Sounders have MLS-best record, no thanks to defense

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comMay 15, 2014 

In the first 18 seasons of Major League Soccer, no team had ever finished with the best record while also surrendering the most goals.

Now, about a third of the way though the league’s 19th season, Seattle Sounders FC is bucking the trend.

With 11 regular-season games behind them and 23 to go, the Sounders lead MLS with a 7-3-1 record, but they’re tied for last with 19 goals allowed.

Is that sustainable?

“No, not at all,” veteran defender Zach Scott said. “It’s a definite testament to our offense, how many goals we’ve been able to put in. The fact is that we still unfortunately leaked some goals. For a while there, it was some (penalty-kick) goals, some deflected goals, some own goals. But even that, you need to kind of change and start making your own luck and start getting some shutouts, or otherwise you’re going to find yourself very quickly moving from first place down.”

The Sounders are one of only five teams to have played at least 11 games — the other 14 teams have played 10, nine or even seven games so far. Seattle’s 1.73 goals allowed per game is tied with two other teams for fourth-worst in MLS. Chicago has allowed a league-worst 2.0 goals per game.

For now, the Sounders’ league-high 22 goals scored have compensated for a defense that hasn’t had a shutout since March 23. In eight matches since, Seattle has allowed 17 goals, including five in Sunday’s shutout loss at New England.

“I thought we were really improving on the defensive side the three games prior, and this game just caught us,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “But, you know, over the long term, defensively we’ve got to be able to play to zero. But we’ll find our way there.”

Schmid attributed some of the New England breakdown to fatigue. The Revolution was at home and rested, while the Sounders were playing their third game in nine days and after traveling cross country.

Fitness statistics kept by the club showed that the Sounders covered significantly less ground Sunday than they had four days earlier in a 2-1 win against FC Dallas.

Schmid pointed to that number while stressing that the goals-allowed statistic reflects on the entire team, not just the defenders and goalkeeper.

“Defending is everybody: It’s all 11 players,” Schmid said. “It’s our reaction to the ball, our transition from offense to defense: Is it quick enough? Is it appropriate? Are we coming back into the right spaces? (Those) are things that we looked at. And then, at the end of the day, you have to make plays on the defensive end. For us, it’s a situation of we’ve got to make better decisions. Obviously, if people don’t make better decisions soon, then we have to look at different options. I’m still happy with the defenders.”

Both of Seattle’s starting outside backs from Sunday — DeAndre Yedlin and Brad Evans — are expected to miss the next few matches while away at the U.S. national team camp, along with Seattle goals leader Clint Dempsey (tied for second in MLS with eight).

Meanwhile, Schmid indicated after Tuesday training that defenders Leo Gonzalez (hamstring) and Dylan Remick (ankle) are expected to be available. The Sounders will face the San Jose Earthquakes at 7 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field.

Yedlin was subbed out for the first time this season in the 60th minute Sunday, when Gonzalez entered. But Schmid said the move was tactical, with no deeper message behind it.

He also was asked about goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who has played every minute of his first season with the Sounders.

“I think Stefan’s played all right,” Schmid said. “I think he’ll be the first to admit that a couple of goals he could have done better on … but at the end of the day, I don’t care if we would have had whomever in goal at that time. … I don’t think it would have made a difference in the game overall.”

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer

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