Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid has needed to alter his lineup with regularity this season, starting 24 different lineups in 25 regular-season matches this season.
On Wednesday night at CenturyLink Field against Chivas USA, he went to new extremes, as he was left without four players that started the previous match on Saturday against the Columbus Crew and two others that had been starting regularly throughout the season.
The resulting lineup of 11 players he fielded dominated possession through most of the match and yielded a 1-0 victory – their third straight by that score line – to climb to 13-8-4 on the season.
“You never get lost in the shuffle if you draw attention to yourself,” Schmid said, speaking of Lamar Neagle, though he could have been talking about any of a handful of players in Seattle’s lineup on Wednesday.
All told, Schmid started only four players in the same roles against Columbus and Chivas. Five players that started were on the bench against Columbus and two others were starting in different positions.
Yet the result was the same as Seattle rolled to its sixth win in the last seven matches, pulling level with the LA Galaxy at 43 points, though Seattle trails LA in the second tie-breaker, goals scored.
“It doesn’t matter who’s on the field. We have 25 guys healthy right now and I think every single one of them can step on and put in a good performance,” said defender Marc Burch, who started on the left side of midfield. “I think everyone that was called on tonight did it.”
Burch’s move to the midfield paid off for Seattle. With Burch on the left side and Mauro Rosales on the right, service was available throughout the night for the forwards, Neagle and David Estrada, who were creating havoc for the Chivas defense with their activity and consistent runs.
Burch and Rosales both finished the match with 11 crosses. It was Burch’s free kick in the 24th minute that set up the game-winning strike on Neagle’s sixth goal of the season.
“Normally we have one or two midfielders drop in a little bit more, but with their quality we wanted them both to stay higher and just be active and just create problems,” Schmid said. “I thought we got behind Chivas a number of times and got into good crossing situations. The final pass, the final touch, the final shot just didn’t come off.”
Defensively, Seattle extended its shutout streak to 286 minutes, getting clean sheets against the Portland Timbers, Columbus Crew and Chivas USA. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning now has nine shutouts on the season and is fourth in the league with a 1.07 goals against average.
Seattle’s defense is also first in the West with a 1.04 goals against average.
“It’s tough when you miss guys,” Gspurning said. “I’m very happy that the guys had a great performance. It’s always nice when you can trust the depth of your squad.”
In a second straight gritty performance that demanded a lot out of players in different roles, Seattle continued to show that it can respond to challenges. It may not provide the most convincing of results, but in the end the points all count the same.
“Everybody who was on the field didn’t want to miss a beat,” Estrada said. “We have pretty deep team—three guys who could potentially start for the national team. When some of those guys are missing, it’s a big void to fill in, but I think we have the quality to fill them and thankfully we got the three points today.”