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Seattle Sounders Assistant Coach Ezra Hendrickson Talks Defense

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Jeff Parke and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado practice the first part of defense - winning the ball.
Jeff Parke and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado practice the first part of defense - winning the ball.

While the offense gets the glory, it is the defense that carries the load. One bad play on defense is a goal. One great play is standard operating procedure. So defenses in MLS don't get much attention, except when there is a three-way battle for starts, fullbacks that both have experience as wide midfielders and a young Generation Addidas talent still learning the role. Maybe in those circumstances the opportunity to talk defense with an 8 Cup winning defender and now assistant with the Sounders may be something worth doing.Ezra Hendrickson has nearly 300 appearances in MLS and over 100 for the St. Vincent and Grenadinez National team. At practice he still suits up with the players taking to the pitch to give not just the words, but the actions that he fells are right.

We discuss the centerback rotation, long ball v short ball in transitions, and the growth of Michael Tetteh.

Dave Clark: With the centerbacks so far you have had three guys in a kind of rotation (Jeff Parke, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Patrick Ianni) when you and Sigi look at that and who starts do you go with the hot hand, or with a pairing that you are trying to utilize, how do you make those judgments week to week?

Ezra Hendrickson: It is a position where we realize that it needs to be consistent. What we are trying to do is get that consistency, but of course in the first three games we tried to rotate. But we are trying to come up with what we think will be a pairing. Have we nailed that down yet? No.

Still we are working on that. All the guys that have played, they are making it a difficult job on us. We want a pairing game in, game out consistently, but right now we don't have that.

DC: With the three guys that are playing there do certain players bring more of a short passing game versus a long passing game after they win the ball and does that factor in?

Coach Hendrickson: The way we want to play, defensively we are pretty solid, our problem more is when we win the ball is getting them to play faster - jump starting our attack. That's a part of the game that we need to get better at. Not just the two in the middle, but along the back.

It is going to be a combination of what we do defensively and how can you start the offense for us. Like I said we are still trying to make those decisions at this stage of the season. Like I said our defending is good. Now, how can we get the offense started and get the ball quicker to our most dangerous guys - a Zakuani, a Montero. So we can see what they can do on the other end.

DC: When you were playing how much was starting the offense from the backline how much was short passes or long passes? How much did you try to mix it up versus how much was it taking the pass that was available?

Coach Hendrickson: With the way football is played now it is a big part of any offense. They used to say the guys in the back carry the piano and the guys in the front play the piano, but as I tell the defenders, if get the piano to the recital late it doesn't matter. No one gets to hear them play.

The analogy there is that we've got to be better with the ball, and quicker at getting the ball to our guys in attack. Everyone plays defense and everyone gets in the attack. When we win it our transition has to be quicker so we can catch the opposing team exposed.

Right now I think we are a little too slow when we get the ball at the back. We need to get it to the guys up top so they can do their thing. That's one thing we want to improve from the guys in the back.

DC: Some of that transition game has to be on the midfield and forwards as well. If they aren't available for the short pass then it leaves the defenders with only long passes.

Coach Hendrickson: We don't want to get in those situations where we are only dumping long balls, dumping long balls. We want to be a possession team. What we say to them is we want to win it, make that first pass and get it off our feet. But if there's no one, keep the possession as opposed to getting it and dumping it.

DC: You played the fullback quite a bit, and you work with the Reserve players, can you talk a little bit about Michael Tetteh? Teaching him and how his transition to a defensive oriented player is occurring?

Coach Hendrickson: He's a young player who is still learning. Coming into the pros from college he has to learn how to become a better one on one defender. He was in a position where he saw the ball a lot as a left back. He's very good with the ball. We're just trying to get him to be better at defending. We want him to have the ball, but if you can't defend we won't win the ball and see it enough. Defending is something that we are working on, and he's definately getting better at that.

There's a huge step between college and the pros. We didn't expect him to come right in and start. We knew that there would be things that he had to learn.

DC: How much do you do that from drills, and how much from film showing him what Leo Gonzalez does.

Coach Hendrickson: We sit the whole defense together and watch film and show them some things they did well and some things that they didn't. [garbled] ..

I take my experience and share that with them. Any situation they get into I have probably been in so I can give them some insight into what a proper decision is. But I say you don't have to make the decision that I would make in that situation but here's what I think is best.

We have a good relationship and we talk, sometimes we agree. Some times we don't, but that's a good thing because we can get that dialogue of different opinions from the 6, 8, 10 of us that meet then we also get Kasey and the goalkeepers involved as well.

It is a learning experience for them, and it's just trying share my experiences with them trying to get them all in situations where they can be more successful which in turn makes us a more successful team.

The three starting quality centerbacks continue to challenge the staff in selecting the Starting XI, the type of pass is much less important than the speed of transition from defense to attack and Michael Tetteh is on an appropriate learning path to be a fullback in the league.