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MLS Cup Playoffs opposition scouting: Seattle Sounders

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FC Dallas get ready to do battle with the Sounders for a third consecutive year in the Western Conference semifinals.

Seattle Sounders’ formation (4-2-3-1)

(All other graphics all linked with words and/or sentences below.)

Seattle’s Offensive Strategy

-Seattle Sounders’ primary formation is 4-2-3-1 under Brian Schmetzer, although they are capable of shifting to a 4-2-1-3 with the wingers pushing up to become wide forwards, which places greater responsibility on the #10 to drop a bit deeper to link the midfield and attack together.

-Seattle’s primary style of play is possession based soccer with an emphasis on attacking through the flanks with diagonal oriented ball circulation to the wide players. They like to push their fullbacks up the pitch and provide the width to their attacks when their wingers move infield or even help them establish a numerical superiority in the wide channels over their opposition.

-They’re also capable of adjusting to playing in a deeper block and playing through counters with the wingers again being their main targets, although on occasions they do send long balls forward for Jordan Morris to get on the end of or hold up the ball and allow himself to bring others into play.

-Seattle’s build-up approach is centered around circulating the ball to the fullbacks out wide as often as possible, who can then take the ball forward and try to combine with others around them in the offensive half. The centerbacks share almost equal responsibility in the first phase of the build-up, although Oswaldo Alonso is the primary ball carrier in the deep end and the one who’s most entrusted when it comes to progressing the build-up into more advanced areas.

-Nicolas Lodeiro plays a key role in the team as their #10. He's the link between the midfield and attack because of his ability to play a short passing game with the two central midfielders as well as his creativity and vision to pick out players in front of him into spaces that they can run into.

-Jordan Morris has acquitted himself well in Seattle's system with his abilities to link up with those around him make him a good fit for their passing style, while his hold up play and capabilities to shoot from different angles make him a tough forward to neutralize. He's also fairly good in the air despite his 1.78m frame and his confidence is growing having scored in each of his last four games which means he goes into this one in stellar form.

-Cristian Roldan and Alvaro Fernandez are two players who play on the sides of their strongest foot and pose a threat not only with their directness, but also their good movement into spaces and their relatively good end product. Neither are naturally wingers, but are played there because they have the characteristics required to accommodate the team's playing style well in those positions.

-Osvaldo Alonso and Erik Friberg set the tone for their passing game with their adept technical skills and high pass completion rates of 90.8% and 85.6% respectively, which makes them one of the most pass-proficient midfield duos in MLS. Most of their passes are aimed towards the wide players as they often look to switch the ball to the flanks and create opportunities by utilizing the width that their team possesses while they're also able to switch it up. They also sometimes play long balls, but mainly when they're positioned deeper with the purpose to try and initiate counters high up the pitch.

-With their attacking style and their particular emphasis on wide play, they give both fullbacks Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones the license to overlap often. The reason for this is to create numerical advantages for Seattle on the flanks against opposing fullbacks which gives the team the opportunity to attack vertically and whip crosses into the penalty area.

-Roman Torres and Chad Marshall set the tone for their passing game by starting the build up play from their center back positions by aiming most of their passes towards the options available on the flanks or the two midfielders in front and aren't afraid to send long balls forward when no player is open to receive a pass. Their strong intercepting abilities also come into play, with them averaging 2 and 3.2 per game respectively, when they're tasked to recover balls and win back possession to begin new plays while foiling their opponents' in the process.

-Stefan Frei rarely plays short passes like most modern day sweeper keepers do in these systems as he's uncomfortable with the ball at his feet, as evidenced by his meager 53.3% passing accuracy, so he often, usually instructed, to launch long balls forward into areas where his teammates can attack and get on the end of them.

Offensive Transition - how Seattle plays after winning possession

-Seattle try to circulate the ball, usually through their fullbacks or their central midfielders, to Dempsey or one of the wingers making a run into a space in behind the opposing defenders to get into a goal scoring or crossing opportunity as soon and direct as possible.

-Friberg and Alonso often play long balls when they're deep and unattached from the forward players, mainly to Lodeiro or Morris who either take up positions in and around the penalty area or move over to the left flank where they could hold up the ball and wait for support as they look to bring others into play. When they're closer to the attacking midfielders, they'll try to get the ball to them as fast as they can so they could attack any spaces in front of them.

-Continuing with the above point, often times Lodeiro switch over to the rwing to offer an option for counters down that side with Roldan moving infield into central midfield alongside Friberg and Alonso. This allows for better offensive rotation and tactical flexibility which helps Seattle variate between their attacking strategies.

-Depending on how the team is set up, they'll either play quick through balls or balls to feet, if there's no space in front, for the wingers or they'll lump one up the pitch in hope of one of their teammates getting on the end of it and starting up a counter. They mainly play them to Morris who does a decent job of winning the aerial duels. Most of their front players are well versed in transitional play and direct so the main thing for the deeper players is to make sure that they feed them whenever opportunities arise.

