In the midst of an El Niño-fed torrential downpour Wednesday night in Carson, Calif., the Seattle Sounders smashed the LA Galaxy 4-0 to wrap up the preseason in style befitting the task ahead.
Vaunted Mexican outfit Club America awaits next week, after all. So a tangibly good performance here had its uses. Namely, this one proved that the Sounders are falling into line with this whole 4-3-3 project that seems to be further falling into place by the match.
With the Club America match just around the corner and the preseason now in the rearview, here are three things we learned from Wednesday night’s beastly blowout.
Andreas Ivanschitz will have a huge role to play in this attack
So we always knew Ivanschitz was important to however the 4-3-3 attached itself to this group, but I don’t think we knew quite how important until we finally saw it in action. In theory, every piece of this lineup fits snugly into a 4-3-3 except Ivanschitz. He played wide last season, and he’s never really been a central midfielder on the pro level. How would he take to the task.
If Wednesday was any indication, pretty darn well.
Ivanschitz essentially plays the off-ball roamer in the midfield, roving to both flanks like a metronome while keeping a safe distance in front of both Osvaldo Alonso and Erik Friberg. That pair tends to keep back, with Friberg making the occasional foraging run forward. That allows Ivanschitz a level of tactical freedom he hasn’t had before. With the forward line of Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Nelson Valdez on Wednesday, Ivanschitz had the pressure off his back.
That helps explain why he scored twice on Wednesday. The first was his trademark back corner low-skimming sidewinder, and the second from sneaking inside Morris to deposit a bang-bang play into the net. Ivanschitz already looks ready to go, and his newfound positional freedom should help him be the swingman in this 4-3-3.
No replacing Obafemi Martins, but Morris looked pretty darn good
So it’s true that the Sounders won’t find a like-for-like replacement for Martins this close to the season. In truth, most teams in the world would struggle with that arrangement. But look at it this way: Morris displayed a level of speed and comfort on the ball that will ably fill the hole left by Martins’ departure. The fact that he set up two goals on Wednesday with feathered crosses should go a long way toward allaying fears that the attack was poised to take a step (or two) backward.
Morris was actually spotted on the right wing in this game, presumably because Dempsey is more familiar and comfortable on the left. After all, that’s where he played when he broke into the U.S. men’s national team and when he made his initial rise with Fulham. That left Valdez to man the center forward position he’s played sparingly in the past. But you certainly couldn’t tell on Wednesday.
Valdez was imperious in the middle, and at one point he flicked a ball around LA Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme and ran around him to snap off a shot. That’s midseason confidence in February, which counts for a lot when the season rolls around.
More than anything, the understanding between the three already appears to be at an advanced stage. Even amid the puddles of standing water and the dead atmosphere due to the game being closed off to fans, crosses hit their targets, runs found their mark and the legs seemed to be relatively sturdy. Good signs for next week.
Joevin Jones might be the player of the preseason
There’s been plenty to talk about this preseason, and players like Valdez and Darwin Jones have taken sizable steps forward for various reasons. But there hasn’t been a Sounder who’s impressed more in the last month than Jones, the left back who’s reviving visions of DeAndre Yedlin (albeit on a different flank).
There’s no question Tyrone Mears can and will get forward, but Jones is a true wingback, and if the preseason is any indication he’ll be used much in the same way Yedlin was. The Sounders limped through 2015 with a left back approaching retirement, another who was still a bit unseasoned and a third, Oniel Fisher, who was actually a converted right back. So to have a real left back in his prime like Jones has to feel like manna from heaven for the coaching staff.
But there’s more. Sigi Schmid loves to throw his fullbacks forward to buttress the attack, and Jones practically set up a vacation home in LA’s half of the field on Wednesday. Further, his defensive work on Giovani dos Santos deserves high marks, even if the rain did help his cause. Jones stuck with him and used his agility to keep everything in front.
If Jones is the final piece an already stout defense needed before falling into place for a playoff run in 2016, then things are looking good as Seattle barrels toward the season opener.