I've been looking at the roster -- and especially the spine -- as a series of pairs. To me, it makes more logical sense to pair the central defense, central midfielders and two forwards together in Sigi Schmid's system. Think of the spine as working in tandem from back-to-front. The two center backs work together, the two center midfielders feed off each other and the two forwards develop a bit of one-two play.
It all starts at the back, where the Sounders are looking for the right combination ahead of the 2011 season. Last season, Jeff Parke and Patrick Ianni paired together out of necessity and worked well in tandem. The two were seamlessly interchangeable on the back-end, able to freely switch back and forth because they always knew where the other would be.
With Jhon Kennedy Hurtado returning from injury, the center backs will again have to develop a rapport, should Schmid settle on a different pairing in the starting XI. It's something not lost on Parke, who has yet to play with Hurtado.
"Last year I thought me and Pat partnered up well. We play the game similar and we understand where each other's gonna be," Parke said. "With Jhon he's a different player so you've gotta learn his tendencies."
Where Parke and Ianni are players cut from similar molds, Hurtado brings a different kind of skill-set to the table -- one that will take some time to adjust to.
"I haven't played with him so I don't know exactly how he plays. I know he's physical and strong and can mark a guy out of the game," Parke said of Hurtado. "With that kind of quality and his talent it shouldn't be hard to get used to playing with him."
Once a pair is settled on, though, don't expect it to change as the season progresses. A constant rotating cast of characters can lead to problems on the defensive end, as we saw last season. Between Parke, Ianni and Tyrone Marshall, it took some time before Schmid settled on a pair after Hurtado went down with an injury, but the defense benefited from consistency down the stretch.
There's a reason, according to Parke, who prefers choosing a pair and staying with it.
"For me it's better when you have two that are playing together most of the time," he said. "You've got guys that one day they can be doing something different because you haven't played with them for a while. The next day you're leaking goals or not getting along or you're all out of position."
That doesn't mean it's set in stone, for better or for worse. A drop in play to the detriment of the team is something that could, and should, result in a change.
"If it's gonna be those two then you stick with those two," Parke said before quantifying the statement. "If one goes out of form then you switch em -- you switch one and get used to the other one. But, for the most part, it's better to stick together."
The best part about having more quality center backs than starting spots? The gap between the level of play in MLS competitions and outside matches should be low, a good sign considering the ambitious schedule the Sounders will have in 2011.
"You know with the depth that we have, the guys can push each other and make each other better. With the games that we have -- 50-plus games -- there's gonna be a bunch of opportunities for other guys to play," Parke said. "It's good to get some rest. Everybody's gonna be playing. I think it can only make the guys better."
With some combination of Ianni, Parke and Hurtado manning the back-line, the Sounders are in good shape in 2011 -- during the MLS matches and beyond.