Think about where the Seattle Sounders were as recently as seven weeks ago: Losers of 3 of 4 and seeing their playoff expectations slowly starting to fade. Six wins in seven matches later, the Sounders' season is suddenly looking a lot different.
Wednesday's 1-0 win over Chivas USA gives them the best points per game in MLS (1.72) and with the second best point total (43). A win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday would put the Sounders in position to potentially take the lead by beating Real Salt Lake on Sept. 13. The road to a Supporters' Shield is long and marked by some very difficult matches, but the Sounders have every reason to believe that they are very much contenders.
No, this was not the kind of win that sends shivers up your spine, but there was a lot to feel good about. The first half was absolutely dominated by the Sounders, despite fielding a team that was missing at least five guys you'd expect to be starting. The defense that we were all so worried about a few weeks ago, has now posted three straight shutouts and not allowed a goal in 286 minutes.
Sure, there are areas for concern. That the Sounders have scored the fewest goals of any team currently in playoff position is hardly ideal. A lot of that can be blamed on the inability to get their best offensive players on the field together, but at this point in the season it's also fair to wonder if that is ever going to happen.
Those somewhat mild concerns aside, the Sounders almost couldn't be in better position. They still have at least one game in hand on every team in the league and will still have two games in hand on RSL even after they play one another. The final nine games of the season should be fun.
SEA - Lamar Neagle (Marc Burch) 24'
Seattle Sounders FC - Michael Gspurning, DeAndre Yedlin, Patrick Ianni, Djimi Traore, Zach Scott, Mauro Rosales (Andy Rose 82), Osvaldo Alonso, Servando Carrasco, Marc Burch (Jhon Kennedy Hurtado 90), David Estrada (Eriq Zavaleta 84), Lamar Neagle.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Neagle 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Neagle 2); FOULS: 17 (Burch, Carrasco 3); OFFSIDE: 2 (Estrada, Rosales 1); CORNER KICKS: 10 (Rosales 6); SAVES: 1 (Gspurning 1).
Chivas USA - Dan Kennedy, Carlos Borja, Marky Delgado, Mario de Luna, Bobby Burling, Bryan de la Fuente (Eric Avila 46), Carlos Alvarez (Matthew Fondy 60), Oswaldo Minda (Gabriel Farfan 80), Edgar Mejia, Julio Morales, Erick Torres.
Substitutes Not Used: Patrick McLain, Steve Purdy, Jose Soto, Tristan Bowen.
TOTAL SHOTS: 13 (Fondy 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 1 (Burling 1); FOULS: 13 (Minda 3); OFFSIDE: 1 (Torres 1); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Alvarez, Mejia 2); SAVES: 2 (Kennedy 2).
CHV - Mario de Luna (caution) 34'
CHV - Oswaldo Minda (caution) 64'
Referee: Mark Geiger
Referee's Assistants: Corey Parker, Marco Arruda
4th Official: Younes Marrakchi
Time of Game: 1:51
Weather: Cloudy and 70 degrees
All statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial
Sounders FC vs. Chivas USA - Postgame Notes
* Sounders FC has the best points per game average (1.72) in MLS.
* The win marked the first time in club history that Sounders FC has six wins in a seven-game stretch in a single season. Seattle earned seven wins in an eight-game stretch over two seasons from September 17, 2011 to March 23, 2012.
* Seattle has earned the most points (19) in MLS since July 20, going 6-1-1 in the past eight outings.
* Sounders FC extended its club record home unbeaten streak to 11 games (8-0-3). It is the second-longest home unbeaten streak in MLS this season (San Jose - 12 games).
* Seattle extended its unbeaten streak against Chivas USA to 11 games (7-0-4), and is unbeaten in six (4-0-2) all-time home matches. Sounders FC now has five straight wins in the series.
* Sounders FC is unbeaten in 45 straight games (37-0-8) when scoring first, marking the longest active streak in MLS and second-longest in league history (New York - 58 games).
* The win marked the first time in club history that Sounders FC has won three straight 1-0 games.
* Lamar Neagle scored his career-high sixth goal of the season, ranking third on Sounders FC. Seattle is 6-0-1 when Neagle scores (6) or assists (3) this season. Neagle has scored two goals and recorded one assist in three meetings with Chivas USA this season, including the game-winning assist on June 1 and the game-winning goal on July 28 and September 4.
* Marc Burch recorded his second assist of the season, bringing his career total to 15. He also recorded an assist against the Houston Dynamo on August 17. Burch has five assists in 42 regular-season games since joining Sounders FC in 2012.
