For several weeks, Sounders FC Head Coach Sigi Schmid has talked about the need for Seattle's defense to put up a shutout. On Saturday, the Sounders not only earned their third clean sheet of the season, but did so in dominating fashion in a 1-0 win over the San Jose Earthquakes at CenturyLink Field.
Seattle allowed just one shot on goal in the match, which didn't come until second-half stoppage time, as the back line held strong and Sounders FC saw a greater focus on defending throughout the field, reestablishing its stance as a stingy defensive side. After a 5-0 defeat in the previous match against the New England Revolution, it came at a good time, too.
"That's something we tried to concentrate on this week, is to improve our defending aspect as we move forward," Schmid said. "I think after last week we wanted to make sure we played better defensively. We were all committed to defending as a group, so it was good to get the shutout today."
Schmid made several changes to his defense after the match against New England, but much of that came from necessity, as Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin joined the U.S. National Team last week in preparation for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. That meant Jalil Anibaba started at right back for the first time with Sounders FC after starting all 34 matches there with the Chicago Fire in 2013, and Leo Gonzalez returned to his customary left back spot. Zach Scott also started along with Chad Marshall, the lone holdover from last week, to help combat the aerial threat posed by San Jose's forwards.
"We're all super comfortable with whoever goes in there. It's been pretty seamless," Marshall said. "I think everyone has a good understanding of how each other works and what each other's strengths are, so I thought it was good."
Also important, according to Schmid, was the defensive contributions of Marco Pappa and Lamar Neagle, who are more renowned for their attacking capabilities.
"Marco contributed a much better effort defensively, as did Lamar, so that really helped us as well," Schmid said. "The nature of Anibaba and Leo is they are little more defensive-orientated than DeAndre and Brad, but overall, even with those guys, we would have done well because of the commitment of the team this week after what happened last week was to play to zero."
It was the first shutout for Seattle since March 23, but Seattle has maintained a sturdy defense at CenturyLink Field throughout the season, allowing a 1.00 goals against average in seven matches at home.
In a match that was statistically even in many aspects, one spot where Seattle held a distinct advantage was in San Jose's attacking third. Outside of that sector, the Earthquakes completed 85.1-percent of their passes, but once they got into the attacking third, Seattle clamped down and stifled any attacking threat, limiting San Jose to completing just 61.8-percent of its passes.
That 'bend but don't break' mentality served Seattle well, keeping the Earthquakes at bay throughout the match until a free kick bounced into Frei's waiting arms in the match's final minutes.
"I think we were really good. The communication was spot on and the organization was really, really good," Frei said. "I think we frustrated them throughout the game and they had possession, but once they got in the final third we disrupted them really well."