Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro (second from left) heads the ball during a match against FC Cincinnati on March 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sounders midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro (second from left) heads the ball during a match against FC Cincinnati on March 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Sounders midfielders still adjusting to one another

Nicolas Lodeiro, Cristian Roldan and Gustav Svensson are getting used to the nuances of a more dynamic attack.

  • By Geoff Baker The Seattle Times
  • Wednesday, March 6, 2019 4:56pm
  • SportsSounders

By Geoff Baker / The Seattle Times

TUKWILA — An expansion team that played as poorly as expected was a welcome tonic for a trio of Seattle Sounders midfielders that still face work in adjusting to one another.

The departure of Osvaldo Alonso has left the more offensive-minded Cristian Roldan in the veteran’s defensive midfield spot alongside Gustav Svensson. And there were times during a 4-1 victory over the FC Cincinnati expansion side this past Saturday when Roldan and central midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro both tried some offensive freewheeling before Svensson could adequately cover for them.

“Me and Ozzie (Alonso) were a little bit more old school sitting defensive mids,” Svensson said Tuesday as the Sounders resumed training ahead of Saturday’s match against Colorado. “But now with Cristian and Nico next to me, it’s going to be two very fluid players who like to run a lot, who like to be in different positions.”

Asked what the “fluid” approach by both would mean for him, Svensson quipped: “It means that I will pick up all the horse(bleep) and pretty much cover wherever they’re not.”

Svensson has played with both before, but rarely with all three simultaneously in the positions they now occupy. In 2017 and early last season, when Svensson and Roldan were the primary defensive midfielders — as Alonso recovered from injury — Clint Dempsey mainly occupied the central midfield spot while Lodeiro was flanked out wide.

Now, Svensson must anticipate his teammates’ attacking forays ahead of time in order to cover the ground behind them quickly enough. For now, Svensson said the three players do know each other’s styles well enough that things have gone relatively smooth.

But coach Brian Schmetzer noticed some occasions in Saturday’s second half, with his team holding a 3-1 lead, when the Sounders were left exposed on a handful of turnovers. Fortunately, the first-year team they were playing wasn’t very good and failed to capitalize on the opportunities handed them.

Schmetzer spent the week prior to the game addressing some issues with the three players and plans to repeat the message ahead of the Colorado contest. The midfielders also made some in-game adjustments at Schmetzer’s behest and the Sounders were able to regain and maintain possession more often as a result.

“It’s a combination of all three — it’s Nico (Lodeiro), Cristian (Roldan), Gustav (Svensson),” Schmetzer said. “All three of them have to be on the same page. What I say to players is ‘Get yourself right first… and then you work in pairs, or groups of three.’

“So, when Cristian does go (up the field), can Gustav slide over? And then, maybe Nico drops in a couple of yards and vice-versa. If Nico’s already up and Gustav’s shifted over, then maybe Cristian has to hold down the middle. So, it’s almost a group tactic as well as individual.”

Nobody’s exactly panicking over what amounts to hiccups in an otherwise convincing Sounders rout. But Schmetzer keeps warning anyone who’ll listen that the team’s first season-opening victory since 2015 is still only one match and nothing worth celebrating yet.

Left unsaid is that the caliber of opponent was severely lacking. So, what Schmetzer refers to as “tweaking” for now could help salvage a victory against more formidable opponents down the road.

Roldan spent the latter part of last season playing right wing after Alonso returned to health and took back his usual defensive midfield spot. For now, Roldan is excited about the goal-scoring abilities of the team’s more “fluid” overall attack, even if it means he and Svensson must focus more on where they are defending at all times.

“It’s a matter of Gustav and myself being smart and tactical,” Roldan said. “But at the same time, I sometimes make those late runs and Nico will have to cover for me. So, it’s a balance for sure. Against a really good team, we’ll need to be more cautious, for sure.”

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