When a midfield features four players with national team experience, that midfield will carry heavy expectations.
That’s the case with the Sounders FC midfield, as the foursome of Osvaldo Alonso, Brad Evans, Clint Dempsey and Marco Pappa makes up a fearsome group that has a good balance of two-way midfielders and out-and-out attackers that should make for a strong group for Seattle that can hold the ball and get creative in the attack.
“That collective group being able to maintain possession but also penetrate at the same time makes us a better team,” Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid said. “We have that capability of playing different people in those positions that bring different strengths.”
Perhaps the greatest of those strengths comes from Dempsey, whose magic on the ball and finishing ability distinguish him from his teammates. The U.S. National Team captain plays a role unique to his abilities as an attacking midfielder in the middle channel, who roams with the freedom to collect the ball and do his work wherever he feels the need to.
However, what Schmid wants to see from him this year is to stay in the attacking third in order to maximize his threat on goal.
“What Clint adds to our team is that he can help us keep possession in midfield, but he has to keep it simple there,” Schmid said. “What he really adds to us is in the final third. We’ve got to get him the ball in the final third of the field and let him do his thing in that part of the field. He needs to put others into play and get assists as well as goals. He has that ability to make a play out of nothing and create something when a game is really tight.”
Individually, the players that make up that midfield are among the top group in Major League Soccer. But how the group is able to combine will go a long way in determining Sounders FC’s success in 2014.
Depth and versatility are strengths of the midfield, as Evans can play any position in the middle of the park, Pappa can play any attacking role and others can play either as forwards or midfielders, depending on form, opponent and situation within the match.
Though it can be a boon for Schmid, it can also cause conundrums, as clearly defined roles can often lead to success.
“At the end of the day, you want defined roles for your players, but you also want your players to be able to live in the moment of the game and react to the moments of the game. Soccer is a very fluid sport,” Schmid said. “You want a player to be able to read the clues of a game, read the clues that are out there that determine what you do. The more you allow players to use their creativity and read the clues that the game gives them, the better your team becomes.”
That depth also creates a stronger midfield. Like the goalkeeper position, where Stefan Frei and Marcus Hahnemann will compete for the starting job, the midfield has more capable bodies than positions available. Having players like Lamar Neagle and Andy Rose provides a competitive environment in training.
To some, that appears like a crowded midfield, but to Evans the depth will elevate the level of play in training and, thus, matches.
“It puts pressure on practices and it pushes the guys. Sigi has been one since day one to say that he was going to put the best players who were in form into the position and those are the guys that are going to play,” Evans said. “That puts the onus on us to perform every day. It is going to be crowded, but at the same time, it will make us a better team.”
Sounders FC opens the season against the defending MLS Cup champions, Sporting Kansas City, on Saturday at noon PT at CenturyLink Field. The match will be televised live on NBC Sports.
Osvaldo Alonso; 28 years old, 5’11”, 165 pounds; 139 games played, 6 goals, 12 assists.
Brad Evans; 28 years old, 6’1”, 160 pounds; 142 games played, 22 goals, 21 assists.
Clint Dempsey; 30 years old, 6’, 160 pounds; 80 games played 26 goals, 14 assists.
Marco Pappa; 26 years old, 5’10”, 155 pounds; 112 games played, 26 goals, 16 assists.
Lamar Neagle; 26 years old, 5’11”, 165 pounds; 76 games played, 15 goals, 8 assists.
Andy Rose; 24 years old, 6’2”, 170 pounds; 41 games played, 2 goals, 3 assists.
Tristan Bowen; 23 years old, 5’11”, 170 pounds; 48 games played, 4 goals, 6 assists.
Aaron Kovar; 20 years old, 5’10”, 155 pounds; No MLS experience.