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Originally published June 24, 2013 at 7:23 PM | Page modified June 25, 2013 at 11:10 PM

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Sounders give themselves failing grade on set-piece defending

Of the last 12 goals allowed by Sounders FC, six have come from set pieces. “It’s a problem we have to work on,” goalkeeper Michael Gspurning said.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Defending set pieces has become a serious concern for Sounders FC.

Half of the last 12 goals allowed by Seattle have come off dead-ball plays like corner kicks and free kicks, and that weakness was at the forefront of Saturday’s 2-0 road loss to Real Salt Lake.

Kyle Beckerman’s opening goal for RSL came when a 41st-minute free kick deflected to him at the back post, where he volleyed in a difficult shot off the cross bar.

Salt Lake forward Alvaro Saborio very nearly made it a three-goal win in the 87th minute when his powerful header off a corner kick bounced inches wide.

“We have troubles on set pieces — we know this,” said goalkeeper Michael Gspurning, whose team has conceded multiple goals in four of the last five games. “It’s on us to improve it. We need to stay tighter and more alert. It’s a problem we have to work on.”

Not all set pieces are created equal, however, and defending them is a two-part process.

The first is establishing and understanding assignments, which is where the Sounders broke down on the Beckerman goal, according to coach Sigi Schmid.

“There was somebody who didn’t do their assignment on that one,” Schmid said. “We needed one more player back. So we just have to make sure that people understand what their assignments are on that and make sure they do them. It means we’ll train them a little bit more conscientiously.”

Assignments weren’t the issue on the Saborio near-miss. On that play, defender Djimi Traore was in the area to defend the RSL forward man-to-man, but Saborio simply rose quicker and higher on the header.

“You can have all your matchups right and everything else. ... He out-jumps Djimi,” Schmid said. “There’s nothing you can do differently on the chalkboard at the end of the day. It comes down to a duel between one player and another.”

Notes

• Returning national-team players Eddie Johnson, Brad Evans and Mario Martinez have been given a break from practice. While on international duty, the trio worked through Sounders FC’s previous break during a bye week. Seattle’s next game isn’t until July 3.

• Martinez might not return, however, as his loan from Honduran club Real Espana ends next week. Schmid said the Sounders want the midfielder back, but “it’s just a matter of whether it’s going to work out financially.”

Lamar Neagle injured his hip flexor early in Saturday’s game, which led to a second-half substitution. The Federal Way native said he expects to be available July 3 against D.C. United.

• The Sounders have hosted several non-contract players on tryout the past couple of weeks. One is 19-year-old Panamanian defender Roberto Chen, who played against Seattle with Panama’s San Francisco FC in the 2011-12 CONCACAF Champions League.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @joshuamayers.

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