Thanks to Bruce Arena calling up Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris outside of the international window; thanks to Will Bruin’s elbow being unfortunately dislocated; thanks to Henry Wingo’s season stalling out with an injured ankle; the Seattle Sounders are going to be forced to reach as far down into the roster’s attacking band as they were when Svensson-Delem-Roldan started at right back.
The situation is far from ideal. It’s far from acceptable, really. The only forward on the roster that is healthy is Seyi Adekoya. Victor Mansaray remains on loan to FC Cincinnati. Even S2 doesn’t have great forward options, and they would need to be signed temporarily.
So Brian Schmetzer will have to balance competing concepts as he constructs a starting XI that won’t practice much together. Who is the most talented? Who is fit? Who keeps others playing as similar to their standard roles?
We have no idea who Schmetzer will turn to for the two open starting positions for the Wednesday, May 31 (4:30 PM, Q13/ROOT Sports) game. The options fit in three broad categories.
Nicolas Lodeiro as the central, most-forward attacking player
This could play like a 4-6-0 or a 4-3-3. It puts the most talented players on the field. There are a couple ways to make this work. Those depend on the health of Aaron Kovar and Roman Torres. If Torres can start, but Kovar cannot, then the lineup looks like: Frei; Jones, Marshall, Torres, Evans; Roldan, Alonso, Svensson; Fernandez, Lodeiro, Shipp.
If Kovar is more fit than Torres, the lineup looks closer to what it has been for a while: Frei; Jones, Marshall, Svensson, Evans; Roldan, Alonso, Shipp; Fernandez, Lodeiro, Kovar.
Regardless of health, the concept is the same. The wide forwards/mids try to create space for Lodeiro to operate centrally. They do this through either speed (Kovar), hold-up play (Flaco, Shipp) or as a target winger (Flaco). Then, as Nico has space to move, the wings cut quickly inside so that Lodeiro can find them with a pass or get it to the onrushing fullback. At its worse, this is a 4-6-0 that doesn’t look goal dangerous. At its best, it gives Nico space to look like the demigod he was in 2016.
Alternative, same play style
With this same formation in mind, Joevin Jones could enter the attacking band instead of Kovar or Shipp: Frei; Fisher, Marshall, Svensson, Evans; Roldan, Alonso, Shipp; Jones, Lodeiro, Fernandez.
Convert Alvaro Fernandez to a target forward
He is the best aerial ball-winner among the remaining attacking players, but this scenario has shades of Shalrie Joseph. The best part about this concept is that many of the players’ roles do not change. Nico is the central winger that he is—a #10 no matter where he is on the pitch.
There are questions about the other replacement option for Clint and Jordan (see above about Kovar/Torres/Jones). But their style of play and expectations within the standard 4-2-3-1/4-3-2-1 hybrid we’ve seen for two weeks doesn’t change, much. This would be how the team would play if Will Bruin was healthy. He’s not.
It’s just that the Sounders would be playing with a non-goal-dangerous forward who has good hold-up play and defends well. That should sound familiar if you liked the Aug-Dec. ‘16 team.
If Kovar is healthy enough to start, he adds decent service to a player that was once quite good at heading it in on goal. Nico also knows Fernandez at his best. If Schmetz makes this choice, the team would be able to do the intermittent high pressure that has been the Lodeiro-Schmetzer Corp. calling card.
Alternative, same play style
One more wild option for this formation would be to have Roman Torres start at center forward. Yes, he’s done it for a few minutes at the end of games. He’s also not fully fit.
Play yo’ kids — start Seyi Adekoya up top
He only got the first 45 minutes against Sacramento Republic on Sunday, so he should be rested enough to start. He hasn’t looked lights out at the USL level, however, and only has 10ish minutes in MLS.
While at UCLA, Adekoya was goal dangerous. He can score, but recently told Locked on Sounders he needs to work on speed of thought and willingness to use his body against the larger players that populate MLS. This almost certainly just inserts Flaco as the Dempsey replacement (well, Lodeiro replacement and Lodeiro replaces Dempsey).
Stylistically, this is the most similar to how the team operates when Jordan Morris uses his speed. The space that Adekoya opens would not be through hold-up play, but instead because he brings good speed. He won’t be as goal dangerous as Morris, but the lack of goals from the starting 9 was a problem anyway. Seyi has a single goal with S2.
Alternative, same issues with talent level
Victor Mansaray is just down the road in Cincinnati. He could be a conventional target forward, even though he only has two starts and 186 minutes there. He has yet to score for FC Cincinnati.
Alternative two, same issues with talent level
Sign David Olsen. Olsen just scored in the draw against Republic. He has more minutes than Vic or Seyi, and was once more highly regarded than either. David’s skills are more speed and flair, but he’s not under contract. Olsen does have two goals at the USL level.
Alternative three, same issues with talent level
Sign Irvin Parra. Parra has three goals with S2, tied for the lead with Felix Chenkham. Parra is more a target type as a single forward, and has some international experience.
Alternative four, same issues with talent level
Sign Felix Chenkham. Chenkham just returned to health and is off to a quick start with three goals in just 354 minutes for S2. He is also just 18. Felix is more the speedy type of single forward, and is rough around the edges.
Again, this is not a great situation. It’s not about the league playing through the international break. The Sounders requested, and got, the international break off. This scenario is because of Bruce Arena wanting extra training for a United States team that needs to steal a point against Mexico, in Mexico City.
It is also due to injuries among the backup forward who isn’t on the USMNT. Things would be easier if Garth Lagerwey had signed a fourth veteran forward, but that player wouldn’t have played much to this point in the season.