Seattle Sounders-Columbus Crew: Sounders at Critical Stage

Phil Shore@@PShore15Correspondent IApril 28, 2010

FRISCO, TX - APRIL 22:  The Seattle Sounders pose for a photo before a game against FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park on April 22, 2010 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The Sounders are only six games into a 30-game schedule but they have come to an absolutely critical situation this season.

After opening the 2010 campaign with a 2-0 home victory over the expansion Philadelphia Union, the Sounders—MLS’ darlings of 2009—have made things difficult for themselves.

They won only once in the next five games, coming out with a record of 2-2-2 to date. They sit five points behind undefeated Los Angeles Galaxy for first place in the Western Conference with one extra game played.

Seattle was given a chance to pick up some ground the previous weekend with two games against winless FC Dallas and the defensively deficient Toronto FC. Instead of taking advantage of supposedly weaker opponents, Seattle drew Dallas and was then subsequently shutout in a loss against Toronto.

Now the Sounders will return home for a crucial match against undefeated Columbus Crew, with a game against the Galaxy looming next weekend.

The Sounders surprisingly are experiencing weaknesses all over the field. The usually strong defensive unit has allowed two goals in three of the past four games, giving the team a 1-1-2 record in that stretch.

The defense cannot afford to give up that many goals because the offense has had an incredible difficulty in scoring goals. The team has been shut out twice, including in the Toronto game against the team that has allowed the second most goals in this young season.

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They are attacking and putting pressure on opposing defenses but finishing has been poor, especially on set pieces without striker Nate Jaqua, who is out because of an abdominal injury. Teams are playing physical with top targets Freddy Montero and Freddie Ljungberg and not allowing them any space for easy goals.

Seattle’s situation looks gloomy, but there is reason to be optimistic this weekend. They return to Qwest Field, where they are 2-1-0 and have outscored opponents 3-1.

Columbus also has only played three times this season, experiencing two bye weeks in the first four weeks. This makes for a team still figuring itself out.

However, the Crew has won the past two Supporters Shields and was MLS Champions two seasons ago. This is a team that knows how to win. Despite the uneven schedule they are undefeated. The Sounders look like the team still trying to work out the early season kinks, not Columbus.

Also, last week it seemed as if the Sounders had the upper hand, yet they still managed to come out with only one point in two games against weaker opponents.

If the team takes care of business against sub-par competition then it puts them in a better position to compete with the other top tier teams. However, not getting points from those matches puts a lot more pressure on the team.

Now the team is falling behind in the standings, dropping to third in the Western Conference. They need to come out with a win against Columbus for a number of reasons: They can’t stand to lose any more points in the standings, they need to re-energize the team and fan base, and they need to be able to go into following game against the surging Galaxy with some confidence.

It’s an extremely important game entirely too early in the season for Seattle.

If they can’t come out with a win, they may be putting themselves in a hole that is very difficult to escape later on in the season.

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