Sounders turn in supreme defensive effort for shutout
A new-look defensive lineup with Leo Gonzalez, Jalil Anibaba and Zach Scott help keep San Jose to just one shot on goal in 1-0 shutout.
Seattle Times staff reporter
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Being atop the MLS standings while also leading the league in goals allowed was never going to be sustainable. That’s why, even in a rise to first place, some sense of urgency grew with every week Sounders FC failed to record a shutout — never more so than after a franchise-worst 5-0 loss May 11 to the New England Revolution.
One game later, consider much of the weight lifted.
Seattle, despite three changes on the back line, stifled the visiting San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, not allowing a shot on goal until the closing moments of a satisfying 1-0 home win in front of 49,746 fans.
“It comes at a really good time for us,” said goalkeeper Stefan Frei, who hadn’t kept a shutout in eight games dating to March 23. “I think after that loss last week ... that one particularly hurt because of the way (New England) ran over us.”
Defense became the primary focus during practice, even if there were concerns on offense. The Sounders had just been shut out themselves for the first time and were entering a chapter of the season without star forward Clint Dempsey, who will be away with the U.S. national team at least until the end of June for the World Cup.
The most obvious difference to the defense Saturday was a new-look lineup, featuring some changes out of necessity and others through coach Sigi Schmid’s decisions. Leo Gonzalez and Jalil Anibaba started in place of two other departed U.S. internationals, Brad Evans and DeAndre Yedlin. Veteran Zach Scott, one of the team’s best aerial defenders, replaced Djimi Traore.
Center back Chad Marshall said the transition in having three new defenders around him was “seamless.”
“Everyone is super comfortable with whoever goes in there,” said Marshall, Seattle’s lone field player to have played every minute this season. “I think everyone has a good understanding of how each other works and what each other’s strengths are.”
Schmid, though, credited more the success to a renewed commitment to defense from all parts of the field. Outside midfielders Lamar Neagle and Marco Pappa, two offensively inclined players, made a much greater effort of tracking back in support.
Forward Obafemi Martins, whose major contribution was a stunning game-winner, also earned praise from Schmid for his work up front.
Frei was the beneficiary.
“They were fantastic,” the goalkeeper said. “I had pretty much nothing to do. I thought we were very, very determined to keep that clean sheet.”
• The Sounders improved to 9-0-2 in front of home crowds larger than 45,000, boasting a goal differential of 24-7. The team’s average attendance jumped to 40,212, which would rank just outside the top 30 in the world.
The extra 10,000 fans were noticeable in the first increased-capacity game of the season, perhaps to some of the team’s newcomers above all.
“The crowd was awesome,” Marshall said. “It’s always awesome, but for them to open up the top and get even more, it was a great atmosphere.”
“The more the merrier,” added Frei.
• Kent native Cam Weaver scored in the 73rd minute to lead the Sounders FC reserves to a 1-0 win against the Orange County Blues of the USL PRO. Seattle improved to 2-0-1 in the MLS Reserve League.
Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @joshuamayers.