Montero exposes Sounders’ back problems
By Matt Pentz
Most of the attention following Vancouver’s 2-1 win over the Sounders on Friday night at Place was justifiably lavished upon Fredy Montero.
Playing for the first time against former club, for which he remains its all-time leading MLS scorer, Montero netted headed goals in the 65th and 80th minutes. On an occasion when emotion could have easily overwhelmed him, the Colombian instead funneled it into productive use.
His heroics shed an ancillary spotlight on what might be Seattle’s biggest weakness: Its lack of defensive depth.
Playing without Roman Torres, who suffered a hamstring injury earlier this month in San Jose, and Brad Evans, who is still out with a lingering calf issue, the back line had a forgettable night in British Columbia.
Right back Oniel Fisher, filling the role Evans will likely slot into whenever he’s healthy, had a tough time with Vancouver’s explosive wingers. Joevin Jones’ hesitancy to close out Cristian Techera allowed him the time to play in the cross that set up the opening goal – prior to which both Fisher and Gustav Svensson lost track of Montero in the middle of the penalty box.
Schmetzer: I’ve watched it 18 times
The second goal came off a redirected corner kick, when Montero shrugged off Seattle substitute Henry Wingo to set up a free header yards in front of the net.
“The two goals Fredy scored, let’s be honest, those are typical Fredy goals,” Sounders coach Brian Schmetzer said. “It’s a credit to him. The ball that comes across, I’ve watched it about 18 different ways. (Techera) floats that ball in there, and it’s a good soccer play. I don’t mind when we take a goal if the play is outstanding. If you just give something away, I’m not as happy.”
The manner of both goals had to have been at least a little bit irritating to the coaches, though, one game after Chris Wondolowski scored a late, tying goal in a similar manner in San Jose. Blocking crosses and sticking with markers were a point of emphasis in Sounders practices throughout last week, but they got burned by them again anyway.
The numbers aren’t particularly damning – Seattle’s eight goals against in six matches are middle of the road in the Western Conference – but Schmetzer was less than his typically effusive self when asked to grade his back line’s performance so far this season.
“They’ve been OK,” Schmetzer said. “… We’ve had a lot of turmoil in our back line. We haven’t had, until Brad comes back anyway, our supposed starting back four. It’s still a work-in-progress.”
Part of the problem will work itself out. Evans has yet to make his 2017 debut, but all signs point to a return sooner rather than later. Torres’ injury does not seem to be serious. And it’s not as though depth along the back line is common in a salary-capped league in which resources are more often funneled further up the field.
It is a fair concern to raise, however – especially as three of the four first-choice starters are 31 or older and, for the first time since 2002, the Sounders won’t have old reliable Zach Scott to fall back upon in case of emergency.
Svennson has been mostly fine filling in, but as one former Sounder pointed out on Twitter on Friday night, he is not a center back. He has spent most of his career as a defensive midfielder, and he was signed this past offseason to deputize for Ossie Alonso and Cristian Roldan, not Torres and Chad Marshall.
Tony Alfaro impressed on spot duty during his rookie season last year, but it’s not exactly a vote of confidence by the coaching staff that he’s been displaced on the depth chart by a guy playing out of position.
“It was just because Gustav has come in and has got a little bit better pedigree,” Schmetzer said on Monday. “Tony’s in a little bit of a tough spot, but he’ll find minutes.”
As problems go, defensive depth in MLS is not the most pressing concern. It’s worth keeping an eye on, though, especially once playoff time gets closer or if the Sounders pick up an untimely injury or two.