Tactical Analysis: The Seattle Sounders

By Hernán Romero Carpio

26-May-2021 on Analysis

9 minute read

In this tactical analysis, Hernán takes a close look at the Seattle Sounders, one of the most successful clubs in Major League Soccer over the last five years. 


For the last four seasons they have finished in 2nd place in the Western Conference, missing out on winning it by no more than a few points. In 2016, they won the MLS Cup for the first time, a feat they repeated in 2019. This season, they are currently sitting at the top of the table with zero losses.


Could this be their year? Over to Hernán...

A Solid 3-5-2 Formation


Coached by the American, Brian Schmetzer, Seattle have stood out from their peers in MLS this season with their 3-5-2 game system, consisting of 2 wing backs and a sweeper on the back line, 3 central midfielders, 2 running the wings and 2 centre forwards.  


Formation seattle sounders


Using this fairly unique formation, the Pacific Northwesters have climbed to the upper echelons of the Western Conference and haven’t lost a game so far this season.


The Build Up


From a goal kick, Seattle try to pull the opposing strikers forward by playing short balls between the keeper and sweeper. At the same time, the left and right backs push wide to create a path out of defense.


Seattle Sounders Buildup


Faced with high pressure from the opposition, Schmetzer’s team continue to push up on the outside thanks to the positioning of the two wingers. Additionally one of the central midfielders will drop back to support the push forward.


Seattle sounders fc buildup


So far this season, Seattle’s build-up play has shown their intentions to control the game from the beginning, mainly by seeking to find the free player between the lines of the opposition.


seattle sounders build up 3


Differing Playstyles


Seattle play in a combative style. As well as taking full advantage of the spaces behind the opposition defense long balls thanks to the speed of their wingers, they are also able to mix it up and attack in different ways.


They are often able to reach the opposite area in possession of the ball, playing with several players in the centre but at the same time positioning the wingers wide and long, seeding confusion and doubt in the minds of the opposition defense when in the last quarter of the field.


seattle sounders analysis


Similarly, when the game warrants it, Seattle are able to make full use of their resources when the opposing team leaves spaces at the back, especially on the wings. Left winger, Brad Smith has the speed and ability to turn a game down that wing, creating many dangerous attacks from that area.


brian schmetzer seattle sounders


Smith has proven himself to be a defining asset for the team and is the second top scorer so far in the season, chalking up 3 goals. The Australian is often the key to to overcoming the opposition in the mid-low block.


seattle sounders champions


Cristian Roldán: The Axis of the Game


Another key player in Seattle’s midfield is Cristian Roldán. Versatile enough to play in the heart of midfield or as part of the attack, it is seldom that he isn’t involved in a Seattle build up. His awareness when positioning himself in space between the lines allows the team to progress up the field and get into scoring positions quickly.


critian roldán seattle sounders


His participation doesn’t end with the build up, however. The American player has a great understanding of the game which allows him to take full advantage of certain situations such as positioning himself in the rebound zone in order to pounce and score.


cristian roldán seattle sounders mls


seattle sounders midfield


Raúl Ruidíaz: The Key to Victory


After seven games, Raúl Ruidíaz is currently the second top scorer in the league with 6 goals. The Peruvian is second only to Javier “Chicharito” Hernández, who currently has 7 goals to his name.


seattle raúl ruidíaz


The movement Ruidíaz makes in order to have the time and space to score stands out. Before receiving a cross, he’ll tend to put the brakes on to stop short of the defensive line, giving him the positioning and space he needs to receive the ball and score.


seattle sounders center forward


attacking moves of seattle sounders


High Pressure in Defense


Before the opponent has the opportunity to start their build up, Schmetzer’s men like to apply very high pressure, trying to recover the ball high or force the opposition to split.


high pressure seattle sounders


Depending on which side the opposition tries to build up on, it’s usually Ruidáz who is the first to apply the pressure, supported by the central midfielders and the winger from the appropriate side.


5 Defenders in the Low Block


Understanding how their opponents attack, Seattle have also proven themselves very effective when defending in their own half. So far this season, they have only conceded 3 goals, second lowest in the league, just behind Orlando City, who have conceded 2.


The defensive formation of the Washington team consists of the three defenders narrowing the corridors on the inside whilst the wingers drop back to close the wide routes. The three remaining midfielders drop back slightly to plug any gaps that might appear.


seattle sounders low block


They combine this with the ability to swivel rapidly from one side to the other in order to block balls coming in from the wing.


defending seattle sounders


Their defensive organisation, often with 5 defenders in the line and 3 midfielders a little further ahead, has been one of the most important elements in the Seattle’s continued success.


seattle sounders defensive formations




Without a doubt, the Seattle Sounders have been able to translate good play into good results. Being able to adapt to different situations when attacking and, at the same time, keeping a watertight, defensive line have been the keys to their success.


At the moment, the Washington team look odds on to reach the finals for the third time in consecutive years.


This tactical analysis by Hernán Romero Carpio was completed using Nacsport video analysis software and KlipDraw telestration tools. If you would like to see the power of Nacsport for yourself, contact us through our website or download a free 30-day trial today.

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