* Michael Gspurning extended his shutout streak to 286 minutes, which is the seventh-longest in MLS this season. The shutout streak is also the seventh-longest in club history and the third-longest of Gspurning's MLS career.
* Zach Scott started at left back for the first time this season. He previously played left back as a substitute for the final 12 minutes of the FC Dallas match on May 18. Scott has made eight starts at center back and four starts at right back this season.
* David Estrada made his third start of the season, and first since March 23. It marked his first MLS appearance since a 2-1 home win over Chivas USA on July 28.
* Newest signee Blair Gavin was included in the 18-man game day roster for the first time since signing on August 21.
Sounders FC vs. Chivas USA - Postgame Quotes
Sigi Schmid - Sounders FC Head Coach
(On his thoughts of the game...) "Obviously we had to make a lot of changes. Tonight, going into the game, with the players that we're missing and the injuries and so forth. But again I thought we showed a lot of character. Obviously the first half, I think, was better than our second. What we did in the first I thought was pretty good. In the second half I think they got a hold of the game a little bit more and became a little more dangerous in their set pieces. They got a lot of them. They went with extra forwards and we didn't do as good of a job holding onto the ball. We lost our shape a little bit, but again I'm pleased with our fight and our character. Sometimes games go that way and you just got to battle and that's what we did in the second half."
(On deciding to rest Martins...) "Everything was fine on Monday and he was training well. On Tuesday it acted up a little bit-he didn't wake up well. So we've been in communication with him from about 9 o'clock on and we gave him a fitness test and felt it wasn't worth the risk to have him go out there."
(On Martins' status for Saturday...) "We'll have to see. It's basically day-to-day right now."
(On whether or not the depth is best in the league...) "I don't know if you can say that. There are some teams that have good depth and throughout the season you have to play different people all the time. Certainly some guys stepped up today. David Estrada hasn't played in a long time and I thought he stepped up with a really good effort. His first 60 minutes and just his activity was really good. (Marc) Burch is a guy who has played a lot of left midfield for us because we've been short on people there, and he stepped up and played well. We needed Zach (Scott) to go to outside back because we tried to keep a little more veterans on the field and he came on and did well. You always want to have a team that has good depth. Is it the best team in the league? I can't say that for sure."
(On the team's opportunities from set pieces...) "We felt it was important for Lamar (Neagle) to do well. We also felt we've been very good on free kicks and set pieces lately. Mauro (Rosales) has been serving a good ball; Burch was serving a good ball at practice. We said that was something we wanted to take advantage of and we did again. We wanted to make sure that Lamar and David, normally we have one or two forwards drop in a little bit more, but with their quality we wanted them both to stay higher and just be active and just create problems and not to be playing back-to-goal against their defenders, but be active and be running off their defenders."
(On the team's chances in the first half...) "I thought they did a good job in the first half. I thought we got behind Chivas a number of times and got into good crossing situations, balls being cut back and so forth. Just in the final touch, final pass, final shot didn't come off as well as it should have. I think we certainly took the game to them in the first half."
(On the 1-0 result...) "A win is a win. I think a win is a win and Chivas, with the exception of Bocanegra, they've basically played the same lineup the last three games and they should have won in Vancouver, they were the better team in Vancouver. I think they have played much better. I think if the season were to start today, I don't think Chivas would be in last place. I think the coach has done a good job with them, I think he has organized them well. He's put guys into positions, he's got combinations he feels good about. And I think they are a much-improved team. I would rather play them early in the season twice than having to play them late twice."
(On the outlook of more goals in future games...) "I think the goals will come. We are very confident the goals will come. Obviously today we're missing Eddie Johnson and we're missing (Clint) Dempsey and we're missing (Martins)... We made a commitment after the Houston game that we got to play better defense, and we haven't given up a goal since then. At the end of the day that's something very important. To win an MLS Cup, we got to be solid in the back. I think there's a Galaxy team that won the Supporters' Shield, I think they won eight or nine games that season 1-0. So winning 1-0 is not the worst."
(On playing with games at hand...) "As long as we maintain it. We talked about it before the game, this is one of the games at hand. This is a game in hand game, and there's three points-we're holding them in our hand. Do we want to put them in our pockets or do we want to throw them away? We decided to put them in our pockets. As long as we take each of those games at hand that we have and put them in our pocket, we will continue to climb and rise up the standings."
(On the injury status for Saturday's game...) "We'll have to see how the hospital ward looks. After everyone gets their bruises and injuries taken care of today, and we'll see how everyone feels and recovers. It's a tight turnaround for us. Chicago hasn't played in a week and for us now we only got 72 hours and we got to play again. But we'll be ready. We'll play and figure out who should be on the field."
