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Sounders look to tighten up defense

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Sounders have conceded goals from wide areas in two straight games.

SOCCER: JUL 04 MLS - Seattle Sounders FC at Colorado Rapids Photo by Kamp Fender/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TUKWILA, Wash. — It’s said that once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend. Whether there is a pattern emerging depends on how things go when the Seattle Sounders take on the Houston Dynamo Wednesday evening at Lumen Field.

What is the pattern? The penchant for teams to test the Sounders’ defense by deploying speedy wingers on each side of the field, and playing long, switching passes that isolate their defenders.

The tactic has cost the Sounders in each of the last two games. Against the Vancouver Whitecaps, a long pass put Cristian Dájome alone against Abdoulaye Cissoko, who beat the Sounders’ centerback for pace, dribbled around Stefan Cleveland and was able to score into an empty goal. That was the first run-of-play goal the Sounders had conceded all season.

Schmetzer noted the Whitecaps seemed to have success with the strategy and warned his team that Colorado might employ a similar tactic using Michael Barrios, another winger with pace that could trouble the backline.

“We talked about that,” Schmetzer said before the Rapids match. “Barrios is going to be a handful.”

Unfortunately for the Sounders, the warning went unheeded as the Sounders conceded a goal on a cross from deep that found Barrios, who beat Cleveland to the far post after attacking an exposed Brad Smith.

The question for the Sounders is whether this is a bug in the design, or if there’s a personnel issue.

“We’re trying to solve what happens when teams put two wingers out there,” Schmetzer said. “We’re trying to solve that so that’s what we talked about. It’s happened two games in a row. You know how Houston plays, a couple of wide guys, so let’s see if we can learn from the previous two games.”

To be sure, the ongoing injury issues mean the Sounders are far from where they were at the beginning of the year when they opened the season with 10 straight games without conceding from the run of play. Nouhou has yet to return since international duty in early June, and the Cameroonian international was on track for a Defensive Player of the Year consideration. His absence from the lineup only highlights his importance to the team, as the goals the Sounders have conceded have all come from the side of the field that he would normally occupy — and close down.

It’s likely the Dynamo will employ a similar tactic and try to expose the Sounders’ backline, as they have personnel similar to the Rapids and Whitecaps with Fafa Picault and Tyler Pasher attacking from wide positions. So it will be up to the Sounders to be mindful of the challenges the Dynamo will pose. Otherwise, it may be back to the drawing board.

“Houston plays 4-3-3, Austin plays 4-3-3, Vancouver, that might have been unexpected sometimes they played 4-4-2,” Schmetzer said. “So, we have to adapt, we have to adjust. We know Houston, they’ve got a couple of fast wingers. How do we deny service to them. How do we make sure we prevent balls going in behind pressure on the ball all of those things go into that. So, we’ve worked on all of them.”