CARSON, CALIF. — Anyone planning to watch the Seattle Sounders’ match at Chivas USA on Saturday might want to stick around until the final whistle.
The Sounders have played six games this Major League Soccer season, and in four of them a result-changing goal has been scored in the 85th minute or later.
The trend began with the season opener, when Chad Barrett made Seattle a winner in stoppage time. And it has continued over the past three games: with Columbus scoring in stoppage time for a 2-1 win; at Portland, where Seattle’s Clint Dempsey got the final two goals of a 4-4 draw in the 85th and 87th minutes; and then again last weekend at Dallas, where Seattle’s 3-2 victory clicked into place with a Dempsey goal in the 85th minute.
What’s going on here?
“Physically at that point people start to get tired, and so mistakes happen,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “But it’s also a little bit of a tribute to … our persistence that we’re going to play through the end of the game. We’re not going to stop playing at 90 or at 88. It’s a reflection of good character for us. But it’s also a reflection that our fitness is pretty good and we’re able to maintain our concentration late — for the most part: Columbus, being the exception.”
The man who specializes in keeping the Sounders’ physically fit enough for those late-game heroics is David Tenney, who has taken on the new title of “sports science and performance manager” after spending the previous five seasons as fitness coach.
Even the fittest of players will feel the effects of a long soccer match. However, Tenney was asked why those effects seem to benefit offense more than defense.
“As guys start to have a little bit of fatigue … there’s not as good a pressure on the ball,” he said. “The back lines don’t push up as much, and then that actually makes it more of a running game because there’s more space to run in.”
Tenney can actually quantify this happening.
Saturday in Dallas, for example, he found that players on the two teams ran a combined 47 kilometers in the first half, but increased that to a combined 52 kilometers in the second.
“That was an interesting stat because it means that the game opened up,” he said. “There was fatigue, but there are some players out there who are running a lot more in the second half than they were running in the first half.”
As his new title indicates, Tenney knows physiology. However, he also knows soccer, having played in Europe and the domestic Continental Indoor Soccer League through most of the 1990s.
And he believes the uptick in late goals also indicates an uptick in the quality of MLS strikers, who are punishing defensive mistakes in ways that didn’t happen previously.
“Is it style of play, is it fatigue? I think it also includes the quality of the league as well,” he said. “It says something that now that these games are open people are actually scoring a lot of goals at the end where maybe in years past you didn’t see as many goals.”