(On his view of luck...) "Yeah, the game seemed to turn on us a little bit early in the season, where the smidgen of luck didn't come our way. Today at the game, smidgen of luck, (Michael) Gspurning makes a mistake, drops the ball, and the referee blows the end of the game. Some other referee might have said, 'Oh he dropped it and picked it up, indirect free kick' and we would have been scrambling there at the end."
(On grinding out the victory...) "You always need some results like that. You need to win games, you need to control games, you need to dominate games, then there's the hard games in there where you got to just figure out a win to win it. The last two games have been difficult games for us, playing a man down and today with all of the people missing, we had to figure out a way to win games and we did that."
(On feeling more pressure to win...) "Pressure? There's no pressure. Winning back-to-back MLS Cups would be good because it would take the pressure off. But there's no more pressure than I've put on myself. I always want to see the team do well and I want to see us do well. There's nothing I would rather do than bring a championship to the people of Seattle, because they deserve it. At the end of the day you have to go into each game, you got to have a gamplan and figure out a way to win the game. You want the team to work for you, to be committed to you, and I think they've shown they are and the rest is sometimes out of your hands. That smidgen of good luck and good fortune-you work for that, you've earned that to a certain extent, and sometimes it just happens. But pressure is opportunity."
(On Neagle stepping up...) "I think his goal tonight is his career-high. Lamar has been great for us. When we've traded for him and got him here at the start of the season from Montreal, we started to look at him and say 'what happened to this guy? Doesn't look like the same guy.' He started to find his feet again in training and started to do much better and when the opportunity came, he seized it. He's really done well and obviously a very influential player for us this year."
Lamar Neagle - Sounders FC Forward
(On it being his first goal since July 28...) "I've had chances here and there. Even playing left back, I had a great chance. It's been one of those things that has been coming. In training, I've been trying to work on my finishing as much as possible. When it came down to it we got one and that's all we needed with the shutouts we've been getting."
(On feeling pressure to score today with other players missing...) "I think just confidence-wise, I want to be the guy that steps up and scores a goal in every single game. Whether Clint [Dempsey] and Eddie [Johnson] are out there, or Oba [Martins] is out there, I still want to score goals. It doesn't really matter who's out there, I want to obviously be one scoring goals. It's the same thing when they're not there."
(On if it makes a difference when he's playing forward as opposed to midfield...) "I get a lot of freedom. I get a lot more chances when I play up top. Today I had three or four chances at headers from [Marc] Burch or [Mauro] Rosales that I should have been getting on. When you're playing outside mid, you're kind of getting chances for assists instead of goals as much. It might be coincidence; it might be playing forward and getting more chances."
(On the goal...) "I got free. The ball dropped right in my lap-literally right in my lap, it dropped right over somebody's head and it was kind of unexpected. I took a bad touch but ended up being able to get my foot up high enough to get it down."
(On his first touch before the goal...) "It landed right in my lap and I was kind of jumping up at the same time, so it kind of got a little high. I was just trying to keep it down."
(On if it feels like the luck has changed for the team...) "Yeah, we had a few games where we we'd get chances left and right and we wouldn't score. I think that's a credit to our confidence and our depth. We had a great game. We had so many chances from everybody stepping up to play that doesn't really get a lot of minutes."
David Estrada - Sounders FC Forward
(On returning to the starting lineup...) "It felt good. Whenever you get an opportunity you want to take advantage of it, and I think everyone who was on the field tonight did a good job and we got three points."
(On players stepping up in others' absence...) "Everybody who was on the field didn't want to miss a beat. We have pretty deep team-three guys who could potentially start for the national team. When some of those guys are missing, it's a big void to fill in, but I think we have the quality to fill them and thankfully we got the three points today."
(On his chemistry with Lamar Neagle up front...) "We just try to work hard and try to keep their center backs on their toes. I think we kept them off balance a little bit, and we should have maybe scored a few more goals, but we'll get out of this one with the three points."
Marc Burch - Sounders FC Midfielder
(On the goal...) "I thought I was hitting some good crosses at the beginning of the game, so I felt pretty confident that I could get one in there. [Dan] Kennedy usually comes off his line, but he ended up staying and I think he froze on the ball and Lamar made a great run to finish it off."
(On controlling the run of play in the first half...) "I think it was our team pressure. Every time we lost the ball we chased them down. We made them uncomfortable and that way we were winning a lot of balls back. When you win the ball back you have more possession than the other team."
(On going unbeaten in 11 straight at home...) "It's the crowd, it's our energy. We got a good road result and we knew we'd come home and get a win. We got another shutout which is really important-that's three in a row. I think team defense has been the key the last three games."
