Last Sunday in a 3-0 road win over the LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer opted to start Will Bruin up front and move Jordan Morris to the left wing. And for the first time in 2017, the Sounders’ offense clicked looked the explosive juggernaut it could be.
The reason why the adjustment is so successful is because it more naturally suits Morris and Bruin’s styles of play. Morris is much more of a second striker and loves to run at defenders in space. Bruin is a target forward by trade, who is comfortable with his back to goal and stretching center backs deep.
Watching the Sounders’ front four operate against the Galaxy was like watching poetry in motion, the way Morris, Bruin, Clint Dempsey and Nicolas Lodeiro bossed the attacking third. In previous matches, Dempsey, Lodeiro and Harry Shipp stepped on each other’s toes and often made the same runs, while Morris was left on an island and a non-factor. The personnel shift Schmetzer made last Sunday unlocked another offensive dimension.
To see how effectively this worked, let’s take a look at the second goal the Sounders scored against the Galaxy. It was an own goal off the foot of Ashley Cole, yes, but Seattle’s build-up play forced the issue.
On this play, Dempsey has the ball 10 yards shy of midfield. Noticing a gap in the middle, Morris checks back to the ball to provide Dempsey with a passing option.
When Morris receives the pass, he turns and realizes he has space in front of him and attacks.
Morris initially wants to pass the ball wide to Joevin Jones, but Romain Alessandrini closes down the passing lane and forces Morris inside.
Recognizing the gap in between the Galaxy midfield and the back line, Morris’ instincts take over. He uses his pace to penetrate and force LA to collapse. Once it does, Morris senses the space opening for Jones on the left and lays it off to him.
Once Morris does this, LA is in real danger. Bruin is yards in front of Cole and making a run to the near post while Morris continues his run after his pass and bolts toward the penalty spot.
The subsequent cross from Jones is perfectly weighted and put just far enough out of the reach of goalkeeper Brian Rowe that it forces him to stay close to his line. A retreating Cole does everything he can to step in front of an onrushing and open Bruin, but all the veteran English left back can do is get a touch on it, which deflects poorly and sails past Rowe.
The goal may not have been finished by a Sounders player, but its origin was entirely Morris and his positioning in a wider, reserved role. Morris deserves a lot of the credit, but it was as much his doing as his tactical placement. Although not an out-and-out winger, Morris is far more successful in wide spaces than he is alone up top.
The best thing Schmetzer has done since taking over as head coach last July is put his players in optimal positions to succeed. Morris on the wing with a true No. 9 in Bruin up front appears to be just that.