Many skeptics had already written off the Seattle Sounders several weeks ago for the 2010 season, convinced that the team could never make the playoffs in its second season of MLS existence.
Instead Coach Sigi Schmid’s team, bolstered by the return of some injured players along with foreign acquisitions Blaise Nkufo and Alvaro Fernandez, is now in comfortable playoff striking range as well as faring successfully in non-league competition.
Seattle Sounders FC hopes to continue its current surge as the Rave Green returns from 3,000 miles away in San Salvador to the friendly confines of Qwest Field for a match against the Houston Dynamo. Seattle can further climb up the Western Conference of MLS when it hosts the Dynamo on Sunday night at 8 p.m. PT.
Undefeated in its last four MLS matches and in seven games over all competitions, Sounders FC at a current 7-8-4 and 25 points has vaulted from seventh to fourth in the West, two points behind FC Dallas.
Seattle has won three straight and has not lost in its last four MLS starts dating back to July 11. The seven-game unbeaten run of 5-0-2 in all competitions began with a 2-0 win over the L.A. Galaxy in a July 7 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal.
Tuesday night Seattle advanced by way of aggregate goals scored to the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League with a 1-1 draw in San Salvador. Sounders FC had defeated Metapán, 1-0, in the first leg of the preliminary series, played on the Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field last week. The team then won an MLS contest at San Jose 1-0 before continuing its journey to San Salvador.
Who will win Sunday night?
Seattle and Houston, which currently stands 5-8-5 with 20 points in MLS competition, are sowing the seeds of a true rivalry. The sides have already met five times with some memorable outcomes.
Houston is coming off its fourth draw in its last five matches. Its last competition was a 2-2 result at home against the New York Red Bulls. Houston is winless since May 22.
Sunday night’s match will be the first meeting since the Dynamo eliminated Sounders FC from the MLS Cup Playoffs last November. The two-game postseason series was extended to extra time after the second leg at Robertson Stadium in Texas.
Earlier in 2009 Seattle had beaten Houston 2-1 after extra time in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. The Rave Green won at home and drew on the road in two regular season matches with the Dynamo.
Sigi Schmid after Friday’s final workout at Qwest Field commented on the challenge that Houston represents.
“Houston is going to be a very dangerous team because it is a team that has traditionally, over the past period of time in MLS, been at the top of the league,” Schmid said. “They have a lot of proud players. They are not really comfortable being in the position they are in so they are going to fight and they’re going to bite and they’re going to scratch.
“They will do everything they can because they are a very proud team. And anytime you have players like [Brian] Ching and [Brian] Mullan and Brad Davis on the offensive side of the ball you are a team that’s got to be reckoned with.”
The Sounders coach also commented on the significance of the intense rivalry that has developed between the two teams.
“Last year we played them a number of times, between the Open Cup, the two league games and the first round of the playoffs,” Schmid recalled. “When you play a team that often you sort of build a little bit of an edge.
“Also (Houston Coach) Dominic (Kinnear) and I are friends and as I have said before you never really want to lose to friends because you hear about it for a long time. His teams are competitive. I think my teams are competitive. We had tight games last year, every game was a tight game, some overtime games in there as well. It will be the same this year.”
On the subject of Sounder team fitness, Schmid said:
“We will see how guys came through training today. Most of the guys felt alright. We were a little cautious with Jeff Parke just because they wanted to give him one more day but he was able to deal with everything well so if he is fine tomorrow he can definitely be a go as well for Sunday. We feel pretty good about where we are at right now.”
Schmid had positive words about the team’s newest arrival, Uruguay World Cup player Alvaro Fernandez. He commented also on the key goal Fernandez achieved to insure the 1-1 tie and aggregate 2-1 win over Metapan.
“He came in and did what he does (best),” Schmid said. “He helps move the ball for us and got into the box at the right time and obviously made a great header. That was a very timely goal.”