MLS is Back: Talking tournament tactics – Western Conference

MLS, Seattle Sounders, Brian Schmetzer (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images)
MLS, Seattle Sounders, Brian Schmetzer (Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images) /
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Seattle Sounders, Nicolas Lodeiro
SEATTLE, WA – NOVEMBER 10: Nicolas Lodeiro (C) #10 of Seattle Sounders FC holds the trophy and celebrates after wining the match between Toronto FC and Seattle Sounders as part of the MLS Cup 2019 at CenturyLink Field on November 10, 2019 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Omar Vega/Getty Images) /

San Jose Earthquakes

Expected formation: The San Jose Earthquakes like to line up in a 4-3-3. However, formation barely matters with this team. Manager Matias Almeyda uses the 4-3-3 as a starting point in attack. In defense, his team move all over the pitch, avoiding any standard defensive shape due to their team style.

Team style: Man-marking is the name of the game in San Jose. Almeyda coaches perhaps the most unique style in the league. It’s a wacky, rarely seen style that helped San Jose win a healthy number of games in 2019 before faltering down the stretch and missing the playoffs. The Earthquakes essentially play man-to-man defense across the pitch. When they win the ball back, they attack vertically, driving straight at the opposing goal.

Potential success/failure: The Earthquakes struggled mightily on the defensive side of things back in March. They allowed seven goals in just two games, both at home. This team also does a lot of running due to their frenetic man-marking. Can the players hold up in the heat? Any physical lapse on the pitch is detrimental to the system. San Jose faded down the stretch in 2019 partly because of their lack of scoring. They hardly addressed the issue in the offseason by signing just two new attackers, only one of whom scored a single goal back in March.

Seattle Sounders

Expected formation: Head coach Brian Schmetzer’s preferred formation is the 4-2-3-1. It’s a formation that the Seattle Sounders have thrived in, especially in the last few years. Their full-backs love to get forward and assist in the attack and attacking midfielder Nico Lodeiro will roam freely from the number 10 position.

Team style: The Sounders typically build from the back like most teams. However, they love to do it up one side of the field. Last year, this mostly happened on the left flank, although that was when left-back Brad Smith and left-winger Victor Rodriguez were on the roster. With those two gone, there could be a mix of build-up on either side. Look for them to progress play on one side before either switching across the field or moving through Lodeiro, who can feed any of Seattle’s top attackers.

Potential success/failure: Seattle usually thrive in a tournament like this. Just look at their last few MLS Cup Playoff runs. Their style allows their best players to shine in the biggest moments. With Lodeiro in a free role in midfield, he has the ability to find Jordan Morris, Raul Ruidiaz, and others at just the right moment. Or, Lodeiro can handle things himself, just as he did against LAFC in the Western Conference final last fall. Frankly, the Sounders don’t have any glaring weaknesses, except for some roster turnover along the backline. If things aren’t organized, opponents may be able to find the necessary goals to topple Seattle.