It’s been a while. I’ve been busy developing curriculum for my club and all the things that come with my new position as director of coaching for the summer rec season. But, I’ve found some time this week to look at the tactics of one game: Seattle vs. Dallas.
Seattle’s speed beats Dallas’ too-high line
Dallas didn’t play the highest line that I’ve seen against Seattle, but it was high enough for Seattle’s forwards to get in behind. Given the speed of both Eddie Johnson and Obafemi Martins, you’d think Schellas Hyndman would know not to give Seattle the opportunity to let them try to collect a ball running at pace at goal. There have been several other times a team has played a high line against the Sounders and Seattle has simply demolished it (most notably against Toronto in 2012). Seattle didn’t abuse the high line of Dallas, just used it often enough to mix up the method of attack.
Seattle’s second goal, by Eddie Johnson, was a perfect example of a-step-too-slow Dallas backline getting caught too far up field with their defensive midfielders sitting too deep and essentially right on top of the backline. First, there was a routine turnover and distribution to a central midfielder – nothing unusual at all. What happened from here was two key things. First, Dallas’ midfielders drop off the ball and leave Brad Evans completely in control of the situation. Ferreira does absolutely nothing but lazily jog and Jacobson drops deep when he should step up and force Evans to do something – anything – so he can’t pick his pass. At the time of the turnover, Watson was practically playing as a center-back for some reason unknown to me and was too far away from Evans to apply pressure.
Second, Eddie Johnson shows Brad Evans which run he’s going to make by positioning his body sideways to signal for a through-ball. EJ’s body positioning as soon as the ball is passed to Evans is something subtle that most people will miss as a key component to the speed of Evans’ decision. Evans’ drops a perfectly weighted ball over the top so EJ could get there and force Fernandez to make a decision to risk coming out or hope to make a save. He chooses to hold on his six (probably the wrong choice as he had a chance to beat EJ to the ball) and EJ slots it home.
Seattle’s fluid movement in attack
The problems for Dallas’ defensive midfield pairing weren’t just on EJ’s goal. The movement of Seattle’s attacking five (at times attacking eight) gave Dallas fits all night. Lamar Neagle and Mauro Rosales both tucked far inside throughout the night, especially when the ball was wide on the other side of the field. Martins and Johnson were both dropping deep at times to collect the ball. Brad Evans and occasionally Osvaldo Alonso were making runs through the middle. All of this resulted in Seattle actually having more players in the area of the field where Dallas’s two holding mids sat and zero Sounders players originally lined up in the 4-4-2 empty-bucket that Seattle plays. The movement between all of those players was absolutely brilliant and the understanding of positioning was surprisingly good considering how few minutes they have all played together.
Not only were Seattle creating and exploiting space through the middle of the field by virtue of players moving out of their lineup position, but they were also creating space on the wings by doing so. This meant both Yedlin and Gonzalez were able to push up into the attack with acres of space ahead of them. This was probably Gonzalez’s most-attacking game and Yedlin’s least-attacking game so far this season. I’m not sure if it was Sigi or Yedlin that recognized it, but Castillo got the better of Yedlin a couple times early. After that, it seemed like Yedlin was more reluctant to get forward than usual.
Ferreira unable to impact the game
It’s no secret that Dallas’s offense tends to play only as well as Ferreira plays. And Ferraira just didn’t have an impact on this game. Osvaldo Alonso and Brad Evans were able to successfully keep Ferreira under control and deny him the time and space to operate as efficiently as he normally does. In fact, Ferreira’s heat map shows very few touches in the attacking half and in the middle of the field. (For more information about this phenomenon, check out Matt Doyle’s between the lines series about playmakers). The majority of his touches were on the left as the closest thing Dallas found to success was combination between Castillo and Ferreira. Ferreira had 12 unsuccessful passes and was tackled and lost the ball 14 times. Both of those stats are much higher than normal for Ferreira. Seattle effectively broke up Ferreira’s rhythm and didn’t allow Dallas to hold possession. This presented a problem because Dallas’ wingers were forced to play some defense as Seattle’s attack and movement was very positive with the Sounders’ outside backs getting forward often.
Ianni frees up Traore
Admittedly, this one is far more my own opinion than all the other stuff I wrote so far. Patrick Ianni is the best center-back partner for Djimi Traore. Djimi is a bit of a flair defender (is that even a thing outside of Brazil?) and likes to roam a bit outside of the center of the defensive line. Other partners in the past haven’t had the skill-set and positional sense to set Traore free. Hurtado is also a roaming center-back and the two of them together often just found themselves out of position. Scott holds his position a bit more, but he isn’t nearly as good as Ianni at defending while running back toward his own goal. Ianni is good at picking the correct angle of approach and is a solid last-ditch tackler.
In this particular game with Gonzalez getting forward so often, Traore had to shift left to cover some attacks coming down the left side. Ianni was capable of marking Perez in the middle while still providing proper covering positions for Traore’s forays wide.
Dallas’ half-time sub
Hyndman realized his side was struggling and that something had to change tactically. He decided to take of Watson, who just didn’t know how to work with either the centerbacks or with Jacobson, and bring on Mauro Diaz. Diaz played much further up the field and allowed for Ferreira and Perez to have an additional body to pass to in the attack, something they were sorely missing in the first half. However, this also solidified the defense a bit more as Jacobson now had full responsibility of patrolling the midfield. He couldn’t rely on someone else and just applied the pressure in his area when it needed to be applied (unlike what happened on EJ’s goal). Seattle didn’t mount much threat in the second half, but that is partially attributable to Sigi slowly deciding to drop off a bit and protect the lead.
Seattle’s speed up top is going to punish high defensive lines unless the defense is playing a high-pressure system designed to eliminate time to make good, quick passes forward. Watson and Jacobson simply had no idea how to deal with Seattle’s off-ball movement and will continue to struggle against teams like Portland and RSL with lots of moving parts. Where the heck is Clint Dempsey going to fit into a Seattle attack that seems to finally have an understanding of each other?