Possible diagnoses for the sloppy passing and missed connections throughout the Sounders’ 1-1 draw with the Dynamo depend on whom you ask.
Sounders Brad Evans, Gonzalo Pineda, Chad Marshall and sports-science chief Dave Tenney stood in a quadrangle, firing passes at each other in a low-stakes practice drill.
The ball movement was mesmerizing — pass, pass, pass, reverse, Pineda, Evans, Tenney, Pineda — one-touch passing slowing and then speeding up again.
On Tuesday afternoon at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, the foursome made it look so easy. It was a stark contrast to Sunday in Houston, when the Sounders made possessing the ball look so hard.
Possible diagnoses for the sloppy passing and missed connections in the Sounders’ 1-1 draw with the Dynamo depend on whom you ask.
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Per Sounders coach Sigi Schmid, it’s just a matter of tempo, getting the ball pinging around at a rate that pushes a defense out of its comfort zone.
“It’s down to everything,” Schmid said. “The ball just needs to move quicker. We have enough good players, enough guys who are quality. The ball needs to move quicker at the back. The ball needs to move quicker in the midfield to get up front.”
That solution is easier said than done, especially against teams such as Houston that sit back, crowd the middle of the field and flood bodies into potential passing lanes.
The Sounders often were outnumbered Sunday, midfielder Pineda said — three Dynamo players swarming around him and Osvaldo Alonso. Movement off the ball also is imperative to open angles and spaces.
“It’s key to play quicker, but also to move, to create chances to play quicker,” Pineda said. “It’s hard to play quickly when you don’t have someone to connect the pass. You need to move, and you need to create those spaces.”
If there was a common thread in all these issues, it’s a lack of familiarity, perhaps surprising for a team whose core has played together so long.
The Sounders have shuffled through wingers all season, from Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa to midseason signings Andreas Ivanschitz and Nelson Valdez. With Pappa and Valdez out Sunday with injuries, the roulette wheel landed on Erik Friberg’s number, even though the midfielder said he’s never really played the position.
“I’m not comfortable out there,” Friberg said. “I’m going to play wherever they want me to play, of course. I’ve played out there twice now … I think everyone can see that I’m not as comfortable there as I am in the middle.”
Friberg said the game plan called for him to tuck inside more often, providing an outlet for his fellow midfielders, but he often found himself pinned to the sideline.
“When I have the ball in the middle, I have the right midfielder to play with,” Friberg said. “Now, you have a line.”
On Sunday, the Sounders’ formation was stretched like taffy from sideline to sideline, too thin in the middle. As Pineda described, when players looked to play those quick-touch passes, there were no teammates to be found.
Any dramatic overhaul of the Sounders’ preferred 4-4-2 formation will have to wait until the offseason, Schmid has said. Unless the Sounders can regain their chemistry and reopen those passing lanes, the winter is likely to come sooner rather than later.
• For one week, at least, Colorado will have plenty of fans in the Puget Sound area.
On Wednesday, the Rapids visit Sporting Park, where a Kansas City victory would snuff out any remaining chance for a Sounders’ first-round bye. And Sunday evening, Colorado heads to Portland, which has skipped Seattle in the standings with two consecutive wins.
With a week remaining in the regular season, the Sounders can improve their standing only with help, some of which must come from particularly unlikely places.
• The Sounders caught a break Tuesday, when the league announced that Sunday’s New York Red Bulls-Chicago Fire match had been pushed back two hours to 4 p.m. PST.
The new kickoff coincides with the simultaneous Western Conference start times — and ensures that FC Dallas still will be in Supporters’ Shield contention when it takes the field against San Jose.
With the Earthquakes hovering just one point behind Seattle’s shoulder for the sixth-and-final playoff berth, margins remain thin.