Stefan Frei, Harry Shipp, Kim Kee-Hee - Seattle Sounders - smiles postgame
Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

As defense rebounds, Seattle Sounders have plan to stop Pavon, Ibrahimovic

TUKWILA, Wash. – The Seattle Sounders got the morale boost they needed in their 2-1, Cascadia Cup-clinching road victory over the Portland Timbers last Friday.

Now, with a Sunday afternoon clash (6:30 pm ET | Full streaming & TV info) with the LA Galaxy at CenturyLink Field next on the docket, the Sounders are presented with a golden opportunity to continue their positive momentum in a jam-packed Western Conference playoff race.

“Games like that give you confidence,” goalkeeper Stefan Frei said after Seattle’s training on Tuesday. “We need to be able to translate that into the next game against LA. Huge game, obviously, a six-point game right there. So, if you’re looking for a slice of confidence and you can’t find it in a derby match raising a trophy at your rival’s home, then I don’t know where else to look for confidence.”

Perhaps the biggest positive takeaway Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer can take from the Portland match was the improved defensive effort after leaking 11 goals across their previous four games.

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The center back pairing of Xavier Arreaga and Kim Kee-hee is still new and a work in progress, but Schmetzer said he was pleased with the strides the two took in Portland.

“It was good. There were still some things we showed on film that we’re going to clean up,” Schmetzer said. “But I mean, look, [the Portland game] was a massive game for a lot of reasons. But we [also] want to make sure that defensively we are solid and we head into the playoffs with a solid defensive scheme and making sure we cover all our bases."

The matchup with the Galaxy, of course, presents a whole new set of challenges, the most obvious being the daunting task of defending Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Swedish superstar tagged Seattle for a pair of goals in the 2-2 draw between the sides at Dignity Health Sports Park on Aug. 17. He’s red-hot at the moment, striking for six goals over his last three games.

The way he’s currently producing, at least one goal for Ibrahimovic seems like a foregone conclusion. Still, Frei feels the Sounders can contain him. 

“Everything runs through Zlatan, everybody knows that,” Frei said. “I think it’s more a matter of cutting out the service to him rather than defending him well, because, yes, you can defend him well eight out of 10 times and the other two times he’ll punish you.”

That’s always easier said than done when it comes to Zlatan, especially considering the new variable presented by recently-acquired winger Cristian Pavon. In last weekend’s 3-3 draw against LAFC, the Argentine saw him log an assist and his first MLS goal.

“We’ve got a little bit of film on [Pavon] now, everybody watched the game against LAFC, we’re getting more film on him,” Schmetzer said. “But look, he’s a tremendous talent, the guy’s really a talented attacking player.”


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