Players of Seattle Sounders FC and the visiting Chicago Fire are well aware that the MLS playoffs are beckoning ever more closely and that Saturday night’s matchup is crucial to their post-season prospects.
The match’s potential playoff significance is sufficient reason to build interest in the Emerald City for the confrontation. However, another element emerges as well.
Seattle’s two time All-star, the charismatic Swede Freddie Ljungberg, an international star who is one of the most popular players ever to play for Arsenal in the English Premier League, is making his first appearance in the city since he was recently traded.
Seattle Coach Sigi Schmid earlier this week recognized the significance of Ljungberg’s team involvement by asserting that obtaining the internationally known star was a major factor in building a successful franchise.
Ljungberg was one of two leading international names initially on the Sounders, the other being former U.S. national team player Kasey Keller.
Seattle Sounders FC aim to reestablish its midseason momentum in the second of three home matches over an eight-day span of great significance in separate competitions when it resumes MLS play against Chicago on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Chicago stands at 6-6-6 with 24 points.
Still without points in the group stage of the CONCACAF Champions League, the Rave Green was defeated 2-0 by Mexico's CF Monterrey on Wednesday. Seattle is now 10-10-7 in overall competition, and fifth in the Western Conference at 8-8-5 with 29 points.
Despite losing to Monterrey and previously to Marathon of Honduras, the Sounders acquitted themselves by performing competitively. While losing 2-0 on Wednesday, the Sounders had more shots than the visitors with many close to goal opportunities, with one Nate Jaqua netter at the 90 minute mark being called back on a controversial offside call.
Seattle was victimized by another controversial call with a penalty called against defender Tyrone Marshall in a close 2-1 loss against Marathon.
Now Seattle moves back into league competition with the recognition that it needs to take advantage of all the prospective three point opportunities it can muster within the advantageous Xbox pitch of Qwest Field, and the solid and supportive fan base it affords.
The home stand concludes on September 1st with a U.S. Open Cup semifinal at Starfire Sports Stadium in Tukwila, Wash., against Chivas USA. First kick is 7:30 p.m.
Chicago's three-game unbeaten streak ended with a 4-3 loss at Houston last week. The first two meetings with Sounders FC ended in draws, with three ejections and just two goals. The sides meet again on September 25 at Toyota Park.
Saturday's game will be the 28th consecutive sellout for a league match. Seattle has won its last three matches played at Qwest, including a Champions League preliminary round game. Sounders FC is returning to its league schedule following a bye week and a 0-0 draw at Chivas
Seattle travels to New England to play the Revolution on September 4 at 4:30 p.m. PT. Champions League play resumes September 14 against Saprissa in San Jose, Costa Rica.
Following the Sounders’ Friday workout at its Tukwila training facility Sigi Schmid evaluated the Chicago Fire:
“Obviously they are a team who has got some games in hand so they are chasing points but because they have games in hand they can get points. There are a lot of good players on the team. [Baggio] Husidic has had a good year so far. Certainly Marco Pappa is a dangerous player because he is a left-footed guy who likes to play on the right and come inside at times.
“Calen Carr has certainly come off his injury and is very dangerous and very effective. Patrick Nyarko, before he was injured, was another player who is very dangerous and effective. So they have a lot of speed with Carr, Nyarko and Pappa has got decent speed. So there is a lot of danger there.”
Schmid had a comment about Ljungberg’s appearance Saturday night against his former teammates:
“His return certainly adds something to the game. Freddie is going to want to play very well and do well in this particular game and our guys are going to want to play well against him. It’s not something that we are going to spend a long time talking about but it’s something that is ever present, that’s there in your mind and that the guys know and that Freddie knows.
“I think it’s going to spur both sides onto a performance. The Chicago team is going to want to do well because Freddie is their teammate now so they want to support him in that way. And our team wants to do well and say, ‘Hey, we are still a viable team.’”
The Seattle coach also tackled the subject of team injuries:
“(Steve) Zakuani will be in the 18 (man player roster Saturday). So he’s doing better, seems to be getting over the injury that he had. Obviously Leo [Gonzalez] is out with the card. [Brad] Evans is actually starting to feel a little bit better. We are nowhere close to being able to start training him but at least there is some forward progress, which is nice. [Pat] Noonan, [Peter] Vagenas and [Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado are out. Vagenas is starting to make some progress and getting better.”