Week 16 in MLS has provided the fans with a great matchup between reigning Supporters’ Shield champion LAFC against the Western Conference leader, Seattle Sounders. Seattle travelled to Los Angeles with great spirits after winning in their last three games. The home side’s form is inconsistent right now, having not managed to get consecutive wins since July.
This time around, it was Bob Bradley’s side that came out on top in this entertaining battle. LAFC won this match with 3-1 score after got beaten by Seattle twice in the past two months. It was a sweet victory for the Black and Gold as they finished the game with two goals margin and three points in their pocket, thanks to Danny Musovski’s brace.
This tactical analysis piece will analyse and study both team’s tactics that affect the outcome of this match. This analysis also will explain the tactics applied during the transition, attacking and defensive phases in details.
LAFC started their team without a lot of regular starters because of injuries and international duty. Four of their top attacking players were competing in the CONMEBOL 2022 World Cup qualifiers with their respective countries. Bob Bradley played 4-3-3 formation, with Pablo Sisniega was responsible to protect their goalpost. Dejan Jaković and Eddie Segura played at the middle of the defence, while Latif Blessing and Jacob Harvey operated as right-back and left-back respectively.
The midfield consisted of three players, which is Mark-Anthony Kaye, Eduard Etuesta, and Francisco Ginella. The man of the match, Danny Musovski played as a right-winger and Joshua Pérez played at the opposite flank. Former EPL star, Bradley Wright-Phillips completed the team as a centre-forward.
On Brian Schmetzer’s side, there was not much rotation involved although this is their third match this week. The only change in the team was Brad Smith starting at left-back over Nouhou in the 4-2-3-1 formation. At the opposite side of Seattle’s defence is Kelvin Leerdam. The middle of the defence is protected by Shane O’Neill and Yeimar Goméz, while Stefan Frei continued his role as a goalkeeper.
The double-pivot for Seattle was Jordy Delem and João Paulo, a loanee from Botafogo. Former Ajax player and Seattle’s captain, Nicolás Lodeiro played as No. 10 role for the team. He was accompanied by Jordan Morris and Cristian Roldan, positioned as wingers. Seattle’s striker role is given to Will Bruin, replacing their top scorer Ruidíaz, who was involved with his national team for CONMEBOL qualifiers.
LAFC’s structure when in possession
One of the key tactics of Black and Gold in this match is how they entered Seattle’s final third with less problem in their build-up. The structure of LAFC is very wide when in possession of the ball. The image below shows the perfect example when the team holds the ball.
As we can see, Harvey is already at the far side of the pitch receiving the ball from Jaković. Ginella also running to the wide to backup Harvey at the left side of the pitch. The reason behind this extremely wide structure is to stretch out Seattle’s midfield block so LAFC’s midfielder can fill in any gap between midfield line to support an attack. This is important as they want to infiltrate into the final third with ease and fast.
When playing with a wide structure, they also need to build-up the play through the flanks. This build-up through the wings can be seen in the footage below. As usual, Harvey received the ball from Atuesta near the touchline. He laid off the ball to Ginella, who is on running from the middle. This sequence of build-up proves that they bring the ball into Seattle’s half easily.
In the next image, Ginella lobbed the ball into Musovski, who also is running from the touchline to infiltrate the empty space. However, Leerdam already prepared from this style of play and successfully stole the ball before it falls into Musovski’s foot.
This sequence ended with Musovski winning the ball from Leerdam and passing it to Ginella to cross the ball.
This build-up and wide structure prove beneficial for Bradley’s tactics as his players created two key crosses and 0.28 xGoals from left flanks. The analysis also shows that LAFC attacked most at the left side of the pitch 19 times (57%).
Seattle Sounders’ Defensive Strategy
Despite the fact that the home side scored three goals, their xGoals for this match is only 0.65. The defensive tactics that implemented by Schmetzer have prevented from LAFC do more damage in their final third. This section will analyse on how Seattle played when they are off-the-ball.
Seattle Sounders used man-marking approach during defensive plays. As shown in the image above, we can see every player has their own specific player to mark except Yeimar. Schmetzer needs one free player to receive the lost ball if the opponent makes a mistake.
This close man-marking approach will increase the probability of one player making a mistake as he is getting pressure from Seattle player. This approach also can block any short passes from the opponent due to the positioning of every Seattle player.
