When the 2013 Major League Soccer schedule came out for the Sounders FC, the stretch of three road matches from April 20 to May 8 was destined to be a tough one to navigate.
Add to the rigors of MLS travel a rash of injuries and suspensions, Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid and his club would have to brave the waters against the Colorado Rapids, Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City.
Now on May 9 with those three matches behind them Sounders FC have turned their season around. Entering that stretch, Seattle was 0-3-2 after a scoreless draw against the New England Revolution, but now they are back in the hunt for a playoff spot at 2-3-3 after earning seven points from three road matches.
Here are four things we have learned in those three road tests.
Depth is key
Schmid used 20 different players in three matches, starting 18 of them as injuries to key contributors like Eddie Johnson, Obafemi Martins, Shalrie Joseph, Steve Zakuani, Mario Martinez and David Estrada limited their availability. Seattle also saw DeAndre Yedlin and Lamar Neagle miss a game for a red card suspension and Osvaldo Alonso miss a game for the birth of his newborn daughter.
“A lot of guys have had to step up that normally don’t play, and I think we didn’t miss a beat,” said Estrada, who recovered from an eye injury and started at forward in Seattle’s 1-0 win over Sporting KC on Wednesday. “We’re a little short-handed with injuries and suspensions, but anyone who steps onto the field for us can do well. Whatever the matchups are, I think we can always do a good job.”
Seattle’s four goals all came from different players with Johnson, Martins, Mauro Rosales and Djimi Traore all taking their turn at scoring. Meanwhile, Zach Scott filled in exceptionally for Yedlin – himself a revelation at right back – against Kansas City, and Servando Carrasco earned two starts with his play in the middle of midfield.
Bend, but don’t break
After giving up goals in each of their first four league matches, the Sounders now have shutouts in three of their last four games, including two on the road stretch.
Although Sporting outshot Seattle 11-9, the Sounders blocked four shots. Similarly, they blocked seven of Philadelphia’s 22 shots and four of Colorado’s 16 shots.
“I thought we were very good tonight defensively,” Schmid said after Wednesday’s victory. “I don’t think we gave them a ton of really good looks. I didn’t think Michael Gspurning was forced to make any difficult saves.”
Perhaps more than any other match this season, the Sounders were defending all over the field on Wednesday and it paid off. Getting pressure to the Kansas City backline, particularly in the second half, made all the difference in the world, as they limited the home side to just one shot after halftime.
“We pressed them all over the pitch. It was good pressure from us to not let them be comfortable passing the ball. Everyone was involved. You can even thank our strikers for pressure. They made it easy on us,” Traore said. “They are a good team, but we did what we had to do.”
Backs against the wall
Make no mistake about it, Sounders FC was backed into a corner before this stretch of games. They were the last winless team in the league, an unfamiliar place for one of just three teams that has reached the playoffs in each year since they entered the league in 2009.
“We didn’t have a very good start to the season, and we knew we had to turn things around,” Estrada said. “One of the ways you can do that is by going on the road. It tests your character. A lot of guys have had to step up that normally don’t play, and I think we didn’t miss a beat. Now we’re looking forward to bringing this momentum home to get three more points with our fans at our back.”
The Sounders now return home for matches against the San Jose Earthquakes and FC Dallas, beginning Saturday against San Jose, whom the Sounders are meeting for the second time this season.