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21-pass sequence a perfect example of Sounders turning possession into goals

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Although knockout blow against LA was self-inflicted, long string of passes illustrates Sounders’ ability to exploit defenses.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at Los Angeles Galaxy Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

It is said that in soccer each pass forces the defense to readjust, potentially creating a new avenue for the attack. To some degree, that may overstate the value of long passing sequences. As analytics have evolved, we’ve learned that most goals — for instance — come from very short sequences.

The Seattle Sounders have shown both sides of that argument this year. Although they’ve held the possession advantage in all but one game — the 3-1 win over the Red Bulls — last Sunday’s game against the Galaxy was the first time they were able to turn all those completed passes into consistently dangerous scoring opportunities. Their first goal came at the end of a sequence that spanned 14 completed passes. Their second goal came after an even longer string of complete passes. Here it is in full:

The entire sequence featured 21 completed passes with 10 players completing at least one each, with the final ball was intended for the 11th player, forward Will Bruin. He might not have touched the ball, but he did his part by staying high and making the near-post run that forced Ashley Cole into an own-goal.

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer took particular delight in the sequence, even urging reporters to go back and count the passes that led to it. He noted that this was the exact kind of play the team had worked on the week prior and he was particularly happy to see that goalkeeper Stefan Frei was used twice, and that the attack essentially reset midway through.

“As we keep extending possession in the opponent’s half of the field obviously they are going to press and they are going to come, or be compact, how do you break that down,” Schmetzer said on Thursday. “Sometimes you have to reset, you have to start over. Whether they pushed us back on that play or we just played there to draw them out, that’s what we trained on last week. Having patience in the final third, keeping the ball in the final third, if it’s not on, let’s reset and go on the other side and start all over again.”

Although Cole was ultimately credited with the own-goal, a true team goal like this can have a larger effect than an individual golazo.

“When you’re having good possession, everyone has more confidence,” said Clint Dempsey, who finished off the earlier 14-pass sequence with his third goal of the year. “Everyone is getting more touches. It just goes to show that keeping good possession — not only in the attacking third, but moving it around in the back and getting teams out of position, being able to reset and go at them again to create better looks in front of goal — is something that you can be productive with and it’s good for the fans to see. It’s a good style of play to watch and especially one you’ll need when the conditions get warmer in the summer.”