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Scouting Report: Assessing the Seattle Sounders tactically

Another 2015 playoff rematch.

Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Seattle Sounders' formation (4-2-1-3):

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

Seattle's Offensive Strategy

-Seattle Sounders' main formation is 4-2-3-1 that can also alternate into 4-2-1-3 with the wingers pushed higher up as forwards or 4-3-3 with the attacking midfielder dropping deeper in support of the midfield, mainly for defensive purposes when the team doesn't have possession of the ball.

-Seattle's primary style of play is to play possessive based soccer and keep the ball at their feet as much as they can. With their possession, they like to attack down the flanks, particularly the right hand side, and attempt many crosses when they get into positions to put balls into the box. They are capable of adjusting to play deeper and through counter attacks, though.

-Clint Dempsey 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, which is displayed by the amount of wide passes he made in the final third in his last two games against San Jose and Columbus.

-Dempsey's passing qualities are well documented, as he has an 84.5% pass accuracy in 2016, but he also carries a goal threat with him having spent much of his career playing as either a primary or a secondary forward. Along with his predatory finishing in the box, he is also able to shoot from long range and this makes him the most complete player in Seattle's attack and a danger threat, despite his tender age of 33.

-Herculez Gomez and Andreas Ivanschitz 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. They have the attributes to play out wide, as evidenced by the amount of balls they received on the flanks when they played there: Gomez against Columbus and San Jose, Ivanschitz against Houston and Philadelphia.

-Jordan Morris has acquitted himself well in Seattle's system after a slow start and 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, as noticeable against ColoradoColumbus, and San Jose. 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.

-Osvaldo Alonso and Erik Friberg set the tone for their passing game with their adept technical skills and high pass completion rates of 91.7% and 87.6% 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, as they did in their only two appearances together this year against Columbus and San Jose. 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.

-Mears and Jones are both key parts of their build up and attacking play. They receive the ball a lot as a result and together average 82.8 passes a game, which is among the highest of any MLS fullback pairing this year. They possess different strengths and are instructed to play in varying ways, however. Mears sits the deeper of the two, makes more passes, and sends more long balls forward while Jones drives forward more often and attempts more dribbles to try and unlock defenses in hope of creating more space to exploit. Both attempt crosses when called upon, but aren't very accurate with them as clear by the number of failed crosses against San Jose and Columbus.

-Brad Evans 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, as they did against Colorado and San Jose, 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 2.5 and 3.6 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 54.1% 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.

-As seen in the graphics in the previous category, Ivanschitz usually stays wide but drops deeper and doesn't make many runs to the byline but Gomez is the total opposite so it's often he who Seattle try to release with early balls for counters as he's their biggest threat in those situations because of his movement and pace.

-Friberg and Alonso often play long balls when they're deep and unattached from the forward players, as evidenced in the graphics by the amount they both played against San Jose, mainly to Dempsey 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, as proven by the amount of forward passes Friberg and Alonso played against San Jose in their only start together this year.

-Continuing with the above point, often times either Dempsey or Morris will switch over to the left wing to offer an option for counters down that side with Ivanschitz dropping into central midfield alongside Friberg and Alonso. This means that the other of the pair will slot into that centerforward role and wait for service in the box to ensure that their counters can be properly executed.

-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 did a decent job of winning the headers against San Jose and Columbus. 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 on 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 back four and as a result of that, they keep their two central midfielders often positioned deeper as well and instruct them to protect the defense when they aren't in control 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. This was well evidenced by their high number of defensive actions against Colorado and Columbus.

-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, as proven in the amount of successful offensive plays Jones had against San Jose 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 Dempsey or Ivanschitz 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 Gomez 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, as evidenced by Friberg's defensive dashboards against Columbus and San Jose, as well as Alonso's against the same two teams (Columbus and San Jose).

-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

-With corners delivered in from the right hand side, Seattle leave three guys whose starting positions are right next to the penalty spot and have them make runs to attack the ball depending on whether the corner is delivered short or long. They also leave two other players at the near and far posts to occupy markers and just in case the corner is hit towards one of the posts for it to be attacked. Similarly, they leave two more players outside either side of the penalty area not only just in case they have an opportunity to rebound and put the ball back into the box, but also to perhaps kill any potential opposing counters high up the pitch before they can begin. The three remaining players are sitting back in defense for the corners. Here is an example: (ImageGIF)

-With corners delivered in from the left hand side, their set piece strategy is not too different to the one they use for the right hand side. They have one guy next to the goalkeeper making a near post run which occupies markers while of the three guys standing near the penalty spot at starting position, two of them make a far post run where there's an empty space to exploit while the other also makes a near post run as a decoy. Finally, another player at the top of the penalty area makes a late run to the far post which creates 3v1 or 3v2 situations for them to score, depending on how many markers they take away with their near post runs. One player is positioned outside the penalty area and the remaining players sit back in case of counter threats. Here is an example: (ImageGIF)

-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: (ImageGIF)

-As for indirect freekicks, they send up as many as six players to attack them, with five of them making runs to either the near or far post and playing in between markers as their starting positions in an attempt to occupy as many players from the other team as possible and make more room for their teammates. The other remaining player is more withdrawn from the action but ready just outside the penalty area in case of a rebound opportunity. The rest are back in defense in case of potential counters. Here is an example: (ImageGIF)

-Their primary set piece takers are Dempsey for right footed deliveries and Ivanschitz for left footed opportunities. Dempsey prefers to aim both his crosses and shots at the far post in freekick situations while Ivanschitz's approach on corners varies depending on which side he's delivering them in from. From the left, he usually aims them towards the penalty spot, as seen in an earlier point, and from the right, he usually sends them long to the far post, also seen in an earlier point.

How Seattle defend set pieces

-On defending corners, they leave one player on the near post with two others marking the zones on either post by positioning themselves on either side of the six yard box. Five other players are tasked with man marking assignments, one each for as many guys that the other team sends forward to attack the corners, while one more player is expected to close down the corner in case the opposition decides to play it short. The other remaining player stands either outside the penalty area or stays forward, depending on how many players the opposition commits to attacking corners and how much space they leave behind to be exploited. Here is an example: (ImageGIF)

-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: (ImageGIF)

-On defending indirect freekicks, they have three players marking a zone either at the far post, central area, or the near post while four others are tasked with man marking assignments and sometimes five, depending on how many players the opposition commits to attacking in the situation. They create a one man wall to try and perhaps close down the space for the freekick taker to get the delivery in while the other remaining outfield player is positioned just outside the box, where there are opposing players waiting for any rebound opportunities. Here is an example: (ImageGIF)

Other observations

-Seattle has created 122 scoring opportunities this season, only 48 of which have been on target, and just 10 that have been converted into goals at a conversion rate of 20.8%. This leaves their attack as currently the third worst in the league, although with fewer games played than most teams. Despite the offensive threat that they pose, they have had problems finishing their chances so far this year.

-They commit a lot of fouls on average, with 91 fouls in just 9 games making their 2016 seasonal average at least 10 per match, which creates disciplinary problems for them when they go overboard and get out of hand in some situations.

-Eight of their expected starting eleven are at least 180m tall, which gives them a significant advantage in aerial duels which they rarely lose. On average they are one of the tallest teams in the Western conference and by that some token, they are also one of the oldest with every starter bar Jones and Morris at least aged 30.

-Although they have several tall players in the team, they aren't the strongest or fittest side in the league from a physical standpoint and playing aggressively against them is one way to give them problems by trying to beat them out in 1v1 individual physical duels.

-Because of the quality they have in shooting with players like Alonso, Friberg, Dempsey, and Ivanschitz, they often attempt shots from long range distances, shooting 47% of their attempts from outside the eighteen yard penalty areawhich makes them a viable threat in these situations when they have space to take shots on.

-Even though they possess some pace in attack, they have yet to really harness it and are yet to score a counter this season, with every one of their ten goals coming via a set piece or from open play.

-All four of their wins this year have come at home while their away record is 0-3. Although they have scored in every away game, they have yet to prove that they can win on the road. The last time they won an away MLS game was September 2015 at Vancouver, which was six visits ago for them.