TUKWILA, Wash. – Going into Saturday’s match against the Chicago Fire, the Seattle defense has yet to record its first shutout. Through four games, the Sounders have allowed five goals—a big reason why they sit in the lower half of the Western Conference standings.
Jeff Parke, arguably the most reliable member of that back line so far, concedes that the defense needs to tighten up.
“It’s tough because we’re not putting a full 90 in, not really there yet," said Parke. "There’s something missing. We’re trying to put our finger on it, trying to work it out.”
The breakdowns have come in all areas of the field. Through four games, three interesting trends emerged from the Sounders’ backfield.
Kasey Keller has been beatable on shots from distance
While Seattle’s captain still provides invaluable leadership, teams have been able to beat him on shots from distance. In Game 1, Juninho’s knuckling drive snuck by him at the near post. In Game 4, Khari Stephenson’s blast snuck in at the far corner.
On both shots, Keller managed to get a hand on the ball, but not enough to keep the shot out.
Although it would have been a considerably tougher save, Keller could have pushed the free kick from Houston’s Lovel Palmer over the crossbar. The scramble that ensued gave Houston their only goal of the game in a 1-1 draw.
[inline_node:332759]Lack of discipline leads to fouls, turnovers in awkward areas
Houston’s free kick and the ensuing goal only came about from a prior lapse in judgment. Palmer’s free kick came after center back Patrick Ianni hacked down a Dynamo player more than 30 yards from goal. It was a needless foul that gave the dead-ball dangerous Dynamo a chance to get on the board against the run of play.
The lapses aren’t limited to the back line, either. Midfielder Brad Evans made a crucial turnover that led to a goal against San Jose. An intercepted pass from Osvaldo Alonso led to Stephenson’s strike in the same match. A similar mistake led to a goal from LA's Juninho.
Inconsistent performances by Hurtado and Ianni
After looking solid against the Los Angeles Galaxy to open the season, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado looked a step off the pace against the New York Red Bulls. In addition to surrendering a penalty kick, the Colombian looked flat-footed on Juan Agudelo’s winning goal.
Perhaps Sigi Schmid expected too much of Hurtado by asking him to play twice in four days after coming off ACL surgery in 2010. After the match, Patrick Ianni supplanted Hurtado in the starting lineup.
Ianni fared better in his two matches, but has had his uneven moments as well. With Ianni on the field, Seattle have conceded three goals while Ianni himself has committed five fouls.
In order to get the first shutout of 2011, Seattle’s Parke knows the team needs to maintain its focus on Chicago’s new offensive threats such as new signings Diego Cháves and Gastón Puerari.
“You got to be smart,” Parke said. “You can’t dive in. We played them in the preseason and they are cheeky—they like to do a one-touch-and-spin, touch-and-go. It’s a matter of getting a little bump on them, keeping an eye on them and staying with them when they go.”