Cristian Roldan Training 3-22-21

Ever since Brian Schmetzer took the helm of Sounders FC midway through the 2016 MLS season, there have been several constants in his team.

Stefan Frei will be one of the best goalkeepers in the league. Nicolás Lodeiro will pull the strings as a free-roaming playmaker. And Schmetzer will set the team up in a classic 4-2-3-1.

As the Sounders prepare for the start of the 2021 MLS regular season against Minnesota United on April 16 (6:30 p.m. PT), Frei and Lodeiro remain among the best players in the league in their respective positions, but the formation appears poised to change.

“I haven’t decided exactly, but it will be some version of a two-forward set to start the year,” Schmetzer said during a call with media last week. “That much I can tell you.”

With the team training behind closed doors, there’s been plenty of speculation surrounding whether Seattle’s backline would feature three central defenders or a more traditional four-man backline. Schmetzer noted that the staff hasn’t settled that debate just yet, but that they’ve weighed the pros and cons for each positional deployment.

“There’s pluses with going 3-5-2, there’s pluses with a 4-diamond-2, or whatever version you want to come up with there,” added Schmetzer. “There’s 3-4-1-2. There’s a lot of numbers that can go up on a chalkboard.”

A change of formation is often not as consequential as casual observers might think. The more influential factors are the team’s tactics and underlying principles of play. For Schmetzer, those shifts will come in getting certain personnel on the pitch to try and cover the lost offensive production of Jordan Morris, who recently underwent surgery for an ACL injury.

“We are just trying to figure out what works out on the grass,” noted Schmetzer. “It’s a work in progress still, but we definitely want to utilize Will [Bruin], Raúl [Ruidíaz] and Fredy [Montero], because with the loss of Jordan, we have to make sure we pick up some goals there.”

There is perhaps no better example of how formations should not be equated with team tactics than the juxtaposition of Seattle’s left side in the 4-2-3-1 of 2019 vs. 2020.

At the start of 2019, Schmetzer utilized Víctor Rodríguez on the left, allowing the Spanish midfielder to pinch inside and create dizzying combinations with Ruidíaz and Lodeiro as Brad Smith picked his moments to bomb forward on the overlap. One year later, and the Sounders once again focused their attacks down the left, with Morris staying high and taking players on while Nouhou remained home as a lock-down left back.

While the formation will likely change this season, the key ingredients of Seattle Sounders soccer will remain the same. The team will still look to control tempo and build from the back, employing active defending to snuff out potential counter attacks. When the opponent has the ball, they’ll pick their moments to push higher up the field.

“What I always try to do is maximize each players’ skillset within a tactical formation,” said Schmetzer. “It’s always my intent to get the players to work well as a collective within whatever formation we end with. That’s always the goal for me. It’s not numbers on a whiteboard, that’s not what’s most important.

With a slate of preseason matches on the horizon, Schmetzer and his staff will get plenty of in-game data points to evaluate and hone their new system ahead of the 2021 MLS regular season.



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