Amidst a nine-match unbeaten run in MLS play, the Sounders FC were hiding something. A 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Manchester United opened some eyes and a 3-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo shouted it out loud.
The defense was struggling.
In four of the nine matches in the streak, Seattle allowed two or more goals and while 11 goals allowed in nine matches isn’t anything to panic about, it becomes troublesome when three of those matches ended with clean sheets for Kasey Keller.
In the two MLS matches since, the Sounders have faced the volatile offenses of Sporting Kansas City and Chivas USA. Four times this season Kansas City scored three or more goals and Chivas USA has achieved that five times.
Prior to those matches, Seattle held a meeting to address the defensive issues, according to defender Zach Scott.
“We met as a team and talked about redefining our roles defensively from the forwards all the way back to the defenders,” Scott said. “I think it just put it back into everybody’s head that if you play to zero, you’re going to get one point and a better chance you’ll get three because we have such quality attacking players.”
The results speak for themselves.
Kansas City managed one goal on a fluky throw-in and Chivas USA was held scoreless.
“We limited them and I think the group as a whole had a better understanding and better organization,” defender Jeff Parke said. “The team defense did well, but there are still things we need to clean up. We need to be a bit tougher at certain times – like when we get tired or we don’t have the ball for a little bit. But we’re doing better and we’re working on it, so hopefully we can nip it in the bud.”
In the absence of Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, out since July 10 with a sprained knee, head coach Sigi Schmid has turned to Patrick Ianni and Scott to fill the role of the forceful center back to partner with the organization of Parke.
Scott came into the starting role in a 2-0 win over San Francisco FC of Panama in the CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round on August 3 and Schmid stuck with him in the subsequent two MLS matches.
“Zach gives you endeavor and energy and effort,” Schmid said. “He’s been solid about winning his aerial duals. It’s about winning those 50/50 balls and Zach gives you that. If you can do that, it gives you possession of the ball and allows you to do things.”
Whoever joins Parke doesn’t change his defensive responsibilities though. And with Scott’s emergence, it provides Schmid with more options once Hurtado returns, which could be as soon as Tuesday against Comunicaciones of Guatemala in the group stage of the Champions League.
“Every guy that’s been playing there is a bit more aggressive than I am so I don’t have to change much. Whoever is in there has been doing a great job,” Parke said. “I’m confident and comfortable with whoever is out there.”
As for those defensive miscues that turned up in bulk in July, Keller says they could very well be in the rearview mirror. But he’s not about to say he’s completely pleased with the defense.
“I think we’re starting to solve them, but there are still some things we’re working on and trying to make sure we resolve and trying to make sure we’re sharp on,” he said. “It’s important offensively for us to score goals and bury our chances, but it’s also important that we try to make sure not to give up things. I think defensively we’ve gotten our unit to play a little bit better to make sure we keep the ball in front of us, to stay more compact in our midfield four and that’s been important for us.”
After Comunicaciones, Seattle will face FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on Saturday, where the sounders will look to avenge a 1-0 loss at CenturyLink Field on May 25, which was their last defeat before their nine-game unbeaten streak. They are 7-1-4 since that match.