Anatomy of a Comeback: How the Sounders Saved Their Season

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 06: Jordan Morris #13 of the Seattle Sounders FC in action against Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on March 6, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Seattle Sounders can divide its season up into two distinct parts. When they fired Sigi Schmid after a July 24 defeat to Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park, Seattle’s season turned around in spectacular fashion. They brought Brian Schmetzer on as interim head coach for the following weekend’s draw at home against LA Galaxy and the team has only lost once since. Coincidence? Not even remotely.

Anatomy of a Comeback: How the Sounders Saved Their Season

The other thing that coincided with the coaching change was the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro. Lodeiro’s first match was that 1-1 draw against LA and he has featured in every match but one since then.

Over the course of the 16 matches (15 with Lodeiro in the team), including playoffs, with Schmetzer at the helm, the Sounders have scored 0.75 more goals per game, conceded 0.413 fewer, and upped their per game point total by 1.188.

Common wisdom asserts that Schmetzer’s tactics and Lodeiro’s raw skill saved the Sounders season and turned them into a real playoff force. In fact, when I first had the idea for this article, that was going to be my main thesis. Then I did some digging.

I took player ratings from WhoScored.com for the ten players on Seattle’s roster with the most appearances, plus Lodeiro and Clint Dempsey, and correlated those to Seattle’s goals for, goals against, and points earned in the standings. My simple analysis told me that Lodeiro’s performance had no relationship at all to the results on the pitch. Correlation values for all three numbers hovered around zero, indicating no relationship whatsoever.

Enter Jordan Morris

So I looked at the numbers for the rest of the squad and found that the player who, based on this method, who had the most impact on results was none other than Jordan Morris. Morris had the top correlation value between his rating and goals for (0.71) and points per game (0.58).

None of those numbers suggested a huge relationship, but it was enough to recognize the young rookie’s maturation throughout the season. He’s the team’s leading goal scorer and the focus of any attacking moves.

He has also thrived under Schmetzer. He has seen the sharpest increase in average player rating since the coaching change (if you exclude Clint Dempsey, who only played three matches under the new boss). He scored more under Schmid, but his overall play has been much improved.

Joevin Jones Sets it All Up

Lodeiro isn’t even the primary engine that gets the attack going. That honor would belong to Joevin Jones, who also ranked highly in my correlation numbers.

Jones, at left back, became a much larger part of the attack after Schmetzer took over. Sure, his two goals came during Sigi Schmid’s reign, but that’s not what he’s out there to do. He’s there to create chances along the left flank, and that’s exactly what Schmetzer allowed him to do.

After the coaching change, Jones picked up five assists while creating more chances per game overall. As a result, his defensive numbers dropped a bit, however, that’s not why he’s in the team either.

Lodeiro is Still Important

This isn’t to say that Lodeiro doesn’t deserve any credit. He has been masterful since returning to Seattle. He leads the team in goals scored since then. He makes every player around him better, as well. Defenses will tend to focus on him and Jordan Morris, which allows the space for wide players, like Joevin Jones, to get forward and flick in dangerous crosses on a regular basis.

Lodeiro’s role became even more important when Dempsey went down for the season. Without that key talisman up front, Lodeiro’s role as an attack centerpiece was doubled. The two only played three matches together. The pair worked well together, particularly in a 2-1 home win over Real Salt Lake in August, the last match Dempsey would play in.

Lodeiro has hardly missed a beat without the USMNT star in the lineup though. He’s still averaging an over seven rating each match while scoring and assisting more.

Schmetzer Made it All Happen

Brian Schmetzer is still the guy to hand all the credit to. It was his tactical plan that allowed Jones to work his way into more attacking positions. Before the change, Schmid was letting his left back sit back and defend more, when he really should have been pushing forward.

Schmetzer has had an effect on every player on the squad. Among the regular starters, all but four have seen noticeable up ticks in their player ratings in each match. Of those four who dropped, on Brad Evans fell by more than a tenth of a ratings point.

The turn around a has rightfully allowed the Sounders to hire Brian Schmetzer as their full time coach going forward. With what he has done with a team that was dead in the water at the end of July is nothing short of genius. If the Sounders didn’t lock him up, somebody else would have in the offseason.

His next task is to get this team playing well enough to see off FC Dallas on Sunday night. If Sigi Schmid’s half of the season is any indication, the Sounders can’t get too defensive. They need to be responsible, yes, but they need to play to their strengths and use the plan that got them this far.

If you’re interested in my raw data for this article, my spreadsheet can be found here.

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