By now, the statistical oddity that is the Seattle Sounders’ streak without conceding a goal from the run of play has been written about ad nauseam. And when a team has let in a paltry five goals in 10 games, a lot of ink will be rightly spilled about the feat. That said, it doesn’t mean the Sounders have been perfect on the pitch.
Namely, they’ve had an early penchant for conceding goals from the spot. The Sounders have been called for a league-high four penalties and conceded a league-worst three goals from the spot.
To be fair, it’s a bit of a champagne problem. After all, even with those penalties, the Sounders are only giving up a goal every other game. Still, it’s an area the Sounders would like to clean up sooner than later. As much as they are enjoying this run, eventually, the goals will start going in — even if slowly thanks to a stingy defense — and giving opponents additional opportunities is the last thing the Sounders want.
But for coach Brian Schmetzer, it’s something to monitor, not to obsess about.
“Penalties are going to happen,” Schmetzer said. “Some of the penalties were a little soft, some of them are mistakes. I don’t worry about it. If it was one player making a bunch of penalties, then I would be concerned, but because it is different people and different things, I’m not concerned.”
The most penalties ever conceded by the Sounders in their MLS history is eight in the 2016 MLS Cup-winning season. Thus far, the Sounders have given up four, so they are well ahead of that pace, stout defense aside. The penalties have put a bit of a damper on the Sounders’ otherwise flawless defensive start to the year, according to defender Shane O’Neill, one of those guilty of allowing a spot kick.
“The reality is, you’re not keeping [clean sheets],” O’Neill said. “Obviously, we’ve conceded quite a few penalties this season. It’s all well and good not to concede from the run of play, but if you’re conceding a penalty every game or every other game, what does that mean?”
O’Neill said he’s happy with the play of the backline, noting the emergence of Nouhou and AB Cissoko, as well as the midfield in helping to prevent opportunities for opponents. To that end, the Sounders allow the fewest non-penalty scoring opportunities per game in the league.
“One thing we’ve done a pretty good job is [not] giving up a lot of big chances in games,” O’Neill said. “We’ve done a good job of getting pressure on the ball outside of the 18. We want to keep doing that and dial in on those penalties.”
O’Neill said the defenders take the penalties as learning experiences, and that as the season goes along they’ll be better about spatial awareness and staying technically sound when opponents are in dangerous areas.
“All of us have had to take a little bit of medicine and learn our lesson, me being one of them in Portland,” O’Neill said “When you concede a penalty, you start to realize in games that we’re in the box and I need to move my feet properly and not concede fouls.
“They’re going to happen, but you just want to make sure you’re doing the right thing.”