Part One, discussing Seattle's Lineup and Form, was posted yesterday
If, as expect, Sigi Schmid opts to field the partnership of Obafemi Martins and Nelson Valdez up top, Toronto will be faced with a hard-working, skillful duo, who know each other well, having shared some time together previously in Russia at Rubin Kazan.
A good example of the high pressing and never-give-in attitude with which the pair approach the game can be seen in the opening goal against Portland from the weekend. Valdez forces a turnover, which falls Martins' way, he sticks with the pressure, not giving the Timbers defenders a chance to breathe, waiting for the ball to come and dispatching it when it does:
Toronto will have to be precise with the ball in their own half; the risk that comes with hesitation against the Sounders on a troublesome and quick surface is that it is unforgiving and unpredictable. An inopportune bounce or bobble, catching a cleat in the rug, or a simple misread of the movement can be devastating.
The duo was responsible for three of the four goals in a recent rout of Orlando City, which displayed several of their other talents. Martins scythed through the back-line with a few deft passes after possession turned over, while Valdez rose up with a near-post run to flick on a header – he is dangerous in the air, while Martins' second was just a matter of mopping up some sloppy Orlando defending.
They must be tracked and limited in their chances – easier said than done.
But it is not just those two, Seattle has plenty of players who are solid on the ball. The pass that played in Martins for the opener against The Lions was from Lamar Neagle, while the ball played by Erik Friberg for Chad Barrett's opener against The Galaxy was a thing of beauty, delicately picking out his teammate with a curling delivery that sliced through the LA defenses:
LA was caught napping, early in the match on that occasion, but for Toronto to avoid the same fate, they must first pressure the ball – do not allow the time to pick such passes – but, Seattle, with such central weapons, will use such width to create lanes, both for passes and for runs. Pressure on the ball alone will not suffice, one must also track those runs and be aware of the geometry left available.
If one does succeed in both clogging up the central interplay and cutting down on the chances out wide, Seattle may just choose to go straight down the middle. Both of Martins' goals against Orlando came up the gut, while both Valdez and Martins are capable of making that off-the-shoulder run to latch onto a long, route-one ball.
Just such a play led to the decisive penalty kick against Portland on the weekend:
Toronto would do well to keep the ball, and the runners, in front of them, while the keeper needs to be sharp, prepared to race off his line to collect any over-hit balls before the runner can arrive.
One final note, Seattle, though not a hulking team, has plenty of aerial target. Valdez, as above, Martins, but most especially, Chad Marshall. He is good for a few every season.
Toronto's back-line has cleaned up their play a little bit in recent weeks, but limiting the free chances given to Seattle will go a long way towards a victory.
Fortunately, the reverse of that is also true. Seattle's defending of set-pieces has been atrocious, which is very odd considering that both Marshall and the new arrival, Roman Torres, are formidable in the air. Without putting too fine a point on it, it may be that before the arrival of Torres, they did not have an adequate partner for Marshall, while a difficulty in fielding a set back-four may have played a role.
Regardless, they have been dreadful.
Both of Pa Modou Kah's goals for Vancouver came from dead-balls situations, more-or-less, the second was a neat dragged back-heel, but the first was simply a case of Seattle letting a free-kick drop in the area. With no pressure on him, Kah smashed it in:
That was before the arrival of Torres, but the same problem popped up against Portland on the weekend. Jack Jewsbury nearly beat Stefan Frei on a near-post run, while his goal would eventually come from another corner, beating his marker Neagle on the six-yard box, shaded to the back-stick:
Toronto needs to commit to such opportunities, get men in the box and deliver good balls.
It is not only directly from set-pieces, but also what comes afterwards that causes Seattle woe. In the rush to get forward or the expectation that the danger has been cleared, it is so tempting to switch off, clear the lines, before the threat has dissipated.
A quick turnover and a second ball in and all that hard work has been for nought. Add in the bane of every defender – not having eyes in the back of one's head – and goals like the one Gyasi Zardes scored can happen:
Seattle is caught cheating and when Juninho swings a ball back in, there is nobody near Zardes, who arrives at the back-post to get the needed touch. A similar situation occurred against Salt Lake when Sebastian Jaime was allowed some space on the outside left by Tyrone Mears, only for Frei to come up with a huge save.
Such a move, the back-side sneak attack, has worked particularly well for Justin Morrow this season, but numerous players can take the chance and make that run – they should do so.
Another function of a constantly-changing back-four is that when confronted with width, getting the spacing and lane coverage required becomes ever-more difficult, as players are never sure exactly how each other will react.
Take this Robbie Keane goal:
Seattle gets beat out wide by a ball down the outside. With the wide players already committed, AJ DeLaGarza is free to charge in a send a hopeful ball into the middle. Having been stretched wide and having lost half their defensive flank to the build-up, Seattle is unable to either react to the incoming ball or cover their marks, allowing Keane a rather simple finish.
Getting numbers in the box, forcing the defenders to make that either-or-choice, of marking or clearing, is the key to making the most of width. If there is no pressure, Seattle easily clears such a simple cross, but through in a poacher or two, and they start to get worried.
Toronto has plenty of finishing talent, they just have to get into those positions. Luke Moore, Herculez Gomez, and especially Robbie Findley, who has looked better and better in recent outings, are all capable of doing the same.
The next two points are interrelated: Seattle struggles in transition and is not particularly fast at the back.
Giovanni dos Santos was able to score his first MLS goal against the Sounders in the most simplistic of manners: a poked ball behind the back-line from Keane, springing the Mexican down the left-channel, from whence he beat Frei with a blast:
That comes down to pure foot-speed and getting caught facing the wrong direction. Without Sebastian Giovinco (most likely) and Jozy Altidore (most definitely), that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of the three strikers mentioned above, or the likes of Jonathan Osorio and Marky Delgado, both of whom have the wheels to trouble the Seattle back-line.
But there is another point here, one that is constantly harped on here: the value of following up a chance.
For Canadian fans the value of that simple extra little run was evident in Tosaint Rickett's first goal last night: if Samuel Piette does not follow in the Cyle Larin header, it is easily covered by the Belizean keeper, but he does, and Ricketts is able to force it in.
Against Salt Lake, a Luke Mulholland shot rattles off the woodwork, freezing the back-line who watch the strike. Jaime, meanwhile, reacts, racing in to nod the rebound into the waiting net:
So easy, yet too often overlooked.
Points of Interest
This is the first and only regular season meeting between the two clubs this season.
They have met nine times in MLS play over the years with Seattle winning six, Toronto two, and drawing just once.
In the five matches played in Seattle, the Sounders have dominated winning three and drawing another, but, Toronto's only win came in last season's early encounter when Jermain Defoe scored twice in his debut; Clint Dempsey pulled on back for the Sounders in the second half.
That win snapped a five-match Seattle winning streak.
In fact, the last two meetings have been won by the visitors – if that means anything.