Another example of their defensive strategy can be seen in the image above. Once again LAFC looks to attack at the left flanks. Every Seattle players have their own specific player to mark but for this time, João Paulo is a free player. Torres was looking to pass into Harvey’s path. Morris did a good job to trackback on Harvey and try to distract him so that he cannot receive a good pass while João will support his teammates to collect the ball and circulate the possession again.
It was a good strategy but Harvey is a decent player, so it was hard for Seattle to man-mark him. The actual scene was Harvey received the ball to start the attacking chain which Musovski got his second goal of the match.
The dangerous play of LAFC’s defence
From an attacking perspective, Seattle Sounders shot 14 times inside LAFC’s penalty box. Even so, they only got 3 shots on target, which is only 21% accuracy. Most of the chances for Seattle were coming from set-pieces situation. Lodeiro is one of the best set-piece takers in MLS. With the aerial ability of a few Seattle players, it is easier for them to score a goal in the penalty box, but nonetheless, they missed most of the opportunities.
The reason why Seattle got many set-pieces opportunities is the way LAFC recovers the ball in their own half. There were certain moments where LAFC does not need to overpressure their opponents as there is no possible threat yet. This scenario can be observed in the following image.
Roldan received the ball with his back towards the goalpost. His teammate, Smith, was already marked by Jaković, so he cannot pass the ball to him. The only option that he has is offside in this picture, as the other players already being blocked by LAFC in the middle third.
Segura should have been aware of his surroundings and controlled his tackle. This resulted in LAFC conceding a free-kick from a good spot.
The above image shows the risky play during the defensive phase for LAFC. João Paulo just received an inward pass by Leerdam inside the penalty box. Notice how LAFC players overcommit their defence play by rushing onto Paulo to close him down before shooting.
Blessing also slid down beside Paulo to block his shot from going into behind the net. One of the players might be conceded a penalty if they recklessly tackled Paulo down. In the future, Bradley’s men need to be careful inside their own penalty or else it will cost them a potential point.
Role of Paulo and Lodeiro in Seattle’s build-up
Seattle Sounders has a strong presence in the middle of the pitch. This is the reason why LAFC had a hard time infiltrating through the centre. In Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Delem is a type of player who is focusing on protecting the backline. For build-up their attack, Paulo is the main player for The Sounders to initiate the attacking phase.
When comparing Paulo with the other Seattle players for passing statistic, he is clearly one of the best passers in the team. He attempted 56 passes with a variety of distance in this match. He is the second-best in term of passing accuracy in Seattle Sounders (84%), after O’Neill who is a centre-back. Nicolas Lodeiro, an attacking midfielder also provided the same service as his teammate. Lodeiro attempted 55 passes with 75% accuracy, slightly lower than Paulo due to Lodeiro’s positioning at further up the pitch.
The good example of Paulo’s role can be seen by looking at the above image. Although he played as a defensive midfielder, most of the times he will go forward into the opposition half to distribute the ball. Paulo moved into space as soon as Smith lay off the ball to Morris.
In this situation, Paulo acted as a third man where he received the pass to continue the play. Usually, the ‘third man’ player will distribute again to the same player who passed the ball to him. However, Paulo prefers to switch the play to another side to catch the opposition off-guard.
We can observe Lodeiro’s contribution to Seattle’s build up in the footage above. This sequence started with Murray dropped down to receive the ball from Smith at the left side of the pitch. Bruin also dropped down to support Murray as a passing option. Lodeiro is known for his ability to sneak past his marker and make himself available to receive the ball before his marker can close him down. Lodeiro’s body language shows that he ready to run to collect the ball from Bruin’s flick.
This movement helped Seattle to build-up their attacking play with a similar concept of ‘third man principle’ that widely used in a few of big European clubs. With a combined passing ability of Paulo and Lodeiro’s movement in the final third, they can create many opportunities for their forwards to score.
LAFC fans will be happy to steal three points from their Western Conference rival. What makes this win more meaningful to them as LAFC lost two players in early 10 minutes into the game because of the injuries. Seattle Sounders fans will not be happy with the quality of their finishing as they had many chances from the build-up and specifically in set-pieces situation. The only silver lining for The Sounders fans is to see their captain scored a tremendous effort from a free-kick.
For their next fixtures, LAFC will fight against the 10th spot in Western Conference, Vancouver Whitecaps FC in Vancouver, British Columbia. The Seattle Sounders will meet Colorado Rapids in their home stadium and they need another win to hold their position as Western Conferences leader.