At 0-3, Sounders have issues that need fixing during bye week
At 0-3 in regular-season MLS play, the Sounders are off to the worst start the club has had since its inaugural season in 2009. Seattle is at the very bottom of the Western Conference standings with zero points, which is also the lowest league-wide. Even the Columbus Crew in the East have a single point from a draw against Chicago. Three wins and nine points stand between the Sounders and the conference leader, Sporting KC. While it’s not exactly a reason to go into full panic mode, there are at least a few things that need to change if the Sounders hope to have a shot at silverware this season.
The Sounders are also heading into their first weekend off, which is likely both a blessing and a curse to players and coaches alike. The squad gets a chance to rest and refresh after a tough three weeks, but players also risk losing match fitness.
Based on the first three losses, here are some specific areas the Sounders should focus on in training in the time off they have until their next league match on April 2:
• Finishing. Soccer is about goals; it’s as simple as that. At the end of the day, shots and chances created are absolutely pointless if they don’t result in the ball hitting the back of the net. In the offseason, the Sounders changed to a 4-3-3 formation in order to shoehorn their three star strikers into the team together. But when Obafemi Martins left for China before the season, coach Sigi Schmid chose to keep the formation and squeeze Jordan Morris into the open right-wing slot. While this looked good in preseason, it’s simply not producing goals in the league yet. Nelson Valdez has barely taken any shots, as his role seems to be reduced to holding the ball up, often to not much effect. Clint Dempsey had nine shots against Vancouver on Saturday, with not a single one of them on target. Match situation and shooting drills should be high on the Sounders’ priority list this week in practice.
• Corner kicks. On both offense and defense, Seattle has some issues with set pieces thus far. The Sounders have done fairly well with free kicks, as they’ve already scored two from direct free kicks (Dempsey vs. Club America and Andreas Ivanschitz vs. Vancouver), but corners have been a huge weakness on offense and defense. Ivanschitz is often the designated taker for the Sounders, and nearly all of his deliveries have failed to find a teammate. Whether this comes down to how the team approaches corners in the box or how Ivanschitz is taking them, something has to change there. The Sounders have also had problems defending corners and deep free kicks. In their Week 2 road match against Real Salt Lake, the home side scored its first goal from a corner, and the second came from a cross following a deep free kick that the defense failed to deal with. Both individual mistakes and general disorganization contributed to those goals, and both aspects need to be dealt with in training.
• Tactical organization. It’s natural in a 4-3-3 formation for outside forwards to have to drop deep to get the ball or help out the midfield, but it shouldn’t be the norm. Dempsey and Schmid both mentioned in the lead-up to Saturday’s match that Dempsey should be getting in the box more often rather than dropping deep. That didn’t really happen against Vancouver. Especially considering how well Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan managed the midfield, Dempsey should have been closer to the edge of the 6-yard box than the halfway line. The Sounders need to work on communication and discipline this week. If they trust the tactics, they should have no problem sticking to their positions. Ivanschitz needs to amp up his creativity game: provide Dempsey with short passes near the box, put through balls in for Morris and collect knock-downs from Valdez. If Ivanschitz is taking the ball from his fellow midfielders and finding the right pass for a forward, Dempsey can focus on getting those passes rather than creating them himself. The Sounders should work on in-game situation drills that force creativity, communication and trust in each other when on the attack.
There’s also a chance that the Sounders will make some transfer moves in these off weeks, something they’ll ideally do as early as possible in order to integrate those players into their style and tactics. Fresh options for Ivanschitz and Morris should be especially high on the Sounders’ priority list if they decide to sign any players at this time.