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 last 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.”
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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.
I spoke with him about why tired teams would tend to produce more goals. Here's some of what he had to say:
"Clearly as guys start to have a little bit of fatigue, what I felt through the games you can see that there’s not as good a pressure on the ball, 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.
"We just got all of the physical data from the Dallas match. You can see that both teams on average collectively ran 5 kilometers more in the second half than the first half. (Roughly 47 in first, and 52 in second). That was an interesting stat because it means that the game opened up. 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."