In the early season Seattle’s three headed strike force was born out of necessity. Sigi Schmid mixed and matched forwards to try and discover a way to overcome the injuries and absences to Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson. Now Coach Schmid says he will find a way to keep Neagle on the field with the soon to return Johnson and healthy Martins.
The fact that 10 of the 18 forward pairings (all competitions) did not include two of the three forwards that sit tied for 14th in MLS goal scoring sits as a reminder that this experiment may not last for many reasons. At this point the intent is to get three forwards with four goals each on the field. There are essentially two ways to accomplish this – change of formation or change of role.
Change of Formation
If Seattle moves into a 4-3-3 or variant getting all three forwards on the field is fairly easy. Johnson’s 2012 success was predicated on his ability to be a great target man for the crosses of Mauro Rosales. Martins drops deep to pick up the ball often enough. Neagle’s vision and touch are dramatically better than in past years.
It would be a high powered offense if the service comes in, but that’s where the problem is with this kind of set. Whether the midfield triangle sits with two mids deep or two in the attack, there is no simple spot for Mauro Rosales to work. His limited times as a central midfielder and a withdrawn forward show how greatly that reduces his ability to cross. The Sounders are also lacking in traditional central mids for the next match. Osvaldo Alonso could be back from his injury, but Brad Evans may have to cover for DeAndre Yedlin (at the U-20 World Cup).
A 4-3-3 variant would be a bit of a surprise. The width outside of the forward layer will be reduced, the crossing that EJ needs to be most successful almost totally absent and Seattle’s center may not be at strength to run that shape.
Change of Role
In his start for the United States on Tuesday night Eddie Johnson played as a right midfielder. During the previous World Cup Qualifying Stage he slotted as a left mid. Both went well, but again his scoring success in 2012 came from playing inside the six yard box and setting an MLS single season headed goals record. He is unlikely to move out wide for significant periods of time wearing the Rave Green.
So it comes down to Lamar Neagle. Once developing at right back, up at forward and right mid with Charleston, a left mid with Seattle and both-sided wide mid with Montreal he earned starting minutes at forward. That success likely forces Sigi to put Neagle back to left mid. His hattrick against Columbus came while playing there and Seattle’s second leading scorer in both 2010 and 2011 were two left midfielders.
Neagle’s willingness to drop back against Vancouver and harry that midfield showed that he has some defensive skills. Starting him there would be a shift from an asymmetrical midfield that sparked the great run of form by the Sounders. Lamar may score fewer goals after the move. The demands on defense would increase. But he’s earned the playing time alongside a US National Teamer and European great.
This move is also simplified during Yedlin’s absence and the emergence of Brad Evans as a National Team quality right back. No other roles on the squad need change but those two simple swaps. Sigi’s midfield can be exactly as he would normally choose.
The role will be different, but as Steve Zakuani and Alvaro Fernandez showed in past seasons, that left mid spot can power an offense. If Seattle can find a 10 goal scorer from the outside and two up top that’s an offense like the region’s never seen.