TUKWILA, Wash. – Injuries and fixture congestion have forced the Seattle Sounders to field three different starting goalkeepers and give seven defenders at least 760 minutes of playing time this year.
That turnover has helped contribute to some inconsistency, but it hasn’t stopped the Sounders from fielding one of the best defenses in the league.
Heading into Saturday’s game against Chivas USA, only Sporting KC has allowed fewer than the Sounders’ 24 goals and just two teams have posted more than their nine shutouts.
WATCH: Gspurning beats Mattocks to the ball
“It’s just guys being aware and communicating,” Sounders defender Jeff Parke said on Thursday. “Everybody’s done a really good job lately. I think for the whole year we’ve pretty much done a good job, it’s just a few games here and there we’ve lapsed. For the most part, guys are getting after it and making it difficult to get after us and turn and run at us. When they do, we get in tight and make it difficult for teams to break us down.”
The biggest key to the Sounders’ defense appears to be goalkeeper Michael Gspurning. While Bryan Meredith and Andrew Weber have filled in reasonably well when called upon, there’s no denying the Sounders are on a different defensive level with the big Austrian between the sticks.
Gspurning’s goals against average is 0.57, the best figure in MLS among goalkeepers with at least 700 minutes of playing time. He’s also saved 79 percent of the shots he’s faced, which is the second best mark among qualifying players. Predictably, the Sounders are 8-2-1 when he starts.
“Everybody has seen him out on the field and seen what a good job he does,” Sounders defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado told MLSsoccer.com through a translator. “He’s a great goalie and a great person. During the games, he’s talking the whole time and he’s the last guy who can see everything that’s going on on the field. We’ve had a lot of success with him.”
Much of that success seems predicated on an ability to limit the number of shots Gspurning faces. Of his five shutouts, four have required him to make two or fewer saves. In Saturday’s 2-0 victory vs. Vancouver, he was not credited with any.
That may be a bit deceiving, though.
“Stats are funny thing,” Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid said, pointing out at least three examples where Gspurning had to make important plays in Saturday’s game that weren’t counted as saves. “For me, yeah, I think he did have to make some saves. It wasn’t exactly a save-less game. But I am happy with the fact that we got a shutout and I’m very happy that we’re limiting opportunity that the opponent is getting. I think we’ve done a good job of that.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.