Practice Report: Talking Defense, Scrimmaging and James Riley

HOUSTON - JULY 30: James Riley #7 of the Seattle Sounders and Brad Davis #11 of the Houston Dynamo slide to gain possession of the ball at Robertson Stadium on July 30, 2011 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Even prior to Seattle Sounders practice being opened up to media the emphasis was on defense. There was a full team meeting that emphasized that it isn't an issue for just the backline, but for everyone. Coach Sigi Schmid noted this as the first element from his post-practice conference;

We wanted them to look at the goals that we've taken. To look at our defensive mentality because we've taken goals for different reasons. Sometimes it has been an individual breakdown, sometimes it's an organizational breakdown, sometimes it has been a lack of being tough enough and winning duels and reacting at the appropriate time. I just tried to look at all those different things and identify those things. We're a good team with good players, and we had a good run defensively in the early part of the season, and we just need to get back to it.

[question: For those that don't follow the game this isn't just the keeper, but other guys on the field?]

It is a break down everywhere. You can't have players losing the ball 30% of the time on the dribble. That means that they are going at some body and guys are pushing forward into space. They're turning the ball over and now you are in a bad defensive position because you thought the guy was going to play the ball instead he lost it. Some times he shouldn't have lost it. Sometimes it is a case where you make a better defensive effort 40 yards up the field, then it doesn't come down to the back end of the field. At the end breakdowns are going to occur and then how you react in the final third becomes the final decision point. It is a number of things, but we'll be OK.

Sigi didn't just use the pre-practice meeting to address the defense. While the starters against the Houston Dynamo were in recovery mode nearly every one else was playing short-sided, short field scrimmages. At one moment Sigi had every player freeze to show the lack of marking just a few seconds after a turnover. Defense was clearly an issue. The team also worked on finishing drills, including a few players who took extra practice at it.

James Riley and I started our conversation talking about the defensive lapses recently, focusing on how the team limits the number of shots that the opposition is taking (5th in MLS for shots against per), but the few shots they are getting seem to be more open.

Riley: The origination of our defensive shape needs to get better, meaning our transition needs to get a lot better. We need to retain possession better when we do win the ball. At the end of the day it is up to the defense to make critical plays and we need to do that better. All around it is a time to refocus, to retool. We have a home game on Wednesday that we are looking forward to, and we're in a bit of a hole having to by two goals.

Again, it's a gut check. This team has stepped up to challenges before and this is no different.

SaH: Speaking of San Fransisco. They didn't have the success that Houston did, with just the one opportunity. What can you take from your performance against San Fransisco last week, and coming up this, that you can carry over into MLS play?

Riley: I think they're two different beasts honestly. There's a different rythm, a different tempo, when you go down and play the Central American teams. The grass is different, and there are a lot of other variables. In Champions League it is critical. You get punished for goals. We gave up a few chances and got punished on a penalty. I thought we had a few chances as well, and we could have easily equalized and came away with a draw which would have been huge for us.

As we transition to MLS play I think Houston was a great example of what a motivated team can do. They were very motivated and was almost a must win for them. They did well. They won their critical moments both offensively and defensively and we got punished for our mistakes. I think the overall theme is that you will get punished for your mistakes, if you keep making mistakes. We want to eliminate the mistakes, and not compound mistakes and move on.

SaH: With a player like Brad Davis, who doesn't need a lot of space to get the ball in, is there a way for someone like yourself to limit his ability or to close him down more?

Riley: He's a great player. I thought I did well on him. I don't think he had too many dangerous serves in. I know he's just a great player. Obviously you want to make it as difficult for him as possible and limit his service in the box, and I thought we did that. They had some other guys step up big for them. Obviously Brian Ching did, Cameron did, as well as Colin Clark. They had other guys that killed us. Brad Davis and that Houston team played very well on Saturday. They were the better team and we look to refocus and retool.

Davis only had a 77% pass completion percentage, down to 72% in the offensive half on the left side and only 66% of his open play crosses were effective.

Amadou Sanyang practiced for the first time in a public setting with the team today, and we'll have more on him shortly.

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