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Sounders new 4-3-3 look not working after three weeks

Photo by Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports
Photo by Jennifer Buchanan/USA Today Sports

It’s just not clicking three weeks into the season.

The Seattle Sounders suffered their third consecutive defeat to start the 2016 campaign, and if anything, the home loss to Cascadia rivals Vancouver Whitecaps made it clear that a change is needed.

The new 4-3-3 formation that was introduced by head coach Sigi Schmid in the preseason has not returned positive dividends thus far. The veteran coach introduced and implemented that new formation to the team while star forward Obafemi Martins was still on the roster.

Many people expected great things from that Sounders team ahead of the 21st MLS season, with some considering them to be the favorite to lift the MLS Cup. They had just signed rookie Jordan Morris as well, and so their attack looked the most lethal among the 20 clubs. That all changed when Martins was sold to Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua by the Sounders.

Martins had scored 40 goals in 72 total appearances for the Sounders, and in his place stepped up a capable but unproven striker in Nelson Valdez. The 32-year-old Paraguayan forward has a long and impressive resume, playing for the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Rubin Kazan and Eintracht Frankfurt, but has not scored or assisted a single goal to start the season. The Designated Player has played as the main striker in the trident attack with Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris playing the wide positions. Yet, in 249 minutes, he has only attempted two shots on goal.

Dempsey has arguably been the best player for the Sounders in 2016, but he too has not scored a goal in MLS. Morris joins the 33-year-old with no goals or assists after three weeks of action. Only Andreas Ivanschitz and Osvaldo Alonso have scored thus far, signaling a major cause for concern.

The past two years saw Dempsey and Martins combine for magical goals straight down the middle of opposingĀ defenses, but that has not been happening in 2016. Schmid wants Dempsey, Valdez and Morris to work together down the middle, even switching spots with each other in the final third if it results in more buildup play between them.

That has not happened so far, though, as many of the attacks have started down the flanks. In the past two games, the Sounders have outcrossed Real Salt Lake and the Vancouver Whitecaps, 64-28.

Helping the Sounders build more attacks down the middle could be the addition of a DP attacking midfielder, as reported by Sports Illustrated in early March. Whether the Sounders sign someone before the end of the primary transfer window on May 11 or not, a change in attack is needed. A move back to the 4-4-2 formation may not be the best change, but having Valdez and Morris as the two strikers in a 4-3-1-2 shape, with Dempsey playing in the No. 10 role, could be an answer worth considering.

While the Sounders do not play in Week 4 of MLS action, the games do not get any easier for the club. The Montreal Impact, who have looked dominant at times early this season, will play at CenturyLink Field on April 2.


  1. My biggest take away from watching Seattle is how much they miss Martin. The chemistry and movement between him and Dempsey was special and Dempsey’s production will take a hit but deuce will still get his Im not too worried about him. Morris concerns me a bit more, I understand he is a rookie and getting used to professional soccer but he has not looked impressive by MLS standards let alone one of a USMNT prospect. Its obviously to early to judge to much from his early performances but I was hoping for a little more production if not in goals or assist then at least from chances created, he doesnt seem to be impacting the game very much. I do believe a formation switch will benefit Morris as he has looked a bit more useful when used in the canter as opposed to out wide.

      • Harsh criticism.

        Morris works better running up top looking for space and running channels.

        I think the 4-3-3 experiment is not working for Seattle. Unlike SKC that has Benny Feilhaber behind the strikers, Seattle does not have that player yet. Alonso is their best player, but his role is deep.

  2. A couple of things…

    It cannot be argued that Dempsey has been the Sounders best player in 2016. He has been an average player, at best, while Alonso is playing above and beyond everyone on the field.

    The other is that the Sounders cannot attack with class down the middle with the players currently available for selection. Attacking from wide areas with the fullbacks is the best option considering the perceived abilities of the front three to finish crosses. That, of course, hasn’t happened yet, but I don’t think they can pull off the intricate, delicate, quick passing we saw last year with this squad. Morris has looked a fish out of water thus far.

    Without Oba and Pappa (not sure why people overlook his contributions last year), the Sounders lack quality in that final chance creating pass and I hope they do go out and pick up a Miguel Arteta or Ever Banega (pipe dream), who I believe will both be available on a free this summer (could deal to get them sooner?). That one piece will dramatically change the dynamic and will play to true strengths, as opposed to serve as a “best fit”. It will also push Morris to the bench, take some pressure off, and allow time to best incorporate him into the tactics and team.

  3. “Dempsey has arguably been the best player for the Sounders in 2016, but he too has not scored a goal.”

    Dempsey scored a goal from a free kick that was beautiful – otherwise the article seems spot on.

  4. They lost on Obafemi Martins deal in so many ways. Transfer fee, no replacement and no adjustment.

    Poor piece of business by a classy franchise.

    • But how much say did they actually have in it? Considering MLS is single-entity, the league would have handled the negotiations. If Oba was determined to leave, I’m not sure what kind of leverage the team had. Hoping someone with better knowledge of the process can chime in here…

      • Yea, I understand MLS is weird when it comes to transfers. However, I believe MLS league offices sign off on deals before they’re completed. They do not force clubs to sell players.

        Where it gets really weird is when MLS signs players on their own and then allocates them in “blind draws” or whatever wonky rules they decide to create that moment.

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