Amid all the hoopla surrounding the Seattle Sounders' best-in-the-league offense, there has been another somewhat underreported story: their defense has been pretty darn good, too. Just four teams have allowed fewer than the Sounders' 36 goals and they are on pace to have a slightly better defense than the one they had a year ago.
Across all competitions, the Sounders have allowed 45 goals in 45 matches. Only the Los Angeles Galaxy with 33 goals allowed in 40 all-competition matches have allowed fewer per match.
If you look closely, though, the Sounders defense has shown some recent signs of decline. While the 10 goals they've allowed in their past eight matches are not, in themselves, cause for concern, the way they have been allowing them is a bit disconcerting.
"I think the last few goals we’ve given up, they’re what I called the other night ‘soft goals,’" Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said after practice on Thursday. "We want to eliminate that. We want to eliminate those kinds of errors and those kinds of decisions."
The 10 goals have basically come in one of two ways: On some kind of turnover or on a set piece. Up until recently, the Sounders had done a reasonably good job of cutting off both kinds of opportunities, but basically since Mauro Rosales' injury we've seen some cracks.
Prior to this recent run of form, the Sounder had allowed eight goals on non-penalty set pieces. In the past eight matches, they've allowed three.
Vs. Herediano: There's not much the Sounders could have done about Yosimar Arias' free kick from about 25 yards out. Well, that's not entirely true. They could have kept it from happening in the first place. Zach Scott committed a foul from behind in which he was out of position to begin with.
At Comunicaciones: Just an overall bad defensive series from the Sounders. Kasey Keller tried to punch a corner kick away and ended up hitting it straight into the ground right to feet of Rafael Morales. There seemed to be a lot of ball watching go on here, but there wasn't a whole lot the Sounders could do once Keller couldn't clear the ball.
At New England Revolution: More than the other two, you can see where it all went wrong here. No one marked Diego Fanundez on the corner kick and he got an open look at a header. Nate Jaqua and Alvaro Fernandez were both in his vicinity.
At Vancouver Whitecaps: The Sounders were luck to only give up one goal in this game. On Camilo Sanvezzo's goal, a turnover deep in the offensive third led to a breakaway with Mustafa Jarju finding space on the right wing. Sanvezzo took a feed from Davide Chiumiento and easily beat Keller after both Whitecaps were able to get behind a failed offside trap.
At Comunicaciones: The first goal was a simple failed offside trap as Transito Montepeque got behind the defense and beat Keller with a well executed chip. Just really bad defense and poor communication between the Sounders center backs.
Vs. Philadelphia Union: Both goals were the product of turnovers near the midfield. The first started with Gabriel Farfan getting some space on the wing, dribbling to the endline and then poking a ball past James Riley. Beyond the turnover, the blame probably lies with Riley, who seemed to think he had sealed off Farfan and that the ball was going out of bands. The second goal started when Erik Friberg sent a pass back to Osvaldo Alonso that Sebastien Le Toux ended up with in space. He found Brian Carroll all alone on the opposite wing. The real problem here was Carroll, who started the sequence and was never picked up as he streaked down the field. Meanwhile, three Sounders converged on the ball.
Vs. San Jose Earthquakes: Chris Wondolowski ended up with a 1-on-1 with Keller after getting behind the defense and taking a pass from Rafael Baca. Jhon Kennedy Hurtado had a chance to break up the play before it started, but his pass was right at Baca. From there, it was really up to either Patrick Ianni or Tyson Wahl to pick up Wondolowski, but both were slow to react.
Vs. Monterrey: The first goal was a bit of a mess. The entire Sounders back line appears to have been out of position after a midfield turnover and while it's tempting to blame Jeff Parke for not picking up Dario Carreno, he was in trouble no matter what. Even if Parke had kept pace with Carreno, two other options on either wing were unmarked and would have had open looks at the goal. The Sounders were out of position again on the second goal. Aside from the turnover that started the sequence, the big problem was both Ianni and Brad Evans laying off Humberto Suazo at the top of the penalty area. The defense then collapsed on the shot and there were no defenders to really bother Cesar Delgado.
The good news is that most of these breakdowns are the kinds of things you can point out and avoid in the future. The bad news is that they have been happening with alarming regularity in recent weeks. If the Sounders are to finally win a playoff game, they can't allow these kinds of breakdowns.