In his second year as a professional, Seattle Sounders FC attacking midfielder Zach Mathers has been making plenty of waves this season for Sounders FC 2.
After starting out the campaign as a box-to-box midfielder in S2’s double-pivot, the Duke alum has been deployed further forward of late, typically as a pure No. 10 or a goalscoring second forward. This tactical adjustment has freed up Mathers to focus more on the attacking side of his game, and it’s paid dividends. His 10 goals (10th-highest in the league), four assists, 53 chances created (sixth-highest in the league) and his dynamism and creativity in the final third have been a bright spot for a young squad loaded with promising prospects.
“Zach is a big part of what we’ve done here with S2 the last couple of years,” said S2 Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson. “He’s been successful — this year he’s been very successful — and I think he’s shown what he can do on the pitch.”
It’s not just the volume of scoring opportunities that Mathers has generated, but rather the diversity of chances. Seven of his goals were inside the box while three came from shots from distance, including two tallies from direct free kicks. Attacking players are most effective when defenders are incapable of predicting their next move, making Mathers a nightmare for opposing back lines.
Above all, Mathers’ composure and creativity on the ball have been the most dramatic developments from his first to second years with the Sounders. While his key traits — close control, vision, technical acuity and creativity — are suited for a box-to-box midfield role, they’ve made him much more effective as a No. 10, allowing him to take on defenders and turn out of pressure before playing incisive passes.
“That’s something that we expect from the guys after a year or two, to really start coming into their own and pushing,” said Hendrickson. “This year he’s been by far our most productive player.”
Another key area where Mathers has developed markedly this season is his off-the-ball movement. He’s always been excellent at this in possession, playing quick one-twos and exploding into space. But this season, he’s able to find pockets of space between the lines and receive passes on the half-turn before driving at goal.
With S2’s wide attackers, especially Henry Wingo, Shandon Hopeau and David Olsen, tending to drift inside, it creates plenty of space on the flank for Mathers to occupy and whip in crosses. Among S2’s attacking core, the Texas native leads the team with 23 cross attempts, connecting with teammates 39.1 percent of the time. In fact, service from the wide channels accounts for a sizable portion of Mathers’ eye-popping chances created this season.
Despite Mathers demonstrating rapid improvement in several core facets of his game, especially in the attacking phase, Hendrickson feels there are still some parts of his playing style that could use further development.
“There’s some aspects of his game that he needs to improve, mainly just the defensive part of it, but his production is noticeable,” said Hendrickson. “His improvement [on offense] is undeniable.”
In his first season with S2, Mathers recorded a respectable three goals and four assists. Playing in a more advanced role this campaign, the First Team midfielder has developed into a phenomenal attacking talent at the USL level. While his improvement is exciting from an individual player perspective, it’s also been pivotal in S2’s ability to develop the young, promising core of players around him.