The interesting feat about the Seattle Sounders’ MLS Cup triumph involved Brian Schmetzer’s men failing to record a solitary shot on target. The result didn’t justify TFC’s territorial superiority, but the Sounders remained resolute out of possession, containing the Reds’ main attacking threats.
This wasn’t a memorable cup final and fairly scrappy at times, which in truth, benefitted Schmetzer’s men who aimed to disrupt arguably the best attack in the league. 18 post-season goals prior to the final highlighted TFC’s strength around the box, but Seattle had only conceded three goals in that same span – this was a great advert of attack vs. defence. Yet, following an impressive defensive display at Portland, and TFC’s difficulty scoring from open play against the Montreal Impact, Schmetzer’s decision to base the attack solely on the counter was logical.
Seattle’s 4-2-3-1 features an additional central midfielder ahead of Cristian Roldan and Osvaldo Alonso to free Nicolas Lodeiro of his defensive duties in certain phases of the game. If Lodeiro was caught out of position centrally, one of the spare midfielders would press Justin Morrow. But the main intent of the Sounders approach was to clog space in central areas.
Where Seattle retreated into their half in a variation of a 4-5-1, Nelson Valdez worked hard to limit Michael Bradley’s threat from deep. Therefore, TFC’s best moments were quick direct moves between Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco. Within the opening minute, Altidore flashed a shot wide of the Sounders goal via Bradley’s deep free-kick, whereas the Reds’ best chance stemmed through quick combination passes between the strike duo and an advancing Jonathan Osorio.
Schmetzer’s reactive approach meant the full-backs rarely ventured forward, and it was interesting that Vanney didn’t encourage his attacking players into wide areas to create overloads considering protection was scarce. Essentially, the key to Seattle’s successful approach was the standout performances from centre-back duo Chad Marshall and Roman Torres.
With help from Alonso, Giovinco was constantly harried and forced into mistakes by the Seattle centre-backs. Altidore, on the other hand, posed issues when he dropped into midfield to receive the ball and run at defenders, but for the most part, the Sounders back-line coped with the American internationals physicality around the box.
Meanwhile, though the away side failed to record a shot on target throughout, the reliance on the attacking trio presented nervy moments for the TFC back-line. Valdez was the key man dropping off into midfield to play Jordan Morris and Friberg into the box, but both moves were dealt with by the TFC defence. Valdez’s selfless play was pivotal to the rare moments Seattle offered a goal threat in normal time, and his early departure forced Schmetzer to rejig his attacking approach.
But the decisive element of the match witnessed both sides struggle to impose their dominance for extensive spells in the attacking third, which is equally associated with standout performances from Bradley and Alonso’s destructive role ahead of the back-four. Likewise, there were clear tasks from the opposing managers to negate the hold midfielders threat from deep. No player recorded more tackles than Bradley and Alonso (6), and the latter’s four successful take-on’s from midfield was a game high.
While Valdez monitored Bradley, Jonathan Osorio quickly closed down Alonso when the Sounders midfielder received possession. Osorio nicked the ball off Alonso around the Sounders penalty box and immediately played Giovinco into the box, but the Italian oddly squandered his effort. As the match wore on both men received more time on the ball to start passing moves, but preventing Lodeiro and Giovinco from creating chances led to an uneventful final.
Neither manager made significant tactical alterations in the second half, and replaced the tired midfield starters with role players possessing similar traits. Morris’s pace behind the defence helped Schmetzer’s men alleviate lengthy spells of possession following Valdez’s departure, but the rookie lacked the required support to fluster the TFC defence.
Meanwhile, Vanney also turned towards pace upfront when Giovinco was unable to continue. Ricketts easily utilized speed to evade weary Seattle challenges and also created the best chance in extra-time that forced Sounders keeper Stefan Frei into an incredible save to deny Altidore.
Seattle weren’t convincing from an attacking sense, but they offered a definitive attacking-minded approach in transition that was stifled due to TFC’s spare numbers at the back. But the performance vividly illustrated Seattle’s commitment and defensive discipline in tricky away games throughout the post-season.
Overall, the result does put TFC’s 3-5-2 under the spotlight for potential criticism. Although Seattle deserves credit for their work-rate out of possession, TFC once again failed to score from open play against a midfield devoting their time to congest central space ahead of the box. Certainly fine margins separate goals from near misses, but Giovinco and Altidore’s quiet final’s outing reiterates the notion that defence wins’ championships.