Dempsey & Martins' combine to guide Seattle past a sapped TFC

Posted Sep 6, 2015 by Tyrrell Meertins
Toronto FC’s lack of depth has been a legitimate concern for a side aspiring to make a deep playoff push, and the quality of fringe bench players was put to the test on the Reds’ trip to Seattle.
Courtesy of Flickr/Jim Culp
Greg Vanney was without six starters, including star designated players, Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore, forcing the TFC manager to revert to a 3-4-3 system at CenturyLink Field. Interestingly, Eriq Zavaleta, Josh Williams and Clement Simonin — playing in his second game Major League Soccer game — formed a defensive trio, whereas Vanney’s three available subs on the bench were attacking players.
Solidity in defence is based on balance and familiarity amongst each other, and it was evident that the trio would encounter difficulties coping against one of the league's best attacks in Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. The Sounders possessed the combination and intelligent movement that TFC lacked in the final third, and crucially, the attacking duo made the difference on the night.
"At the end of the day it was just Oba and (Dempsey) doing what they do," said assistant coach Brian Schmetzer.
The other issue TFC encountered involved their two in-form players, Michael Bradley and Jonathan Osorio, as both were responsible for protecting the defence when the team effectively transitioned into a 5-4-1 without the ball. Essentially both men are inclined to push forward to join the attack — the former is a powerful runner and the latter is a reliable passer that focuses on ball retention — which left the defence susceptible to Martins and Dempsey’s threat between the lines.
Majority of the Sounders’ best moves stemmed from quick transitions involving Martins charging into space in the right channel between Williams and Simonin. There was no protection in these zones due to the back trio’s defensive line, along with the midfield duo's intent to join the attack.
Both goals stemmed from the two areas TFC failed to protect — space between the lines, and the zones between Williams and the two exterior centre-backs. First, Dempsey ignited a 2v4 break in transition to clip a clever ball behind the defence for Martins. Then, Martins charged into the right channel on the break, evading Zavaleta’s recovery challenge, only to be stopped by the onrushing Chris Konopka, but the TFC keeper spilled the rebound to Dempsey, who coolly converted the winner.
Yet, while the Sounders constantly exploited TFC’s makeshift defence in transition, their overall dominance decreased in the second half. Though, Dempsey and Martins dropped into midfield, there were no runners darting into space behind the TFC defence, thwarting the sole purpose of the attackers’ movement — Alonso, equally received space to dictate the tempo from deep, but majority of his passes were conservative into the flanks.
“[Dempsey and Martins] were able to get behind us a little bit too much, but other than that, I think we kept them at bay,” said Zavaleta. “It’s a good team, a desperate team that has some talented players. They made some plays and were able to win the game.”
TFC’s approach in possession, however, was quite peculiar. With no incisive passers within the XI, the Reds persisted with attacking into central areas, opposed to utilizing the attack-minded wing-backs on the flanks. In particular, the reluctance to get the ball to Ashtone Morgan was bizarre, as he created TFC’s best first half chance, and Zavaleta’s equalizer.
Apart from a few audacious efforts from distance, TFC’s narrow open play attack was scarce, further highlighting the reliance on Giovinco, and to an extent, Altidore. There was no penetration in central areas, and production in wide areas was delayed, thus disabling the wing-backs from delivering crosses into the box.
TFC’s attenuated XI provided little chance of gaining maximum points prior to kickoff, but an improved reactive approach, combined with width may have offered a distinctive result. Though a potential playoff berth beckons, from a defensive aspect — with or without a depleted squad — this was another indicator that TFC still has plenty of work to do if they plan on contending in Fall.