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Sounders look to cross from ‘optimal assist zones’

Seattle’s technical staff have crunched the numbers and determined what areas are best to generate offense.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart.

TUKWILA, Wash. – Seattle Sounders left back Brad Smith got tactical in a post-practice scrum at Starfire Sports Tuesday afternoon, going into detail about how and where Seattle’s wide players look to send in crosses that have the highest chance of leading to goals.

“They call them ‘optimal assist zones’ here,” Smith said. “I learned that at the academy with Liverpool. They did the same thing. It is the most dangerous pass. Manchester City are probably the best at it. They score so many goals from that area. We’re just trying to emulate that and we’re gelling and it’s going well.”

According to Smith, the most dangerous balls come from two areas: cutback crosses from the goal line inside the penalty area, and early crosses in from the wide channels just above the 18, aimed behind the center backs.

“It’s a really dangerous ball because if the center back is running (toward goal) and he wants to kick it, it’s going to be an own-goal,” Smith said. “If it’s got enough pace on it, it’s going to get to the striker. I think it’s very effective.”

Both of these situations are best exploited in quick transition, when back lines have a tougher time staying coordinated as individual defenders have to track Seattle’s players making runs. Kelvin Leerdam’s cross to Raul Ruidiaz to score the opening goal against Vancouver Sept. 15 came from an optimal-assist zone, though the ball didn’t have the typical angle away from the goal like a cutback pass.

Still, Smith said, the early cross is the best weapon of assist kings. It requires a well-coordinated attack, but creates more problems than a back line can hope to solve.

“If (the ball in is) fast enough, hard enough and the striker knows where to be (good things happen),” Smith said. “Someone has to attack the near post, someone has to be out back as well in case the defender is there. Everyone understands it well. I think it’s going to be a big part of our game.”

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