David Estrada started the first two matches of the Desert Diamond Cup as the forward partner to Eddie Johnson. It was a potential answer to one of the offseason’s burning questions - “Who plays in the space of Fredy Montero?” There are many variables involved in answering that question and Estrada’s play shows the difference between a position, a role and individual skills.
Forward is a simple position to define. Score goals, play high on the pitch and sometimes defend. Modern systems see one to three players on the pitch up top as forwards with the Seattle Sounders FC using two most often.
But Sigi Schmid expects something different out of his two forwards. They create space for each other in different ways. Eddie Johnson pushes high, often centrally. He is the target for crosses. The other forward is supposed get space for Johnson in different ways. Montero did it most often through dropping back into the space between the defense and the defensive midfielders. His unique blend of footwork, passing, vision and shot from distance was effective.
Other forwards used as that second striker have to do it in other ways. Most used there do it through speedy bursts out to the wings and the threat of a darting run to the middle from wide positions. Estrada is clearly one of those.
The other aspect of that role is that when the midfield gets flooded the less high forward needs to drop back in support defensively.
“They went into a 4-3-3, and because they went into a 4-3-3, we always tell one of our forwards to drop in a little bit, and David is the one forward who drops in a little bit and deals with their defensive midfielder who goes deep for them,” head coach Sigi Schmid said to Seattle media in Thursday’s conference call. "David, because of his fitness level and his activity, chases more of those things down than most forwards do. So he doesn’t play a different role than we ask any other forward to play in that same position, it’s just his fitness level allows him to execute it probably a little bit better.”
Montero would also drop into those spaces. It would happen a little less often, with a little less effect, but it happened. It would happen, because that’s the role the coaches expect. There are certain aspects of the role that Estrada does better than most, while others are not as good at that. It’s true around the pitch.
There are positions. Those traditional bands of goalkeeper, defender, midfielder and forward. There are roles, dozens of them. Then are the differences that individuals bring to those roles. Estrada is merely one example of that.
“David brings energy, and that energy causes problems for an opponent’s defense and unbalances them because there’s this guy who’s very active and is all over the place. He’s hard sometimes for the opponents to pick up and mark, and sometimes he chases down maybe even lost causes," Schmid said. "But the other thing is he’s always in a position that if we get struck, there is somebody who we can target a ball to that we know is going to put some pressure on the opponent and give us a chance of being able to get the ball out of our end of the field if we get stuck with it.”
Other players do other things in that space. But not every action of a player redefines the use of a space on the field. Estrada is not a defensive forward. He is a withdrawn forward that uses speed, fitness and tenacity to create unique opportunities for Sounders FC and specific troubles for the opposition.