Riding the ball in towards goal a Sounders FC player is hacked down. The whistle blows. Play stops. A stadium stands in anticipation. One tiny arc drawn, 10 strides and a larger arc is drawn. A wall is built. Discussions over patterns and plans occur. An opposing keeper adjusts the wall slips a little one way or the other, cheating.
A Rave Green magician steps to the ball and blasts a strike over the wall that dips down into the upper near post corner. It’s a goal that that puts Seattle Sounders FC up 2-nil on the match and punishes the opponent for fouls in dangerous areas.
Several matches and lineup iterations later Seattle is looking for consistency not just in the starting XI, but also with who is their primary threat to score direct kicks and assist on the indirect kicks. Each lineup carries a priority list of who takes the kick. Based on distance, wall and classification (direct/indirect) a different player may be called upon to create magic from the dead ball.
“It’s something that you have to earn. After practices we do free kicks and try to perfect that craft,” Servando Carrasco said. “When I’m the guy up there to take it I only have one thing in mind – put it in the back of the net. When I’m playing with a guy like Mauro Rosales, who hits a tremendous free kick, you kind of give him the benefit of the doubt. If he doesn’t feel like taking it I’m the second guy up there.”
From a finesse ball up and over, a curve around or a blast right through it comes down to knowing the opponent and merging that with the skills of the player. The most recent match against San Jose had a wall and distance where a plunging shot was the right one. A slight mis-hit had that ball into the wall.
“We keep talking about inconsistency. Obviously Mauro serves the ball quite well. We’ve had Neagle serve the ball, Caskey serve the ball when he plays,” Coach Sigi Schmid spoke about the indirect kicks in 2013. “The key to successful free kicks is service. We haven’t gotten as many goals, haven’t been as dangerous as last year. We need to be more consistent.”
A new man has entered. When the left-footed service of Mario Martinez left the club as his loan ended the team lost their most frequent dead ball specialist despite his limited minutes. The recent insertion of Marc Burch into the lineup gives the squad a left-footed option again.
Burch offers an inswinger on corners and indirect kicks from the right side. That allows the targeted player to redirect the ball into the net and amplify the power rather than provide the speed themselves.
Sounders FC enters the weekend as the third-worst team when it comes to scoring off of set pieces (per Opta definitions and WhoScored.com). Their opponent, though no longer with classic target Conor Casey, are fourth in the league as a percentage of goals from dead balls (30-percent).
With only 10-percent of Seattle’s goals coming from set plays they are waiting for a magician again. There is an opportunity for wizardry. The club has had it in the past, but now, when goals are too infrequent and fouls in the attacking third too common, games can be changed by a single moment with one man, a ball and a defense forced by the Laws of the Game to be 10 yards away.
A whistle. A pause. A single brilliant moment and an explosion of noise.