Already in the 2012 season, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid has needed to be a bit of a code cracker.
In just eight matches, Schmid has used six different permutations of defensive lineups, combining players in different spots because of injuries and rotations. Many teams may crumble at this, the perceived inconsistency in the back four causing for inconsistent play on the field.
The Sounders, meanwhile, have thrived.
With right backs Adam Johansson and Zach Scott, center backs Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni and left backs Leo Gonzalez and Marc Burch manning the back line, they have five shutouts and have allowed just three goals – only one of which came from the run of play.
So when Schmid said on Saturday that he feels like he has seven starting defenders, it was met with a nod of the head from reporters at CenturyLink Field and not any sort of cynicism that he may have been appeasing one player or another.
“It’s like when we put the lineup together for today, we said we had three changes in the back, but to me I feel like we have seven starters,” Schmid said after a 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday. “I have no problem whether it is the four guys out there today, or whether Kennedy is out there, whether Zach is out there, or Leo is out there. I feel like with any of those seven we don’t miss a beat in back. I am not surprised by that.”
The Sounders are tied for second in the league with five shutouts (Vancouver Whitecaps have six), though only two teams have played fewer matches than Seattle to this point.
The seven defenders who have seen time this year have all bought in to the coaching philosophy and see the benefit of getting a game off here and there as the Sounders play a schedule that often sees many more matches than other MLS clubs because of deep runs in the US Open Cup and their now-yearly play in the CONCACAF Champions League.
“I think everyone’s doing their job. Everybody’s working together and working hard,” Burch said. “I think that shows how deep our team is and it’s something that will really help with the long season.”
The defensive accolades don’t go just to the seven defenders, though. Schmid spreads the defensive praise all over the field.
“I think overall as a team we’re playing good defense. Everybody has to be part of it. The forwards are part of it in terms of how they force the opponents out of the back, which side of the field they force them to,” Schmid said. “The midfielders are tucking in, the wide guys are getting back at the right time. We’re also doing a good job of getting in front of the ball. There’s a lot of shots we’ve blocked. That’s a reflection of just commitment and hard work.”
That group will continue to rotate throughout a busy month of May. The Sounders are currently in the midst of a stretch of five games in 15 days and will pick right back up with three games in eight days to conclude the month before adding another game in the US Open Cup on or around May 29.