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The Beautiful Game and Signing Defensive Players

Is it fair to judge a team for its offseason moves before the international transfer window is even open?

Does creating turnovers count?
Does creating turnovers count?
Chris Gardner

In a recent article on Soccer America, Paul Gardner argued that the moves made by the Sounders thus far in the offseason suggest that Sigi Schmid plans on moving away from a creative style of soccer to a more physical style.

Sigi’s first move, after being dumped out of the playoffs by Portland, was to announce that his midfield Rottweiler, Osvaldo Alonso, had been re-signed -- as a D.P. Alonso is one of those players whose season record will always more cards than goals and assists. But, not to worry. Alonso is "the ultimate competitor" says the Sounders’ GM Adrian Hanauer, and Schmid praises his "leadership and tenacious play".

While it's certainly true that the team has lost the creative presence of Mauro Rosales from the midfield, it's far too soon to begin drawing conclusions from the offseason moves the team has made in the 6 weeks since its season ended.

Not only does the team have plenty of available international roster spots to use in the international transfer window, but the recent trades of Eddie Johnson and Adam Moffatt have given the team a significant amount of allocation money to work with. Additionally, Seattle has made moves to clear cap space by trading Mauro Rosales and opting against renewing Steve Zakuani's contract.

Beyond that, even Alonso isn't the foul machine Gardner makes him out to be. Consider the difference in the number of bookings and fouls committed by Alonso and those of a more creative holding midfielder like Kyle Beckerman of Real Salt Lake throughout their MLS careers:

Name Fouls Committed per 90 Yellow Cards per 90 Red Cards per 90
Osvaldo Alonso 1.55 0.21 0.015
Kyle Beckerman 1.67 0.24 0.01

While Alonso doesn't produce the level of goals and assists of Beckerman, he also has a more defensive role with the Sounders than Beckerman does with Real Salt Lake. Alonso, as a ball-winning midfielder, wins about twice as many tackles as Beckerman (3.8 per game vs. 1.9 per game according to

Gardner went on to suggest that some of the recent moves made by the Sounders indicate a departure from technical skill to a more brutish style:

Alonso’s elevation to DP status move that goes quite a long way to ensuring that we shan’t be seeing much of the Beautiful Game at Century Link Field next year. Should you want confirmation of that, take a look at some of the new Seattle signings -- Chad Barrett, Chad Marshall, Corey Hertzog. Logically, the Sounders have ditched their skilled midfielder, Mauro Rosales, gone the way of Fredy Montero and Alvaro Fernandez.

Since Seattle has yet to sign Barrett or Hertzog, I'd like to focus on how well (or poorly) Chad Marshall fits this argument. Does Marshall actually commit more fouls than the other top defenders in MLS? How does his defense compare to those defenders? Here's how Marshall stacks up against the other top 5 central defenders with at least 20 appearances, according to the ratings:

Name FC per 90 YC per 90 RC per 90 Tackles per game* Interceptions per game* Clearances*
Chad Marshall 0.89 0.04 0.004 1.5 3.5 9.9
Omar Gonzalez 0.76 0.16 0 1.1 2.9 8.3
Aurélien Collin 1.92 0.37 0.013 2.5 4.1 9.4
Victor Bernardez 1.12 0.31 0.042 2.5 3.1 9.9
Matt Besler 0.81 0.11 0 1.8 2.6 8.5

*2013 season (all other statistics are MLS career statistics)

Marshall's defensive numbers compare favorably with other top MLS defenders, while managing to avoid putting his team in danger of finishing the game without him. He has only been sent off once in his MLS career and is booked much less often than other top defenders. His relatively low number of fouls will help the Sounders avoid giving up set pieces in dangerous areas. The combined presence of Alonso and Marshall in the central portion of the defensive third should also mean fewer scoring opportunities for opponents from open play.

While Alonso and Marshall aren't going to be confused with a playmaker like Mauro Rosales, they also don't fit a narrative that seeks to make them out to be awkward, unskilled, foul-prone players. It's safe to assume that the Sounders front office plans on signing one or two playmakers capable of starting for the first team.

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