Sounders find a winning combination with two defenders
Sounders FC defenders Marc Burch and Leo Gonzalez came into the season competing for time, but have shared the field an unforeseen amount of time to help Seattle close out wins.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Latest from the Sounders FC blog
A quick Q&A with GM Adrian Hanauer on MLS expansion, a USL PRO franchise NEW - 5/23, 01:58 PM
TUKWILA — Marc Burch and Leo Gonzalez are a winning combination.
Well, to be fair, they generally play together only when the Sounders are protecting a lead.
The two defenders started the season as competitors for the starting job at left back, but during Seattle's franchise-best 6-1-1 start, they have shared the field a surprising amount.
Each has started four games at left back. Each also has made multiple substitute appearances as a left midfielder to help preserve victories.
The Sounders' closers, if you will.
"I think it's a great option to shut down games, for sure," Burch said of playing alongside Gonzalez. "Leo's a good defender, a good passer of the ball and a smart player. When he's at left back, I can come in at midfield and help him out. If I'm in the back, he comes in."
The Sounders are 5-0-1 when both Burch and Gonzalez play. In the lone tie, an April 17 road game against D.C. United, Burch had a potential game-winning shot hit off the cross bar in the final seconds of stoppage time.
Offense is a plus, but defense is the main reason behind the tactic.
Two experienced and versatile defenders make for a great late-game pair on the left. Both are 6-foot-1, physical and good in the air. Their similarities even allow for some interchanging during the game.
Having Burch and Gonzalez play at the same time wasn't a strategy conceived early in preseason, but, "something we sort of morphed into a little bit," said coach Sigi Schmid.
The combination isn't the preferred option if Seattle needs a late goal, but both are comfortable playing as midfielders.
Burch, who joined the team in the offseason through the MLS Re-Entry Process, played as a midfielder and forward at the University of Maryland and also as a midfielder at times with D.C. United (2007-2011). He turned 28 Monday and has played in all eight games this season (four as a starter, four as a sub).
Gonzalez, 31, has started off-and-on at left back since 2009 and in previous years contributed sporadically as a midfielder off the bench. He has played in six games this year (four as a starter, two a sub).
Healthy competition, it seems, has turned into a healthy partnership.
"I feel very comfortable when Burch comes in," Gonzalez said through an interpreter. "It's good to know that there is that support. It gives me the liberty to go attack, knowing that there is someone in defense to protect my back."
• Midfielder Alvaro Fernandez is "really, really close" to his return after missing the past four games with an injured quad, according to Schmid. That might come Wednesday in Dallas or, perhaps more likely, Saturday vs. Real Salt Lake.
• Sounders FC has earned five shutouts in eight games. It took the team 17 games to reach five shutouts the past two seasons and 16 games in 2009. "It's just a life-or-death attitude," said midfielder Brad Evans. "Once you start getting these shutouts, you get hungrier for more. You want to have more."
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.