The Seattle Sounders are on an eight-match win streak, a feat no other club has accomplished in a single season during the post-shootout era of Major League Soccer. While goal scoring on the front end of the field has drawn most of the attention, Seattle’s commitment to defense is what spurred the club from the Western Conference dregs to playoff contention heading into the home stretch of the 2018 season.
Sounders right back Kelvin Leerdam had plenty of praise Wednesday for goalkeeper Stefan Frei’s role in the club’s winning streak. Leerdam pointed to Frei as a reason the club has stayed in playoff contention, despite a poor start to the year.
“For me, we’re defending really well, but we have a very good goalkeeper,” Leerdam said. “I have to say, Stef is amazing. He’s been saving our asses so many games. That’s what you need to have. He’s the last line of defense and we try to let him work as little as possible, but the moment he has to step up he’s always there. If I watch the last two seasons, he was the MLS Cup MVP in Toronto, last year he broke some records in the league and this year I think we have conceded the least. I think Stef, in the last three years is going up and up and up. He’s very important for us, and on the other hand the team is trying to work as hard as possible.”
Frei is putting together another impressive season in goal for the Sounders. The keeper has made 90 saves in 26 matches, good for seventh in the league and has a league-best 0.96 goals-against average.
“He’s always talking to us,” Leerdam said. “We try to keep everything in front of us. When something comes through he always steps up. I’m happy with him.”
Of course, the rest of Seattle’s back line has contributed to the streak as well. The Sounders have conceded a league-fewest 27 goals through 26 matches played, compared to the MLS average of 44 goals through Sep. 14.
The Sounders are not afraid to spend on big-time defensive players. At the beginning of the season, seven of the club’s highest-paid players were defenders or holding midfielders. Those numbers may have shifted with the retirement of Clint Demspey and the acquisition of striker Raul Ruidiaz, but the signing of Targeted Alllocation Money fullback Brad Smith on loan from Bournemouth shows the club is still willing to spend big on its back line.
“I don’t think there was any purposeful (thought that) we were going to have a defensive-minded team,” Sounders head coach Brian Schmetzer said when asked about the club’s spending. “(Centerback Kim Kee-hee) became available. Roman (Torres). Osvaldo (Alonso) as a holding mid. Kelvin (Leerdam) coming in. We had never spent TAM money on our outside backs. (Tyrone Mears) did a great job, (Joevin Jones) did a great job. They were TAM in quality, but not on the numbers on our payroll list.
“You saw the impact that Brad (Smith) has made, the impact Kelvin made. You have a little more money to spend, why not bring Brad in, why not bring Kelvin in at those types of dollars? It certainly has helped us.”