Just as he has done on many, many occasions on defense, Sounders center-back Chad Marshall came to the rescue Sunday in Seattle’s 1-1 draw with Houston. Only this time, he was scoring goals instead of preventing them. When your attackers can’t seem to find their groove, it helps to have a few defenders with an eye for goal just in case.
The utter disarray of Seattle’s offense was pretty well-covered by my most recent post-match column, and at this point we all know that the Sounders simply need to figure out how to put the ball in the net – often. But something I skated over in the name of constructive criticism was how excellent Seattle’s defense has been – bar, of course, Houston’s goal. Well-rehearsed set pieces aside, Seattle’s defense has done quite well for itself in recent matches.
In fact, that the Dynamo only scored one goal in the first half Sunday seems like utter lunacy when you see the stats: Houston had 14 shots and put six of them on goal. Marshall and Brad Evans put it an excellent shift, and Stefan Frei continued his own excellent run of form. Marshall had eight interceptions and won a pair of aerial duels. Even without his goal, he was probably the most crucial Sounders player on the pitch. That he scored the lone goal – and not even from a header or set piece, which are his usual fare – made his performance even sweeter.
Evans’ return against Montreal helped boost an already solid defense, which showed in that performance. Evans had four interceptions, four headed clearances and recovered the ball six times against Montreal. His composure on the ball, stemming from his many years as a midfielder and fullback, also helps Seattle build from the back instead of simply hoofing it away every time an opposing attack is snuffed.
Right now, Evans and Marshall are Sigi Schmid’s first choice as the central defensive pairing, and rightly so. All four of Seattle’s points this season were earned with those two at the back. This isn’t to discount Seattle’s other top center-backs. Roman Torres, when he’s healthy, may force a reshuffle in the defense, and Zach Scott is a more than adequate backup with his wealth of experience and defensive acumen. But obviously Torres has yet to be proven as he was injured shortly after arriving in Seattle, and Scott has lost quite a bit of pace and isn’t too composed on the ball.
Seattle has also finally found a solid foundation at both fullback positions, which have been rather inconsistent for the team in recent years. Tyrone Mears, while not the quickest, is a great defender and can put in an excellent cross when in dangerous positions. His deputy at right-back, Oniel Fisher, was very good in the match that Mears missed, aside from his questionable dismissal by the referee. Left-back Joevin Jones has been sensational since arriving in the offseason, providing speedy attacking options on the left without sacrificing defense. And Dylan Remick, who had become something of a punchline last season as he was constantly looked over by Schmid, has surprisingly been nearly as good in the few minutes he’s been given.
So despite all of the Sounders’ attacking woes, their defense deserves quite a bit of appreciation for carrying much of the load thus far. Even in the three losses to open the season, Seattle’s defense wasn’t entirely at fault for a few of the goals, and it’s only gotten better as the young season has grown. Marshall can’t be relied on to gallop forward and score a crucial goal in every match, simply because that’s not a defender’s primary job. So if Seattle’s forwards don’t start finding the net soon, they’ll once again be at the mercy of the men at the back.