Sounders FC 2 (9-15-3, 30 points) plays its second consecutive home match at Starfire Stadium on Saturday, September 16 (7:00 p.m. PT, live-stream on SoundersFC.com) and will take on the Colorado Springs Switchbacks (9-11-7, 34 points) in a Western Conference clash with massive playoff implications. This is the third meeting between these two sides this season, winning the first match back in April before falling on the road in July, and it could prove pivotal as the Rave Green continue to push toward the post-season.
Much like S2, the Switchbacks employ a hyper-fluid 4-2-3-1 system, with players often swapping positions in the run of play and attempting to confound opponents with their off-the-ball movement. But while S2 plays a more progressive style and looks to dominate possession by building attacks from the back, the Switchbacks prefer defender first, carefully selecting their moments to push numbers forward and hit on the break.
In a must-win match for the Rave Green, they must like their chances against a Colorado Springs side that has several glaring deficiencies.
One major weakness for the Switchbacks is their defending, especially in transition. Because they commit so many numbers forward when they counter-attack, they leave themselves open at the back when they turn the ball over. First-choice left back Josh Suggs pushes extremely high up the pitch, leaving the left flank exposed. One of the holding midfielders, typically Rony Argueta, then has to slide across to cover the space vacated by Suggs. This leaves the other deep-lying midfielder the unenviable task of shielding the entire defense by himself.
Despite the fact that Colorado Springs tends to be happy to cede possession to opposing teams -- they average just 299 pass attempts per game, which is 100 fewer than S2 -- the squad is most successful when the whole team employs a high-press. This allows the team to recover possession higher up the pitch, immediately driving at the heart of disorganized backline. But with the likes of Ray Saari, Lorenzo Ramos and Francisco Narbon manning the double-pivot, S2 has the personnel to break that pressure and play line-breaking passes to the flanks or the feet of Felix Chenkam.
Here are three storylines to watch.
Build Through the Center Backs
As stated above, the Switchbacks tend to pick up points when they can pressure opponents into turning the ball over in their own defensive third. But in order for a high-press to be successful, the entire team, including the backline, must step up to compress the space between the lines. This leaves acres of space behind the back four, exposing the defense to pacey players who like to hit on the counter.
All of S2’s center backs -- Brian Nana-Sinkam, Rodrigue Ele, Sam Rogers and occasionally Tony Alfaro -- are technically gifted and excellent passers. Rogers, in particular, has developed a pension for inviting pressure from a defender, ghosting past the challenge and stepping into midfield before breaking defensive lines with an incisive pass. If that trio can maintain their composure on the ball, there will be plenty of opportunities for them to play to the feet of the forward, play long diagonals to the weak-side winger or clip balls over the top. And with all that space behind Colorado Spring’s back-four, look for guys like Chenkam, Henry Wingo, Guy Edoa, David Olsen, Charles Renken and Zach Mathers to punish the visitor’s high line.
Punish the Left Back
One of the keys to the Switchbacks’ offense, left back Josh Suggs continually bombs forward and joins the attack. If Wingo, one of the fastest players on the squad, can drive forward into the space vacated by Suggs, he’ll be able to repeatedly go 1v1 in the box or whip-in dangerous crosses. Right back Denso Ulysse can then pick his moments to provide an overlap, giving the Rave Green a massive numerical advantage in the final third.
Let Mathers Run the Show
This matchup was made for Zach Mathers. A hybrid between a classic No. 10 and a goal-scoring second forward, the Duke alum’s qualities in the attack are perfectly suited for punishing the Switchbacks’ defensive system. Mathers is incredibly adept at finding pockets of space between opponent’s midfield and defensive lines, receiving the ball on the half-turn and driving at the back line. In doing so, he’ll force the Switchbacks’ double-pivot to choose between covering for Suggs down the left and protecting the center backs. If they stay central, he can slip Wingo and Ulysse down the right-channel with through balls. But if they shift to cover that flank, he’ll have time and space to pick out clever passes or unleash shots from distance.