Gspurning in Columbus (via Brandon Farris Photography)
The Sounders look to face a mighty tough opponent in Real Salt Lake on Friday in a match that could ultimately be the decider for the Major League Soccer Supporters Shield.
In the last two months the team has slowly and quietly crept its way up the Western Conference table and into the Supporters Shield race, having won 7 of the teams last 8 matches and earning 21 out of a possible 24 points.
Just 10 matches ago things started looking grim for the team following a 1-Nil lose to the Earthquakes, in a match where the team had Michael Gspurning and Brad Evans taken out due to injury, the team sat 7-7-3 with just 24 total points. The injuries caused Gspurning to miss the next 4 matches where Andrew Weber and Marcus Hahnemann got the call to step up.
We take a look at the last 9 matches for the Sounders leading up to this Friday's clash at Centrylink.
Yedlin showed good composure in getting the late equalizer (via Brandon Farris Photography)
Following the blood bath in San Jose the team thankfully had 3 consecutive matches at home to try and recover, starting with a surprisingly strong Colorado Rapids team that came out and scored first in the match before the rookie sensation DeAndre Yedlin, shot a late equalizer to help the Sounders escape with at least a point. The Yedlin goal went on to win goal of the week.
Alonso Tackled Hard (via Brandon Farris Photography)
Next up was Chivas USA, they came out and stunned the fans at Centrylink Field when there new young star Erick Torres put Chivas up 1-Nil in the 16th minute. But the defense of Chivas was not enough and Brad Evans put the equalizer in just minutes later in the 23rd minute, which was followed up with a Lamar Neagle goal in the 57th minute to give the Sounders 3 points.
Thursday before the FC Dallas match, rumors began to circulate that the Sounders were going to be making a big announcement in regards to getting a new designated player. The team put out a press release stating that Shalrie Joseph had his contract restructured no longer making him occupy one of Seattle's 3 designated player slots. The other two DP’s being Mauro Rosales and Obafemi Martins. On an email sent to Season ticket holders it said to be at your seats at least 15 minutes prior to kickoff for a special presentation.
From there a picture began to circulate of a one Clint Dempsey flying out of London Heathrow Airport, this was followed up by another photo in San Francisco of the star clearing customs, at this point #DempseyWatch was in full swing, fans were going nuts at the thought that Dempsey could really possibly be coming to Seattle. Emerald City Supporters members began to stake out the airport in hopes of getting a sighting of Captain America and confirm that the rumors were true.
When no Dempsey sighting at the airport, many thought it was a hoax and for a brief few hours, Sounders fans were a laughing stock, then around 3pm that afternoon news began to circulate from sources that in fact a deal was in place to bring the star player from Totenham Spurs and he was to be announced the next evening at the match.
Tickets for the match went fast as people wanted to be on hand for the announcement and see it with their own eyes, when he was brought onto the field the stadium went nuts, for only having 39,360 people in the stands, you'd have thought it was full from the outcry of cheers.
Clint Dempsey Introduced (via Brandon Farris Photography)
But even with as exciting as the news was the team still had a match to play, against a team that at one point was the front runners in the Western Conference, FC Dallas knew the pressure that was on them. They also being in a rut, desperately needing 3 points to help climb up the table. But the combination of Eddie Johnson along with Martins in the end was just too much for Dallas to handle. In the 8th minute Martins headed a shot into the back of the net off of a Rosales set piece. Just 14 minutes later Johnson added to the lead when he found himself one-on-one with FC Dallas Goal Keeper Raúl Fernández. Then in stoppage time at the end of the match Dallas gave up a foul in the box and Evans nailed it in to lock it away for Seattle putting them up 3-Nil and getting the team another 3 points.
The Sounders then had their first of two away matches, a cross country trip up to Canada to take on Toronto FC, Dempsey made his rave green debut coming on in the 34th minute as a sub for Martins who suffered an ankle injury that kept him out for nearly a month. Seattle got a Rosales goal in the 16th minute to take a 1-Nil lead then benefited from a Toronto own goal to go up 2-Nil. But Toronto came out fighting in the second half getting a goal in the 46th minute from Jonathan Osorio that put them behind by 1, they tried hard to get past Hahnemann but the keeper put on a superb performance to keep them from knotting it up and even earned save of the week with his performance. By having that performance he pushed his team to yet another 3 points and a 3 match win and 4 match undefeated streak.
Gspurning during that 4 match streak kept practicing and pushing himself, he finally felt ready and was game fit for the team’s next match against the Houston Dynamo. But in that match he might have been better staying on the bench letting 3 balls get past him and into the net for goals, it really wasn't a comeback that you'd like your keeper to make. The team dropped this match 1-3. The goal coming from Joseph, also in this match Dempsey made his first actual start. Houston is about 100 mile from his home town of Nacogdoches, Texas. He was greeted with a standing ovation from the home crowd even though he was playing for Seattle.
Seattle then headed home, disappointed in the result from Houston to begin preparations for what some dubbed the biggest match in MLS history, expecting a record crowd for a stand-alone match, the Sounders were set to take on its largest rival in the Portland Timbers. Clint Dempsey was expected to make his first home start and tickets were sold out about 2 weeks prior to the match. The recipe was there for one of the greatest Cascadia Matches of all time, Dempsey home debut, record crowd, what more could you want as a Sounder fan other than 3 points and beating your biggest rival?
