During the second half of the recent loss to Columbus, I heard from a friend who opted to forego watching the rest of the match. "Boring and bland," were his words about how the Sounders played. One qualifier before I go any further: what I describe below and am concerned with is the trends I've seen with the Sounders style of play.
I have to admit, it got me wondering. Just when was the last time I watched them play a really exciting, attacking, high tempo match where they just took it to the other team? I had a hard time remembering….. Ah, yes, down in LA earlier this season! But, I worry...
As a season ticket holder now for seven years, I have to say I do yearn for the days when we went for the jugular from the first whistle. As a fan, I just enjoyed the attacking minded style of play we’d see. Our possession of the ball was purposeful and the execution (more often than not) precise and pleasing to the eye, because there was movement off the ball, the passing was crisp and the energy upbeat. Oh, and when we had a chance for a counter-attack, we’d typically take it to the opponents and would often punish them. No doubt the large crowds and enthusiastic atmosphere in our home matches further made for a spectacular outing.
One could count on the fact that the Sounders used to consistently entertain. Truth be told, over the last season and this, I’ve not felt like we play the way we did a few years back. Yes, this may be a purely subjective and nebulous feeling. I don’t here have any basic data, let alone fancy statistics to back this up. I’m basing this on my personal experience as a fan at our home matches that I regularly go to.
Regarding a possession style of football, unlike the past, over the last two seasons we seem to possess for the sake of it, and are so tentative in the build-up play. The passing seems tedious rather than high tempo and simpler passes seem more challenging to execute. One thing that especially gets to me is we undercut ourselves with the tendency to kill counter-attacking opportunities. Too often, these counter-attacks don’t even develop as invariably, someone tends to hold up the ball - again to look for another additional (often sideways) pass, or the ball handler tends to take an additional (unnecessary) touch, which ends in loss of possession, misplaced pass, or a blocked cross, etc. What this tends to do is make the opposing team’s job to defend against us easier.
I do feel more so now than four or five years ago, opponents come to Seattle and pack it in to stifle our attack. To be sure, invariably they play a high-line in the first half and try to compress the game into the middle third. This seems to be our cue to knock the ball around sideways often in our own half trying to open up spaces and channels to slide a pass through or to split the defense with a series of passes. My impression is our success rate in this regard has been rather anemic. If the opposing team gets lucky, they catch a break and punish us on a counter or a set piece and we may find ourselves playing catch up. Meanwhile, we get frustrated, the crowd gets restless.
I realize the quality of the league has improved and we’ve seen turnover in personnel, which accounts for changes in the chemistry and play out on the pitch. I can’t help but feel, however, that as much as the Sounders claim to be committed to attacking football, what transpires on the field is not the kind of attacking style we used to see.
We’re just not clinical as we used to be.