Courage Under Fire

Amidst a barrage of shots from FC Dallas, the Sounders FC defense came out on top with their eighth shutout of the season.

Kasey Keller’s goal was bombarded with 25 shots from FC Dallas on Saturday.

En route to his eighth shutout of the season, he came up with two show-stopping saves.  However, it was a team effort to slow down Brek Shea.  The explosive midfielder did manage five shots, but it was where those shots came from and how contested they were that allowed the Sounders to do what they couldn’t in their previous meeting at CenturyLink Field.

They held Shea - and his teammates, for that matter - scoreless.

Head coach Sigi Schmid opted to use Zach Scott at right back in place of regular starter James Riley, banking that the physical qualities of Scott’s style provided a more favorable match-up against Shea.  His alteration to the lineup, which also included Leo Gonzalez starting at left back and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado returning to pair with Jeff Parke in the middle of the defense, allowed for coverage of Maicon Santos and Marvin Chavez while also keeping a constant watch over Shea, who has ten goals this season.

“I think we got him frustrated a little bit.  It was a little bit frustrating maybe for Dallas because they’re used to lofting the ball into Brek and maybe he can do something in the air.  They tried that a couple of times and he got some good touches, but there were a few times that Zach Scott was able to win those headers,” Schmid said.  “Brek eventually moved to the other side of the field.  With him moving around so much, it makes it harder to mark him, but it also sometimes makes it harder for them to find him.”

Because he was so active in attacking from different angles, Seattle utilized all four of their defenders to thwart Shea.  That, Parke says, is what Seattle has been able to do throughout the season to limit the chances of some of the league’s top players.

“That’s what you have to do with a player of his quality.  You have to do your part and sometimes you need two or three guys and it’s a group effort,” Parke said.  “That’s how your team gets better and how you defend as a group.”

Even with the defensive prowess of the Sounders, Dallas was able to shoot throughout the match.  With the strength of a willow, Seattle bent throughout the match without ever breaking.  Even after Dallas went down a man when Daniel Cruz was shown a second yellow card, Seattle maintained a defensive posture, trying to keep a strong hold on their 1-0 lead without leaving themselves vulnerable to the counter attack.

Changing the mentality of the team within the framework of the game multiple times can be a dangerous gamble and it was one Schmid didn’t want to take after taking to the more conservative tact in the second half.

“We sort of got into a defensive mindset when we were up 1-0, then when we went up a man it was hard to take them out of that mindset,” Schmid said.  “Even though it looked ugly, I was confident we could defend through it.  I’m pleased with the courage we showed on defense and the effort we put in.”

When the Sounders did allow goal-scoring opportunities, Keller was there in a big way.

In the 31st minute, he got two hands to a slingshot header from Ugo Ihemelu that was bound for the net and parried it over the crossbar.  Then in stoppage time, Keller sprung around the box to first punch away a cross, then dive to his left to stop a shot from Bruno Guarda to preserve the 1-0 shutout win.

On an active day for Keller, he finished with only four saves, as the Sounders blocked ten shots before they had a chance to challenge the goalkeeper.

“They did well getting after us, but at the end of the day we had the one-goal lead and we were just sitting in,” Parke said.  “I thought we defended well as a group and Kasey made some great saves to keep us in it at the end and we walk away with the three points.”

The Sounders and their sturdy defense will take on Monterrey in Mexico on Tuesday in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League before returning home to CenturyLink Field to host the Eastern Conference leading Columbus Crew.

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