Over the last two weeks, the Sounders FC has played some difficult forwards in Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks and Portland’s Bright Dike.
In each instance, defender Jeff Parke was Seattle’s man on the spot to keep the dynamic strikers from Seattle’s net and the Sounders finished with consecutive clean sheets with a scoreless draw on September 29 against the Whitecaps and a 3-0 victory over the Timbers on October 7.
“I think defensively, overall, the team has responded in the last couple of games,” Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said. “In the back four, we’ve done a better job of getting tighter to the center forwards and not giving them much opportunity to turn and run at us.”
In both matches, Parke was forced to make speedy recoveries against some quick opponents and showed that he has much more speed than his rough-around-the-edges gait might imply.
On one play against Vancouver, the speedy Jamaican rookie Mattocks got in behind the Seattle defense on a through ball, but Parke chased him down and tangled him up while goalkeeper Michael Gspurning smothered the ball at the edge of the box.
Against Portland, Dike dummied a ball through the midfield and cut around Parke and was off to the races. However, Parke again recovered and forced him into a low-angled shot that Gspurning was able to save at the post.
Going against two young, fast players the 30-year-old Parke showed the veteran savvy of his 200 career MLS starts in tracking them down while pairing well with Jhon Kennedy Hurtado.
“Jeff’s got better speed than you’d expect. He doesn’t look fast and Kennedy sometimes doesn’t look as fast as they actually are,” Schmid said.
If those matchups were difficult, they only stand to begin to prepare the Sounders for the trio of upcoming matches as they gear toward the MLS Cup playoffs.
In Seattle’s final three matches, they will face three different types of attacks.
Against Real Salt Lake, they have the two-headed monster combination of Alvaro Saborio, who may be out of action after going on international duty with Costa Rica this week, and Fabian Espindola. Saborio is second in MLS with 17 goals and Espindola has nine goals and seven assists, including the only goal scored between Seattle and Salt Lake in their previous two meetings this season.
The Dallas attack is built around a single striker in Panamanian Blas Perez, who has eight goals in just 18 matches this season, his first year in Major League Soccer. After an extended time off with injury, Perez has three goals in his last two matches and will come to Seattle with a full head of steam. Dallas also features the Colombian pair of 20-year-old Fabian Castillo and 2010 MLS MVP David Ferreira.
In their final match of the season, the Sounders will meet the LA Galaxy, whose tandem of Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan is the most decorated pair in MLS. Keane has 15 goals and eight assists, while Donovan, the 2009 MLS MVP, has nine goals and 14 assists. While Donovan will often float to the wing or drop back into the midfield, the Galaxy also feature Edson Buddle on their bench, providing them with scoring options galore in front of a midfield that has David Beckham, Christian Wilhelmsson and Juninho.
“I like the challenge. I like going up against them. They will challenge you and you have to be on your toes,” Parke said. “You have to be sharp and alert because any one of those guys is a challenge and they can cause havoc if you let them get into the game.”
In addition, the Sounders will have the possibility of meeting the Vancouver Whitecaps and their potent attack or the league’s top-scoring team in the San Jose Earthquakes in the playoffs, so getting into a defensive rhythm down the stretch is an important key for the Sounders.
“All four have the battle wounds to show that they didn't back down from any battles tonight,” midfielder Brad Evans said after the Portland match. “That is going to be key going against San Jose, LA, and Salt Lake. With the firepower that they have we cannot afford to go in halfway. We have to go in with full commitment. If getting a couple of stitches after the game means getting a shutout, then so be it.”