Stressing defense pays off for Sounders

  • By Don Ruiz The New Tribune
  • Sunday, May 18, 2014 8:14pm
  • SportsSports

SEATTLE — The Seattle Sounders goals-against average last week ended up at 2.5.

But they got there in the most extreme of ways, opening the week by allowing a franchise-high five goals on May 11 at New England and closing it Saturday with a 1-0 win over San Jose.

The latter marked the Sounders’ first shutout in nine games, ending a streak dating to March.

“It comes at a really good time for us after that loss last week,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said of his third clean sheet of the season. “Every loss is three points, but (the one at New England) particularly hurt because of the way they completely ran over us. We wanted to come back and make a statement; and we really took some pride in the clean sheet, especially at home, and bounced back from that loss real quick.”

Not surprisingly, coach Sigi Schmid said defense was a prime area of emphasis during training last week.

He also jiggled three-fourths of the back line that had started in New England. Leo Gonzalez and Jalil Anibaba started at left and right backs in place of Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin, who are away with the United States national team. Zach Scott moved into central defense, replacing Djimi Traore alongside holdover Chad Marshall.

“I think everyone is super-comfortable with whoever goes in there,” Marshall said. “It’s pretty seamless. I think everyone has a good understanding of how each other works and what each others’ strengths are.”

While the Sounders’ most notable changes came on the back end, Schmid has continually stressed that defense is an 11-player responsibility. He pointed out failings at forward and midfield against the Revolution, and he noted the work paid off on all parts of the field against the Earthquakes.

“The outside guys — Marco (Pappa) — contributed a much better effort defensively — as did Lamar (Neagle) — so that really helped us,” Schmid said. “The nature of Anibaba and Leo 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 after what happened last week.”

There also was a considerable difference in the production of the offense the Sounders were working to control.

The starting 11 players for San Jose arrived — and left — with a combined one goal and no assists. That was due in part to the absences of Chris Wondolowski and Clarence Goodson due to international duty, Victor Bernardez and Shea Salinas due to disciplinary suspension, and Alan Gordon and Steven Lenhart due to injury.

The Quakes took eight shots Saturday, but they put only one on target, and Frei handled that.

Meanwhile, the Revolution showed that its eruption was no fluke, repeating its five-goal outburst in a 5-3 win at Philadelphia. That means 10 of New England’s 19 goals have been clustered over their past two matches.

“They’ve kind of started scoring,” Frei said. “They’re a good side.”

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