It took Tyson Wahl 47 MLS appearances before he garnered his first professional assist. Now, he’s got two in his last two matches and set up another goal off of a corner kick.
First he found Jeff Parke for a game-winning header in stoppage time off of a corner kick to upend Sporting Kansas City at Qwest Field. Then at Rio Tinto Stadium, he spotted Nate Jaqua, who headed down to Fredy Montero and Patrick Ianni finished the play with a goal. Finally, he played the ball to Lamar Neagle on the game-winning strike to end Real Salt Lake’s 29-game home unbeaten streak.
“Defending, he’s always been pretty solid,” goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “Whenever you can give the coaches multiple reasons to put you on the field it makes a big difference and Tyson has really stepped up and been that consistent service on free kicks that maybe we’ve lacked in the past. There’s a reason we’re scoring more goals on set pieces and it’s because of the quality of the service.”
Despite his recent acumen for creating goals, though, he’s not about to call himself a playmaker.
“As a defender, you’re definitely not a playmaker, so it’s something that’s new to me. And that’s not to say that I’ve been playmaking – guys have done a good job to get on the end of a couple of corner kicks and then the pass to Lamar was much more Lamar’s good work than mine,” Wahl said. “It’s really just guys finishing plays and scoring goals on plays that I’ve been involved with.”
The three set-ups show just how far Wahl has progressed since joining the Sounders through the expansion draft in 2009 and moving from center back to left back. His confidence and ability have even blossomed to the point that head coach Sigi Schmid calls on Wahl to take corner kicks and free kicks on a regular basis when he is in the match.
It may be somewhat abnormal for a converted center back to be the one taking the free kicks and not battling in the box to knock a header on frame, but that didn’t preclude Schmid from making the move.
“If (Rafa) Marquez can hit them for New York, we can have Tyson hit them for us,” Schmid laughed. “We just felt we wanted to get an in-swinger from that side. We wanted to try Tyson and he’s taken a lot of pride in it and his service has been pretty consistent. The service that set up Parke and the service that set up Jaqua were really not that far apart from each other. Consistent service then allows guys to really fight hard to get to certain spots on the field and it makes things a lot easier on you.”
While he was admittedly surprised the coaches wanted him to take set pieces, Wahl was also excited at the opportunity.
“I want to contribute in any way I can. That’s one way that I can help contribute,” he said.
So far, it’s been a success.
Not only has the 27-year-old defender provided service in the attacking third, he has also ensured a solid backline that has allowed only four goals and posted three clean sheets in six matches. It wasn’t always easy for Wahl to wait for his opportunity though. He made the move to left back before the 2009 season and started nine matches there before the Sounders signed Leo Gonzalez, who would be a stalwart in the lineup.
This season though, Schmid has been much more flexible in his lineup and with the injuries to the lineup altering the formation, it has meant the club has looked to its fullbacks to provide width moving up the field. That plays well into Wahl’s style, but not without some adjusting first.
In a position that requires much more speed and a lot more running, Wahl needed to drop weight so his body could handle the miles under his boots. That meant dropping ten pounds from his normal playing weight and working on his cardiovascular conditioning.
“It’s been a lot of patience and a lot of hard work. That hard work is going to have to continue because you’re never in a stable position,” Wahl said. “Opportunities to play don’t come around too often, especially for a defender and especially on a team that has a lot of good defenders. I just knew that I had to value the opportunity that I did get.”