Case made for Sounders defence

Seattle Sounders blogger Ryan Cowper says a strong defence will help the MLS side challenge West Ham United...
For the Seattle Sounders, their 5 July friendly against West Ham United presents an opportunity to get back to basics.

Sitting in ninth place in the MLS Western Conference and averaging a paltry 1.07 points per game, their season has gone from promising to dismal in relatively short order.

With a single win in their last six matches, the Sounders season has been a rollercoaster. They opened the season with a promising CONCACAF Champions League tie against Mexican powerhouse Club America. While they lost 5-3 on aggregate, it was a bright start.

What followed was a rough and tumble March. Their play style focuses on possession and to a lesser degree fast transition, yet despite domination in many early season matches, they were borderline anaemic in front of goal. Despite having one of the league’s very best defences, they kept losing on small, costly errors.

That refrain has been constant throughout the season as injuries and national team call-ups have decimated the Sounders frontline. Youth standouts like Jordan Morris, Aaron Kovar and Oalex Anderson have struggled to carry the team’s offensive output while veteran players like Clint Dempsey, Nelson Valdez and Andreas Ivanschitz have fallen short of expectation.

This is a team with a tremendous amount of talent but little to show for it in the goals scored and points columns.
This is a team with a tremendous amount of talent but little to show for it in the goals scored and points columns
Despite those struggles, the Sounders have a few bright spots they can bring to bear against West Ham United.

This is still a defence in the top-third of MLS and much of that comes down to the play of goalkeeper Stefan Frei and centre-backs Brad Evans and Chad Marshall. The trio has proved to be a wall, keeping the Sounders in almost every match and giving the team a fighting chance.

They haven’t allowed more than two goals in a match in more than two months and most second goals conceded come late in matches when chasing a result. That trio is the Sounders backbone right now and they’d likely be lost without them.

In midfield, Erik Friberg and former West Ham trialist Osvaldo Alonso are a dynamic duo. Nicknamed ‘Honey Badger’ by Sounders fans, Alonso is a workhorse; defensively tenacious and pin-point with his passing, he is the metronome of the Sounders midfield. Capable of incisive through balls, quick one-twos, or lung-busting inside-out runs, the long-haired Friberg is the Sounders’ creative brain.

The former Sweden international led Malmo FF to an Allsvenskan title in 2013 before short stints in Serie A and the Danish First Division. When he’s not playing, the Sounders can look bereft of ideas.

This is definitely not the same Sounders team that played to a deserved 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur last summer. Their struggles in attack are real and they should be no trouble for a disciplined West Ham United defence to deal with.

On the flipside, the Sounders’ own strong defence could stifle the likes of Enner Valencia and Andy Carroll, especially given Dmitri Payet will still likely be on international duty at Euro 2016.
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