Seattle's Defensive Setup

--Seattle play with a four man defensive line that is mainly deployed deep with the centerbacks playing within 20 to 25 yards of their goalkeeper Frei while the fullbacks are positioned a little further forward and wide because they like to attack through the flanks, as has been established earlier.

-Although Seattle do like to attack and keep possession of the ball, they don't deploy a high defensive line because of the lack of pace in their central defense and as a result of that and the fullbacks’ willingness to overlap often, they keep their two central midfielders often positioned deeper as well and instruct them to protect the defense when they aren't in possession of the ball.

-Evans and Marshall are one of the toughest center-back pairings in the league to crack, despite their ages. They don't often get stuck in and dive into challenges, but that's because they're usually positioned well thanks to Seattle's defensive system suiting them and are just there to clean up any messes in case their midfield is bypassed by an opposition attack or counters.

-Jones is positioned higher on the left than Mears is on the right as he's more capable of going up and down the flank at his young age than Mears is at 33 and is a better player going forward as well compared to Mears. This gives Alonso more responsibility to cover the space left behind whenever Jones goes on the overlap while with Mears' conservative approach, there isn't such a need for Friberg to do the same, at least not as often.

-Alonso and Friberg possess strong tackling and ball retention skills to go with their proficient passing abilities which make them good two-way players perfectly suited to play as the pivots in Seattle's system. With them often positioned just inside or below the halfway line, they're almost always well positioned and in control of situations and ready to deal with potential opposing counters, as pointed out earlier.

-Usually one of Lodeiro or Roldan drop into midfield which changes the formation into a defensive 4-3-3 whenever Seattle aren't in possession but have most of their team behind the ball, readily positioned to defend against opposing attacks. They aren't active much defensively, but they do offer extra bodies in support and leave only Fernandez and Morris ahead to stay up in case of chances to counter.

Defensive Transition - how Seattle plays after losing the ball

-As mentioned in the previous category, they don't often have problems in regards to getting themselves stretched or not having enough men behind the ball when it comes to getting countered, because they always have at least three or four players positioned well defensively thanks to their deep set up.

-With central counter attacks, their approach is for the central defenders and midfielders to deal with them as soon as possible to avert the threats of conceding a goal, which they are usually successful with as the four players in those areas are strong at intercepting and winning balls back as aforementioned.

-With wider counter attacks through the flanks, they like to keep their fullbacks to the man that's on the ball and give them support with Friberg and Alonso coming out to the sides to help create 2v1 situations in Seattle's favor and give the opposing winger a difficult assessment to try and break through before the chance to break has diminished.

-Despite their approach to dealing with the wide counter threats, they do have weaknesses defending down the flanks with Mears not being particularly convincing in that area and Jones sometimes showing his lack of experience by committing to leaving his position a few times too often which creates space behind him that opponents try to exploit.

How Seattle attacks set pieces

-For corner kicks, they have two players standing at the near post with another two standing close to the penalty spot, with one moving near and the other moving to the far post as the corner is delivered into the box, while there is also another player coming in from behind and onrushing towards the edge of the six-yard box to attack the ball when it comes into the box. (Image)

-On direct freekick opportunities, they always have a left footed and a right footed player standing over the ball with a spare player positioned on either side of them just in case they want to play it short and cross the ball into the box or they get countered. They put one player in the opposing team's wall and two others next to the rest of the defending players on the opponents' side, one standing next to them and the other making a late attempt to get unnoticed and come back from an offside position. There's also an extra player sitting further down that's disconnected from the rest but is ready to make a run to the far post in case they look to cross it in there. The others stay back in defense to deal with counters. Here is an example: (Image)

-For indirect freekicks, one player stands at the near post with as many as four players standing near the penalty spot, two of which will make runs to different posts with one moving towards the near post and the other towards the far post. From the remaining two players standing in that area, one will make a run towards goal in a central position and the other will screen an opposing player to take away a marker and increase their chances of getting on the end of the delivery successfully. Two other players will also be in and around the area for the set piece, with one standing at the far post and one standing outside the box in case the ball comes to them or in case the opposition has a chance to create a quick counter attack to avert the danger. (Image)

-Their primary set piece taker, in the absence of Clint Dempsey, is Nicolas Lodeiro who takes almost all of the attacking set plays from every angle with the forward missing. Lodeiro’s deliveries vary between being aimed towards the edge of the six-yard box and at the penalty spot, with most of them being directed closer to the players standing closer to the near post than the ones on the opposite side.

How Seattle defend set pieces

-For corners, Seattle employ a mixed marking system to defend them. The entire team comes back to defend corners with half of the players marking a specific opponent and the other half positioning themselves in an area to defend a specific zone. (Image)

-With defending direct freekicks, every single player is expected to come back into their box for defensive duties. Eight of them form their huge wall as they look to give away as little as possible for the shooter to find a way to score while the other two outfield players man mark any opposing counterparts just in case the freekick taker switches up and decides to cross it far post instead. Here is an example: (Image)

-For indirect freekicks, similar to their defensive strategy on corners, Seattle use a mix of zonal and man marking for defending these set plays with the players spreading out well to cover the angles from which the opposing players may attack from. (Image)