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Sounders’ backup defenders shine in LA victory

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Tony Alfaro and Jordy Delem have two clean sheets from two starts this season

Robert Mora and Stephanie Romero/Sounders FC

When the Seattle Sounders headed down to LA to face the Galaxy last weekend, they were coming off of a tough away loss to Vancouver. In that match, former Sounder Fredy Montero scored twice against them, and the Sounders only pulled one back despite having stat advantages in possession and shots. So when the Sounders were forced to start what looked like an even weaker backline in LA, it looked like it would be a bit of an uphill battle. But it turns out that wasn’t the case, as the Sounders defense held out for a clean sheet in their 3-0 win against the Galaxy.

Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said that the first few minutes of the game made him a bit nervous. “After the first fifteen minutes, we were on top of them. We could all clearly see that we were on top of them, but we didn’t score. There were those subtle moments of deja vu about the Vancouver game.” Despite being the better team, the Sounders had trouble finishing their chances—like in Vancouver. Schmetzer said he felt a sense of foreboding that LA might snatch a quick goal against the run of play and change everything. Luckily, that didn’t happen. “There was a little bit of relief from my perspective.”

While clean sheets are an objective for most coaches, rarely are they the primary focus of a game plan. However, considering the team’s form going into a tough away location, Schmetzer said keeping the ball out of Stefan Frei’s net was his number one goal against LA. “We went out yesterday to keep a clean sheet. So I was proud that we were able to accomplish that as a team.” That might seem a bit underwhelming, to hope for at least a draw—but Schmetzer doesn’t see it that way. “We knew, based on our recent form, that we are too good of a team not to start scoring goals. So if we play to zero, we knew that the attackers were going to do their thing, and they did.”

A particularly interesting detail about the defense that the Sounders sent out in LA, is that it’s the exact same back four that held Atlanta United to a 0-0 draw back in March—the Sounders’ only other clean sheet this season. The only player probably considered “first choice” there is left back Joevin Jones—who Schmetzer humorously mentioned was “murdering” the Galaxy’s right flank. Gustav Svensson has played a lot this season and may have played himself into a starting role even when Roman Torres is healthy, but he’s still probably considered the backup. However, the most notable members of that back four were center back Tony Alfaro and right back Jordy Delem.

Alfaro, who has been with the Sounders since the beginning of last season when he was selected 27th overall in the 2016 SuperDraft, wasn’t perfect against LA but he did exactly what was necessary. Schmetzer calls Alfaro “ambitious, because he’s young and he wants to prove that he can play at this level, so he’s got that going for him.” He said that Alfaro really took a step forward in this game, in terms of his defensive prowess—something that the coaching staff has been working with him on lately. “Because you always see his left foot, his left foot is really smooth. His long ball, his range of passing, all that stuff if very good.”

Despite being the team’s 4th-choice center back, Alfaro shut down a talented (if disjointed and unorganized) Galaxy attack. Schmetzer praised Alfaro’s performance shutting down Gyasi Zardes, Giovani Dos Santos, and at times Romain Alessandrini. “It was always the defending part that we were concerned about, and he made a pretty big statement,” Schmetzer said.

Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso also praised Alfaro and his performances against Atlanta and LA. “He’s a good player, a young player, he shows it every time he stops onto the field. He’s proving that he can play.”

Now that he’s proved he can hang with the best, Alfaro may get called on again this weekend against the New England Revolution. Chad Marshall is still getting treatment for a complicated ligament issue that’s giving him a sore back, and Roman Torres has only recently returned from his hamstring issue. Torres didn’t travel to LA as a precaution, and we should know later this week if he’ll be available against the Revolution.

Before this season, the prospect of being without Brad Evans, Chad Marshall, and Roman Torres would likely strike fear into the hearts of most Sounders fans, but the players considered “backups” have produced the club’s only two clean sheets this season, not an easy task considering the opponents for those matches. Maybe we’ll see the big guns slot back into defense this weekend, but even if they don’t—the Sounders are in capable hands.