Seattle Sounders were seeking redemption as they hosted LAFC in the MLS last weekend. Only a week prior LAFC thrashed the Sounders 4-1 in Los Angeles. It was a different story in Seattle though as the Sounders managed to hold out for a 1-1 draw against the league’s most inform team. The Sounders were reduced to 10 men for most of the match and finished with only nine men on the field. This tactical analysis will focus on how the Sounders dealt with the disadvantage and how LAFC changed their shape to a more offensive style.
After beating Seattle 4-1 in their previous match, Bob Bradley was understandably hesitant to make any major changes to his lineup. The starting lineup only had one change, with Tristan Blackmon replacing Steven Beitashour. The team lined up in their typical fashion, a 4-3-3.
Seattle only made two changes to their starting lineup, with Jordy Delem replacing Gustav Svensonn in the defensive midfield role. Handwalla Bwana stared at left midfield ahead of Víctor Rodríguez. Head coach Brian Schmetzer may have made more adjustments after the 4-1 loss earlier in the week if it wasn’t for his team’s growing injury list. In fact, Schmetzer was forced to include only six men on his bench, instead of the regular seven.
How it happened
The game started with a bang as Jordan Morris scored the opening goal in less than a minute. A poor back pass from Eddie Segura was picked up by Morris who made no mistake in a 1v1 against Tyler Miller. Less than 3 minutes later, Carlos Vela scored his 11th goal of the season to make it 1-1. Diego Rossi exploded down the left side of the field passing the ball across goal for Vela to tap in.
Cristian Roldan received a red card in the 18th minute for an incident involving Eduard Atuesta. After the dismissal, Seattle reverted to a much conservative 4-4-1. LAFC controlled the rest of the game, dominating with 73.6% possession.
Christian Ramirez nearly broke the deadlock in the 47th minute after Latif Blessing played the ball across the goal line for an easy tap in. Unfortunately for LAFC, the shot from two yards out flew over the crossbar.
Seattle almost stole the win in extra time with Brad Smith barreling down the left side of the field. Incredibly LAFC managed to prevent the goal, only to run up the other end and create a chance of their own. Kelvin Leerdam fouled LAFC’s Diego Rossi just outside the box on the 92nd minute.
Referee Ted Unkel award LAFC a penalty and Leerdam received a yellow card. But the VAR official pleaded with Unkel to review the play, and he awarded a freekick and red card instead. The match ended just as excitingly as it started but remained 1-1 at the final whistle.
The remainder of this tactical analysis will look at how the tactical changes made in this game contributed to the final result.
Seattle Sounders defensive shape
Before Cristian Roland’s sending off, Seattle Sounders set up in a 4-3-2 defensive shape. This left Jordan Morris as a lone target man. The flat back four took care of central threats with a three-man midfield sitting in front to prevent penetrating passes. Two higher midfielders would press the ball, forcing LAFC to find another avenue of attack. We can see this defensive shape in the bellow image as LAFC possess the ball in Seattle’s half.
When LAFC switched the play, the full back stepped to press the ball. One of the midfielders would slot back into the defence to retain the 4-3-2 defensive shape. When Seattle won the ball they started the counter-attack through Morris.
The following image showcases an instance where left-back Brad Smith steps to the ball carrier. The midfielders on the far side of the field slots into the right back position, allowing the defensive line to shift towards the ball.
The 18th-minute red card forced the Sounders to reconsider their defensive shape. Since they wanted to retain Jordan Morris as an outlet, Seattle converted to a 4-4-1 defensive formation. The back four’s job remained unchanged for the most part, but the midfielders’ tasks changed. Instead of having two players press and three sit in front of the defence, four would sit in front of the defence.
This defensive shape made it very difficult for LAFC to break Seattle’s defensive lines, which they did so well in their 4-1 win earlier in the week. Although he still remained the highest player forward for Seattle, Jordan Morris retreated deeper during the defensive shifts.
When LAFC possessed the ball in the midfield Morris would provide light pressure on the ball carrier. The midfielders would prevent forward passes, encouraging LAFC to play the balls out to their isolated wingers.
In general, Seattle’s defending was much better than it was a week ago. In LA, Seattle had a 67.5% tackle success rate, compared to a 76.3% tackle success rate in the 1-1 draw at home. The red card may have been a blessing in disguise for Seattle, as it forced them to play much more compact.
Their undoing during the 4-1 loss was LAFC’s ability to make penetrating passes through their defensive lines. The 4-4-1 defensive shape prevented these penetrating passes, forcing LAFC to attack from wider areas.
At half time Bob Bradley made the decision to sacrifice defender Tristan Blackmon for midfielder Lee Nguyen. After Seattle’s Cristian Roland’s sending off in the 18th minutes, the Sounder’s shape changed considerably. Brian Schmetzer’s team reverted to a very defensive 4-4-1, with Jordan Morris as the lone striker. This allowed Bradley to swap to a back three and commit more men to the attack.
This resulted in a ripple effect throughout Bradley’s team. Nguyen’s presence in the midfield pushed Latif Blessing out to the right wing. The following images show Blessing’s second half positioning.
In the first half, Carlos Vela was left isolated on the left-hand side. Despite being a man down, Seattle were able to deal with Vela relatively comfortably considering he had no support. In the following image, we can see the red zone behind Vela occupied by no teammates. With no options out wide, Vela’s only option was to cut onto his left and take a shot.
In the second half, Blessing’s new positioning provided Vela with more options, giving the Sounders’ defence more to think about. The following sequence of images shows the impact of Blessing’s wide position.
In the first few minutes of the second half, Blessing overlaps Vela. He receives the ball in the box and is able to pass the ball into Christian Ramirez who misses a sitter. The chance was a direct result of LAFC overloading the right side of the field.
The chance should have been the match winner but flew over the net. Blessing also challenged the Seattle defenders with back post runs into the box. In the following sequence of images, we see another goal scoring opportunity that came from Blessing’s wide positioning.
LAFC managed to produce brilliant goal-scoring opportunities in the second half. The introduction of Blessing on the right allowed Bradley’s team to overload the Seattle defenders and find space behind the defensive lines.
Despite scoring in the first minute, Seattle will breathe a sigh of relief after escaping this match with a point. A second LAFC goal seemed imminent in the second half. They would have got it too if not for a massive miss from Christian Ramirez.
Seattle’s red card forced them to play more compact than a week prior, making life very difficult for Bob Bradley’s LAFC. But in the second half, Bradley’s tactical substitution provided opportunities for LAFC out wide. Despite this change providing more options, LAFC didn’t take their chances, dropping two points in the process.
With two of his players picking up red cards, Brian Schmetzer’s already thin selection options has decreased for his team’s trip to Minnesota United. LAFC host Chicago Fire who have only managed to pick up nine points in as many games.
Both Seattle and LAFC will be hoping to secure three points in their next fixtures, however, Seattle’s war wounds put them as a significant disadvantage. Seattle will be happy to see the back of LAFC, as the two teams won’t play again for the remainder of the MLS regular season.