When Sounders FC signed Clint Dempsey it gave the club an attack as formidable as any in Major League Soccer. Skeptics weren’t as certain about the team’s defense, though.
With three shutouts in the last five matches, including two in a row against the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew, the Sounders are answering the challenge of their critics with tremendous defensive performances.
Against Columbus on Saturday, that task was particularly taxing, though, as Seattle played 83 minutes down a man after Leo Gonzalez was sent off for a red card in the seventh minute. And while the Crew managed 24 shots, only two of them were put on frame as the Seattle defense limited the Crew’s threatening chances.
“I thought we did a good job of getting people in front,” Head Coach Sigi Schmid said after the match. “I thought the guys did a good job of stepping up, crowding the goal, making sure we blocked shots, trying to get in and block crosses as well. We did what we needed to do.”
Seattle has been consistent in their outside backs for most of the season with DeAndre Yedlin taking the starting right back role and Gonzalez manning the left side. In recent weeks, Schmid has used all four of his available center backs, with Zach Scott and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado taking the field in the clean sheets against Portland and Columbus. Djimi Traore and Patrick Ianni have also featured in that role. Although Gonzalez won’t be available on Wednesday when Seattle meets Chivas USA while he serves a red card suspension, Marc Burch is a veteran defender who can take over without missing a beat.
Add to that the return of Michael Gspurning, who got past a hiccup against the Houston Dynamo in his first match back to man the net for two shutouts, bringing his season total to eight clean sheets.
Not to mention defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso and a team committed to defending from the front to the back and it’s no wonder Seattle has been able to win five of its last six matches while allowing just two goals in those five victories.
“I feel like if we can defend good for 90 minutes-plus, we know that one goal can get us a victory on the road,” forward Eddie Johnson said after the match against Columbus. “I thought it was a great collective win tonight. I’m proud of my guys.”
That tenacious approach to defending was never more present than it was against Columbus. In a character-revealing bout, all 10 players remaining on the field after the ejection showed a devotion to fighting for their teammates that allowed them to emerge victorious.
“It wasn’t just the back four by any means,” Scott said. “Clint was huge for us helping us hold the ball up there. I thought Mauro (Rosales) had probably his best game all year keeping possession for us. Then Ozzie is Ozzie – 100-percent for 90 minutes.”
The result is a defense that ranks second to the Colorado Rapids in the Western Conference in goals allowed per match. Seattle’s average of 1.08 is just behind Colorado’s 1.07 and fourth overall behind the New England Revolution (0.96) and Sporting Kansas City (1.00).