This is the matchup I always look forward to most in the league. Both teams try to play attacking soccer and neither team is overly physical (except against Morales in this one). It often brings out some high quality games from both teams on both sides of the ball. There’s plenty of talent on both teams and solid role-players to complement their teammates. Unfortunately, Saborio was out and Dempsey and EJ were on the bench after returning from their national-team triumph.
Final score: Seattle 2 - RSL 0
Seattle’s forwards check deep to receive the ball and beat RSL’s pressure
The big story of the first half was Obafemi Martins and Lamar Neagle both checking back into the midfield to receive the ball from Seattle’s defensive third. Beckerman wasn’t able to cut off the angles to both forwards and the center backs for RSL could only hope to keep Seattle’s forwards facing their own goal.
This allowed Seattle to completely bypass half of RSL’s team and put them ahead of the ball on defense with a single pass – not a good thing for a defense. Seattle then sent their wide men streaming forward to exploit the space left by RSL’s wide midfielders would pinch in to pressure the ball. Seattle’s second goal is a perfect example of these points where Seattle’s forwards check back, RSL’s midfielder pinches in, and Seattle exploits the space on the wing.
Morales marked (and mauled) out of the game
From the start of the game, Seattle basically played to force someone other than Morales (and to a lesser extent, Plata) to beat them. Osvaldo Alonso and Andy Rose took it in shifts to always make sure Morales was pressured by two people any time the ball was played to him. Seattle’s holding mids chased him around the field, making sure he didn’t have time to pick out his passes. Even when he would drift wide to the side the ball was on, one, or often both, of Seattle’s defensive midfielders would go with him. That left a huge hole in front of Seattle’s defenders that RSL could have exploited, but failed to send the weak side midfielder or Beckerman high enough into that space to be dangerous.
Seattle basically dared Gil, Grabavoy, and Findley to try to beat their defenders 1v1 as Seattle paid close attention to Plata and Morales. RSL’s wide midfielders aren’t known for their speed or exceptional dribbling skills to take people on, and Seattle’s outside backs were able to not only stop them, but also win the ball and play out from the back for the vast majority of the match.
Seattle finds easy outlets wide
RSL’s diamond midfield tends to play very narrow. That means there is usually some space out wide for their opponent’s midfielders to collect the ball and start attacks. Seattle was able to immediately relieve pressure after winning the ball by finding easy outlets to wide midfielders, in addition to their forwards checking deep to receive the ball as highlighted above. Having two outlets for Seattle was a problem for RSL during the first half. Seattle was able to easily and quickly transition from defense to attack and let Obafemi Martins welcome Carlos Salcedo to the league by losing him on counter-attacks on multiple occasions.
RSL switch to 4-3-3
Credit to Jason Kreis for recognizing that Seattle’s success on the wings was due in large part to their success in finding the feet of the forwards checking back to collect the ball and cause RSL’s defense to be pulled out of shape. He decided to switch formations to a 4-3-3 to push Grabavoy central and help Beckerman limit the service to Neagle and Martins in between the defensive and midfield lines. Switching from four midfielders to three was Kreis basically saying, “fine, we’ll concede the space to your wide players to make sure we can maintain our shape.” The tactic worked as Seattle was unable to find Neagle and Martins as first options. Seattle were still able to utilize their wide midfielders as outlets, but a player is far less dangerous with the ball out there than where Seattle’s forwards were collecting the ball in the first half. Sure, Seattle’s wide mids were able to find more time on the ball out there following outlets from the defense, but at least RSL was able to transition to defense and get men behind the ball – something they weren’t able to do consistently in the first half.
A side benefit of switching to 4-3-3 was having another man in the attack. This caused Seattle to change two things offensively. The first is the outside backs couldn’t get forward as often or as far. RSL’s outside backs were no longer regularly facing 2v1 or 3v2 situations. The second is Andy Rose wasn’t able to get forward into the attack as often and provide support or a late run into the box on counter attacks.
In the end, Seattle’s defenders were just individually better than RSL’s attackers on the day and prevented RSL from digging themselves out of the hole Seattle dug for them in the first half. Seattle’s movement up top in the first half was the key point to this game and RSL’s formation switch at halftime was too late, as the damage was already done.