The starting lineup for Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday likely had many fans scratching their heads before they took on Minnesota United FC. Both Clint Dempsey and Magnus Wolff Eikrem started on the bench while 2018 second-round draft pick Alex Roldan got his second-straight start. The decision made coach Brian Schmetzer look more tactical genius than perhaps expected as Roldan brought energy to a side desperate for an attacking jolt. Once Dempsey subbed on for Roldan in the 60th minute, a resulting drop in energy allowed Minnesota back into the match as they pulled a goal back on 66 minutes and created problems for Seattle’s defense as they tried to close out the match.
With Alex Roldan on the left wing and his brother Cristian in the center of the field, Seattle have two players who are very active both offensively and defensively. They make the game difficult for defences and midfields because they are able to constantly pressure the ball and force opponents into mistakes.
When Dempsey entered the match for the younger Roldan brother, it pushed Cristian out wide where he is less effective. It pinned him to one side of the field and kept him from being able to cover space in the center. Dempsey at 35 years of age doesn’t range back on defense like the Roldan’s do and is seemingly incapable of pressuring opponents when trying to regain possession.
This problem was further exacerbated when Eikrem was brought on for Alonso as Roldan dropped from the wing back into defensive midfield next to Svensson as Eikrem slotted into the left wing. Eikrem is most effective when he has the ball at his feet and can distribute in any direction which is why traditionally he plays in the center of the field. When on the wings, he looks out of place and also doesn’t defend as actively as needed from that position. Such was the case on Sunday.
Leaving Dempsey and Eikrem on the bench for Seattle means leaving a Designated Player and a Targeted Allocation Money signing out of the starting 11 which creates a financial issue for the Sounders. With only 4 points from their first five games, Sounders are in need of results now and continuing to start the Roldan brothers over more expensive counterparts could be the immediate – if only short term – solution the club needs.