Defense has been key to Sounders’ recent success


TUKWILA — Sounders FC has always prided itself on being an entertaining, attack-minded team.

Who doesn’t love offense, right?

Seattle led MLS in scoring in 2011 and has signed some of the most exciting players in the league the past couple seasons in Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Eddie Johnson.

Recent success, however, has been less flash and more grit.

A commitment to defense following an embarrassing defeat has helped lead the team to three straight wins — all by shutout — heading into Saturday’s 7 p.m. home game against Chicago.

The Sounders haven’t allowed a goal in 286 minutes, their longest streak of the season, and have improved to third in MLS with 1.03 goals allowed per game.

“It’s been an absolutely great team effort and, of course as a goalkeeper, I like it very much,” said Michael Gspurning, who is tied for second in the league with nine shutouts.

Ask what has improved on defense and the Sounders provide many answers.

And there was much to fix from the team’s last loss, a 3-1 drubbing at Houston that Gspurning called “an eye opener for us that we have to change.”

Leo Gonzalez, who is back from a red-card suspension, said defensive success has been due to a team-wide commitment, all the way to the forwards.

He added depth in the back line has been particularly useful during a three-game stretch in eight games, as seven different defenders have played roles during the shutout streak.

Marc Burch credited team pressure in Wednesday’s win over Chivas USA: “Every time we lost the ball we chased them down. We made them uncomfortable and that way we were winning a lot of balls back.”

Coach Sigi Schmid has been especially impressed with the team’s tight marking on set pieces and crosses.

He also noted the team’s improved effort in blocking shots.

In the past three games, the Sounders have blocked 19 of their opponents’ 47 attempts, more than 40 percent. Conversely, opponents have blocked 24 percent of Seattle’s shots.

“We want to create a momentum that makes it tough to score on us,” said Gspurning, whose team has allowed 11 second-half goals, best in MLS. “We’ve achieved this now in three games and that’s a good thing.”

Obafemi Martins will be a game-time decision for the Sounders as he continues to recover from a nagging ankle injury. The forward has seemingly been close to a return for a couple weeks but missed his fourth straight game Wednesday against Chivas USA.

Schmid acknowledged the situation has been wearisome but added, “There’s nothing you can do. You have to control what you can control. I think a player has enough pride.

“They want to get on the field. He wants to get on the field. He wants to play. If I felt he didn’t want to play, then I’d be frustrated. But he wants to play. … We’ve just got to, when he’s healthy and he’s able to go, get him on the field, and if he can’t, then somebody else has to go out there and step up.”

• Sounders fans are encouraged to arrive early Saturday with a Mariners home game scheduled for 6:10 p.m. and Chinatown Autumn Moon Festival also in the area.

• Chicago is the only MLS team that has never beaten the Sounders (0-4-3 in the regular season, 0-1 in the U.S. Open Cup).

Good ‘D’

A team-wide commitment to defense has reaped instant reward as the Sounders’ current shutout streak of 286 minutes is fifth-longest in MLS this season. A look at the 10 longest scoreless stretches this season:

Team Minutes Start End

• Sporting KC 546 March 9 April 20

• New England 420 May 11 June 15

• Portland 312 March 30 April 21

• Houston 298 April 28 May 12

• Sounders FC 286 Aug. 17 current

• Sounders FC 285 March 30 May 4

• Portland 283 June 8 July 7

• Colorado 282 April 28 May 18

• Sounders FC 273 May 4 May 18

• FC Dallas 272 March 17 April 6