In three playoff matches, the Sounders FC lineup has featured three different midfield formations and six different starters.
For 225 minutes, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid was able to manipulate the chess pieces in the midfield to his advantage, holding Seattle’s opponents scoreless until a stoppage time goal by Robbie Keane gave the Galaxy a 1-0 lead going into halftime of the first leg of the Western Conference Championship series on Sunday. The combination of those players could prove to be key when the Sounders face the LA Galaxy in the second leg this week, trailing the Galaxy 3-0 after the first leg at the Home Depot Center on Sunday.
“We decided to come out a little bit more conservative and in the first half we were one minute away from our game plan going pretty well,” Schmid said. “I think our possession in midfield and our ability to hold the ball was probably as good as it’s been in any game this season. From that standpoint, those were all positives.”
While Osvaldo Alonso has been a mainstay in the defensive midfield role, the trio of Christian Tiffert, Brad Evans and Mario Martinez has shown their versatility while the team plays on without top playmaker Mauro Rosales.
The German standout Tiffert has been on the right, in the middle with Alonso and in the attacking midfield role in the 4-5-1 Seattle played in the first leg against the Galaxy.
Evans, who has played five different roles for the Sounders this season, has continued to show his chameleon qualities on the left side and in various central roles.
Martinez, meanwhile, has been on the left and right sides, charged with filling the shoes of Rosales as well as he can from the outside midfield roles.
That willingness to play the role assigned by the coaches has been a key element to Seattle’s success all season as different players have stepped up to contribute when called upon.
“It’s something we’ve had all year is a different combination of players when guys have gone down and tactics have changed. For the most part this year, we’ve done it admirably,” Evans said. “You just have to approach the game like you’ve done it before.”
They were at their best against Real Salt Lake, a team that boasts a quality midfield of their own. In that series, Rosales was a threat to set up goals throughout the first leg and it looked like he would be greatly missed when a hamstring injury knocked him out of the second leg. Martinez stepped into the role very well, though and he, Tiffert and Evans provided Schmid with a lot of options throughout the match.
Finally in the 81st minute, Martinez ripped a rocket with his left foot to put the Sounders in front to win the series in memorable fashion.
Now, with their backs against the wall on Sunday against the LA Galaxy, Schmid will have plenty of options when he writes up the lineup card for the crucial, win or go home match.
“Having guys who can play different positions helps us and allows us to do different things,” Schmid said. “We just need to come up with the right lineup, the right scheme and, more than anything, the right performance.”
Kickoff for the second leg is scheduled for 6 pm on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.