Maybe Sounders FC fitness coach Dave Tenney is on to something.
After all, no other team in Major League Soccer has dominated the final 15 minutes of a match the way the Sounders have this season. Their 15 goals from minutes 76-90 lead the league while no team allowed fewer than the four goals Seattle’s defense let in during the last 15 minutes of a match.
Those goals are no mere stat-padding numbers either. They’ve helped the Sounders dramatically increase their point total the way no other club in the league can claim.
When trailing in the 75th minute, Seattle has managed a 3-5-3 record, so they are more likely to get a point out of a match they are fighting back from behind as they are to come out of it with a loss and no points at all.
While the Sounders struggled in their first six matches, two late goals lifted them from 1-4-1 to 1-2-3. Though only a slight improvement, the difference was massive for their psyche. The resiliency to push for those late goals then started to permeate the team and become a prevalent feature in so many matches.
“Our fitness is better than other teams in MLS,” said forward Fredy Montero, who had three goals after the 80th minute this season. “I can’t find any other reason for that. The point is, we score the goals and it doesn’t matter if it’s minute 1 or minute 90.”
Jeff Parke scored on a stoppage time header to beat Sporting Kansas City, then Montero scored a 90th minute free kick. All of a sudden, two would-be draws wound up the win column and Seattle was on a tear.
“Once you do it once or twice, you have that confidence that you can do it again,” goalkeeper and captain Kasey Keller said. “We have come back so many times that there’s no fear or deflation when you are a goal down with 20 minutes left. Recent history shows not only that you can get a point, but actually come back and win the thing.”
In addition to scoring a crucial goal against Kansas City, Parke has been instrumental in the stifling defense that has been amongst the best in the league all season, particularly in the game’s final moments.
“It’s a mentality,” he said. “Guys are getting after it and locking it down as best they can. It’s a bunch of different little things, but in all, it’s big.”
Added head coach Sigi Schmid, “The continued belief in themselves. The character. The continued willingness to attack. Because we’ve had so many games, our subs have played a good role for us. They’ve gained a lot of confidence so when we bring them in, it helps change the game for us and that helps us become dangerous at the end of the game as well.”
One of those players who has served well as a late-game sub, but also has shown his worth to the starting lineup is Lamar Neagle, whose first MLS goal came in the 84th minute to give Seattle a 2-0 against Real Salt Lake in a match they wound up winning 2-1 and later added a stoppage-time winner in Kansas City.
“It’s a sign of character. The urgency changes near the end of games and there are a lot of times that we’ve had pressure put on us toward the end of the game,” Neagle said. “Hopefully we won’t make it as exciting in the playoffs, but we know that if we need it, it’s there.”
The Sounders kick off their Western Conference semifinal series with Real Salt Lake Saturday night at 7 pm (Pacific) at Rio Tinto Stadium. The game will be broadcast live on Fox Soccer and on radio at 97.3 KIRO FM. The return leg will come Wednesday, November 2 at CenturyLink Field.