Sounders are hoping a new 4-4-2 diamond formation that puts both Jordan Morris and Will Bruin up high as strikers gives them more offensive flexibility and scoring prowess
Jordan Morris didn’t hesitate when asked about how he benefits from a new attack formation the Sounders have tinkered with all pre-season.
The 4-4-2 diamond formation uses two strikers up top, presumably with Morris and Will Bruin getting the bulk of time there. Clint Dempsey will also see striker action within the formation, which deviates from the team’s more recent 4-2-3-1 alignments with a lone forward up high.
“I think playing with another forward is beneficial for me,’’ Morris said Monday, as the Sounders worked out their primary team in Tukwila for the first time since opening camp three weeks ago. “I think that it gives you a guy to work off of, combine with and it makes it tougher for a defender. One guy can check in and the other guy can make a run in behind.’’
Last year, Morris struggled at times as the lone striker sprinting in behind defenders for balls lobbed his way. The Sounders also want more flexibility in their formations this season after being shut down on attack by Toronto FC in the MLS Cup final.
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The 4-4-2 – which uses four attacking midfielders in a diamond-shaped alignment behind the two strikers – will also give the Sounders flexibility when dealing with injuries. Already this winter, defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso has picked up a quadriceps muscle injury and will miss at least next week’s Champions League matchup at Santa Tecla FC in El Salvador.
Using the new formation means the Sounders could drop from two defensive midfielders down to just one on days Alonso isn’t available. That could leave the team vulnerable on turnovers, but the squad’s higher-ups are confident Cristian Roldan can cover enough ground on his own as a lone defensive midfielder.
The Sounders picked up another injury Monday when right back Kelvin Leerdam collided with Seyi Adekoya during training. Leerdam was carted off the field with what’s believed to be a sprained ankle, though the team won’t provide an update until Tuesday. Jordan McCrary, a Sounders trialist from Toronto FC II, will likely sign a first-team contract in coming days as a backup to Leerdam. Midfielder Alex Roldan — Cristian’s brother — will also likely sign with the first team.
The 4-4-2 diamond formation was used extensively by Real Salt Lake back when Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey was at the helm of that club. Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer likes the idea of putting Morris and Bruin up top together, but is still working out when best to deploy the formation.
“Certainly, it’s a process,’’ he said. “It’s going to take us some time to really perfect it, but I like it. And it’s not just a formation that we’ll start with some games. Maybe we’re in our 4-2-3-1 and we’re chasing a goal and will want to bring another forward on.’’
The formation goes beyond maximizing the usage of both Morris and Bruin. The addition of midfielder Magnus Wolf Eikrem as a Targeted Allocation Money signing has given the Sounders a multitude of playmakers – along with Nicolas Lodeiro, Victor Rodriguez, Dempsey and Harry Shipp that will be battling to get on the field.
Playmaking is an essential part of the 4-4-2 diamond alignment, with the four midfielders needing to control the ball extensively and build up play before feeding it to the strikers. Under the 4-2-3-1, there tends to be more quick, long passing to the lone guy up high.
“It takes a little getting used to, but it’s still the game of football,’’ said Serbian-born former striker and MLS coach of the year Preki, now an assistant Sounders coach tasked with helping jumpstart the team’s attack. “You’ve got to be able to think, be able to adjust. And that’s what it is. A tactical starting point is a starting point…but when the ball starts rolling, it’s about making the next play and thinking.’’
And for Morris, about putting himself in the best possible position to succeed. He went from scoring 12 goals his rookie season to just three in an injury-plagued second campaign last year.
The Sounders feel Morris is at his best up high, but worry that opposing defenders found it too easy to key in on him and slow the attack. Bruin by himself as a striker also lacks Morris’ speed. But when paired together, Bruin’s physical play and positioning knack should force opponents to pay attention to him and perhaps free Morris up for more chances.
“It makes it tougher for a defender,’’ Morris said. “One guy can check in and the other guy can make a run in behind. It’s a little bit easier for them when there’s just one forward up front.’’
And Morris making things more difficult on opponents will go a long way towards dictating how successful this upcoming season will be.