It’s never easy for a team to replace their best player and the Seattle Sounders certainly didn’t find it easy replacing Clint Dempsey when he was shut down for the season with an irregular heartbeat. Dempsey had scored five goals in three straight games (all wins) for the Sounders who were sitting just two points back of a playoff spot in the Western Conference fresh off a win over Pacific Northwest rivals Portland Timbers. The Sounders then proceeded to drop seven out of nine points against Houston, Portland and San Jose, all teams vying for that sixth spot in the West. This slide with Dempsey out saw them slip to ninth, six points off the pace for a playoff spot.
Since then, the Sounders have rattled off four straight wins and now find themselves sitting in fifth place, four points above the seventh seeded Timbers, with an opportunity to clinch a playoff spot with a win tonight against Houston. It’s been a real team effort for the Sounders righting the ship since Dempsey went down and what’s more indicative of team effort than defense?!
The Sounders had their best defensive month of the season in September allowing a league best 0.75 goals per game on 1.06 cQxG conceded per game (6th best). This was after six months as a middle of the road defensive team conceding 1.3 goals per game (7th) on 1.25 cQxG (11th).
No one player deserves all the credit for this leap, Osvaldo Alonso has been one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS for years, Roman Torres is back from injury, but it was Chad Marshall who won MLS’ September Player of the Month. Marshall, Torres and Tyrone Mears each played every minute for the Seattle backline in September and each player averaged four tackles and interceptions per 90. Mears stood out for the wrong reasons against San Jose when his failed clearance played in Jordan Stewart who assisted the Quakes’ goal. Marshall stood out for the right reasons against Chicago when he headed in what ended up being the game’s only goal and he led the team with 4.25 clearances per 90 in September.
The Seattle backline will have another opportunity to shine tonight against Houston, who will be playing for pride. Eliminated from the playoffs following two consecutive losses, the Dynamo let their playoff chances slip away as Mauro Manotas came into form. The 21-year-old Colombian has scored six goals in the past five matches, but it’s too little too late for the Dynamo. Manotas and Co. must now face a Seattle defense poised to deliver their eighth consecutive postseason appearance for the Sounders.ld Colombian has scored six goals in the past five matches, but it’s too little too late for the Dynamo. Manotas and Co. must now face a Seattle defense poised to deliver the eighth consecutive appearance for the Sounders.