Scrutinizing the shapes deployed by the Sounders in 2013
Posted by: Dave Clark, Special from SounderAtHeart.com
Sigi Schmid adapted to differing cases of form, availability and talent during 2013. That caused him to use four different shapes during the season.
With the amount of lineup and roster churn due to injury, national team calls, suspension and the timing of player signings Sigi Schmid led Seattle Sounders FC through several different iterations of formation and shape. For the most part, the tactics stayed similar while the shapes changed.
Defined by two high wide midfielders out on the wings and two deep center midfielders who sit back in defense this formation is quite typical in American soccer. In it the wingers need to be the creative players and the forwards need to be ready to poach. All four of the primary attackers will need to drop into midfield spaces at times. This shape results in four players whose primary responsibility is defense. Seattle started with this shape with the three wide men rotating between Mauro Rosales, Steve Zakauni and Mario Martinez.
As injuries and call-ups reduced the availability of the wingers Schmid used one of the wide men almost like a bonus central midfielder. This put even more offensive responsibility on the forwards as only three players help primary attacking responsibilities. Long balls were generally more effective in this shape and it was used from May through the acquisition of Clint Dempsey as the primary shape of the club. With so many bodies further back it helped the Sounders FC defense put itself in position to protect the net. One of the drawbacks of this shape is that it puts a lot of creative responsibility on the single winger and necessitates late runs by the three other midfielders.
Unlike other images this one goes from right to left as it was sampled from a road match.
This uses a lot of 4-5-1 principles but within a 4-4-2 shape. One of the forwards regularly drops back into midfield space. Most often this was Clint Dempsey, but when Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson were paired up it would be Martins dropping.
Seattle's two high value transfers are given freedom within this shape. It lets them pick the ball up and run at a defense while a single forward either stretches the line with speed (Neagle) or through strength (Johnson). Both wide midfielders hug the line and play high while the non-Alonso central midfielder takes a roving space to help defend mid-range counters and crash the box. Prior to midseason in 2012 this was the most common shape used by Sounders FC with Fredy Montero having the creative role. The fullbacks do not need to get forward as often in this shape since the wingers are high and wide.
Late in the season the transition to the diamond midfield came apparent. It was a way to maximize creative touches and freedom for Dempsey while still getting two forwards onto the field. Full backs need to push forward quite often in this shape as the wide midfielders work in ways similar to box-to-box central midfielders. Overlapping runs by DeAndre Yedlin are a key component to making this shape work. Defensively the right midfielder (usually Evans) dropped back to slow use of that space so that Yedlin could get back.
In all cases Sounders FC would play an up-tempo game that rapidly transitioned the ball from defense to attack by getting the ball to the three or four creative players' feet as quickly as possible. Depending on the shape that would be a ball to wide spaces (Bucket, Asymmetrical) or up the middle (Arrow, Diamond). The secondary route was usually via the set-play. With a tertiary option being the inverse of the primary route.
Interestingly all of these graphics come from games against the Portland Timbers via WhoScored.com’s average position maps. They were not responses to the opposition, but instead ways for Schmid to maximize available resources. It would also mean that Sounders FC self-defined. The test in 2014 is going to be which primary definition do they use after a season that nearly broke the shape used into even quarters.
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