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Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Defense driving Sounders

With the offense struggling, defense has kept Seattle competitive

  • Seattle defender Djimi Traore (left) battles New England's Jerry Bengtson (right) for the ball during the teams' game April 13 in Seattle. Traore's pl...

    Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

    Seattle defender Djimi Traore (left) battles New England's Jerry Bengtson (right) for the ball during the teams' game April 13 in Seattle. Traore's play has been a key element of the Sounders' stingy defense this season.

TUKWILA -- Not a lot has gone according to plan for the Seattle Sounders this season.
They've battled injuries, had players missing because of national team duty and six games into the season, they sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with only one victory.
One thing that has been positive for Seattle, however, has been the play of its defense, which has kept the Sounders in games despite their anemic offensive output.
"Defensively we've done OK," Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. "We need obviously to score at the other end of the field, that's been our problem. We've made it hard on our defense at times because we haven't scored goals when we could have gotten ourselves up in a game or maybe even put a game away, and that just makes it tougher for a defense. But I think our defense has responded well."
How good has Seattle's defense been?
Despite the pressure put on them by the offense's lack of production, the Sounders have conceded just five goals in six league games -- something just five other MLS have done this season. Of the six teams allowing less than a goal a game -- Seattle, Montreal, Kansas City, Columbus, New England and Los Angles -- just the Revolution and Sounders have losing records.
Allowing a little less than a goal per game hardly puts the Sounders in historic company or anything. However, it's still pretty impressive considering that, coming into the year, this looked like a team that figured to win more because of a prolific offense than a stingy defense.
Seattle entered the season with a lot of attacking weapons, and a lot of questions along its back four. Goalkeeper Michael Gspurning was one of the best in the league at his position last year, but the team's best defender, Jeff Parke, was traded to Philadelphia in the offseason and his presumed replacement, Patrick Ianni, fractured a foot in the preseason. Ianni still has not returned to game action. The Sounders also have been starting a 19-year-old, DeAndre Yedlin, at right back.
Yet as the Sounders head into today's game against Parke's new outfit, the Philadelphia Union, they do so as a team much better at keeping goals out of the net than putting them away.
One of the biggest reasons for Seattle's strong defense has been the addition of Djimi Traore, who has stepped in at center back next to Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and not just held his own, but played very well. Traore certainly had the pedigree to succeed -- he has played in some of Europe's top leagues and won a European championship with Liverpool -- but he's also 33 years old and did not play last season. So, there were plenty of questions as to how sharp he would be early in the season.
"The addition of Djimi Traore for that was important, because we really had to deal with the loss of Jeff and the injury to Pat Ianni," Schmid said.
The other change on the back line has been Yedlin's quick rise, which was impressive enough for the Sounders to be comfortable parting ways with last year's starting right back Adam Johansson. Yedlin, who has emerged as a strong rookie of the year candidate, is still far from being a finished product. However, he has speed and talent that is rare at his position, making him one of the team's most exciting players.
"Since I've been here, I've been very confident with my defense," Gspurning said.
That was true last year when he had Parke and the experienced Johansson in front of him, and it remains true this year despite some big changes.
The Sounders had a couple of good reasons for trading Parke. He wanted to return home to Philadelphia as he and his wife were starting a family and Seattle also needed to free up some cap space. Still, there was considerable risk involved in letting him leave.
Early on this season, however, Seattle's defense is outshining an offense that was expected to be the team's strength. For that, Seattle can thank the strong play of two new additions, Gspurning's goalkeeping, the play of returning starting defenders Hurtado and Leo Gonzalez and the dominant presence of defensive midfielder Osvaldo Alonso,
"I felt sorry when Parke was leaving, because he's a great player (and) also a great human," Gspurning said. "He was very important for the atmosphere in the locker room, but I trust the management enough that I knew they'd bring in another guy to help make the team better. That's part of it, it's normal in this business that people are traded."
Herald Writer John Boyle: jboyle@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » Sounders FC

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