Central Winger: For Seattle Sounders, reason to be optimistic despite brutal stretch
Since the addition of Clint Dempsey in August, the Seattle Sounders’ formation and starting 11 have fluctuated just about as dramatically as their results. Adding the former Fulham and Tottenham swingman to a strike force already featuring Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins, it's with no surprise that Sigi Schmid has been forced to tinker and reinvent.
Winless in their final seven matches of the regular season, Seattle are struggling to find their tactical identity with a looming Knockout Round match against Colorado on Wednesday (10:30 pm ET; NBCSN). Here, through passing network and positional graphs, we investigate these frustrations and provide a late diagnosis on Seattle's currently dysfunctional system.
These graphs show the average touch position for all 11 starting players. The lines connecting different players are indicative of passes, and the thicker the line is, the more passes were exchanged between each player.
For the first match of this seven-game slide, against the LA Galaxy at the StubHub Center, Schmid went with Martins up top paired with Johnson. While this game ended at 1-1, Johnson exchanged only a handful of passes with Martins as Seattle once again relied on a set piece to squeak the draw.
The second match, against the Supporters’ Shield-hoisting New York Red Bulls, Sigi mixed things up again. With Dempsey still unavailable, Johnson and Martins still marauded along the top line, but they were joined with an exceptionally advanced Mauro Rosales (which inverted Brad Evans). Unfortunately for Schmid, Rosales failed to combine in large volume and an Evans penalty kick proved enough to preserve another 1-1 draw.
The next match, a 5-1 annihilation by the Rapids, was a particularly uninspiring performance – and one Seattle will look to avenge Wednesday night. With both Designated Players Dempsey and Martins not traveling, Johnson was paired with Lamar Neagle up top while Seattle essentially played without a right winger.
Following the nightmare away trip in Colorado was an equally depressing 4-1 loss to Vancouver at CenturyLink. This time, pairing a returning Martins with Neagle and replacing Evans with a proper right midfielder in David Estrada (who's actually a striker, but played wide right on the day), Schmid was similarly distraught.
In Seattle's final Cascadia match the following week, we saw the return of Dempsey – but without either EJ or Oba. With Deuce doing his best US national team impression of dropping into the midfield, he left Neagle isolated and without a legitimate target for Seattle to relieve pressure. Seattle dropped this one as well, 1-0.
With the 74th-minute red card from Osvaldo Alonso against Portland, Seattle were forced to put newly acquired Adam Moffat in the defensive midfield against Dallas. Moffat's distribution proved comparatively inadequate in a game where Seattle's diamond midfield looked particularly disfigured.
In the final match of the 2013 regular season, Seattle brought back EJ, but kept both Dempsey and Neagle advanced. With Marc Burch providing balance overlapping along the left, Alonso distributing in volume from a pure d-mid role and Evans shifted out to a wider role, Seattle put together their most attractive performance despite only settling for the 1-1 draw against LA.
While it was only a single match at the end of a string of poor performances, this system against Galaxy looks to be in aesthetic harmony. And, with the ability to bring Rosales off the bench and advance Yedlin overlapping behind him, it's a system that may prove to be flexible. Expect this kind of lineup going forward (and perhaps deep) into the playoffs.