Why are the Seattle Sounders thinking of shifting to a 4-3-3 formation this season?
Because a 4-2-4 would probably be too extreme.
Still, there is much appeal in Seattle getting four of its most talented players on the field as often as possible, even though they’re all listed as forwards: Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, Nelson Valdez and rookie Jordan Morris.
It was at Morris’ introductory press conference that coach Sigi Schmid first floated the news that he was leaning toward more use of the 4-3-3 this season — four defenders, three midfielders, three forwards — as opposed to Seattle’s more typical 4-4-2.
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“I’ve always been a coach who feels you have to evaluate the talent that you have on your team, and devise a system of play that enhances everybody’s abilities to contribute and gives them an opportunity,” Schmid said.
The Sounders could unveil that new look Wednesday when they play their first friendly of the new season against the Vancouver Whitecaps in Tucson, Arizona. If so, returning veterans Dempsey, Martins and Valdez would likely play up top, as Morris will spend the rest of this week at the United States national team camp in Carson, California.
“I’m feeling good with the two strikers,” Valdez told SoundersFC.com over the weekend. “I think we can work together to put our team in the best formation.”
Schmid cautions fans not to put too much stock in the numbers. Positions assigned on a lineup sheet can become far more fluid in the heat of a game.
“I was watching a team and it was listed as a 4-4-2, but is sure looked like a 4-3-3 to me,” he said last week. “So, I don’t think you can get all hung up on that and too bogged down with that either. I think what teams are looking for is to try and counteract other teams being successful in terms of their possession of the ball, and then the question is: OK, teams are possessing the ball better, so where do you want to give them possession? Is it in the middle part of the field? Is it on the wide channels? Those are the decisions that you make and put guys out there and create a system that complements the strengths of your players.”
For now, the Sounders’ primary strength appears to be at forward where Dempsey, Martins and Valdez are all designated players, and Morris is believed to have signed the richest homegrown player contract in the history of Major League Soccer.
However, Schmid points out that all are on the radar of their respective national teams to one degree or another, and all but Morris are over age 30, so there are likely to be plenty of games where one or more is unavailable. Behind them are a cluster of prospects such as Oalex Anderson, Andy Craven, Darwin Jones and Victor Mansaray.
Accommodating them with an added forward on the pitch will come at the expense of one midfielder. And this Sounders camp seems to have plenty of competition there too, with holdovers Osvaldo Alonso, Cristian Roldan, Erik Friberg, Aaron Kovar and Andreas Ivanschitz joined by MLS veteran Michael Farfan, who was acquired in an offseason trade.
“We have time to work on the 4-3-3 — little by little to get used to that system,” Alonso said. “But you have to play soccer, you know — play our game and do the best for the team.”
The advantage is getting more goal-dangerous Sounders onto the pitch. The disadvantage is fewer players behind them.
“As long as the tactics are right, as long as we’re playing well, getting chances with it, that will be good,” Dempsey said. “But it’s how you play it. You don’t play it right, you can get punished. It just depends on how you build in the attack and how you get exposed defensively when you are attacking. … It’s something that we need to work on and train, the movements of everybody, the partnerships and how we’re going to play.”