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Sounders' Hydra shows itself in set-piece attacking

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Unlike previous seasons, the Sounders have shown an ability to generate goals from a variety of attacking options on free kicks and corner kicks.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Although the Seattle Sounders' offense has cooled off a bit since the World Cup break, it is still among the league's elite. With 48 goals scored, they've already scored more goals than last year's team did during the regular season and playoffs combined (47). A big part of that is the increased production from Clint Dempsey (11 goals) and Obafemi Martins (12 goals), but they also have more players scoring more goals as this year's team already has eight players with two more more goals as opposed to last year which only had five.

This team is better from open play (1.15 goals per game this year as opposed to .85 last year) and draws and converts more penalties (5 of 6 this year vs. 3 of 4 a year ago), but they've also quietly been far more dangerous on set pieces. This is perhaps an element of the team that was not expected to improve, as Mauro Rosales (who puts in one of the best free kick deliveries) and Eddie Johnson (who is one of the best free kick finishers) both left the team. And while there hasn't been any one combination that has been markedly better than those two, this year the Sounders have produced the second most goals from corners and free kicks (13) and have been able to accomplish it with a variety of players serving them and finishing them.

Just looking at the Chivas USA match, the Sounders were able to score three times from set pieces. Brad Evans was on the delivery side all three times, twice on free kicks and once on a corner. His two free kicks set up Andy Rose (who had not scored from a set piece or any other kind of goal this year) and the corner eventually found its way to Martins (who had not yet scored from a corner this year).

Evans became the third Sounder to set up a goal on a corner kick or free kick this year (joining Gonzalo Pineda and Marco Pappa). Last year Rosales was the only Sounder to have an assist on a corner and Marc Burch was the only other player to assist on a free kick.

But even looking at that way perhaps understates how much more versatile this year's set-piece attacking has proven to be.

As you probably remember, anytime Rosales was in the match and the Sounders had a corner or free kick in a dangerous area, he was going to be the one taking it. If Johnson was in the game, he was almost certainly going be the target. Every now and then Marc Burch might stand over the kick and go for goal, but the Sounders were very predictable in this way.

This year, there is far less predictability. Sure, Chad Marshall is the target a lot of times. But he's used as much as a decoy or as a facilitator (he's often heading the ball back across goal for someone else) as he is the goal-scoring target (and he only has one goal, by the way). Just as often Dempsey is the target of these chances, or Martins, or Lamar Neagle, or Kenny Cooper.

Just to make the defense's problems more varied, the Sounders also have four players (two left-footed and two right-footed) who are capable of doing different things. When the ball is in dangerous spot to shoot from, Dempsey or Pappa usually take it. When it's more of a service area, that's where Pineda and now Evans are more dangerous. Not only does it make it hard in real time to know how to set up, but it also makes it that much harder for defenses to prepare for the Sounders in training sessions.

It's obviously too early to say whether or not this will end up paying dividends in the playoffs -- where the Sounders have only scored once from a free kick or corner (Zach Scott in 2012) in their history -- but it's at least one reason to think this season could be different. In other words, Hail Hydra.