Editor's Note: As the Seattle Sounders' MLS regular season opener draws closer, SoundersFC.com contributor Will Parchman will take a look at the team position by position every day this week, leading up to the team's match against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on Sunday (4 p.m. PT; FS1/KIRO 97.3 FM/El Rey 1360AM). In the fifth part of the series, Parchman examines the challenges for head coach Sigi Schmid.
Can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Don’t tell Seattle Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid.
From the time Schmid took over at UCLA in 1980, he’s relied almost unerringly on the 4-4-2 formation. Sure, there have been experiments and on-the-fly adjustments and tweaks and he’s often quick to highlight the overblown importance analysts put on formations, but it’s always provided a solid base from which to build his teams.
Schmid has almost always lined his teams up in that tried and true 4-4-2, partly because of familiarity but partly because he knew he could coach it. A jack of all formations is, in truth, a master of none.
This year, Schmid appears to be altering the formula.
There is nothing to suggest Schmid and his coaching staff will never use a 4-4-2 this year, but it certainly seems as though the 4-3-3 is the preferred way forward for now. This is a marked departure from seasons past, and so far the returns are good. How it kicks on when the season starts against Sporting Kansas City on Sunday (4 p.m. PT; FS1/KIRO 97.3 FM/El Rey 1360 AM) is now the biggest question.
The formation switch isn’t just a token nod at the roster’s best use. It also represents the latent pressure involved in coaching at the professional level. Schmid’s been at the rudder in Seattle for seven years, and as successful as the team’s been over that time, they’re still hunting the elusive first MLS Cup trophy. To do that, the tactical grease board is always open to tweaks.
Schmid no doubt senses the time is now, as most of the fan base most likely does. The roster is on the older side, but it’s still among the three most talent-rich in the league from a starting XI perspective. The window on how long this particular group can compete for titles and stick together is perilously close to snapping shut. There’s quite literally no time to waste.
Schmid’s biggest coaching task this year, however, most likely has nothing to do with the starting lineup or perhaps even the formation. At least for the first few months of the season, it looks like Schmid’s starting XI will practically pick itself. At least until Román Torres returns from injury sometime this summer, there are no controversial choices to make on game day. Schmid is free to mix and match, but his lineup in both games of the Club América series certainly looks like the easy choice going forward.
The bigger ask will be cultivating depth and keeping his first-choice lineup both healthy and sharp between matches. And that’s probably harder than it even sounds.
During a full week, Schmid likes to play 11 vs. 11 in practice late in the week to simulate a game-time experience. That’s when depth truly comes to bear, when the bench is able to press the starters for minutes and push them into the weekend’s match. The Sounders are struggling for bench depth right now, especially on the attacking side, and there’s something to be said for first choice players looking over their shoulder in practice at someone coming for their job. The harder the competition, the fiercer the fight.
Schmid’s starting lineup may be just as good as it was last year - the combination of Jordan Morris and a first-choice left back makes Obafemi Martins’ departure a wash - but it lacks similar depth. Schmid will have to do his best to tune up practice sessions and keep the heat on his starters. The hard truth is that some players tend to stagnate if there’s no job competition.
Otherwise, the calm, even keel Schmid’s worked so hard to instill in his front office over the last seven years has trickled down to his lineup. Schmid often likes to say that his locker room is cohesive but not particularly boisterous. It isn’t full of rah-rah guys. Part of that is perhaps down to its veteran makeup, but part of that is Schmid. Teams tend to take on the personality of their coach, especially when he’s been in place over multiple years. Never too high, never too low.
With all that on his plate, 2016 should be a defining year for Schmid, who has his eyes on the one prize he’s yet to capture in Rave Green.