both Aaron Kovar and Brad Evans are close to resolution. On Saturday against the New England Revolution, the club may have a full selection for the first time in 2017.

Looking at the depth chart, every non-lock starter that can play in the four primary attacking positions offers different tools to change the game. Brian Schmetzer is going to have bench options that aren’t just plug-and-play (as Fernandez was for Lodeiro in 2016), but add-ons. Even if the shape stays in the familiar 4-2-3-1 it will not operate as it did prior to the substitution.

With a bench that will generally have three to five of these players, Schmetz’ toolbox is deep.

Occasional Starters

This group has earned starts this season and will rotate through as the 4th Attacker (tm) until one is a for-sure lock or that open Designated Player spot is filled.

Will Bruin (F) - He’s the current starter and is the least flexible in what role he can fill in the 4-2-3-1. Bruin offers something that few other attacking Sounders do: headers. He’s a broad body with accurate headed shots. None of this group, and probably no one on the club, is as good occupying central space as the former Dynamo forward. Lastly, he’s a bit fast. It’s something that every player and coach mentions. It may be deceptive speed, but those first couple steps can gain separation.

Harry Shipp (LM, CM) - The other offseason addition from within MLS, Shipp’s early run as a Sounder shows the slick possession and passing that earned all that praise back when he was with the Fire, but he’s added two elements that make him invaluable to this club. His defense is strong. Harry can slip back into the 8, or even the 6, and the team doesn’t suffer much. Finally, he takes these amazing off-ball runs that help the Clint-Jordan-Nico triumvirate get open.

Alvaro Fernandez (RM, CM, LM) - Six years ago, Flaco was a master of possession, hungry for goal. His dribbling and passing in tight spaces is still strong, but he is not the goal-scorer he once was. In 2017, Fernandez’ biggest contribution to the team is as a defensive attacking player. He tracks back aggressively. He clogs lanes. He forces the opposition to slow down.

Regular Benchies

These kids offer vigor, youth, and a drive to show that they are the next big thing.

Aaron Kovar (RM, LM) - Yes, he was a regular starter just prior to his clavicle break, and he may have competed to start before his groin issue and surgery, but it’s unlikely he will shoot into the top XI on this team. Kovar is probably the third or fourth fastest on the squad with great energy. His left foot is a strong option both from set-pieces and crossing. Of all of Seattle’s players, no one rides the outside lines like Kovar.

Henry Wingo (RM, RB) - Wingo’s actions as a direct-to-goal player force other teams onto their heels. It’s hard to stop a capable player who can charge forward with the ball at their feet while at speed. He has just enough dribbling skills to beat a defender. His low crosses help generate opportunities for others.

Zach Mathers (CM) - With S2, his play is almost as a pure attacker, but his future in MLS will require more tackling to go along with his strong long passes and secondary runs. Mathers tends to enjoy the gritty part of defense. His awareness of space going forward is strong.

Seyi Adekoya (F, LM, RM) - Still on the fringes of the 18, Adekoya offers speed like no one else on the team. That probably means his playing time with the Sounders will be out wide. He’s a great finisher who is hungry to put the ball in the net. If Seyi is on the field, his team is goal dangerous.

From Back to Front

Sometimes a late sub can force a nominal defender into an attacking role as well.

Joevin Jones (LB, LM, RM) - Yes, he’s Seattle’s best left back, but at certain times the club can insert a third CB or play Fisher as the LB. That allows Joevin to focus solely on running forward. He’s great at using his speed to open little cut-in lanes and passing. His crossing ability continues to improve. He plays both wings with Trinidad and Tobago, but only on the left in Seattle.

Brad Evans (RB, RM, LM, CM, F, LB) - There’s a reason why Evans can play everywhere. His understanding of positioning is unrivaled in MLS. He knows where to be to prevent attacks and allow his teammates a safe passing option. In the attack, he can unlock defenses with strong secondary runs and is a decent ball winner in the air (though not necessarily putting the ball in goal). His defense is now strong enough that he is on the fringes of the US Men’s National Team. He will probably be a starting right back, but his flexibility allows Schmetzer to do so much with the bench.

Finally, they can always put in a CB as a forward ...

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