On March 14, Sounders FC gave up six goals over a span of about 72 minutes at Santos Laguna.
Over the four MLS matches since, Seattle has given up two goals – one by penalty kick.
Part of the difference can be attributed to the strength of the Mexican club, which will begin play for the CONCACAF Champions League title next week.
But the rest reflects a return to the norm for a Seattle defense that gave up four goals over seven preseason friendlies and only one more in the home match against Santos.
“You always want to get your goals-against to be under one a game,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We’re obviously at that point. … I think our commitment to defending, certainly, has been pretty good. We’ve gotten some help from the wide guys as well. I think we’ve done a good job on what we needed to do tactically in certain games.”
The Sounders have played every minute of the regular season in front of Michael Gspurning, the veteran goalkeeper signed in December to replace legendary Kasey Keller. Gspurning has a 0.50 goals-against average, which ranks third in MLS, and two shutouts. Last season, the Sounders didn’t record their second shutout until the seventh game.
“(Santos) was a special day – a bad day for us,” Gspurning said. “But if you look at yourself and you work hard at practice, then you switch it around. But it doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Now, a couple of games, we do well in the defense. … The season has just started. It’s far away to say this will be a great season (or) this will be a bad season. I am happy with the performance we bring with the defense.”
That defense will get another test today, when the Colorado Rapids visit CenturyLink Field.
The Rapids will be without striker Conor Casey, who did not travel while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon suffered last July in Seattle.
Still, Colorado ranks fifth in MLS with seven goals and an average of 1.4 goals per game. The Rapids are seventh in shots and shots on goal.
“Last year, they were very English in their style of play,” Schmid said. “It was a lot of long passes, a lot of 4-4-2, a big striker, fast striker, stretch the defense, knock it forward. Now, it’s a 4-3-3. They possess the ball. They try and possess the ball through all parts of the field and they try and get a lot of passes in, a lot of touches.”
In Casey’s absence, much of the offensive responsibility has shifted to veteran Omar Cummings, who leads Colorado with two goals, 16 shots and seven shots on goal.
“He’s a very fast player, so we have to make sure that we just try and keep him in front of us as much as possible and not get caught with a high line if we don’t have pressure on the ball,” Schmid said. “And just make sure that we know where he is, because he’s a guy that they obviously look for. He’s got to hold up the ball for their team and get other people into the attack.”
Another Colorado regular is midfielder Brian Mullan, who has one assist and two shots. This week he has drawn attention out of proportion to his statistics because of his reckless tackle last season that fractured the leg of Steve Zakuani, who is still recovering.
Sounders defenders say they can’t get caught up in that.
“It was a sad thing that happened,” defender Leo Gonzalez said through a translator. “It was an unfortunate injury. But I think even Zakuani at this point has accepted his apology, and so I think it’s going to be a game just like any other one. We’re just going to concentrate on the game, and try to treat him like any other person.”
Sounders rookie Babayele Sodade underwent surgery Thursday to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Schmid didn’t rule out Sodade’s return this season, but he implied that next season is more likely. … Kickoff for the Philadelphia Union game May 5 at CenturyLink Field has been moved back half an hour to 1:30 p.m.
COLORADO RAPIDS (3-2-0, 9 POINTS) AT SOUNDERS FC (2-1-1, 7 POINTS)
1 p.m., centurylink field
TV: KONG 6/16 radio: 97.3-FM
Club leaders: For Colorado: goals, 2, Omar Cummings; assists, 4, Kosuke Kimura; shots, 16, Cummings; shots on goal, 7, Cummings; goals against average, 1.40, Matt Pickens. For Seattle: G 4, David Estrada; A 2, Alvaro Fernandez; S 16, Fredy Montero; SOG 7, Estrada; GAA 0.50, Michael Gspurning.
Head to head: Sounders lead 4-1-1 overall, and 3-0 in Seattle. The Sounders swept both games last season. The Rapids return to Seattle on July 7, and the Sounders visit Colorado on July 28.
Notes: Sounders midfielder Steve Zakuani remains unavailable because of right leg fractures and complications he suffered last April 22 on a reckless tackle by Colorado’s Brian Mullan. Mullan is expected to be in uniform today. … Midfielder Mauro Rosales (knee) and defender Adam Johansson (hamstring) are doubtful. Colorado striker Casey Conor is out, as are Jamie Smith, Anthony Wallace and Pablo Mastroeni. … Seattle is 2-1 at home this season; the Rapids are 1-2 on the road. … Six players have scored for the Rapids. … Colorado defender Tyrone Marshall played from 2009-10 with the Sounders. ... The referee is Baldomero Toledo.
quotable: “I just want my team to get back to winning ways in front of the home fans. I’ll be here like a fan as always, supporting the guys, wanting us to get off to a good start. Ten points after five games would be good, so that’s what my focus is. I’m not thinking about anyone on their team. – Zakuani, on the Mullan controversy.
next: Chicago Fire, 5:30 p.m. April 28; Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
Don Ruiz, staff writer