"Build a Bonfire" (via Brandon Farris Photography)
The crowd ended up falling just short of the MLS record for largest standalone match, but it was still an impressive turnout of 67,385 fans. The ECS put together one of the best TIFO displays to date of "Build a Bonfire." It was a very physical match, but Caleb Porter and his crew failed to stop a Rosales free kick that Johnson met with his head to get past a streaking Donovan Ricketts and Seattle came out on top 1-Nil; gaining yet another 3 points. Gspurning began a nice streak of 3 clean sheets and 311 minutes of shut out soccer.
The Sounders were set up for a tough road following the Portland match, 3 games in 8 days, starting with a trip to Columbus to take on a hit or miss Crew squad. Oh and after the Crew match the team was going to lose 3 of its players to US Mens National Team Duty.
Dempsey in the sweet Cascade Shale jersey in Columbus. (via Brandon Farris Photography)
The match was an interesting one; the teams were within minutes of wrapping up warm up when a lightning storm came in causing a nearly two hour delay in the match. From there Leo Gonzalez received a red card in the 7th minute for denying a goal scoring opportunity, meaning the team was going to be down a man for the final 83 minutes in a hostile Columbus environment. For the second week in a row it was a Rosales free kick that Johnson headed into the net. The Sounders held off a hard charging Crew squad to secure yet another three points and slowly move that Points Per Game average up. Following the match Johnson and Dempsey departed from the team, Evans was to join them but he suffered a calf injury likely caused by the weather delay that kept him from traveling to Miami to train for the USMNT match.
The team faced a quick turnaround following the match in Columbus, a Wednesday match against Chivas that was moved from earlier this season since the Sounders advanced in the CONCACAF Champions League. Chivas was coming off of a Win against the New York Red Bulls the previous week and then a draw in Vancouver which frankly they should have walked away with a win. But the Sounders defense stepped up even without Martins on offense, who was missing his fourth consecutive match from his ankle injury suffered in Toronto and kept Torres and crew in check preventing them from even getting the first shot off til the 22nd minute. In the 24th minute Marc Burch sent in a beautiful free kick above a wall that Neagle was able to penetrate without a challenge to karate kick the ball past Dan Kennedy and get the only goal of the match. The team dominated possession in the match controlling it 57% of the time and with that Neagle goal won the Sounders another 3 points on the table.
The final match in this 10 match review took place this last Saturday, the Fire, a team very much fighting for a playoff position is a tight race in the Eastern Conference similar to the Sounders in the Western Conference, came to Seattle in hopes of at least attaining a draw if not a win. Mike Magee gave his team hope coming out with a well-timed run that left him just onside where he took an above par shot to have it just miss the outstretched arm of the 6ft 5in Gspurning and squeezed it just into the bottom right corner of the net in the 25th minute of the match to put the Fire up 1-Nil, but the Sounders fought back hard. Martins was making his first start in 4 matches and was looking very hungry to get a goal getting several early shots off, yet it was a pass from Burch to an open Neagle for the second match in a row in the 40th minute that Neagle launched into the center of the goal that sailed by Fire keeper Sean Johnson to tie it up 1 goal apiece. The persistent Seattle offense paid off and in the 88th minute when sub Zach Scott attempted to cross the ball to Andy Rose to get ahead, but the ball sailed passed Rose where Gonzalo Segares was sprinting back and inadvertently punted the ball into his own goal to put the Sounders up 2-1 and give them 2 extra points towards the teams flight for getting into the Supporters Shield race.
The Look Ahead-
Since that defeat in San Jose back in July, Seattle has put together one of the best runs in MLS and doubled its win total to 14. They now sit with a 14-8-4 record all while recording the highest points per game over any other MLS team at 1.77 and have games in hand on most teams in the league. While a loss on Friday could be a blow for the Sounders who feel they have formed into one of the more elite teams in the league, they still have 2 games in hand on RSL which they could swing another 6 points on them.
A win for RSL will put them 5 points ahead of Seattle in the standings. If Seattle is to lose the match, as long as they can at least match whatever RSL does over the remainder of the season while getting ahead in those 2 games in hand they will still come out ahead of RSL by 1 point overall.
The road for the Sounders will not be an easy one, following the match Friday, the team will travel to Los Angeles to take on the Galaxy, a team that has crushed them in the previous 2 visits to Carson, a 3-Nil defeat in the playoffs last season and a 4-Nil defeat earlier this season that the team, quite frankly looked lost in. They will then return home to take on a hit or miss New York Red Bulls team.
October can prove to be a challenging month for the team, having another streak of 3 matches in 9 days. It starts with a trip to Colorado where they did win earlier this season, but as of late the Rapids have looked as a more inform team and recently defeating a tough Galaxy squad. They will then come home to take on the Vancouver Whitecaps who they beat at home earlier this season. From there the team travels to Portland for one final regular season Cascadia clash. The Sounder will follow up the Portland match with a trip to Dallas to take on FC Dallas in one final match before coming home to wrap the season up against the LA Galaxy in what could be a match to decide places in the playoff table.