Armchair Analyst: Tactical lookahead to #SEAvCOL in the Western Conference Knockout Round

You go into the playoffs with 34 games worth of tape to study. That’s the idea anyway.

Yes, there are always a few injuries that shake things up, and yes, there will always be a few wrinkles here and there once the first shot is fired. But for the most part you’re supposed to know what you look like, and what the team you’re facing looks like.

The Colorado Rapids and Seattle Sounders could only wish for such a scenario. Both teams are coming into Wednesday night’s game (10:30 pm ET; NBCSN) flying something close to blind, and those 34 games worth of tape will show constantly shifting lineups and formations.

Hard to scout off that, but here are a couple of points worth noting:

Sigi’s rolling the dice on the midfield diamond

I can’t figure out if Sigi Schmid's decision to go with the diamond last weekend vs. LA was inevitable, or a last-ditch gamble. It feels like something of both.

Seattle's acquisition of Clint Dempsey this summer was fraught, as big mid-season acquisitions always are, because bringing on a new focal point necessitates an on-the-fly tactical switch. And that's created a certain amount of confusion among ... well, pretty much among everyone.

So the diamond is a tactical shortcut for simplicity's sake, and a message: This team is Deuce's to carry, and he'll do it from a free role in the hole. Sort out the confusion by streamlining.

Dempsey will be getting the ball the most in dangerous areas, very likely with three responsible defensive players (Ozzy Alonso, Brad Evans, Adam Moffat) arrayed in a narrow arc behind him, and two targets ahead of him. There's a lot reason to think it will work:

Player Minutes Played Passes, Final 1/3 Passing Accuracy, Final 1/3 Chances Created  Big Chance Created Dribbles Attempted Dribbles Completed
Morales, Javier 2281 817 75.4 66 12 68 24
Valeri, Diego 2277 617 65.96 40 6 52 26
Dempsey, Clint 651 116 75.86 10 1 29 8
Sanchez, Vicente 623 123 56.91 6 2 33 13

Dempsey actually fares pretty well when stacked up next to three of the other Western Conference playmakers who'll play a pretty big role in the coming week (though Sanchez is still a doubt). The most impressive number is probably the passing accuracy – between Deuce and Eddie Johnson, the Sounders will be able to keep the ball high, and force the Rapids to defend in the 18.

Colorado are not good at that:

That goal happened after a pair of not very difficult passes in semi-transition. These are the passes that Dempsey, Evans, Moffat and Alonso will complete all game long.

It's not all roses for Seattle, though. Many of those numbers look good, but the "dribbles attempted vs. dribbles completed" stat at the end of the graph is a nightmare that wants to steal your candy.

Deuce's decision tree when he gets the ball tends to go "Stepover, Cruyff, or reverse Cruyff" and, only after that's been exhausted, does a secondary wheel stop on "pass." It's a measure of his vision, skill and strength on the ball that he's able to play slow and still be dangerous. But it's also pretty consistently broken the rhythm of the attackers around him.

Of course, that was when the Sounders were something else. As of Sunday, they became Deuce's team, so now they have to adjust to him.

Will Colorado adjust to the adjustment?

Quick: What style do the Rapids play?

You can't answer that. Nobody can really answer that, because this team is a chameleon. Yes, they almost always line up in a 4-3-3 (that often looks a lot like a 4-2-3-1), but they don't reliably press high. They don't reliably isolate their wingers for take-ons. They don't send in a ton of crosses, and they don't create a ton of chances.

They are middle of the pack in almost every single attacking stat, from chances created to passing accuracy and everything in between. With most teams that would indicate mediocre talent; with the Rapids, that indicates flexibility.

It makes them a very difficult scout, especially with Sanchez – an all-or-nothing attacker if there ever was one – now in the mix.

There's one thing to rely upon, though: They will get Chris Klute into the attack. And if they don't, they will struggle.

Those are Colorado's two most recent games, the 3-2 win over Vancouver at home, and the 3-0 drubbing at BC Place. Klute's passes – successful and not – in the final third are on the graphic (win on top, loss on the bottom).

The difference isn't that notable from game-to-game, but it's still there. Klute got deeper into the attack in the win, and the Rapids played better. He made them more dangerous across the entire field by pulling defenders to him, generating time and space for the likes of Deshorn Brown, Sanchez and either Nick LaBrocca or Martin Rivero, depending upon who was playing the creative central midfield role (Dillon Powers was out for both with concussion symptoms, and is likely still out for Wednesday's game).

When the fullbacks get that kind of space, usually thanks to quick midfield transitions from defense to possession to attack, the diamond can come apart.

And that's exactly what happened on what is still probably Klute's signature MLS moment, this cross against Real Salt Lake:

Bear in mind that RSL's got a lot more experience defending from the diamond than Seattle will. And that this will be right in right back DeAndre Yedlin's grill – the same Yedlin who was scorched repeatedly by the Rapids in early October's 5-1 win.

So yeah, the Rapids are a tough scout, and have enough different looks to make film sessions something of a rabbit hole.

But there's one thing we all should know: Klute's gonna get up the flank. There are 34 game tapes to tell us that.

It's up to the Sounders, now, to dictate exactly how far. If they can't, the Rapids will be in business.


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