The Sounders FC are flirting with defensive greatness.
Through nine matches and 810 minutes, the Sounders have allowed just four goals and have yet to concede a single goal through the flow of play.
The defensive tactics aren’t worthy of comparison to some of the great AC Milan teams in the late 1980s and they may not be one of the greatest defensive teams in MLS history. But as the Sounders prepare to face Real Salt Lake at Lumen Field on Wednesday, it has to be noted that few teams have accomplished what Seattle has done through nine matches.
“The work that the coaches have done and the buy-in from all of the players certainly has set us up to really do good things,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said during a video conference call on Tuesday. “It (playing with three center backs and two forwards) just fits our team. It fits our current roster. I’m going to hold off in saying that this is the best defensive team in Sounders history or the best defensive team that I’ve ever coached. Let’s just see how the season plays out. That stat — the 6-0-3 start and the no goals through the run of play — it’s certainly something that we’re very proud of.”
The Rave Green is unbeaten through nine matches for the first time since their MLS debut in 2009. And despite significant changes to the back line since the beginning of the season, the Sounders have managed to keep the ball out of the net through the flow of play.
Sounders keeper Stefan Frei suffered a knee injury five matches into the schedule. His replacement, Stefan Cleveland, hadn’t made an MLS start since 2018. Cleveland has conceded two penalty kicks and has totaled eight saves in his four appearances.
Left center back Nouhou is expected to miss a second straight Sounders match due to an adductor strain while defender Xavier Arreaga remains with his Ecuador national team that is competing in the Copa America tournament.
Schmetzer gave AB Cissoko, a 21-year-old French defender with no international experience, his MLS debut start in place of Nouhou against the Galaxy on Saturday. Veteran Shane O’Neill will likely continue to replace Arreaga in the starting lineup.
Those are the changes. Co-captain Nico Lodeiro (knee) has yet to play more than 30 minutes due to injury. Forward Jordan Morris, who was named to the league’s Best XI team with Lodeiro last year, is likely out for the season with an ACL tear.
And yet, no goals through the run of play. Seattle also leads MLS’s Supporters’ Shield race, edging the New England Revolution with 21 points. The Sounders are the last remaining unbeaten team in the 27-team league.
“It gives the team a lot of confidence, us being able to maintain this record where we’re not giving up any goals during the run of play,” said defender Yeimar Gomez Andrade, as translated from Spanish. His goal in Saturday’s road win against the Galaxy earned him a spot on the league’s Week 8 Team of the Week.
“It keeps motivating us to keep working really hard to keep that record going and going,” Yeimar continued. “This is the first time that I’ve played on a team where we have been able to stay so many games — one after the other — where we are not giving up any goals through the run of play. So, again, it motivates me and it motivates the team.”
RSL (3-1-3) is the type of opponent that could trip Seattle up with either impressive defensive stat. The visiting side was disregarded by prognosticators to open the season but is playing well with midfielder Damir Kreilach bagging five goals to pace the team.
The Sounders’ past two home matches ended in draws. And while the club is second in MLS with 16 goals scored this season, the Sounders have only tallied three in their past three matches.
Midweek games are usually their own challenge because of fitness. Schmetzer is also balancing the injuries. He does expect midfielder Josh Atencio (quad) to be available for selection.
Seattle hosts Vancouver on Saturday.
“Our bench is fairly thin,” Schmetzer said. “The home games are critical. … We’ve got to go for it against RSL. So, I’m going to put a strong lineup out there and then we’ll pick up the pieces and see who can recover and get after Vancouver.”
It’s the type of stretch of games where a team would lean on their defense to pull them through. Seattle’s is already leading the way.