While not their main focus, breaking the MLS record for longest unbeaten streak to start a season is an incentive.
“Yeah, it’s definitely extra motivation I think for the whole team, to keep on winning and keep on staying undefeated,” Sounders midfielder Danny Leyva told the media on Tuesday. “I think that’s been really important for us this season if we can just keep it up, it’d be, great to break the record. I think that means a lot to us and as a team.”
The current record for an unbeaten run to start the season is held by four other teams, most recently achieved by Real Salt Lake in 2014. The Sounders can eclipse that with any result against Houston. Of course, the Sounders won’t want to settle for a tie if they can help it.
“I use the term ‘opportunity,’” head coach Brian Schmetzer said. “This is an opportunity for us to go at home and play against a decent Houston squad. But there’ll be missing some guys same as us, and we’ll use the first open crowd fully everything stadium, get everybody out there, and it’s an opportunity.
“We are definitely focused on tomorrow, not on what happened in the last six games.”
The strong start to the season has allowed the Sounders to establish themselves at the top of the Western Conference and Supporters’ Shield standings (although Sporting KC has technically surpassed them via the wins tiebreaker). Collecting those points now will be especially beneficial if there is a bump in the road as summer turns into fall.
“I can tell you in Europe when, when you have a long season and the champion is defined by points,” said Sounders’ forward Fredy Montero. “It’s important to keep that streak as many games as possible because at the end of the day it’s going to give you a good foundation to finish the season strong. So that’s what are we looking for.”
The schedule and injury gods have done them no favors, with the Sounders coming off a grueling 1-1 draw at altitude in Colorado, and getting no closer to full strength.
“Just getting two days to prepare, welcome to MLS,” Schmetzer said. “It is what it is. We can’t control that. What we do control is the physical preparation. They have all of the things that can get them in the best possible physical shape. And then I’ve always said that we’re a mentally resilient team. And they’ll go out there and put the work in.”
At practice Tuesday, there were two players conspicuous by their absence: Centerbacks Nouhou and Shane O’Neill were not anywhere to be found.
“[Nouhou] is not out here today, [O’Neill] is doing some extra recovery in the tent,” Schmetzer said.
There was a significant silver lining with the return of Xavier Arreaga from national team duty. The Ecuadorian centerback did not see any game time through the Copa America tournament, and travel fatigue aside, appeared none the worse for wear after a full training session Tuesday.
- Kickoff is set for just after 6:08 PM, an early start time to account for the Mariners game scheduled for 7 PM.