Eleven days ago, the Sounders won a Cup. But that is old news. They've played two league games since then — both difficult games on the road. They lost both and so lost their lead over the Galaxy in the Supporters' Shield race, but for the thin margin of a tiebreaker. That might seem like a rough stretch — might have you feeling a bit down as a supporter. But it is easy to forget how good we have it compared to other teams and other supporters.
The team we're facing next, in the game that must get us back on track for the Shield, is by not a small margin the worst team in the league. They have no shot at the playoffs and haven't had a shot at the playoffs in years. And after their next five games will not exist ever again under their current identity. If the rumors are true, they might not exist at all — at least for a season or two.
That should inspire some compassion for a fanbase done horribly wrong, and next week it will. But this week, they must be destroyed. This is the Sounders' best chance to prove that those losses were just a bump on the way to another trophy. There is no game on the schedule easier than this. If they can't get three points here, then the Shield is almost certainly gone and we have officially reached a crisis.
That's not to say Chivas is just going to roll over. I mean, that's pretty much exactly what they did in the last matchup, when the Sounders scored 4 first half goals and didn't have to work particularly hard to do it. But they came back strong in that second half. Even if they're only playing for pride, it's not nothing. And this time they'll have Erick Torres back. The Mexican forward is the lone bright spot for the Goats season (which makes the rumors of his moving to the Galaxy in the offseason all the more cruel).
|Erick Torres||Talented forward is Chivas' only draw for the neutral. Can create his own chances, and he has to.|
|Oswaldo Minda||Veteran Ecuadoran international will have to be on top of his game to keep Deuce and Oba bottled up.|
|Marky Delgado||Might not even play, but the homegrown player gives the midfield some danger and flair.|
Unfortunately for them, Torres is not going to help with the defense. Chivas has surrendered at least 3 goals in their last five straight games. Ever since Carlos Bocanegra was lost for the season the defense has been a disaster. Eriq Zavaleta has been inconsistent and won't be playing against his parent club, anyway. Jhon-Kennedy Hurtado has played for two teams this season and looked woeful for both. The likely backline pair of Bobby Burling and Andrew-Jean Baptiste is one you'd be more comfortable seeing in a Reserve League match. They'll likely be protected by a defensive midfield pair of Augustin Pelletieri and Oswaldo Minda. Those are two talented, if somewhat slow, players. What they lack in speed they make up for in enthusiasm for fouling. I would expect a large number of Sounders free kicks around 25-30 yards from goal as they do their work. That might put the onus on Marco Pappa to unlock the game with his service.
At the other end, Seattle's beleaguered defense should be given a bit of a break. Shutting down Torres effectively shuts down the Chivas offense. Though, perversely, the only game of their last 10 in which they've scored was one in which he didn't play.
I can imagine a scenario where this goes rough for Seattle — maybe Chivas gets an early break with a penalty kick or a fluke goal, and the Sounders stupidly spend the entire game trying to tiki-taka the ball up the gut through a maze of 10 packed in defenders. But it's not very likely. Somewhere else in the schedule this might be a trap game — a risk of a let-off with the time focused on more challenging matches further ahead. But after two hard losses, the Sounders have to be starving to get a good result over anyone they can. After two cringeworthy showings, the defense has to be eager to get a shutout. After two impotent games, Clint Dempsey and Oba Martins have to be eager to put some goals on someone. The schedule has decreed that that someone is Chivas USA, and for just this one day I hope they're burned to the ground.