During the Seattle Sounders’ six-match winning streak, they have outscored opponents 15-3. The victories have ranged from late-game stunners on the road to a 5-0 dismantling at home, but each of them featured a similar trend: outstanding defense.
After tying the club record for largest margin of victory in an MLS match on Saturday, Head Coach Brian Schmetzer spoke of the team’s structure and its commitment to defensive excellence.
Let’s break down each part of Schmetzer’s remarks.
“You start with Stef [Frei], and that’s obviously the starting point…Stef is, in my opinion, not undervalued, but he might not have the national reputation that he deserves.”
Now in his fifth season as the Sounders’ goalkeeper, Frei continues to show his importance to the club. His 1.00 goals against average leads all MLS goalkeepers who have played in at least 15 matches, while also leading the league with a 77.6 save percentage.
Among the advanced stats, Frei owns the league’s best xGA mark since June 1, which shows how many potential goals Frei has prevented.
Stefan Frei in goal at CenturyLink Field | Lindsey Wasson
“I mean, Chad [Marshall], Román [Torres], Kim [Kee-hee] [have been solid]… Kelvin’s [Leerdam] performance the last year has been really good, he’s coming on this year. The outside back situation on the left side, Nouhou is very steady defensively and Brad Smith, we got a little taste of him.”
It all starts with the anchor in three-time MLS Defender of the Year Marshall, who remains spectacular as he celebrated his 34th birthday this week. His main partner during this stretch has been Kim, an athletic 29-year-old from South Korea who fits in well alongside Marshall. This allows Panama captain Torres to be a huge presence off the bench, and at times he has played alongside Marshall and Kim for an epic defending trio.
Leerdam continues to get stronger each week after an injury earlier in the season, while the acquisition of Brad Smith on loan from AFC Bournemouth gives Schmetzer options on the left side.
The Sounders have three viable options for two spots in the defensive midfield, but all three are too good to leave off the pitch. During this unbeaten run, Alonso and Svensson have shined in a double-pivot as midfielders in Schmetzer’s 4-2-3-1 formation, with Roldan pushed up to the wing and into the attack.
Ozzie Alonso against the LA Galaxy | Lindsey Wasson
“Nico’s [Lodeiro] engine in that No. 10 position is not just good in the attacking side of things, but also good defensively because he covers so much ground he can close guys down. He makes it challenging for teams to create any sort of extended possession. So, I think it’s a team effort.”
Lodeiro’s performance has been stuff of legend since his return from narrowly missing out on playing in his third FIFA World Cup this summer. During the winning streak, he has four goals and four assists. As Schmetzer notes, though, it is his tireless engine that often acts as the first line of defense for the club when possession is switched.
“And then the last one I’ll end with is Will [Bruin] has done a great job and Raúl [Ruidíaz] has shown he can chase back a little bit. So, if the team believes that defense is important, that’s a good thing. We obviously have the creative players to score a few goals. So, if we can get the defending right, you don’t give up a goal, chances are you’re going to collect some points.”
Defending is a team-wide investment. This includes the standalone striker, and both Ruidíaz and Bruin have proven to be effective at chasing down the ball and maintaining a high line of confrontation.
The squad’s current defensive performance draws similarities to the end of the 2017 season, in which the Rave Green allowed just two goals in their final 10 matches leading to MLS Cup. Seattle’s defense will surely be put to the test on Sunday evening against archrival Portland at Providence Park (6:30 p.m. PT; FS1, YouTube TV, 950 KJR AM, El Rey 1360 AM) in a true six-pointer as the push for the playoffs intensifies.