Seattle Sounders FC worked to repair its defense this week, and the Saturday match at FC Dallas should give an indication if it paid off.
Coming off one of the worst defensive performances in club history last week at Portland, the Sounders’ next opponent not only has the best record in Major League Soccer, but also has scored the most goals: 13 over five games.
Seattle enters the match with the second-most goals: nine. Four of those came last week, but the Sounders’ defensive problems were such that they were able to salvage only a draw with the Timbers.
Those eight total goals set a Sounders single-game record and are the most in an MLS match this season. Seattle’s four goals allowed tied the second-most in club history. The 41 combined shots was a Sounders single-game record.
“We’ve been getting goals and that’s good. You need to score to win,” said Clint Dempsey, whose four goals are tied for the MLS lead. “But ... it’s also about us also being more compact as a team and not conceding the goals that we’ve conceded as well. I think we’ll get that balance right.”
Coach Sigi Schmid said Seattle’s main problems have involved transition, rather than just defense. Too many allowed goals have followed what he sees as purely preventable errors – often coming after loss of possession.
Two of the most notable mistakes at Portland involved central defender Jalil Anibaba, who failed to close space on Diego Chara on the Timbers’ third goal, and who had the ball taken from him by Maximiliano Urruti before the fourth.
Schmid offered his continued confidence in Anibaba, who was acquired from Chicago over the offseason. However, it is likely that Anibaba will be replaced in the lineup by Djimi Traore, who is again eligible after serving a red-card suspension.
“Djimi is an experienced player, and he’s done well for us back there,” Schmid said. “As a left-footed center back, it allows Chad (Marshall) to go back to the right-hand side. Djimi’s experience and leadership are important parts for us.”
In Dallas, the Sounders will face a balanced offense featuring five players who have scored multiple goals. Among the top offensive threats are midfielder Je-Vaughn Watson, who has three goals – including two game-winners; and Mauro Diaz, who has two goals and three assists.
“(We’ve) got to keep an eye on Diaz,” Schmid said. “You’ve got to eliminate the supplier if you want to eliminate the goals. … But they’ve also picked up some PKs; and they’ve scored some goals on set pieces. Michel is a good server of the ball on set pieces, so you don’t want to give up unnecessary set pieces with him on the field.”
So far, offensive production has been enough to have Dallas at the top of the standings despite not having a shutout and allowing 1.20 goals a game.
“They’re flying at the moment and coming off a big game against their rivals in Houston with a big (4-1) win away,” said Sounders’ forward Kenny Cooper, who played last season in Dallas. “… I think we’ll be going against a really confident team, a team with a lot of speed and experience, a lot of good players. We can expect a tough game.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (2-2-1; 7 POINTS) AT FC DALLAS (4-0-1; 13)
5:30 P.M., TOYOTA STADIUM, FRISCO, TEXAS
TV: JOEtv. Radio: 97.3-FM.
Head to head: The Sounders lead 6-2-4 in all regular-season meetings and 2-1-3 at Dallas. The teams meet again May 7 at Seattle and conclude the season series Sept. 24 at Frisco.
Notes: Dallas is the early Supporters’ Shield leader and one of two unbeaten teams (along with Real Salt Lake) remaining in MLS. ... This is FCD’s best five-game start in club history. ... Dallas leads MLS with 13 goals but has taken the second-fewest shots (46) and the fewest corner kicks (nine). Eight Dallas goals have come in the final 30 minutes. ... Five Dallas players have scored multiple goals. ... Seattle is second in MLS with nine goals. ... Neither team has been shut out this season, and both are coming off four-goal performances last weekend. ... Dallas defender George John, who played at the University of Washington, is questionable with a knee injury. Seattle midfielder Brad Evans (calf) is doubtful. ... Dallas is 3-0-0 at home. The Sounders are 1-0-1 on the road. ... Dallas set a club record average home attendance of 15,373 last season and is averaging 16,540 this season. ... The referee is Juan Guzman.
Quotable: “(Coach Oscar Pareja) brought over Hendry Thomas, who has helped solidify them defensively and in midfield. (Mauro) Diaz came in at midseason (2013 and) now has obviously found his legs about him and played very well for them. They’ve got good speed on the flanks.” – Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on FC Dallas
Next: 7:30 p.m. April 19, Sounders at Chivas USA, Carson, Calif.
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808