MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

The Seattle Sounders welcomed the New England Revolution to CenturyLink Field, for their first league visit since 2017. The Sounders came into this match on the back of two home losses, an unusual occurrence, while the New England Revolution have been unbeaten in their past 10 matches. This match would have important implications for the MLS playoff race, as the Revolution came into this match in the final Eastern Conference spot, only one point ahead of Toronto FC.

Bruce Arena was appointed as the Manager and Sporting Director of the New England Revolution on 14th May and has enacted an amazing turnaround to take the New England Revolution from one of the worst sides in MLS to a playoff contender. Two key components of the revival have been former Aston Villa FC’s Carles Gil, who is a favourite for the MLS Newcomer of the Year award. The other component was recently acquired Designated Player Gustavo Bou, who was brought in from Club Tijuana on 10 July.

The Seattle Sounders have been more consistent than the away side and came into this match in third place in the Western Conference, sitting behind LAFC and Minnesota United. Suffering from several injuries, they have now lost their best defender, Roman Torres, to a substance-abuse suspension. These problems have resulted in Seattle only taking three points from the last three matches.

Both sides came into this match with defensive deficiencies, and it was evident within the first two minutes as Seattle took an early lead. New England grew into the match and scored two goals to take the lead before half-time. The home side struck back in the second half, scoring two goals in two minutes. It looked like Seattle was going to claim all three points until New England got a penalty in the 87th minute. Carles Gil converted the penalty, and each side split the spoils in a very entertaining back-and-forth affair.

Lineup

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Starting Lineup for Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution.

Brian Schmetzer made two changes to the side that lost 3-2 at home to Sporting Kansas City the previous weekend. Danny Leyva was dropped to the bench, replaced in the central midfield by Jordy Delem. Joevin Jones also started the match on the bench, with Raul Ruìdiaz returning to the starting XI after missing two games with the after-effects of a concussion.

Former USA manager Bruce Arena brought in three changes after his side suffered a 2-0 defeat against league-leading Los Angeles FC in their last league fixture. Juan Agudelo and Cristian Penilla were left on the bench, while Antonio Delemea Milnar was left out of the matchday squad altogether. Wilfred Zahibo, Jalil Anibaba and Michael Mancienne got the start, with Mancienne returning to the starting lineup for the first time since 4 May after a lengthy spell out with plantar fasciitis.

Keys to the match

We will use this tactical analysis to show how both sides struggled defensively. We will also look at the movement of Seattle’s attackers, and the issues it caused.

New England Revolution have work to do defensively.

Bruce Arena switched from the back four, that has been one of the standard tactics so far for him in New England, to a back five. Unfortunately, it didn’t do much to solve the issues that have been plaguing his side since before he was appointed as their new manager. The Revs have struggled repeatedly this season with tracking late runs from the midfield and dealing with threats in behind the line. Another problem that has repeatedly shown up in New England’s defence has been problems dealing with runs at the back post. Edgar Castillo has been caught out several times over the past few matches, allowing uncontested goals.

A good example of these problems could be seen in Latif Blessing’s goal the previous week in New England’s loss to Los Angeles FC. The ball moved wide to Jordan Harvey down the Rev’s right, and as the defensive line hustles back, Castillo is slow to track the midfield run of Blessing to the back post.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
The ball is moved wide to Jordan Harvey, who is able to cross the ball (yellow) to Latif Blessing (black), who makes a midfield run to the far post.

A primary problem for New England’s defensive line was the space outside of the centre-backs. Both wing-backs, Brandon Bye and Edgar Castillo, were guilty of a lack of work rate defensively. As a result, it was left to the outer centre-backs of Jalil Anibaba and Andrew Farrell to move into wide areas during transitions. With the advanced positioning of both wing-backs, the centre-backs struggled throughout the match to deal with balls into wide areas.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
New England Revolution pass map.

The Revolution played a high defensive line throughout most of the match, but they often failed to consistently pressure the ball in Seattle’s midfield. Without the pressure in the midfield, Seattle had the time necessary to play quality balls over the top. These passes were frequently played into the wide areas, as Ruìdiaz rarely made runs in behind the three centre-backs he was confronted with. It was often left to Jordan Morris to attack behind New England’s defence.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Lodeiro recovers the ball in the midfield, with nobody nearby to pressure him before he can advance (green).
MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Morris receives the ball and has space to run into (green), well past Farrell (white).

