Brian Schmetzer had been mulling this over for a while.
Frustrated by the lack of offensive production so far this season, the Seattle Sounders lined up with different attacking personnel at StubHub Center on Sunday against the LA Galaxy. Forward Will Bruin earned his first start of the season at the top of the 4-2-3-1 formation, with regular starter Jordan Morris pushed wide on the left wing.
Bruin had been steadily earning more playing time late in games and entered Sunday tied for the team lead with two goals despite playing just 51 total minutes. Schmetzer hinted a change could be coming after Seattle’s 2-1 road loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on April 14.
“I remember last year, we played with [Morris] out on the left and Nelson [Valdez] up top,” Schmetzer had said after the Vancouver loss. “We’d been kicking that around.”
The slight tactical shift — starting a more natural target forward in Bruin up front with a pacey attacker in Morris, who prefers to play facing goal and running at defenders, on the wing — paid immediate dividends on Sunday.
The Sounders had had almost no width in their last few matches, with Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro, Harry Shipp and Morris all playing nearly on top of each other in the center attacking third. But with the adjustment, Dempsey and Lodeiro roamed the middle, Morris owned the entire left wing and Bruin pushed LA’s two center backs deeper and deeper toward their own goal.
“We wanted to be a little more dangerous,” Schmetzer said Sunday. “I think Will Bruin had earned some minutes. Last year in the playoffs, we used [Morris] out there and he was very effective. So we decided to take advantage of that, and it worked.”
In addition to scoring three first-half goals en route to a 3-0 romp, the Sounders compiled some rather incredible stats. Through the opening 25 minutes, Seattle had 72 percent possession as LA sat deep in its own defensive third, unable to dispossess the now-wider Sounders offense. Seattle finished with 538 total passes, nearly 150 more than the Galaxy, and picked them apart in the multitude of gaps on the wings.
“I think what we did is we just did a good job of keeping possession, kind of wearing them down a little bit,” said Morris. “From there we were able to kind of find some quick combinations to open up some space and then we got in and finished some good goals.”
The Sounders finished with 83 percent passing accuracy in the attacking third, potentially a Major League Soccer record.
“I thought in Vancouver we had control in large parts of the game, but we didn’t reward ourselves,” Schmetzer said. “What I was most happy about [Sunday] is that they rewarded themselves for work that they did during the week.
“When you have quality players like Clint Dempsey with a goal and an assist, Lodeiro with the perfect assist on Clint’s first goal, Joevin Jones, Jordan Morris…when you have players that are very good, you have the chance to come away with performances like this,” he continued. “So again, I’m just proud of the team.”