After recording the best start to the season through six games, conceding just five goals during that time, Seattle Sounders FC managed just one point against Los Angeles Football Club and San Jose Earthquakes while letting in six. While injuries to Raul Ruidiaz and Will Bruin as well as short rest have played a significant part in their struggles, it’s been the defensive holes that has the club most worried.
— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) April 28, 2019
On Sunday against LAFC, Seattle was picked apart with relative ease by the league leaders. Carlos Vela scored twice to add to goals from Christian Ramirez and Eduard Atuesta and could have had more if Stefan Frei hadn’t come to the Sounders’ rescue with four saves. LAFC’s attackers were frequently allowed time and space on the ball as well as off of it and were able to pick apart the defense with well timed runs and passes between the defensive and midfield lines.
Seattle also struggled to control the ball in the midfield and time and time again made sloppy passes that created turnovers in the middle of the field which lead to counter-attacking opportunities for LAFC, several of which were converted into goals.
Against San Jose, coach Brian Schmetzer tried to make tactical adjustments to gain an advantage. He used Nico Lodeiro as a false nine and had forward Jordan Morris playing towards the right sideline. The intent was to draw center-back Florian Jungwirth out of position to mark Lodeiro and open space behind the defense for Morris to run into. He also allowed Kim Kee-hee to join in the attacking phase of the game from his center-back position as Gustav Svensson dropped back from midfield to cover. Both Nouhou and Kelvin Leerdam played high up the field as well, often at the same time, leaving only Kim, Chad Marshall, and a deep-lying Svensson to effectively play a back three.
This seemed to catch San Jose off guard as Sounders controlled the early parts of the match. Seattle was dominant in possession for much of the first 20 to 30 minutes but failed to convert the possession into goals.
“The first 17 minutes, we should have been up by a couple,” lamented Schmetzer after the match.
The downside to committing so many players into the attacking third of the field was that Seattle was vulnerable to counter-attacks. In the 34th minute Shea Salinas caught Leerdam on his heels after he had to make a recovery run to get back on defense and beat him one-on-one in the box before finishing far post past Frei for the opening goal.
With the lead and now aware of the tactics that Seattle was employing, San Jose settled in and began to claw back possession and negate the advantage that Sounders were looking to create.
The Quakes came out energized to start the second half and like LAFC their attackers found space to work between the Seattle midfield and defense, hitting the post twice in the opening eight minutes of the half before doubling their lead in the 53rd minute. Again it was Salinas with the goal, this time a tap in far post as Seattle struggled to clear their zone and mark attackers.
Seattle recovered well after going down 2-0 to score two goals of their own just two minutes apart but they couldn’t find a winner in the last 25 minutes and were ultimately fortunate to get out of the match with a point.
After the match when I asked Schmetzer if he noticed what had caused such a noticeable change in defensive performances and if he was concerned he was candid in his response saying, “I’m going to try and find that out and fix it,” before admitting that his team had played into the hands of San Jose. His response to being concerned or not was even simpler: “Yes, I am concerned with the goals that we’re giving up. Absolutely.”