The Sounders FC offense has taken on a new form.
After scoring seven goals in the team’s first three games, the club had scored seven goals over the next seven games, going 1-2-4 in the process. Seeing an opportunity to create more chances for Freddie Ljungberg and Fredy Montero, head coach Sigi Schmid subtly changed the attacking formation in Seattle’s 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew Saturday.
The new formation, which looks more like a 4-2-3-1 than the 4-4-2 they played through the first ten games, creates combination opportunities for Ljungberg, Montero and Steve Zakuani with Brad Evans and Pete Vagenas behind them and Nate Jaqua in front of them.
“Nate is such a big target, so it’s good to get myself and (Montero and Ljungberg) underneath him so we can combine better,” Zakuani said. “That’s how the goal came last week, so we may use it a bit more.”
On the goal, Zakuani played a ball forward to Jaqua, who knocked it down to Ljungberg for a lob toward the back post for Jaqua. He thumped it into the net for his third goal of the season, getting a crucial equalizer against Columbus.
“It worked well in the last game. I got in behind the defenders quite a lot and created quite a lot of dangerous things,” Ljungberg said. “It gives me a bit more freedom than I had before.”
In the 4-4-2 formation Seattle was using, Ljungberg and Montero tended to get bunched up and Ljungberg was covering great lengths of turf to fulfill defensive responsibilities while controlling the flow of play through the midfield. In the new formation, Ljungberg plays further forward and, often, further out on the wing, giving him more opportunity to display his offensive prowess while not affecting the team defensively.
Add to that Jaqua’s recent surge on the scoresheet (two goals and two assists in the last four games) and Schmid may find the key to unlocking Seattle’s scoring chances.
“What we’re really looking for is to have the constant presence of Ljungberg, Montero, Jaqua, our midfield, to get all of that together. I thought, looking at the tape of the last game, there were times where we put together some pretty good combinations, and I think we’re getting closer and we’re getting better,” Schmid said.
Part of that improvement comes with patience. Because of injuries and suspensions, the four attacking starters have had limited playing time together – a crucial element to improving the cohesion on the field.
“The four attacking players, I think we’d only played about 120 minutes together,” Ljungberg said of the struggles Seattle had scoring leading into the game against Columbus. “It takes a bit of time to learn each other. It doesn’t really matter where we play, but it’s mostly just to have minutes together.”
In addition to the increases in scoring chances, the change, coupled with a more aggressive opposing defensive philosophy, has caused Zakuani to make some slight changes to his own game, a challenge the 21-year-old rookie embraces. No longer able to take on defenders one-on-one anymore, Zakuani is seeing more and more double teams as teams are learning of his abilities on the left wing.
“I’ve changed my game a little bit because I hardly get 1v1 anymore, so I’m trying to combine more with other guys more and pass our way through defenses. There may not be more room for me, but I think there is more opportunity to vary my game,” said Zakuani, whose three assists are second on the team.
Their next opportunity to test the new formation comes Saturday when the Sounders square off with Western Conference-leading Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center.