In the images above, we can see the Sounders first goal in the second minute came from these defensive issues. With a cheap turnover in the midfield, Seattle’s most dangerous passer of the ball, Lodeiro, can recover the ball without any immediate pressure being applied to him. He’s able to get his head up and see the run by Morris, who is attacking the area outside Farrell.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
The key passes contributed by Seattle Sounders. They all come from the half-space, in the areas outside the NE centre-backs.

The Sounders have their own defensive problems.

After scoring the first goal of the match in the second minute, Seattle had their own defensive issues that allowed New England back into the match. As the first half went along, New England grew into the match and were able to provide a dangerous threat in transition. With more possession, Seattle’s full-backs would often move up the pitch to attempt to stretch the pitch, but this left them vulnerable. With Castillo and Bye neglecting their defensive work, they were high up the pitch to attack on the counter.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Bou passes the ball (black) wide to Castillo and continues (white) his run forward. Castillo is able to chip the ball to Bou, before the Seattle defender (green) can close him down, who heads the ball in for a second goal.

In the image above, we can see that Castillo is the most advanced Revolution player. Gustavo Bou plays the ball wide to Castillo, and Seattle’s centre-back is slow at getting out to close down the Rev’s left wing-back. He’s able to pick out the continuing run of Bou with a skilled chip, and Bou heads the ball home for New England’s second goal.

While New England wanted to play a high defensive line and attempted to pressure Seattle high up the pitch, Seattle was more content to sit deeper and didn’t apply pressure on New England until the ball was played into the midfield. This meant that New England had numerous problems in possession. They proved to be unable to break down Seattle during the build-up, but they were dangerous in transition.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Recoveries by Seattle Sounders and New England Revolution.

With more possession, Seattle often moved additional players in attack to disorganise New England’s defence. This left them vulnerable in transition. In the image below, we can see the Revs getting forward on the counter-attack. Carles Gil is able to find space behind the Sounders midfield, and he receives the ball. He passes to Teal Bunbury and continues his forward run. With no midfielder to track the run, Gil can easily split the centre-back pairing.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Carles Gil is able to get behind Seattle’s midfield during a quick attacking transition.
MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Gil passes to Bunbury and continues his run (white) forward to receive the return pass (black).

The Sounders movement causes constant problems.

With all of the problems New England had defensively on transition, they also had problems dealing with midfield runs during possession. The key danger man for Seattle’s attack was Nicolas Lodeiro, who moved into wide areas to overload the defence and exploit the space behind the wing-backs. The threat presented by Lodeiro in the half-space was a recurring theme during this match.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
A map of where Nicolas Lodeiro received passes.

In the second half, the Seattle Sounders switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 diamond. Jordy Delem played at the base of the diamond, with Cristian Roldan and Harry Shipp playing the shuttler role on the outside of the diamond. At the tip of the diamond was Lodeiro, but he would often drift into the space available in the half-space. Jordan Morris moved to lead the line with Ruìdiaz, the Revs had more problems as the three centre-backs now had two strikers to deal with.

The result of this change was Seattle got back into the match. The result was two goals for Seattle in the second half, within two minutes of each other. With the numerical superiority in the centre of the park, New England had more struggles dealing with delayed midfield runs.

MLS 2019: Seattle Sounders vs New England Revolution - tactical analysis tactics
Lodeiro makes a late run from midfield (green), without anybody from the Revs midfield tracking him. He receives the ball from Saad Abdul-Salaam (white).

In the above image, we can see another aspect of Lodeiro’s danger. With the ball in the wide area, Lodeiro makes a late run from the midfield. New England’s midfield is slack with following the runner, and the defensive line is unable to hold a consistent line. With the diagonal run by Lodeiro, he’s able to exploit the gap behind the left-sided centre-back.

Conclusions

This analysis showed it was an open and attacking match that managed to showcase how dangerous both of these sides can be on the attack, but it also highlighted the vulnerabilities that they both suffer in defence. Seattle Sounders can feel slightly better about their defence, and they expect to get Roman Torres back before the playoffs start, but New England will be more satisfied with the point. This draw stretches the Revs unbeaten run to 11 games and keeps them in the hunt for a playoff berth at the end of the season.


Artwork by @chapulana

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