A common thread through Brian Schmetzer’s tenure as Seattle Sounders head coach is that the team has become very good at keeping possession. In nearly every league match this year so far, the Sounders have had the majority of possession. But their spot on the standings (7th, with 10 points) is a damning indictment of the team’s style thus far. Is it time for a major change in Seattle’s playing style?
After the 1-0 loss to Toronto, defender/midfielder Gustav Svensson said that the team has “some work to do” in turning their possession into goals. But he went a step further, suggesting that wholesale changes to Seattle’s style could be in order. “I think sometimes maybe we have too much possession, we’re not really as sharp in the last third as if you don’t have the ball as much. If you know that you only have one chance, maybe you’re more sharp and more focused.”
On paper, the Sounders’ possession-based ethos sounds pretty ideal. Some of the best teams in the world play possession soccer, so it makes sense. Even the personnel at the Sounders’ disposal seem pretty optimal for a style based on possession. But despite what seems like a match made in heaven for this team, they can’t seem to buy a goal—even against a weakened team at home.
In his post-match press conference, Schmetzer said “we've trained a lot on how we attack and I think our attacking movements are pretty good.” I don’t think this part is in question—the team is very skilled at getting the ball up and down the pitch and holding onto it in midfield and in wide areas. But as soon as they get into the penalty box, things seem to break down.
Even though the Sounders didn’t concede any counterattack goals like they did last week, they looked vulnerable on the occasions Toronto did counter. Tony Alfaro made an excellent tackle late on while facing two attackers on his own that probably stopped Toronto from getting a second goal. Svensson said that the style tends to make Seattle vulnerable in such situations, making it much harder for their defense. “We want to have possession and we want to have possession with impact, so we push our fullbacks up very high, Svensson said, “sometimes it’s difficult for us in the back, but I think we did a pretty good job.”
Schmetzer said there’s no shortage of frustration in the locker room. “We’re tired of the same storyline of extended possession and getting a bunch of chances...that storyline is growing old very fast.” He insisted that his team is still a very good team, which I think few people would argue. But for some reason the talent, style, and luck of this team have not combined well in 2017 thus far.
The common theme after Saturday’s match was that players and coach alike know they need to work harder. But they’ve been working hard all season, and the results are still proving difficult to come by. It is time for the Sounders to change the way they play, or do they keep pushing for a breakthrough with their existing style?