In the season opener against expansion side FC Cincinnati, the Sounders scored 4 goals in route to a lopsided 4-1 victory. The Sounders created many chances throughout the match, ending with 24 shots in total. If not for some wayward final balls, the scoreline might have been even more unflattering for Cincinnati, resembling another recent expansion side’s, Minnesota United’s, opening match. This analysis will examine the new (or returning) attacking ideas implemented vs Cincinnati which Sounders fans can expect throughout 2019.
Roldan’s New Freedom
For much of 2018, Cristian Roldan played as a right winger with Ozzie Alonso and Gustav Svensson sitting in the holding midfield positions. From the wing, Roldan was very effective, making selfless run after selfless run and generally providing good service in from the flanks. With Alonso now off to Minnesota, Roldan will now occupy the role next to Svensson. In 2017, he was rock solid there, leading the league in tackles and doing a suitable job of moving the ball forward for the creative players. However, in 2019, Schmetzer may look to take advantage of Roldan's skill in the attack by occasionally sliding him farther forward in possession.
Here we see, after a long switch to Morris who cuts inside and plays back to Lodeiro, Roldan coming back inside to receive the pass between the lines. Roldan takes up a higher position, allowing Lodeiro to get on the ball deeper. Roldan doesn't find either pass pictured, but, the sequence allows Roldan the space to ultimately whip a ball in to Ruidiaz.
Now pictured is the same interchange in positions from Morris and Roldan with Morris coming wide and deep and Roldan moving behind the fullback.
Morris cuts back inside while Roldan stays wide, opening up space for the pass to Roldan who then has green grass ahead.
Finally, we see Roldan crossing from a great position out on the right. This sequence comes after Cincy's goal so the exact buildup is not known. Once again, however, Roldan finds himself behind the fullback. The cross, ultimately finds Rodriguez for a potentially high quality chance had the winger taken a touch inside.
Of course we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves; the Sounders are not playing a 4-3-3. Roldan occupied these positions only early on in the match, preferring a deeper role for the remainder. It should be noted, though, particularly considering this same wrinkle occurred in preseason vs FC Dallas. Expect more right sided interchange.
Transition play has been one of the hallmarks of good Sounders' offense for several years. The Shield winning team with Oba-Dempsey was elite at breaking forward and recently, Lodeiro and Rodriguez have shown glimpses running with the ball at their feet. But, in 2018, the Sounders often lacked transition, preferring slow build-up and combination play. With the return of both Morris and Brad Smith into the Sounders lineup, the Sounders looked to hit Cincinnati on the break at every opportune moment.
Here, Morris counter presses quickly to force a turnover which falls to Lodeiro.
Immediately Morris gets vertical and Lodeiro just hesitates slightly before almost putting him through on goal.
Again, after winning the ball, Leerdam turns and plays into midfield for Roldan. Morris' first instinct is again to run in behind and Roldan just under hits the pass, not placing the ball in enough space for Morris to run onto.
In the 10th minute, the Sounders break quickly due to the speed and anticipation of Smith in transition. The ball starts at the feet of Lodeiro before ending with a Rodriguez cutback that nearly settles for Ruidiaz/the open Lodeiro. Smith does an excellent job of finding the trailing Rodriguez running with the ball at full speed (Lodeiro and Rodriguez always show excellent workrate in transition).
Here, Seattle wins the ball back after a sloppy pass from Alexander into Ulloa and good trapping pressure from Rodriguez. With Powell committed forward on the overlap, Morris reads the vacated space before Alexander.
The sequence ends in a dangerous Morris cross which is barely cutout by Hagglund. Just 20 seconds later, the ball ends up in the back of the net after Seattle easily breaks down a disorganized FC Cincinnati.
With the added pace of Morris and Smith down each wing, along with the tireless running of Lodeiro and Rodriguez, the Sounders should be very dangerous in transition in 2019.
Smith the Risk-Taker
Throughout preseason, a debate has raged on over the merits of Smith vs Nouhou. Since that debate has been argued ad nauseam, it won't be argued here. One principle of the debate, however, says that Smith takes many more attacking risks than Nouhou. Against, Cincinnati, this risk taking led to a number of high quality chances.
Here, we see a shot of Smith dribbling back and laying the ball back to Rodriguez. Smith's first instinct, however, isn't to drop, instead he darts in behind Alexander.
The ball ultimately is just out of reach for Smith who is forced to settle for a rather aimless cross (although the clearance did almost result in an own goal). It's a clever attacking idea, though, and one which most MLS teams would struggle to deal with consistently.
Here, Smith receives a pass in buildup from Marshall. Despite the tight window to play into (and perhaps the assumption that either Bertone or Powell should cut off the passing lane), Smith hits an inch perfect pass into the stride of Rodriguez.
With space to run into, Rodriguez nearly finds the back shoulder run of Ruidiaz.
Despite not contributing on the score-sheet, the best example Smith's impact is demonstrated by the first goal.
After Roldan switches the field to Rodriguez, Smith overlaps and receives a pass. After a touch or two, he plays backwards for Rodriguez. Powell follows Smith deeper. Lodeiro, brilliantly, looks across the line to see the overcommitted Powell and the vacated space behind both holding midfielders and subsequently makes a hard diagonal run into the space. Moments later, the Sounders score.
Another angle on the broadcast shows just how much space is created by the willingness of Smith to overlap. With a tactically astute, sneaky, and hardworking Nico close by, any space created is there to be exploited (please watch Nico's eyes on this play: the look across to Powell and back to signal Rodriguez).
Of course, Smith was not perfect by any stretch. According to Whoscored, the LB went 2 for 8 on crosses was dispossessed 3 times and had 4 unsuccessful touches. Crosses were hit too early or to the wrong spot. Despite having a PA of 86.7%, there were several ill-advised passes into pressure. The FB, however, brings attacking ideas and flair which means he'll most likely remain a permanent fixture in 2019.
In addition to his speed in transition, Morris brought a much-needed directness in possession. Despite the Sounders ability to knock the ball around, they've lacked a goal dangerous option to exploit holes in the opposition defensive shape or simply take on defenders and open space for others.
In the 9th minute, following a long switch, Morris dribbles directly into the teeth of the defense.
Morris blows by Ulloa, as if he's not even there, creating a dangerous situation despite the overall move being unsuccessful.
Again in the 30th minute, Morris drives at the heart of the defense, drawing defenders and laying off for Smith who chooses the wrong crossing option trying to find Nico. Even with hardly any positional or momentum advantage over Bertone, he blows past him.
Yet, his direct play is most effective off the ball where our attacking midfielders, stationed between the lines, can slip him behind the back 4.
Nico, finding the ball against a disorganized defense, finds Morris running straight to goal. Powell's shuffle to the right coupled with Morris diagonal and not vertical run, opens up a larger gap to play through and effectively eliminates Powell from the play.
The return of Morris and Smith along with Roldan's continued growth means the 2019 iteration of the Sounders have more weapons than ever before. The Sounders easily broke down a Cincinnati team which did lack quality but generally worked hard in defense. As the season progresses, better organized sides will appear. If health is maintained, however, Sounders fans should be confident that an array of attacking ideas, old and new, should be enough to break down even the stiffest of opposition.