CCL Preview: Sounders look to rally at home against San Francisco

TUKWILA, Wash. — For a team suddenly struggling on the defensive end, Wednesday’s match represents an opportune time for the Seattle Sounders to get it right.

Seattle will head into the second leg of their CONCACAF Champions League preliminary round series down 1-0 to San Francisco FC of Panama. If San Francisco score even once at CenturyLink Field, the away-goals tiebreaker would mean that Seattle would need to win by at least two goals to advance.

While a 1-0 Seattle win would force an overtime period, the Sounders would prefer to avoid that particular scenario by winning handily.

“At the end of the day, the game’s the same,” said head coach Sigi Schmid. “We [have] to win by two goals.”

If you ask around the Sounders organization, there’s not a silver-bullet answer as to why Seattle has become so porous defensively. Schmid mentions that sometimes the breakdowns can be traced to an individual player while other times they can be more systemic, midfielder Erik Friberg believes the midfielders especially need to close down space more quickly and play tighter against their marks, and goalkeeper Kasey Keller stressed the importance of understanding when to attempt to retrieve the ball and when to retreat back into a solid defensive shape.

Taken together, all of these factors begin to explain why this normally solid defensive team has given up 17 goals in its past six matches (a figure that’s severely inflated by the 7-0 loss to Manchester United). The drop in form has been mystifying for a team that generally ranks among the league’s better defensive teams and had previously rattled off an 11-match unbeaten streak in all competitions.
In his comments after Monday’s practice, Schmid gave some insight through the statistical analyses his team conducts.

“You can't have players losing the ball 30 percent of the time on the dribble,” Schmid told reporters. “That means that they are going at some body and guys are pushing forward into space.”

“They're turning the ball over and now you are in a bad defensive position because you thought the guy was going to play the ball instead he lost it.”

Despite what has happened in the past few weeks, Seattle knows it’s important to put in a solid defensive effort against San Francisco. Led by Roberto “The Bomber” Brown, who scored the only goal last week on a penalty kick, the Panamanian team has the ability to cause danger.

Defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso pledged to lock down the defense on Wednesday night.

“I think that we’re going to go into the game with the same attitude of winning the game and not letting them get any goals,” Alonso said through a translator. “It was pretty frustrating not to win the game [in Panama], but we know that we have another opportunity Wednesday. We have every intention of advancing to the next round.”

Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS