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Eastern Conference Championship

Seattle Sounders' renewed defensive efforts after wake-up call in Houston paying dividends

TUKWILA, Wash. — Sometimes a bad loss is just what a team needs.

The Seattle Sounders were getting results, winning three straight, but hadn’t necessarily been playing well. Then the 3-1 loss Aug. 17 to the Houston Dynamo happened. Suddenly, the coaching staff's message about defense not just being about the backline and the goalkeeper had relevance.

With a newfound commitment to defending as a complete unit, the Sounders registered a shutout against the Portland Timbers in their next game. Two more shutouts immediately followed. Now, the Sounders find themselves heading into Saturday’s game against the LA Galaxy (10:30 pm ET; NBCSN) sitting atop the Supporters’ Shield standings, boasting a defense tied for the least goals allowed in MLS, having won five straight and allowing just one goal in those games.

“I don’t know if it took that kind of moment, but everybody decided to just buckle down,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid told reporters on Wednesday. “With most teams I’ve coached, there comes a time when you have to remind everybody. It’s the work part — it’s not the part that’s glamorous. It’s not the part where you can say you can do all this specific training on your technical ability or something. Are you going to work or shut it down?

“It’s more a reminder thing. The team has made a decision that we need to do this and that’s been good.”

One area that this new attitude has manifested itself in is blocked shots. During the five-game winning streak, the Sounders have blocked 25 of their opponents’ 58 shot attempts (43 percent), including a remarkable 11 in a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew, when they were playing with just 10 men for most of the match. In the five games preceding the current win streak – in which the Sounders went 3-1-1 – they blocked just 13 of 53 attempts (25 percent).

“It’s not just the defense, it’s the way we defend,” center back Djimi Traoré said. “It’s the attitude of the team. We changed. We know we need to defend all together. With the players we have up front, we know if we can just keep a clean sheet, we know we can score.”

While Seattle’s offensive talent stacks up favorably against any team in the league, they’ve mostly been doing just enough to get the job done. The most recent win over Real Salt Lake was the only time the Sounders had scored more than one goal or won by more than the bare minimum during their streak.

“I think we’re in a good spot right now, but it’s all about not getting complacent,” midfielder Brad Evans said. “Just because we’re in a good run of form, doesn’t mean victories are going to come easy.”