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Is Brad Evans the key to Sounders defense?

Sounders last three shutouts have come when Evans starts at right back.

Max Aquino / Sounder at Heart

SEATTLE — Whatever is ailing the Seattle Sounders on the road seems to be fixed by playing at home. The Sounders just finished playing six games in 23 days. Three of those were at home and three were on the road.

In the three home games, the Sounders went 3-0-0 and didn’t give up a goal. In the three road games, they went 0-0-3 and allowed 10 goals. Calling them a Jekyll-and-Hyde team seems to be doing a disservice to the study of the fractured self.

The good news is that the Sounders are playing well enough that they head into this two-week break actually occupying a the final playoff spot in the West for the first time all season (never mind that the LA Galaxy are only a point behind with two games in hand). They also still have one more home game than road game remaining on their schedule. If they can weather the storm of playing three of their next four on the road, they should be in good shape. This isn’t exactly where they’d probably like to be at the virtual half-way point of the season, but it’s not exactly awful either.

Speaking of defense...

The Sounders are currently riding a 337-minute shutout streak at home. Best I can tell, that’s the fifth longest such streak in franchise history and this is the fifth time they’ve posted at least three consecutive home shutouts. It’s also the longest since a 406-minute streak near the start of the 2015 season (back when it looked like they might repeat as Supporters’ Shield winners). The record, in case you’re wondering, appears to be 499 minutes, which they pulled off in 2014.

What do all of these games in the current streak have in common? Glad you asked. All three games have featured Brad Evans starting at right back, Joevin Jones at left back and Chad Marshall at center back. None of those players were in those spots in the 3-0 road loss to the Columbus Crew that happened in between those shutouts.

To take it a step further, Evans actually didn’t start in any of the three most recent road losses — and didn’t play in any games before those.

It’s probably a stretch to suggest that Evans is the singular reason the Sounders defense has looked so different on the road and at home, but his contribution is hard to ignore. Even though he only played 54 minutes against the Houston Dynamo — and Cristian Roldan delivered the game-winning assist after replacing him at right back — it’s undeniable that the defense simply looks more cohesive and organized when he’s on the pitch. Evans doesn’t roam forward with anything like reckless abandon, but he picks his spots expertly and puts in low, dangerous crosses that force defenders to at least be honest.

Dynamo shots and key passes while Evans was on field.

He also seems to be constantly in the right spot, there to help relieve pressure or keep wingers from getting goal side on him. In his 54 minutes, the only shot that came from his side of the field was a 30-yard blast, the only key pass from his side of the field was a corner and there weren’t any successful dribbles. His side of the field was, frankly, boring and that’s exactly what the Sounders want.

Let’s not forget about Marshall

It’s tempting to kinda take Chad Marshall’s contributions for granted. He rarely gets himself into awkward positions, so he’s rarely making game-saving tackles. He doesn’t give a ton of interviews, so we rarely hear from him. He’s not getting called into the national team (for reasons still impossible to comprehend). He also doesn’t make that killer pass that we’ll see other center backs make from time to time.

What Marshall does is keep it simple. That has never been more apparent than when looking at his passing maps over his past three matches. He’s not registered a single incompletion. That’s 162-for-162 — impressive no matter how you cut it. Marshall is now leading MLS in completion percentage at 92.5 percent.

In praise of the Summer Soldier

Will Bruin is some kind of tough. Just a couple weeks after dislocating his elbow, Bruin was back on the field, albeit with a sleeve that severely limited his arm’s movement. I can only imagine how it felt the first time he hit the turf on that arm, but he battled through and logged a solid 88 minutes.

That he was the one to get on the end of Roldan’s absolutely gorgeous cross to score the winning goal against his former team was only too fitting. That he did it while showing absolutely no care for where his body was going to end up was even more impressive.

Although the clip above doesn’t show it, the goal was actually Bruin’s third touch on the sequence. It was his play that kept possession alive after a tough entry pass, then made an easy pass to Aaron Kovar before getting himself into position to receive a potential cross.

I’ve talked about how limited — albeit useful — a player Bruin can be; that he doesn’t do a ton aside from keep defenses honest by staying high and occupying center backs. But he was relatively active in this one, racking up 31 touches and squeezing off four shots. I’ll continue to insist that the Sounders’ best path toward improvement is adding another player to the attack who will likely push Bruin off the pitch, but games like this underscore how he can be useful, even when not fully fit.

Quote of the day

“He was ready to play. I love Aaron because he’s a competitor. You saw his initial ball that he gets, he’s going at guys. He wants to make a difference. I think that’s something that is just testament to his character, and he came in and made a difference. He wasn’t 100-percent, he was a little rusty, but he certainly came in and made a strong impact in this game, so that’s a good thing.” - Brian Schmetzer on Aaron Kovar, who made his first appearance since Oct. 16, 2016

Stat of the game

6 — That’s the number of tackles Gustav Svensson was credited with. To put that into perspective, that’s as many as as fellow midfielders Nico Lodeiro, Alvaro Fernandez, Osvaldo Alonso and Roldan combined to register. I’m still not sure if Svensson will be starting when everyone is healthy and available, but he sure is making it hard to get him off the field.

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