Tactical Analysis: Sounders vs DC United

The Seattle Sounders recorded their third win of the season in a 2-1 defeat of DC United on Saturday night. Coming in to the game, the Sounders had been shut out in 7 of their 10 matchups. Plagued by inconsistency and injury, they struggled to find attacking rhythm. Against DC, however, with almost the full complement of players at Schmetzer’s disposal, we began to see inklings of the sparkling attacking form which carried the team to back to back MLS Cup appearances. While the performance was by no means perfect, the attacking play was clearly much improved. Here we’ll take a look at the team’s overall tactics and individual player performance, noting both tactical wrinkles which Schmetzer should carry forward along with ways that the Sounders can further improve the attack.


Fans of the Sounders have often decried the team’s inability to transition from defense to attack quickly. Schmetzer’s penchant for emphasizing "possession" has been a point of contention for many.

Against DC, the Sounders were able to transition more effectively than previously this season. Starting four quick, technical midfielders allowed the Sounders to better play out of immediate pressure. Each midfielder did an excellent job of both opening up passing lanes on and off the ball. In particular, moving Lodeiro to the 8 and the return of Rodriguez to the lineup had the largest effects.

Lodeiro is known for his constant movement and engine. Thus at the 8, his propensity to move quickly into space made him a more readily available outlet. More importantly, he moved to pockets of space often ahead of the ball. With DC lining up in a 4-3-2-1 formation with Acosta and Arriola pushed aggressively high, Lodeiro proved the perfect foil, repeatedly finding the soft pocket of space in the hole behind both players.


This occurred not only deeper in the Sounders half but in the attacking half where Nico’s excellent workrate made him a useful outlet whenever the Sounder’s transition through either wing was slowed down.


Perhaps the most roster turnover this season has occurred at the wing position. Rodriguez’s injury forced both Alex Roldan and Bwana into more immediate roles on the left hand side of midfield. While both have done useful things in that spot, neither youngster provides the blend of tactical maturity, technical ability, and agility which Rodriguez provides. In this match, VRod dipped into the inside channels or "half-spaces" quite frequently.



In transition moments, this meant an easier outlet for the central midfield pairing. Once receiving the ball, VRod showed his class and composure, holding the ball when necessary while still taking forward space.

It should also be noted that along with the four in midfield, the Sounders started Dempsey in a central attacking role. While not quite as mobile as in the Oba-Demspey days, Dempsey still provides an outlet in transition due to his excellent technical qualities and ability to hold off defenders.


About That Lodeiro Guy…

As is obvious to all, Lodeiro remains one of the best connecting players in MLS. Even when played in a more attacking role, he usually leads the team in touches. Played in a central midfield role, though, Lodeiro benefits Seattle in a different manner.

No matter where played, Lodeiro has a tendency to search for the ball. This means he’s often coming to the ball (although not always), which, in an attacking role, can lead to an unbalancing of team shape. This, of course, is not bad in and of itself. Overloads are usually beneficial. But such dramatic unbalancing of shape when not contrasted by movement from others can lead to stagnant build-up. As the 8 though, this propensity proves highly beneficial. In transition, it results in a "move" being continued. In build-up from the back, it results in proper spacing and ability to beat a press such as DC employed. In attack, it can lead to an overload of the opposing defensive midfielder, opening up space in front of the centerbacks, commonly referred to as Zone 14 when near the 18. As his passing map shows, Lodeiro was highly efficient vs DC. When on the ball in a deeper position, Lodeiro was consistently able to find the forward players in good spots. His technical ability deployed further back maximized the Sounders ability to play forward. In effect, Lodeiro provided the Sounders something they haven’t consistently had since assistant coach Gonzalo Pineda’s playing days in 2014, a connecting piece whose workrate and technical ability provide numerous and varied tactical advantages. Put into other words, he provides Schmetzer the chance to fiddle with other player personnel and roles for offensive optimization.



Fly Your Fullbacks Forward

Nouhou had the best offensive game that I’ve ever seen from him. Frankly, I have been down on Nouhou’s play all season. Even in games when he’s produced "results", shots or good crosses, I’ve still felt like he’s been off the pace of the game. Nouhou showed a completely different attitude against DC. He flew forward from LB safe in the knowledge that the midfield was sufficient to keep possession.


Meanwhile, Leerdam took up extremely advanced positions on the right while consistently looking to stretch the back 4.

Both players produced quality moments in attack if not always consistently. For Nouhou, improvements can be made with regards to creative movement within the final third. That may be moving inside after overlapping to combine via passing triangles, underlapping, or looking to run diagonally behind the fullback on occasion. For Leerdam, who excels at short passing combinations, delivering quicker service into the area against scrambling defenders should be of more priority.

The Finishing Product

While the Sounders excelled against DC in both transition and build-up play through the middle third, they found it difficult to create many quality opportunities once reaching the final third. For much of the year, the Sounders had struggled to be dynamic deeper on the field. With quality pieces in the right positions, that problem easily corrected itself. But being dynamic in the middle third is different than in the final third. The attacking approach must vary as the field condenses and space becomes a premium.

Movement From the Front

In build-up play, more movement from the deeper players as compared to their forward counterparts is critical. Defenders and midfielders must be willing to interchange, make forward runs, and "get on the ball" in order to propel an offense ahead. The front men are thus allowed to be a little more stagnant, playing between the lines or taking up positions to push opposing back lines deeper. This is especially true for offenses which lack the speed to play direct (as the Sounders most certainly do).

Once entering the final third, however, we are confronted by the inverse. Deeper players often hold positions, while occasionally making the forward run, while the forwards spring to life. The Sounders for long stretches lacked this cutting edge movement.



An example of good movement!

Against DC, Lodeiro and Rodriguez acted as normally the ball dominant players, leaving Bruin, Dempsey, and Shipp in the most advanced positions. Other than a few small minor movements off the ball, Dempsey provides nearly zero lateral running. The same goes for Bruin, the Sounders main target in the box. And while Shipp often makes subtle 5-10 yard runs off the ball (he made several great runs similar to Dempsey’s in the above clip), they tend to originate from the same areas meaning little interchange with Dempsey and Bruin.

Play Into Feet

What the Sounders lack in fast, free-flowing attacking players, they make up for in technical players in tight space. Since the Oba days, the Sounders have been capable of playing into a forward target and running off said target. Instead of settling for low percentage crosses, the Sounders would be well served to continue trying give and go type combinations through Zone 14.



If your front players aren’t as mobile, try playing into their feet as much as possible to draw defenders in and slip balls through to runners from deeper positions. At the very least, playing the ball to feet allows other teammates to get forward and around the ball.


Finally healthy, the match against DC showcased a level of quality we've often come to expect from the Sounders. Despite their record, DC actually did a number of things well in this match, IMO, playing better than a number of teams who have come to Century Link already this season. The Sounders showed confidence against an aggressive press and played more direct than they had all season. Schmetzer should use this match as a tactical blueprint for approaching the upcoming games at home against both Chicago and Portland (please Lodeiro as an 8!!!). As long as the Sounders stay healthy and continue to gel offensively in the final third, they should slowly rise to the top of the West.

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