By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
Sounders FC defender Zach Scott has been a soccer player long enough to know an amazing statistic when he sees one.
He’s seeing one now, and he wants to savor it as long as it lasts.
“I look at the standings literally every morning, and our goals-against, it just makes me smile,” he said. “As a defender, truly all I want to do is keep goals out of the net.”
When Scott looks at the Major League Soccer standings he sees not only Seattle’s 6-1-1 record, but a goals-against average of 0.38 — lowest in the league.
That translates to three goals allowed over eight games. No other team has allowed fewer than five. Of those three goals, one was a penalty kick and the other two were voted MLS goals of the week — including a wind-blown corner kick that sailed directly into the net.
The Sounders have five shutouts, second most in the league. When they play tonight at FC Dallas, they will seek to extend a 181-minute shutout streak and a streak of 658 minutes without allowing a goal in the run of play.
“Everybody has to be part of it,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “The forwards are part of it in terms of how they force the opponent out of the back, which side of the field they force them to; the midfielders tucking in, the wide guys getting back at the right times. I think we’ve also done a great job of really getting in front of the ball. … I think that’s a reflection of just commitment and hard work, and I think overall as a group they’ve all played well doing that.”
When Schmid says “all,” he means it.
The Sounders have accumulated those defensive numbers with seven different starters along the back line, and with two goalkeepers. Among the defenders, Scott, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni have started five games; Leo Gonzalez and Jeff Parke have started four; Marc Burch three, and Adam Johansson two. In goal, Michael Gspurning started the first seven games, but left midway through the seventh because of a hip injury. In his absence, second-year pro Bryan Meredith has opened his MLS career with a 135-minute shutout streak.
“Obviously, you want to play every game,” Scott said. “But you’ve got to realize how long the season is, how many opportunities are going to come, how many different tournaments we’re in. You want guys to be fresh. You want guys to be firing on all cylinders. And if it means a rotation where the team doesn’t skip a beat, I think every single guy back there is fine with that.”
Scott may be especially fine with it. For one thing, he and Gonzalez are the oldest of the defenders.
For another, Scott’s decade-long career with the USL and MLS Sounders already has been longer and more successfully than he expected.
“I never in my wildest dreams would have thought this,” he said. “It’s not like when I was growing up I was thinking, ‘Hey, I want to be a professional soccer player when I grow up.’ It’s just something that over the years, with hard work, fell into my lap. And then a lot of good breaks, good coaches, opportunities that other guys haven’t had. And then, hopefully, I’ve made the most of that and prolonged my career.”
Scott is a native of Hawaii, who played his college soccer at Gonzaga. It was during his senior season that he started thinking about extending his playing career. That took him across the Cascades to Seattle, where he spent seven seasons with the USL Sounders and was part of the 2005 and 2007 championship teams.
He made the jump to the MLS Sounders in 2009, appearing in nine games in their expansion season and four the next. Last season, he set careers highs with nine starts, 12 appearances and 864 minutes played. This season, he not only notched his first MLS goal, but Schmid has called him the most improved player on the club.
His late-blooming success seems to justify his family-based decision to continue his playing career.
“As years went by with the (USL) Sounders, it was always kind of a year-to-year thing where my wife (Alana) and I would discuss what we were going to do the following year,” Scott said. “She was more than supportive, and said, ‘If you want to keep doing it, might as well chase it.’ And obviously MLS was an afterthought. I didn’t think this chance would ever come — the team being local and then the past couple of years just being able to stick around and hopefully prove my worth. It’s given me a pretty decent career.”