In their opening match of the 2021 MLS regular season against Minnesota United, the Seattle Sounders struggled to deal with a Minnesota United high press that in the first half. By the second half, though, they were able to make some adjustments and cruise to a 4-0 victory.
Those first-half struggles may serve them well against their next opponent.
If there is one thing LAFC is known for under Bob Bradley, it’s the high-press. The Sounders are well acquainted with it at the point, with mixed results. In the 2019 Western Conference Final, the Sounders were able to bruise and batter LAFC into submission on their way to arguably their finest performance in team history. However, in the quarterfinals of the MLSisBack tournament, LAFC turned the tables on the Sounders, pressing them relentlessly on the way to a convincing win.
That pressure is something the Sounders will have to deal with if they want to pick up an early road win against LAFC, who may be without both Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi due to injuries. But even if some if their star players aren’t on the field, Bob Bradley’s side has proven capable of getting results against the Sounders with the pressure they exert.
“They like to high press, and with our new formation, we play out of the back well,” forward Will Bruin said on Thursday. “If we’re able to control the tempo and control how we play out of the back and how we keep the ball in possession, that’s going to be huge for us. If we start lumping the ball when we get under pressure, it could be a long game.”
The Sounders got an early taste how how though things could be against Minnesota United last weekend, where head coach Adrian Heath applied similar tactics to great effect in the first half. The tactic caught the Sounders somewhat off guard.
“That first half, they were all over us at the beginning,” Bruin said. “I think we were [not] anticipating how high they were going to press and how much tempo they were going to press with. I think that caught us by surprise a little bit.”
A missed Raúl Ruidíaz penalty aside, the Sounders struggled to keep possession and create dangerous chances. However, things changed once the Sounders got into the locker room at half, where head coach Brian Schmetzer was able to make adjustments and send the Sounders soaring in the second half.
“We didn’t anticipate how high Minnesota would press,” Schmetzer said “Adrian threw us for a loop a little bit. He committed four players to press up the field. We had to make those halftime adjustments to make sure we could get past their first line of pressure and get us in to the areas we wanted to play.”
According to Bruin, the Sounders committed to moving the ball across the field, which created more opportunities that could serve them well against LAFC.
“Once we settled into it and figured out we need to move side to side; start on the left, finish on the right [and] it creates so much more space,” Bruin said. “Once we realized that and moved around a little bit better, gaps opened up and our quality took over.”
It seems unlikely, according to Schmetzer, that Bradley will throw a similar curveball and change tactics.
“With LAFC, we know what they’re doing,” Schmetzer said. “Bob hasn’t changed his style since he took over LAFC. We might be a little more prepared, but the ball has to move fast, guys have to have to right vision. You’re going to be under pressure.”