In two games against Real Salt Lake this season, the Sounders FC has struggled through extended periods at Rio Tinto Stadium. Saturday, they were just fine until an ill-timed foul gave RSL a dangerous free kick and provided the set-up for the opening goal. From that play alone, there are several things to learn and here are some of them.
Good fouls and bad fouls
Salt Lake and Seattle were dead-even with 11 fouls apiece on Saturday. The difference was in the positioning of those fouls. Salt Lake’s were scattered all over the middle of the park, with one in Seattle’s attacking third and three in their own attacking third. There was only one that really put their defense under duress and that one was played away for a goal kick. Seattle, meanwhile, committed three fouls in Salt Lake’s attacking third, one of which set up their first goal. That one left a free kick just a few yards outside the box and while Seattle blocked the effort by Javier Morales, the rebound spilled to Kyle Beckerman for the first goal of the match.
Second sometimes best
The Sounders won only one fewer duels than RSL did, 54-55, but it was what happened after those duels that made the difference. Real Salt Lake was able to get to those second balls more than Seattle was, keeping them in possession in times they otherwise might have lost it and gaining possession at times when the Sounders could have used it to get behind the Salt Lake defense. Those are sometimes decisive moments in a match that go unnoticed.
The Sounders FC’s defensive efforts have been good all season. They have allowed their share of shots in some matches, but head coach Sigi Schmid has at times compared them to a willow – they often bend to great extremes without breaking. What has helped them maintain that reputation with their coach is that they blocked 47 shots through the first 13 matches. That trend was amplified against Real Salt Lake, as the Sounders allowed 17 shots on the match, but 10 of those came from outside the box, including their first seven of the match. Additionally, Seattle blocked five of their first seven shots and finished with nine blocks in the match. Both of Salt Lake’s goals came on second-chance opportunities, though, which is the second part of blocking shots – clearing the wreckage.
Cutting off service
Over the last few games, the Sounders have found a lot of offensive success in playing their forwards in behind the defense and using their speed to take advantage. In getting Obafemi Martins, Lamar Neagle and Eddie Johnson onto the field together, it appeared that Schmid would have increased the options for Seattle when they looked to play those balls behind RSL. However, they were unable to do that on Saturday, but much of the credit for that lapse has to go to Salt Lake. They never let Seattle’s players have the time or space to play those balls through from the midfield. Once they fell behind 2-0, that defense became even more suffocating because Seattle was forced to play even more desperately.