TUKWILA, Wash. — Coming into Saturday night’s game against the Portland Timbers (11 pm ET, ESPN2/Deportes), the Seattle Sounders are wary of the visitors’ ability to head in crosses. Striker Kenny Cooper and center back Futty Danso are two of the best in the league at connecting in the opponent’s penalty area.
Portland have scored 11 goals in 2011. Of those, four have come from set-pieces, including three from free kicks. Danso struck most recently for Portland, fighting off defenders to score the only goal in a 1-0 win over Philadelphia last weekend.
After Sounders defender Patrick Ianni coughed up a penalty while defending a corner kick in last week’s match vs. the Columbus Crew, Seattle are focused on limiting the threat of a free kick goal.
While there was undoubtedly some contact, fellow defender Jeff Parke said he thought the penalty call was “bogus.” However, Ianni said he understands that contact is part of the game in the penalty area and pledged to continue to play tough despite being dinged last week.
“We got a lot of practice [defending free kicks] last weekend against Columbus,” Ianni said wryly. “Same as always: just getting bodies on guys in the box and not letting them get free headers. Danso got a pretty free header last week and if you let someone get a header from five yards out, it will be a good chance for them.”
With the exception of the Columbus game, Seattle have been good defensively this season. Of their 10 goals conceded, only one has come as a direct result from a set piece.
Assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson lines up the defense before each match, meeting with the back four and laying out the marking assignments on set pieces. If Nate Jaqua starts up front as expected, he would likely be asked to track back to mark Danso and Cooper.
Parke, who started against Columbus after a three-game absence, may also be called upon to do some defending if he finds himself in the starting lineup. The veteran shared some tips about strong defending in the penalty area.
“Their set pieces are important,” Parke said. “They have to big center backs and they’ve been banging them in and that’s what gave them the win last week. It’s important that we get a bump on them early. You can give him a heads up and say that the guy is holding me or keep an eye on the picks. You can say that, but at the end of the day there’s five other guys doing the same thing. He’s got to keep an eye on all of us.”
Andrew Winner covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndrewWinnerMLS