This is the 18th in a series of 20 short columns focused on the things I'm thinking about as we approach the 20th season of Major League Soccer. I'm going to dig into mostly non-obvious questions here – the tertiary stuff that can become bigger over time – rather than the giant storylines (e.g., How do the Red Bulls replace Henry? What if Ozzie's injury lingers? Is this THE year for TFC?).
You can find previous installments in my story archive HERE. For this latest entry, we're off to the Emerald City...
Halfway through 2014 Sigi Schmid called his team's formation the "amoeba." It's a good name for how the Sounders played, since the four main attackers – Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins up top, with Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa out wide – were given a ton of license to roam. The flanks were often abandoned; Dempsey (as is his wont) would pop up anywhere, while Oba did Oba things.
As the year went on, however, it became pretty clear that one of those "Oba things" that didn't quite happen enough was this:
For a team that was both direct and dangerous, Seattle spent a lot of time not getting in behind the opposition defense. They were still lethal on the break – they won the Supporters' Shield & US Open Cup double for a reason, and as was noted ad infinitum during the playoffs, letting Oba and Deuce go 2-vs-5 isn't actually a bad strategy – but as the season moved forward, Seattle became less dangerous and more predictable. Oba spent more time operating exclusively between the opposing central defenders, even in situations where he could have dropped deep and sown real confusion.
I voted for him as MVP anyway, for what it's worth, and Schmid was deservedly in the running for Coach of the Year.
And hell, it's not like the Sounders struggled with Oba playing as more of a true No. 9. This is the goal that clinched the Shield, after all:
But variety is the spiece of life, and the key to the amoeba. Martins is an expert at the defense-splitting through ball, and it'd be nice to see more of exactly that in 2015.
It's not the difference between being a good team or a bad team, since Seattle's going to be one of MLS' best no matter what. There's just too much talent on hand for it to be otherwise. But it could be the difference between defending their regular season crown or not, and while the Shield isn't really what the Sounders are after, it's not exactly something they want to toss away, either.
So I'd expect the amoeba to return, and part of that will be Martins dropping deeper to send Dempsey, Neagle or Pappa through. It's not the go-to attack for Seattle, but that's the point. The amoeba is flexible, and with Oba trading in his No. 9 duties for the job of a No. 10 every now and again, it could go back to being absolutely, irrepressably lethal.