Hard work helps Tyson Wahl spark Sounders FC's offense
Hardworking Tyson Wahl has helped Seattle on set pieces since earning his way into the starting lineup.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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TUKWILA — Don't trust the media guide, advised Tyson Wahl.
The Sounders FC defender is actually 10 pounds slimmer than his bio — reading 6-foot-2, 186 pounds — indicates.
"This is the lightest I've been ever in my entire career," Wahl said.
The 27-year-old left back has also never been more involved on offense. Wahl came into the season with one career assist, but has since tripled that production in Seattle's past three games.
Having to reinvent his game and re-sculpt his body since converting from center back, Wahl has started six of the last eight games for Seattle and provided a spark on offense with pristine service on set pieces. Now slender and quick, instead of strong and powerful, he has provided the crucial assist in the Sounders' past two wins along with his reliable defense.
"Wherever you can give the coaches multiple reasons to put you on the field, it makes a big difference," said goalkeeper Kasey Keller. "Tyson has really stepped up and provided that consistent service for us on free kicks that maybe we've lacked in the past. There's a reason why we're scoring more goals on set pieces."
Wahl played his first three MLS seasons in Kansas City before coming to Seattle in the expansion draft. In the team's inaugural season, he played 12 games, nine as a starter. In Year 2 he made just two starts.
In order to stay in tune mentally while riding the bench, Wahl worked extra on his own to correct his weaknesses. Months later those hours are paying off.
"It's been a lot of patience and a lot of hard work," Wahl said, "and that hard work is going to have to continue. You're never stable in a position."
Coach Sigi Schmid said it took Wahl a while at first to adjust to the new role, moving to the outside on defense, but he has recently noticed a more confident player.
"If you had said, 'Who wants to hit corners?' his hand wasn't going to go up," Schmid said. "Then it was like, 'Tyson, I want you to hit corners. I think you can hit them.' And obviously now he's taken pride in it."
The adjustment was physical just as much as mental. Center backs are generally the taller and bulkier defenders, often enforcers in the back. Outside backs are many times leaner and faster to be able to push forward into the attack.
That's where fitness coach Dave Tenney — who knew Wahl from shared years in Kansas City — was able to help.
"Trying to turn him into a wide left defender from a physical standpoint was almost like retraining him, because he's got to be lighter," Tenney said. "He's got to be able to get up and down the field all the time.
"I think the first year was a big adjustment period for him, but he is one of fittest guys on the team. In terms of us choosing a central defender to turn into an outside defender on our team, he's the best option."
And now instead of earning a starting position, Wahl's job is to keep it.
"Opportunities to play don't come around very often, especially for a defender ... on a team that has a lot of good defenders," Wahl said. "I just knew that I had to value the opportunity I did get."
• Forward O'Brian White was able to lightly jog at the beginning of Tuesday's practice, a positive step in his rehab. The 25-year-old underwent surgery on April 28 to remove a blood clot in his left leg.
Despite the progress, Schmid said it was still too early to determine a timetable for White's return. Doctors will closely monitor the Jamaican as he increases his workload.
"It was great to see him out there," Schmid said. "He's always got a smile on his face."
• Game tickets for Sounders FC's friendly against Manchester United go on sale at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Seattle takes on the English Premier League champion, and UEFA Champions League runner-up, on July 20 at 7 p.m. Ticket prices start at $47 and will be available by calling 1-800-745-3000 or online at www.soundersFC.com.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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