Portland, Seattle taking set pieces seriously ahead of clash

TUKWILA, Wash. — Of all the things to get into an argument about, Sigi Schmid and John Spencer jousted over set pieces.

In the week following the first meeting between these two teams — a 1-1 draw in Seattle in May — free kicks played a central role in the war of words between the Seattle and Portland head coaches.

The kerfuffle started after Schmid implied that the Timbers offense is predicated on earning and converting free kicks. Spencer, feeling that the Sounders were trying to belittle the Timbers’ goal, fired back through the media the later that week.

“It seems that Seattle are not happy that other teams can score goals from set pieces,” Spencer told Timbers Insider facetiously. “I think we’re going to call the league as soon as training is over and ask them to deduct David Beckham’s goal, Landon Donavan’s penalty kick and all the other set pieces that were scored.”

With the two teams set to play again Sunday (4 pm ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes), Schmid’s original assessment seems to hold. Portland have found the net eight times as a result of a free kick, far and away the best total in the league. Including corner kicks and penalties, the total jumps to 10, or 53 percent of Portland’s season total of 19.

During this week’s training, Seattle again practiced set-piece defense as they seek to limit that aspect of Portland’s attack.

With 6-foot-3 players Futty Danso, Eric Brunner, Steve Purdy and Kenny Cooper, Portland boast multiple aerial threats who have a size advantage over 6-foot-2 Tyson Wahl, Seattle’s tallest projected starter. With Jack Jewsbury’s service on free kicks, the Timbers remain dangerous on set pieces.

“Their field’s a bit small so it’s easy to dump balls in,” defender Jeff Parke (pictured above) said of JELD-WEN Field. “They’re big group. They’re aggressive and they’re physical and pretty athletic. Their height definitely gives them an advantage.

“At the end of the day, it’s still a set piece. We have to defend better. We have to do better to get a little piece of them and be physical back. That’s their bread and butter and most of their goals come off that.”

Interestingly, both teams have been extremely tight in their set-piece defense. Each have allowed only three goals on free kicks, not including penalties.

And Seattle can hold their own in set-piece offense. The club currently leads the league in goals scored from corner kicks with seven.

While neither coach wanted to add more bulletin-board material before Sunday’s match, one gets the sense that if either team scores from a dead ball, we can expect a new chapter in the battle of words.

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