TUKWILA, Wash. – No team has given up fewer goals this season than the Seattle Sounders, and their six shutouts are tied for the most in MLS. With six goals allowed in 11 matches, the Sounders’ goals-against average – 0.55 – is 0.27 lower than the next closest team.
However, in the last two games, some chinks have appeared in the armor. By allowing three combined goals against Real Salt Lake and the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Sounders have now given up goals in consecutive games for the first time this season.
Somewhat more concerning was the sheer number of chances they gave Vancouver this past Saturday. Although just two of them turned into goals, the Whitecaps easily could have doubled their total.
“The thing with this team is team defense,” Sounders assistant coach Ezra Hendrickson said, noting that the problems weren’t just with the four defenders and goalkeeper. “Especially if you look at the last game against Vancouver, they were able to capitalize on our turnovers. That opened us more than we’ve seen in previous games.”
Hendrickson, who was a defender during his playing days and is largely tasked with working with the defense now, said the Sounders have learned from that game and have made adjustments accordingly.
“That’s something we changed in the second half,” Hendrickson continued. “Sigi [Schmid] dropped Fredy [Montero] back into the midfield a little bit. That helps because if you just leave it to four guys to defend and they come at you with some speed and some more guys on the counter-attack, it’s difficult and you’re going to be opened up and chances are going to be created.”
On the first goal, the Sounders allowed Whitecaps left back Alain Rochat to dribble up the sideline nearly 30 yards before he took a shot from inside the penalty area. Hendrickson chalked that up to a lack of communication.
“They should have stepped out and engaged the guy when he was coming down the wing,” Hendrickson said. “Whatever you play, things are going to happen in front of you and part of your job is to clean up the mess. Once that breaks down, we need to do a quicker job of solving that issue.”
The second goal, which came on a Camilo free kick that skipped inside the goal box and past goalkeeper Bryan Meredith, was more about improper set up.
“We were just too deep,” Hendrickson explained. “When you’re that deep and you have that much traffic in front of the 'keeper, and the ball comes through like that, the 'keeper can’t even see it. We want to keep our lines higher so that the 'keeper has all that space to see the ball coming across so maybe he can get off his line and get it.”
Hendrickson knows the Sounders defense can’t be perfect, but also indicated he wants to be proactive about addressing mistakes before they become habitual.
“We’re still happy with our defense," he added, "but there are some things we can tighten up."
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.