SEATTLE — A 0-3-1 start to the season did not cause panic in the Seattle Sounders locker room. It did, however, cause them to take an introspective look at how they were approaching the match tactically.
While the personnel changes were hardly dramatic, there was an added emphasis placed on defending all over the field. The results suggest the message was received, as the Sounders have allowed just two goals and registered four shutouts in their past five matches after allowing five goals in their first four.
The Sounders now head into Saturday’s match against Supporters’ Shield-leading FC Dallas (10:30 pm ET, watch on MLS Live) having allowed a league-low seven goals.
“What seemed to happen to us is we got caught sometimes when both our wide guys were offensive players and we were exposed a little defensively,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid explained. “It was making it hard for us to recover the ball.”
The most significant change involved using one “two-way” wide midfielder to pair with a more offensive one. At first, Alex Caskey was used opposite Mauro Rosales. More often, that role has been filled by Brad Evans.
Although Evans may lack the creative flair of someone like Rosales, Steve Zakuani or Mario Martínez, he has proven to be a solid offensive contributor. More importantly, he’s a willing defender who can get up and down the field.
“I think everyone plays positions differently,” said Evans, who has helped set up several goals even if he hasn’t been credited with an assist this year. “You saw it in years past where it was me and Ozzie [Alonso] doing most of the defensive work and Steve and Mauro getting forward. They were on a good run of form.
"When you’re not winning games and not producing, the emphasis gets changed and you need to defend more from the outside. I think we give ourselves a chance on the offensive end when we keep it to zero. Hopefully we’ve found that balance now and move forward. With everyone healthy, it’s a toss up.”
The defenders clearly appreciate those efforts, which also include forwards applying more pressure in the offensive third.
“It’s a credit to those guys, it’s much easier as a defender when the forwards aren’t putting any pressure on you,” defender Zach Scott told MLSsoccer.com. “I think that’s what we struggled with early on. I think we let teams play too much. I think now, the work rate of Lamar [Neagle] and Eddie [Johnson] has been fantastic. It creates so much more pressure for the defense and makes it so much easier for the back four.”
As good as they’ve looked during this 3-0-2 run, the Sounders recognize that circumstances could change. A switch back to a more offensive personnel set could still be in the cards.
“Are we maybe not going to play with two attacking wide guys?” Schmid asked rhetorically. “It depends, we could play that way as well.”