interim coach Brian Schmetzer displays some of the tactics he is likely to use, from tweaking the formation to putting pressure on opponents to making the players accountable to each other.
Interim Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer did not want to tip his hand before Sunday’s match against Los Angeles, his first game in charge after taking over for Sigi Schmid earlier last week.
Schmetzer was also reticent about making sweeping judgments during his postgame news conference, wary of a too-emotional reaction to his team’s 1-1 draw against the Galaxy after holding a lead. He needed to run back the tape, he said, and ask players for their input.
But after 90-plus minutes of game action and with more than 24 hours of retrospect, it’s possible to sketch out at least a rough draft of Schmetzer’s tactical vision for the Sounders, and how it might be different from his predecessor’s.
The formation isn’t set in stone
Seattle opened Sunday’s match in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with new designated player signing Nicolas Lodeiro slotted next to Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris in the attack behind lone forward Nelson Valdez.
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But while the framework did allow for Schmetzer to cram as much high-priced attacking firepower onto the field as possible, that was a pleasant side effect more than the central impetus.
Step one was to limit the influence of Galaxy playmakers Robbie Keane, Giovani Dos Santos and Steven Gerrard. They are all especially dangerous in the “soft area” between the midfield and defensive lines, Schmetzer said, so he paired Cristian Roldan with Osvaldo Alonso as an extra defensive midfielder.
“That was the starting point for the lineup choice,” Schmetzer said.
“I thought the formation worked. I thought Cristian and Ozzie were very good, and that’s a good team. I thought (our) front four was very good. They were creating stuff. This week, it’ll be a little bit of fine-tuning.”
Developing chemistry between Lodeiro and Dempsey remains a priority, as is easing fellow new signing Alvaro Fernandez into the fold.
Fernandez is one of the few true wingers on the roster, and he could provide a different look once he gets his bearings. Midfielder Erik Friberg missed Sunday’s match with an ankle injury but returned to practice on Monday, and Andreas Ivanschitz can still hit a great dead ball.
Schmetzer hinted that he could subtly tweak the formation depending on the opponent and the point of emphasis, and his selections this coming weekend in Orlando will be even more instructive.
Much is being asked of the outside backs
With Lodeiro, Dempsey and Morris all in the lineup, Seattle’s attack was problematically narrow.
None of those three is a natural winger, and all of them prefer the section of the field that will be bound by faded football hash marks within the next couple of weeks. Lodeiro and Morris both looked to cut inside throughout Sunday’s match, occasionally treading on Dempsey’s toes.
If Seattle is going to use a similar configuration in the future, it is going to need outside backs Tyrone Mears and Joevin Jones to more aggressively push forward and stretch the field.
“At halftime, we spoke directly to the outside backs, Joevin and Tyrone, to unleash the parking brake and go,” Schmetzer said. “Make Dos Santos chase Joevin. Make their outside midfielders chase Tyrone.
“That’s a big part of our game, so that teams cannot collapse on Clint. We need to make sure that that happens.”
Mears and Jones also must do a better job of coordinating their runs, so that they’re not both caught up field at the same time as they often did in losses at Portland and Kansas City.
Seattle won’t sit back
Schmetzer spoke more wistfully about the handful of chances his team squandered than he did about the miscue that led to L.A.’s tying goal.
Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme twice cleared Sounders shots off the goal-line, denying Dempsey in the first half and Morris in the second – when the rookie looked to have been aiming at an empty net. Lodeiro fired just wide of the post.
As time went on and Seattle struggled to add that all-important insurance goal, familiar nerves started to surface. The attacking verve that characterized most of Sunday’s performance gave way to defensive anxiety, and L.A. took advantage.
“I don’t like dropping too deep,” Schmetzer said, tellingly. “We shouldn’t fear teams. We went up 1-nothing and need to keep going. Put the pressure on them. I think we dropped a little deep.”
This is very much a work in progress
Schmetzer’s stated vision for his team in the immediate aftermath of Schmid’s departure had been both grandiose and vague: “We’re going to have an attacking, scoring, tough-nosed defensive team that wins games.”
Sunday teased out specifics — both on the field and in the locker room, where Schmetzer took the slightly unorthodox tact of allowing the players to talk amongst themselves both before and after the match.
“As far as the stamp on the team goes, I think you saw a glimpse of it,” Schmetzer said. “I think every player on that field worked. They all believed. They all did exactly what was asked. … It’s their team, their group. Holding each other accountable. What was it, 92 minutes? I liked the team for 91 minutes and 30 seconds.”