Sounders FC v Toronto FC: Tactical Analysis

Posted in Analysis, Columnists, Featured, Seattle

Published on March 16, 2014 with 2 Comments

by Jack Pelini

Seattle controls the tempo, but Toronto creates chances on the counter.

Initial Setup

Toronto lined up a 4-4-2 v Seattle’s 4-2-3-1. Early on it seemed like the numerical edge in the center could prove advantageous for the home side since neither DeRosario nor Defoe elected to drop into the hole. With Bradley and Osorio trying to press up on Evans and Alonso, Dempsey was able to find space between the lines because the Toronto back four played a cautious line. However, the Sounders attacks were not dangerous. Dempsey was unable to collect the ball and either dribble at the centerbacks or thread a pass to Martins. Instead, he received the ball between the lines and played safe passes out wide or backwards, as pictured below.

14 03 SS v TFC Dempsey lines


Despite this advantage, Seattle could have been 3-0 down in the opening 24 minutes. The opening goal came from nothing. Osorio was given space and skipped past Pappa and threaded a pass to Defoe who first time finished before Traore could put in a tackle. The Seattle center backs suffered a communication breakdown; Marshall pushed up to stick tight to DeRosario but Traore stayed to the left electing not to track Defoe closely. Hopefully as the two grow familiar with each other these mistakes will get cleaned up.

A minute later, Bradley won the ball twice in the middle which spearheaded his patented midfield surge on a counter. The ball fell to DeRosario at the top of the box but Yedlin sped back to pick his pocket.

Five minutes later, Pappa presented Defoe with a welcome-to-MLS gift with a poor backpass setting up the former Spurs striker to get space on Traore and bury his second goal. It will be interesting to see how Defoe does this season. He will certainly be hyped after two goals in his first appearance but in the Premier League he was always known as a streaky goal scorer.

Toronto Sits Back

Up two goals in the first half, Toronto elected to sit deeper and invite Seattle into their half. The visitors from up north would then pour numbers forward on the break after winning the ball. This counter attacking style was driven by the energy and intelligence of Bradley. The US international consistently broke up play and more importantly provided an outlet pass to start the break. His interceptions and ball recoveries are shown below.

14 03 SS v TFC Bradley Def


Sounders Struggle to Test Julio Cesar

Down two goals, Seattle had to look for ways to get back into the match. Yet, they lacked ideas and creativity in the final third. Jackson was used on the left side for Toronto to pin back Yedlin, wary of the Brazilian’s pace on the counter. With Alvaro Rey keen to tuck in on the right to help close down the center, Dylan Remick was often the free man for Seattle. He swung in cross after cross; a couple looked dangerous but most failed to find a teammate. In all, Seattle sent in 36 crosses, none of which led to a goal or even a shot on goal.

14 03 SS v TFC SS crosses


The Sounders were at their most threatening when Ozzy Alonso had time and space to start an attack. His long ball in behind to Neagle ended with a foul but could have resulted in a penalty for Seattle. He also sprung a couple counters after aggressively winning the ball back. Seattle needs a secondary option moving forward and the onus is on Dempsey to provide that spark. Furthermore, the wide men were too predictable, electing to stay wide instead of working the channels, coming into the center or making runs in behind. The Neagle run in behind mentioned earlier and the Pappa back heel freeing up Martins on the right are examples of how taking up various positions in the final third can lead to confusing the opposition back four.

The Sounders were able to break through the only time Toronto committed heavy numbers forward in the second half. A Seattle counter led to Martins sprung free down the right side to square a pass to Dempsey who smashed it home. While the deficit was halved, Toronto were fairly comfortable in seeing the rest of the match out.


It is way too early to make too many conclusions, yet we can see how Toronto want to play. They committed 25 fouls. Toronto will be an energetic defensive team on the road looking to hit on the counter. At home, DeRosario will most likely have a larger role tasked with breaking down defenses and setting up Defoe with chances.

Seattle looks like a team learning how to play with each other. The center backs need time to form a partnership and the front four needs time mold into a unit. This will all hinge on Dempsey as he is playing in the number 10 role; on Saturday, Dempsey was caught up in the emotion of the match. He looked like an angry player which seemed to distract him from his task of breaking down the Toronto back line. Maybe the pressure of being a highly paid DP is getting to him, or maybe he was just mad at constantly getting kicked.

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  1. Sigi – Try this line up,
    F: Dempsey, Martins
    M: Cooper, Evans, Alonso, Okoli
    D:Remick, Traore, Marshall, Yedlin
    K: Hahnemann

    • You’d drop Frei already? Also, I’d be surprised if Dempsey will be available for a couple of games after slapping Mark Bloom in the knackers.

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