Tactic Talk: Sounders Switch Formation for 2021

Tactic Talk: Sounders Switch Formation for 2021

The 2021 season starts Friday and the formation will look very different for the Sounders. With the departures of Joevin Jones, Kelvin Leerdam, and Gustav Svensson this offseason added with the fact the club has reached the ceiling on their salary cap would require Brian Schmetzer and his coaching staff to use a different formation with the limited funds available. Since becoming the Interim Head Coach midway through 2016, Schmetzer has used a 4-2-3-1 formation that benefits Lodeiro’s playmaking abilities as the central attacking midfielder.

This year the team is moving to a 3-5-2 formation that uses two strikers. It’s the first time that the Sounders will rely on a formation that utilizes the striker partnership since the late Sigi Schmid was Head Coach who relied on a  4-4-2 formation. The last time the Sounders relied on two strikers in the formation was 2015 when Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins were considered to be one of the league’s most effective duos. But that was a time where the landscape of MLS was much different  from playing style, to the way teams were built, to where the salary cap was  set. Targeted Allocation Money had just been introduced that year. The age of MLS’s teams signing midfield playmakers  as their highest  priority wouldn’t  happen until the following two seasons.

Having a formation with  two strikers would certainly limit the midfield playmakers abilities, but Schmetzer and the coaching staff feel confident that this formation still benefits Lodeiro’s abilities and field competitive results given the current financial limitations with  the current roster in place. Pulso Sports  will  provide an in depth look at the formation looking into each and every position as well the tactical roles from the goalkeeper  all the way to the strikers.


The 3-5-2 formation fields 3 defenders, 5 midfielders, and two forwards. Ideally for the Sounders, without injuries the dream starting eleven is Stefan Frei, Shane O’Neill, Yeimar Gomez Andrade, Nouhou, Alex Roldan, Cristian Roldan, Joao Paulo, Nicolas Lodeiro, Brad Smith, Will Bruin, and Raul Ruidiaz. That’s the lineup now for the in-depth look.


Stefan Frei is in goal there’s not much to talk about what he does. It’s the three defenders in front of him is what’s different.  Usually teams deploy four players in the defensive backline for solidity. Converting to a three centreback’s O’Neill, Andrade, and Nouhou will be tasked of defending the central area. It’s surprise to many seeing Nohou in the center back role as he  primarily plays as a leftback. While his strength and ability to defend is solid, his ability to cross hasn’t developed as many would like. Moving him to a center back role could open up more possibilities for his career in the future. Naturally left footed playing as the left centreback, he can smoothly switch the play to the left-hand flank of the pitch when the team moves the ball up field.


This is where things change in the formation. It’s best to start with the outside wingbacks consisting of Alex Roldan and Brad Smith. They will be tasked in defending the wide areas but also will be tasked in making overlapping runs to send crosses into the box. Depending on the opponent they can be instructed by Schmetzer to  play higher up the field to help offensively or drop back deeper defensively. In a way converting to a 5-man defensive backline. Smith and Roldan are fullbacks.

The central attacking midfield trio of Nicolas Lodeiro, Joao Paulo, and Cristian Roldan creates the spine of the midfield. Lodeiro and Paulo have the ability to free roam. Since Paulo prefers playing deeper, he could drop back and act as sweeper while Lodeiro and Roldan centrally lead the club in attack. If Paulo joins them in the offensive attack, Lodeiro is comfortable playing in the middle including as a left and right central midfielder. Cristian can slide into the middle or the right-hand side to. He’s not creative and tends to not free roam in the central attacking role like Paulo or Lodeiro but, playing smart and simple soccer makes him very dependable making him well-rounded as a midfielder. It’s perhaps Cristian’s best on field attribute throughout his entire career.


With the striker partnership in place it will all come down to who’s on the pitch. If Ruidiaz and Bruin pair up they will be positioned as left and right forwards. Ruidiaz has missed most of preseason in Peru waiting for paperwork needed to be completed so he could acquire his green card. That’s where Fredy Montero has come in handy. He and Bruin started the last preseason friendly together last Saturday against the San Diego Loyal at Lumen Field. In the match Montero dropped deep while Bruin broke in behind the backline. Montero has been knowing to take shots from all areas of the penalty box  so its advantageous for either Bruin and Ruidiaz to follow up and finish a rebound from one of his long range attempts. Montero also provides excellent corners as well as free kicks with his right foot.

The ‘18

This article can’t finish off without notable substitutions.  Likely we will see Kelyn Rowe come off the bench and get his fair share of starts at positions such as rightwing back and possibly central midfield. The same could be said with Jordy Delem. Xavier Arreaga will likely come in either late in matches or if one of the centreback’s is injured or suspended.

Don’t forget about Danny Leyva, Dobbelaere,  and Josh Atencio  to compete for playing time. It seems like these are the players from Tacoma Defiance Schmetzer wants to take his chances with who break in with the first team this year. Dobbelaere showed promise in his MLS debut last regular season with his goal-line clearance against the Galaxy last fall, Leyva could be the next version of Cristian Roldan, playing all central midfield positions and possibly out wide right.



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