Sounders show improvement in draw with depleted Toronto FC
Just a few days after their shootout win over Real Salt Lake, the Sounders were set to head north to face Toronto FC and star forward Sebastian Giovinco at full health. Then the team decided to leave forward Clint Dempsey at home for a little extra rest after the Copa America, and Brad Evans was a late scratch due to an apparent calf strain picked up in training. Their opponents, though, were missing even more players — Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, and Clint Irwin were among Toronto’s injured players who missed Saturday’s match.
The match felt fairly even, though Toronto had the better chances, and a 1-1 draw was a solid result. In a vacuum, a point on the road to a dangerous team would be great for the Sounders, but in the context of the 2016 season so far, they really could have used another two points.
Rookie forward Jordan Morris looks to be back in his mid-early season scoring form, and with the right partner (Dempsey or a new signing), the Sounders could have a goalscoring duo on their hands. Morris thrives under very specific tactics, and if the Sounders can suit his game and surround him with the right players, they could pull off a miracle and claw their way back into the playoffs this season.
The first half of Saturday’s match was fairly tepid, though Toronto came especially close to scoring. Things escalated in the second half as both sides made some tactical adjustments that opened things up. For the Sounders, Morris seemed better positioned to get behind the defense, which led to great positioning for the striker to latch onto Joevin Jones’ excellent ball over the top. Morris created a yard of space for himself after turning the defenders inside out. That allowed him to curl the ball beyond the keeper’s reach into the top corner.
Morris was dangerous throughout the half, and the tactical adjustments that came with the introduction of Nelson Valdez showed a glimpse of a much better gameplan for the Sounders’ current personnel. The 4-3-3 formation that Seattle has been using all season has lots of potential, but the glaring absence of Obafemi Martins still makes the decision to stick to that positioning a little perplexing. Using something like a 4-4-2, the Sounders looked a bit more dangerous. The use of a second forward gave Morris even more space to operate around the defense. The overlap of midfielders and fullbacks also improved the fluidity of their play and the Sounders nearly had a winner late in the match.
I know the club has been focused on the 4-3-3 project this season, but it seems like it might be time to abandon that idea. All signs seem to point to summer signings that would help, but not completely fix, the broken 4-3-3 in the first team, and might even be more likely to fit into a 4-4-2 or other similar formation. If the club was looking to sign a player like Martins who can play nearly as well as a wide forward, winger, or center forward, then maybe success the 4-3-3 would be in the cards. But it seems like a DP-level creative midfielder and TAM-level forward are in the works, which would likely fit much better with a 4-4-2 than a 4-3-3.
For now, the Sounders ought to try using Dempsey as a false nine or second striker just behind Morris, with a fairly flat four-man midfield behind them. This can be fluid, and the Sounders have definitely played a 4-4-2 at times while in possession and switched to 4-3-3 when on the attack. Either way, the Sounders have not been good at the high-volume crossing game this season, as neither the players doing the crossing nor those trying to get to the crosses are particularly good at that part of the game.
Working the ball into the box for Dempsey and putting through balls in for Morris are the current squad’s best chances for goals from open play. If they could just nail down one of those methods, they could see quite a few more goals this season like the one Morris had on Saturday.