Entering this past weekend’s match against Orlando City, Seattle had scored just two goals off corner kicks or free kicks all season, the fewest in Major League Soccer.

Share story

New Sounder Andreas Ivanschitz grew up in Austria in a family of musicians.

His father played the saxophone and the clarinet, at one point performing in the orchestra of the opera in Vienna.

“It was normal that my two brothers and I also had some background in music,” said Ivanschitz, recalling a childhood of piano lessons and family jam sessions.

His artistic side comes out on the soccer field, in well-tuned passes and a left foot that sings. Fittingly, Mozart is among the handful of nicknames Ivanschitz has picked up through the years.

More ironically, Ivanschitz arrives in a wave of Sounders signings — with Nelson Valdez and Roman Torres —- with buzzwords that include set pieces and corner kicks.

Yes, Ivanschitz will provide a creative spark that often has been lacking this summer. But the artist also has come to Seattle to help with the dirty work.

“Why have we struggled for two months so badly? Because we can’t grind out a result,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We can’t gut through a game. We can’t get a set-piece goal even if it’s not always so pretty.”

Entering this past weekend’s match against Orlando City, Seattle had scored just two goals off corner kicks or free kicks all season, the fewest in Major League Soccer.

Early in the year, with forwards Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey pouring in goals at a record clip, that statistical anomaly felt like more of a curiosity than a structural flaw. But like organizational depth, when both Martins and Dempsey went down, it was a weakness laid bare after both were out for half of June and all of July.

Not only couldn’t the Sounders manufacture goals from set plays during the Great Goal Drought of 2015, they were allowing them at the other end of the field. They’ve allowed seven such goals this season, plus a PK. Laurent Ciman’s last-minute header in Montreal was particularly painful, another rock bottom during a summer in which the floor kept sinking.

A well-placed cross is the key to a successful set piece, Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said, and that’s where Ivanschitz and fellow summer arrival Erik Friberg come in. The Sounders have looked far more threatening on corner kicks since Friberg began stepping over the ball in L.A., and he’ll deputize for Ivanschitz until he makes his debut, likely Saturday at Real Salt Lake.

Part 2 is having the right target men. And both of the big bodies made an immediate impact against Orlando City.

Valdez is listed at only 5 feet 10 and 160 pounds — “but he knows how to bang bodies,” said Sounders defender Chad Marshall, who would know. And Valdez marked his debut with a set-piece goal, as Friberg’s short-corner cross took a refined glance off his forehead on its way inside the back post.

Torres’ influence was harder to see at first glance, but study the replays and you’ll see why Lagerwey boldly boasted that they’d “fixed” the set-piece problem. The hulking captain of the Panamanian national team, listed at 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds, commanded the attention of Lions enforcer Aurelien Collin — eyes that, in the past, had been reserved only for Marshall (6-4, 190), who is regarded as one of the league’s better headers.

“Add a player like Torres into the mix, and all of a sudden the defensive teams are changing their marking assignments,” Schmid said.

Marshall beat new marker David Mateos during a 29th-minute corner kick, cutting inside and earning a penalty kick when Mateos dragged him down from behind in desperation.

“It’s not necessarily picking guys out anymore,” said rookie Cristian Roldan, who served as a part-time set-piece specialist in July. “You have enough guys that you just try to serve a good ball and put it in the box and let the big guys go for it.

“Before, you’d have to pick out Chad Marshall, let’s say, and he’d have the biggest guy on him. Now, we have four or five guys with size advantage on the other teams.”

It’s an advantage that will especially come in handy come the postseason, should the Sounders hold off the lurking Houston Dynamo and the rest of the trailing pack in the Western Conference. Margins are thin in the playoffs, and being able to get one’s hands dirty and manufacture goals is invaluable.

Cue Ivanschitz.

“He’s masterful on set pieces,” Lagerwey said. “That’s one of the strengths of his game. … He might be, of all the guys we’ve signed, the closest to being able to come in and contribute.”

Matt Pentz’s MLS power rankings
Last week’s rankings in parentheses
Rank Team Comment
1. (4) Sporting Kansas City Triumphed in playoff preview vs. Vancouver.
2. (3) Los Angeles Galaxy even winning on road now.
3. (2) Vancouver Allowed three late goals at Sporting Park.
4. (6) New York Red Bulls Suddenly closing in on D.C.
5. (1) D.C. United Still leading the East on points.
6. (5) Dallas Starting to slip down the standings.
7. (8) Portland Pragmatism pays off at Salt Lake.
8. (13) Columbus Challengers keep falling off.
9. (10) New England Looked better with Jones back.
10. (11) Seattle Different team with Oba.
11. (12) Montreal Games in hand are promising.
12. (9) Toronto Reds dropping back toward that line again.
13. (7) Orlando Might be a must-win at Toronto.
14. (17) New York City FC Man, this league is forgiving.
15. (16) Houston Still lurking over Seattle’s shoulder.
16. (14) Real Salt Lake Et tu, Nat Borchers?
17. (15) San Jose Scraped past the Rapids.
18. (19) Chicago Philly draw didn’t help, either.
19. (18) Colorado That ought to do it.
20. (20) Philadelphia There’s always the Open Cup.