Michael Gspurning - Sounders FC Goalkeeper
(On earning a third consecutive clean sheet...) "It's been an absolutely great team effort and of course as a goalkeeper I like it very much. It's the way we want to create a momentum that makes it tough to score on us. We've achieved this now in three games and that's a good thing."
(On Chivas' pressure late in the game...) "There were many free kicks for them and that's always a dangerous situation. They weren't that dangerous throughout the game, but with free kicks they created a couple of chances and it was tough for us in the end there."
(On being tied for second in the Western Conference...) "It's absolutely a step forward and we have the momentum on our side. We have to keep going. This was a very important game because it was a game in hand and we took home the three points. There's not a lot of time to breathe because we have Chicago on Saturday and Salt Lake, a big game, next week."
Jose Luis Real - Chivas USA Head Coach
(On the outcome of the game...) "In my opinion, the game almost became, at the end, a tie because Chivas and Seattle were a nice game. I think in the first half, Seattle was better, and Chivas in the second half, for me, in my opinion, was better."
(On Chivas USA's newest player, Matthew Fondy...) "He's excellent. He's a new player, he's young. He did very well. He's a very good player."
(On what Chivas could have done differently tonight...) "We almost to score at the end, in the last play, but unfortunately the referee finished the game. I'm happy with the development of Chivas USA, especially in the second half."
(On Lamar Neagle's goal...) "For me it was a mistake for our defense because the player of Seattle must have one mark for Chivas USA and he was alone. It was a big mistake for Chivas."
(On whether his game plan was different knowing that Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey would not be playing tonight for Seattle...) "No. The most important for every game, for each game, for Chivas USA is Chivas USA first. And next, we're going to think of the opponent. All of the players are very important, they are in the US team. Excellent players, but for Chivas, the number one is Chivas USA and next the opponent."
(On how Chivas USA is approaching their third game in seven days...) "It's not easy to have many games because the players normally at the second of the three games are so tired, but this is one of the youngest teams in the league and I'm sure that for the next game, they're going to be good."
(On whether Chivas prepared for Seattle's tendency to score off set pieces...) "Before the game, we talked with the Chivas team about that, but it wasn't enough, because they scored."
Dan Kennedy - Chivas USA Goalkeeper
(On maybe stealing the game late...) "Yeah, when you come into these tough environments you want to make sure you stay in the game and we did exactly that. The goal we gave up-I think we can do better by not fouling and we can do better marking on our set pieces. So we'll be disappointed in that for sure but with that being said we stuck around and we did give ourselves a chance to tie and get out of here with something. Tough week for us in terms of games and road trip. The important thing is we came out of this pretty healthy and we'll go back to the StubHub Center with a good game on Sunday and feeling pretty decent about this road trip."
(On making progress...) "Listen, I think since coach Real has been here we've made substantial progress and it's been consistent. It took a while for our results to show that progress and in the last five weeks you've seen a couple of wins and a draw last game that could very easily have been a win so we're settling into the system and guys are playing with a little more confidence."
(On team organization...) "The teams that have success throughout the year have been together for a long time and we've thrown this thing together just this year so now is the moment where we should be jelling and coming together."
(On final play...) "What I thought is he's obviously holding the ball for a long time to kill the game off. I would do the same thing. He mishandled it, bobbled it, dropped it, lost possession of it and he picked it up again. It should have been an indirect kick and I don't know what the clock was at. I know he added three minutes to the game; it didn't feel like three minutes had gone and I don't know what the clock was at but that would dictate the call. And the ref just decided to end the game on that."
Bobby Burling - Chivas USA Defender
(On the game...) "It's kind of a testament to the season we've had; it's been a lot of ups and downs. Definitely nothing has come easy for us. I think we came out a little flat in the first half, maybe tired legs from the previous game and a little bit of a letdown late in Vancouver tied over to the first half here but we came in and put in a full shift and battled, especially in the second half and gave ourselves a chance to get one and tie it late. Just kept battling, didn't lose focus of the game, it's a tough place to play, a good team with lots of depth. You talk about them missing a lot of guys but that's a team with major depth and I think a team that's prime to make a run in the playoffs, a deep run. Anything other than that would be a disappointment I think."
(On Seattle compared to other top teams in the West...) "Definitely I think they're one of the upper echelon teams if you look across the Western Conference. Salt Lake's obviously playing well, the Galaxy, Seattle, and then you have Portland making a push as well. Those are the clear top teams in the West and I think their fans deserve everything they get and it's been a great atmosphere since they've come in and hopefully they do what they can do to keep going. For us it's disappointing to not escape with a point, and steal one like Vancouver did to us."