Seattle Sounders: Defense Goes from Strength to Strength
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As we look at the MLS standings, the Seattle Sounders find themselves in the enviable position of first place in the Western Conference. Even after just 12 games, this could prove vitally important if the team is to retain the Supporters Shield, which they won in such fine fashion last season.
What makes the current position so impressive – depending on your perspective – is that the Sounders aren’t even clicking on all cylinders. Take, for example, the latest game against the Colorado Rapids.
This was a match-up the Rapids had no business winning, given they entered the night propping up the rest of the Western Conference. Add to this, the fact they had only taken two points in their previous eight regular season visits to CenturyLink Field.
And yet, despite Seattle dominating possession (69.5%), at times in the second half the game was far too close for comfort. In the end, the winning margin was provided by Marco Pappa‘s beautifully taken curling effort after 15 minutes.
May 27, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Brad Evans (3) jumps for a header against Colorado Rapids forward Luis Solignac (21) during the first half at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
With the Sounders still not quite at their best, the defense is arguably the main strength so far in 2015. The 1-0 win against the Rapids marked the third-straight clean sheet and the seventh of the campaign. (The team managed nine clean sheets all of last year.)
I spoke to captain Brad Evans about the play of the defense. Refreshingly, he made a point of emphasizing the team as a whole: “I’ve been here for seven years now, and every team is different.
“You look back on past records, the way you play or goals for and against, some years you score the most goals, but also concede a lot. Some years we haven’t scored the most, but we’ve conceded less.
“As long as we always find ourselves on the winning side of things, that’s the most important thing, but when you talk about winning championships, you always think about a good defense. So we focus on that, and it’s something we’ve worked hard on.”
Evans went on to stress the importance of the depth of the roster: “We have guys like Zach (Scott) stepping in, veterans who know the game and make timely tackles and passes out of the back, and keep their composure.
“That becomes invaluable moving forward. So as long as we’re scoring on one end and keeping a zero at the other, we give ourselves a chance.”
As things stand, the Sounder have the best defense in the league, having conceded just nine goals. Last year, they entered the playoffs with the joint-worst goals against record of the teams who qualified.
One of the biggest factors is the consistent form of goalkeeper Stefan Frei. I asked him how he thinks he’s improved from last year: “It’s a different situation for me this season.
“I’ve had that year under my belt with a decent first playoff experience. So, I think just coming into preseason, I just had a different mindset, having more confidence.”
In turn, a renewed belief appears to have also helped Frei mature: “With that confidence, I’ve (had) the chance to take on more responsibility as a player in terms of organization and being more of a leader from the back.”
May 27, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Stefan Frei (24) makes a save against the Colorado Rapids during the first half at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Colorado, 1-0. Mandatory Credit: Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports
Overall, the 2009 first round MLS SuperDraft pick is satisfied with things up to this point: “So far it’s worked out pretty well.
“Obviously a decent start helps that confidence even further, but on the practice pitch it’s same old, same old. I just try to improve on a daily basis.
“It doesn’t matter where we’re at. I have really good staff around me, that constantly tries to emphasis on that improvement, so I’m really blessed to be in the situation I’m in.”
Certainly, Sounders fans can also consider themselves blessed to have Frei on their team. If he and the defense can maintain their current form, this could be the year we finally see the MLS Cup come to Seattle.