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Sounders 2017 season is a true rollercoaster at the halfway point

The Seattle Sounders don’t look likely to challenge for a trophy, but these problems can be fixed.

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With the Seattle Sounders honoring the international break, even if US Soccer did not, and nearly at the halfway point of the 2017 season this is a fine opportunity to review what has been a disappointing season. Yes, the Sounders are 6th in the Western Conference. That is partially due to the West having several bad teams and because Seattle is finally catching up on home games. They still have had the third most difficult schedule to this point in the season.

After the MLS Cup win we were patient, to a point. That point has probably past. Tickets are regularly available for games. Much of the enthusiasm was crushed with those last three road games. Unlike 2016 which was a fast ride down and then an explosive ride up 2017 is a weekly assault of high, then low.

The following is a guide, with related reads from this site and others, about how the Seattle Sounders got to where they are, and how to fix it.

Offense is broken

The numbers are split on this offense. The backwards looking statistics (538, raw counting stats) do not like the Sounders attack. Those numbers that should be forward looking (ASA’s xG) love them. The problem comes down to performance, not talent evaluation, nor structure.

Jordan Morris has the biggest failure in performance. He played through a hamstring injury and then through an ankle injury. He looked like an average MLS forward for the first 10 games of the season, and then at Sporting KC he had his spark back. His speed returned. Morris has a single world class tool - speed. If it’s back he is a game-changing forward, or winger. Lodeiro’s assists are down from expectations, and some of that is because he doesn’t have a speedster to send a through ball too. This is on the verge of changing.

The other issue has been that the “fourth attacker” in the 4-2-3-1 is unsettled. Will Bruin adds significant punch (scoring) when he is up top, but that forces Morris onto the wing. Harry Shipp is solid in possession. His two goals are handy, but he is not the goal creator that he was with Chicago. Alvaro Fernandez is a defensive mid playing on the wing; he is no longer goal dangerous. Plus, Flaco is also almost certainly heading to another team.

Width on this team comes from the fullbacks and now that Brad Evans is healthy, the right side actually helps. With Aaron Kovar healthy, they can add width in the attacking band as well. The bench speed options include Kovar, Seyi Adekoya and Henry Wingo. There is a small need for a second target man in depth.

How to fix in three steps: Get Jordan Morris fully healthy. Decide if he is a winger or forward. Sign a DP for the other spot.

Defense is swingy

Stefan Frei is tied for second in the league with 5 shutouts. That’s rather good on a team that is 19th in goals scored against. Much of that is due to the massive road failures at Chicago, at Kansas City and at Columbus.

The swingy-ness is pretty easy to figure out. The backline was basically depth players through most of the early season. Jordy Delem was played at his third-best position where he is the 4th or 5th best option. Tony Alfaro and Gustav Svensson started a few games at centerback. Losing two defensive stalwarts is problematic.

While health fixes some of that, and the slightly more favorable schedule also fixes some of it, the team is counting on Stefan Frei too often. The lack of lateral mobility along the backline can be exploited when an attack gets through the Alonso-Roldan axis.

Seattle is also particularly vulnerable to teams with speedy counters (Houston, LA, Columbus). Some of that is basically by design. A team that gets both fullbacks so far forward that they are essentially wingers in attack needs to compensate. One method is to sit a defensive midfielder back deeper. The other thing that must happen is that attackers must pressure upon the turnover, so that an opposing team cannot get off the ideal pass.

How to fix in three steps: Start a consistent four players on the backline. Stop counting on Frei so much. Attackers must pressure after a turnover.

Possession is dreamy

Fourth in possession, first in passing percentage, sixth in key passes - numbers that are essentially stable at home and on the road. Possession is part of the identity of Brian Schmetzer’s Seattle Sounders.

Some of the core players to this success are Nicolas Lodeiro, Osvaldo Alonso, the passing of Chad Marshall and the emergence of Cristian Roldan. This is a team that holds the ball better than basically every other team in the league. An idea often associated with European leagues, this is possession soccer with an American at the helm. It’s fun, but it lacks effectiveness.

As discussed above, the attack is not as effective as it should be and the defense isn’t able to stop the counter. Possession is supposed to be able to solve these things. It hasn’t, yet. That may change as more of the Ideal XI play per game, but it may not.

Possession is a tactic, not a solution. It is identity, rather than result. Schmetzer’s identity is to hold the ball - and his team does it well.

How to fix it in two steps: Possess in dangerous areas more frequently. Possess to prevent the counter.

Roster is short

The open roster spots are hurting Seattle. It is going to get worse before it gets better. Most of the gap in the roster is in the veteran area, rather than the supplemental or reserve spots. Those final ten spots are nearly filled, while there are four open spots for veteran players (those four spots would be on the salary cap). So rather than insert a veteran when six players are called to National Team and another half dozen are injured, players like Mathers, Delem, Alfaro are used. In past seasons, that would be a multi-year veteran.

Garth Lagerwey made this decision in order to build when the secondary transfer window is open. He has the flexibility to add a DP and a significant player or two. His primary limitation is on the number of international slots. Seattle will have two open if they lose Fernandez. If they do not lose Flaco, they only have a single international slot. The league is short of open international spots, trading for one will be difficult.

While the depth lasted for about ten games, it eventually gave out (see road losses at Chicago, Kansas City, Columbus). With the USMNT taking away players for the Gold Cup more than a week before the league takes a break for the Group Stage, there will again be pressure on the deep end of the Sounders’ roster.

How to fix it in four steps: Sign that DP winger/forward. Sign a TAM level at the other spot. Sign a veteran either side fullback. Sign the best two S2 players to the open non-cap spots to create more competition on the back end.

#TheFuture took huge strides

S2’s business is bad. Attendance is nowhere near where it was when the team launched. The solution is clear - a move to Tacoma is part of the future. Maybe then the business side will look better.

On the field, S2 is having its best season by far. It’s not just that their record is decent, but the talent there is both young and good. The backline is Brian Nana-Sinkham and a collection of teenagers. But those teens look like pros. They will get better. Our most recent list of guys ready to make the jump stops at five, but it may be seven long. Recent signing Charles Renken looks good. Both Sam Rogers and CB partner Rodrigue Ele both look like future MLS talents. Ray Saari is a replacement level Cristian Roldan. David Olsen reminds one of a less talented, young Dempsey. Irvin Parra can help an MLS side similar to how Ochoa did. Right back Denso Ulysse is an inverted Nouhou (another high promise teen that mainly plays on S2).

S2 is good. They are fun to watch. They are The Future.

How to fix it in four steps: Sign Rogers to a USL deal. Sign one, or both, of Parra/Olsen to an MLS deal. Keep playing the kids. Move to Tacoma sooner rather than later.

Sounder at Heart is merely stable

It’s an odd year. One would figure after an amazing 2016 with an MLS Cup, the site would be as strong as ever. Sure, there’s been a slow start on the field, but we’ve weathered those in the past. Technology changes happen (both internal and external), but I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone about the ways to support Sounder at Heart.

There are a lot of them.

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