Preview: Breaking down the matchup between Seattle Sounders FC 2 and Real Monarchs

Seattle Sounders FC 2 (2-2-0) returns to Starfire Sports on Saturday, April 22 (7 p.m. PT, TICKETS), in excellent form on the back of an impressive road victory over LA Galaxy II.

The visiting Real Monarchs (3-1-0), Real Salt Lake’s USL affiliate, present a bit of a tactical conundrum when it comes to assessing style of play: Like S2, Real line up in a 4-2-3-1 and are possession-oriented, but a vast majority of the squad’s goals come from counterattacks. And although the Monarchs have tallied 10 goals this season leading scorer Sebastian Velasquez has tallied just twice.

A closer examination of the team’s passing and positional data reveals a slight tactical tweak, which explains this seemingly contradictory style of play.

Although they are listed as a 4-2-3-1, a formation that typically employs a double-pivot at the base of midfield, the average-position maps from the team’s previous three games reveal more of a 4-1-4-1 or a 4-1-3-2. In reality, the Monarchs’ No. 8 and leading chance creator, Charlie Adams (four assists, 16 chances created), pushes so high up the pitch that he essentially operates as a No. 10, which in turn drives Velasquez further forward to play as a second striker.

When the Monarchs turn the ball over, they’re able to quickly swarm around the opposition and win back possession closer to goal with their opponents stretched and out of position. Opta data reveals that over half of the team’s defensive recoveries this season have come in the middle and attacking thirds, which is why they’re so lethal on the counter.

But in order for a team to execute a successful high press, the back line needs to push forward and compress the field in the opponent’s defensive third, leaving acres of space in behind. And since the midfielders and outside backs keep the width, there will be massive channels between defenders for S2’s speedy wingers, like David Olsen and Irvin Parra, to take advantage of on the break.

The Brothers Besler

Defensive midfielder Nick Besler, the younger brother of United States national team and Sporting Kansas City center back Matt Besler, is the starting No. 6 for the Monarchs. Much like his older brother, he can struggle at times marking attackers in space. And with Adams pushing forward as an auxiliary attacking midfielder, the younger Besler gets left alone on an island with a massive amount of ground to cover in front of the back four. Since the Monarchs try to shrink the field when they execute the high press, Besler often drifts further up the pitch when the team is in possession, leaving massive gaps between the midfield and defense for Zach Mathers to pull the strings.

S2’s Double-Pivot

The Monarchs tend to keep the wide midfielders out on the flanks, dragging defenders with them and opening up a ton of space just outside the box for Adams to roam and pick out passes. The squad also pumps in a ton of crosses (15 per game), which forces the opposing outside backs to defend in the wide channels, stretching the defense and leaving gaps all over the final third. But that’ll be a tall task for Real when it comes to S2’s double-pivot of Francisco Narbon and Ray Saari.

Both players sit in front of the defense and shield the center backs from incisive passes or forwards looking to dribble at them. It also clogs the middle, the area in which Adams thrives when he’s got time and space on the ball, and forces the play to the flanks. Once there, the Rave Green wingers pinch in and support the outside backs, virtually eliminating both the Monarchs’ numerical advantage out wide and denying Adams opportunities to get on the ball.

Coach’s Take

“[Real Monarchs] are a very good team,” said S2 head coach Ezra Hendrickson. “We know their style of play: they’re very technical, they’re not the fastest or the biggest team, but they play good soccer. They’ve only lost one game, so it’s going to be a good match. We’ve always played close games, but we’re at home and we expect to build on the momentum that we gained in LA.”



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