In Seattle’s season-opening match on Saturday, the Sounders picked up right where they left off in the 2018 regular season, demolishing FC Cincinnati 4-1 in front of a boisterous crowd at CenturyLink Field.
While the result was reminiscent of the second half of last season, the manner in which they shipped four goals past their opponent differed slightly. Last season, the Sounders utilized a double-pivot in midfield, enabling the team to unbalance opponents with metronomic possession, building down the flanks before switching the point of attack.
The Sounders still managed to set the tempo through sustained possession with a single pivot, but they introduced a new wrinkle into the attacking scheme: lethal counterattacking.
“When you have Jordan Morris on your team, transition is going to be part of your team,” said Sounders Head Coach Brian Schmetzer. “And finding the right balance of being a transition team and the ability to extend possessions in your opponent’s half of the field to wear them down. I think if we can get those two things working, we’ll be a hard team to beat.”
In Saturday’s win, the third and fourth goals came from transition moments, as the team won back possession in their own half before quickly hitting on the break.
On Morris’ second goal, Chad Marshall’s clearance fell to the feet of Nicolás Lodeiro, who picked his head up and quickly released Víctor Rodríguez down the left flank. As Rodríguez bursted down the left, Raúl Ruidíaz made a central run while Morris stretched the field on the opposite side. If you look closely, you’ll notice that Ruidíaz checked his shoulder and identified Morris on his blindside. He then made a quick run across FC Cincy’s Leonardo Bertone, which dragged the defender out of position and created the lane for the Mercer Island native to smash home Rodriguez’s cross.
The fourth and final goal came from Cristian Roldan recovering possession and playing to Rodríguez, who then released Ruidíaz into space. The team often counter-pressed FC Cincinnati throughout the match, swarming FCC as soon as Seattle lost possession. No tactical analysis is necessary on the Peruvian forward’s move to create separation from Nick Hagglund, as that stepover was ruthless.
According to Roldan, the team’s potency in transition is largely down to the personnel on the pitch.
“This year we have a little bit of both [sustained possession and counterattacking] because we have that speed with Jordan,” Roldan said. “We have Brad’s crossing and ability to get up and down the field. And then obviously, Nico and Víctor always find a way to get on the ball in a counterattack. It creates havoc for opponents, especially on the road when we’re playing deep and have to counterattack. It’s going to be a difficult year [for other teams] if we can continue to be dangerous on the counterattack.”
With Smith and Morris offering an abundance of pace in the attack, the playmaking nous of Rodríguez, Roldan and Lodeiro and the clinical finishing of Ruidíaz will make the Sounders’ attack well-rounded, equally capable of breaking down teams with possession or lightning-quick plays in transition.
The Sounders host the Colorado Rapids on Saturday at CenturyLink Field (7 p.m. PT; JOEtv, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM | TICKETS), and as Schmetzer noted after training on Tuesday, if the Rave Green can strike a balance between sustained possession and clinical counters, they’ll generate plenty of chances against their Western Conference foe.