When Sounders’ fortunes were plummeting earlier in the season top brass knew that the alarming spiral was due to more than injury misfortunes, though they were indeed a factor.
The Sounders needed to jump start their season after falling to 4-8-4 in MLS Western Conference Standings. They now stand at .500 with an 8-8-4 mark with 28 points and a chance to move into winning territory Saturday night with a win against Chivas U.S.A. at Home Depot Center. The match is slated to begin at 8 p.m. PT.
It was at the Home Depot Center in a July 4th 3-1 loss to the L.A. Galaxy, that the team hit rock bottom.
“We need to do some tightening in the midfield area,” Coach Sigi Schmid exclaimed. “We need to toughen up and close up holes that are allowing people to roam free and score.”
The change occurred, the middle was tightened, but there was great improvement on offense as well. Some of that progress, understandably, was occasioned by the tougher defense and greater opportunity to possess the ball and mount offensive attacks.
Two critical and well-timed moves by General Manager Adrian Hanauer in the front office assisted the current Seattle victory surge. Two World Cup players, Congo born and Switzerland bred Blaise Nkufo of Switzerland and Alvaro Fernandez of Uruguay, were acquired.
Nkufo has brought a physical and smoothly functioning dominance at midfield, generating solid possession soccer and feeding the ball to players to help create scoring opportunities.
Fernandez has generated a scoring punch with key goals against Metapan in El Salvador and Houston in Seattle. He is an adroit ball handler and, like Nkufo, is a solid asset in helping generate possession soccer.
Much of the team’s scoring punch has been achieved by Colombian Comet Fredy Montero and Congo born and London bred Steve Zakuani. There have also been solid contributions by defender Leo Gonzalez of Costa Rica and Cuban born midfielder Ozzie Alonso.
The return of Alonso after being lost temporarily due to injury has helped fill some of the void over the loss of 2009 MLS All-Star defender Jhon Kennedy Hurtado of Colombia, who has been lost for the season.
This week on the Starfire practice pitch in Tukwila, Coach Sigi Schmid has expressed buoyancy over the Sounders having a full week to prepare for an opponent after a schedule crowded with foreign and other engagements left the team necessarily scrambling to deliver their utmost to all commitments.
“Sometimes you do lose your edge a little bit because you are so used to going from game to game to game,” Schmid conceded following Wednesday’s training session.
“We wanted to make sure today’s training was good work and I thought it was good work and it should’ve tired the guys out. It was good to be able to work on some things because we were able to hit some things that we wanted to work on. Hopefully we won’t lose that edge at all.”
On Tuesday the Sounders were able to play some 11 versus 11, attempting to maintain a high fitness level. On Wednesday Schmid engaged in group work, which he said “we really haven’t done in a while.”
The Wednesday activity included weight work. “So those are things that allow us to get into a bit of a rhythm,” Schmid noted.
Schmid evaluated Chivas USA accordingly:
“Chivas is a completely different team than they were even three weeks ago. With all the changes, bringing in [Giancarlo] Maldonado, bringing in [Rodolfo] Espinoza on their team, [ while Jesus] Padilla is somebody who has been playing a lot for them and he is coming off the bench now.
“They have loaned a couple players out. They’re still looking, I think, at maybe making another move or two. Justin Braun is in good form. So they are a team that needs to get points now, just like we do, and being at home they want to try and get their three points. It’s going to have a playoff-type of intensity to it because for them they are getting to that point of the season, with the games remaining, that pretty soon it’s not going to be feasible for them to get there. It’s going to be a playoff-type intensity, for sure.”
Schmid faces the important final stretch of the season preceding the playoffs optimistically:
“We need to just continue to work on what we are doing well, maintaining what we are doing, continuing to build the relationship between Blaise Nkufo and Fredy Montero, continuing to get Alvaro [Fernandez] into the team, to build his fitness, to build Blaise’s fitness as well.
“The understanding in midfield between [Osvaldo] Alonso and [Nathan] Sturgis has been pretty good over the last few games, to continue to do that. But I think we have so many games that other guys are going to get in there to play and they are going to get minutes.
“Maybe [Michael] Seamon is going to reemerge here, play a more dominant role. Maybe [Miguel] Montaño comes back in to play a more dominant role. We are going to need more than just eleven starters. We are going to need a lot of guys to contribute on this team. I think what we have shown as well over the last series of games is that we have depth and we can bring people off the bench and maintain our level of play.”
Chivas USA is running out of chances and needs points badly, holding a 5-10-3 Western Conference mark with 18 points. The teams will also face each other on September 1st in an Open Cup semifinal at Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila.
The Sounders and Chivas USA will close the regular season with an October 15th contest at the Xbox Pitch at Qwest Field.