The Sounders FC has been among the league leaders in clean sheets each of the past two seasons.
Yet, until Friday night, they had yet to record a shutout in six matches in 2011.
Though the club waited, it wasn’t necessarily a reflection of poor defense.
In 2009, the club allowed 29 goals (0.967 GAA) while goalkeeper Kasey Keller had 10 clean sheets. In 2010, they allowed 35 goals (1.167 GAA), but Keller had 11 shutouts.
Now, through seven matches, Keller and the Sounders have allowed just seven goals for a 1.000 GAA. So the fact that the team hadn’t earned a clean sheet until the seventh match wasn’t to say that the team hadn‘t done well defensively. Only once did the Sounders allow more than one goal - in a 2-2 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes.
“If you look at some of the goals that we’ve given up, it’s been off counters, mainly. But nothing where guys have been able to dribble through and take defenders on and put balls in the back of the net. We’ve been very good about keeping the ball out of the back of the net that way,” said assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson, who works directly with the back four on a daily basis.
Those goals, while minimal, have also prevented the Sounders from climbing even further than their third place standing in the MLS Western Conference table. Both of their losses came by 1-0 results and with three draws, they find themselves just a defensive stop or two away from several more points.
“If we had some shutouts earlier, we’d have a few more points. Being able to play to zero is an important aspect of the game,” head coach Sigi Schmid said. “But playing to zero doesn’t just mean sitting back and defending. It means that you have to keep the ball and possess the ball. You have to make the other team defend more and the more you can make the other team defend, the easier it is for you to defend.”
On Friday, Schmid used a lineup of James Riley, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Patrick Ianni and Tyson Wahl for the first time this season, resting regular starters Jeff Parke and Leo Gonzalez. That was the only thing that was different for the Sounders between the game with the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids and the previous six matches.
“At the end of the day no matter who is out there, we play the same way defensively,” Hendrickson said. “It’s just our identity and how we play. It’s just a matter of the hard work paying off. To go on the road against the defending champions and get a shutout is a good thing for us. Hopefully that’s something we can build on.”
The Rapids were able to get into dangerous positions at times - which had Schmid much less comfortable than he needed to be while up 1-0 and playing against a ten-man Colorado squad - but the defensive corps held them off and when they couldn’t, Keller was there for the save.
“We bent a little bit, but I think in the back we were more aggressive 1v1 and got a little tighter to some people,” Schmid said.
In the end, it was a zero on the scoreboard for the Rapids and the first clean sheet for the Sounders. Though their confidence never wavered through the first six matches, the shutout in their seventh certainly provided a boost and reinforcement that their methods will work.
“It was very important, not just personally, but also as a team to show that we can defend what comes our way,” Hurtado said. “We were glad to get the shutout and we hope to continue to get more.”