Taking advantage of games in hand is key for Sounders

don.ruiz@thenewstribune.comSeptember 4, 2013 

For months, no discussion of the Seattle Sounders’ place in the Major League Soccer standings was complete without pointing out that they had games in hand on everyone above them.

This week, they begin trying to convert those games into points.

The Sounders host Chivas USA on Wednesday night, while every other Western Conference rival is idle.

That means the Sounders (12-8-4, 40 points) could gain three points on conference leader Real Salt Lake, pull even with No. 2 Los Angeles, and create breathing room between themselves and the six clubs behind them.

Or none of that might happen. As Seattle coach Sigi Schmid has noted most of the season, games in hand are useful only if those games turn into points.

“We’ve talked about that — about the importance of getting three points, making use of our games in hand,” Schmid said after training Tuesday. “It’s an important game for us.”

Judging from recent history, the Sounders seem to have a solid chance of adding points. Seattle has a 10-game unbeaten streak against Chivas, as well as an overall 10-game unbeaten streak at home.

However, the club will have to cobble together a new-look lineup with at least four changes from the one that won short-handed at

Columbus on Saturday.

Both forwards who started that game — Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey — are away with the U.S. national team. Midfielder Brad Evans is out because of a calf strain, and left back Leo Gonzalez is serving a one-game suspension after picking up a red card against the Crew.

Indications are that Obafemi Martins is recovered enough from his ankle sprain to fill one forward spot. On the other side, Schmid could pick from among Lamar Neagle, Eriq Zavaleta and David Estrada. Marc Burch seems likely to fill in on the back line, while Servando Carrasco seems likely at midfield.

“It’s an opportunity week for guys who are going to step up and play,” Schmid said.

Meanwhile, Schmid portrayed Chivas as much improved from the team that the Sounders beat 2-0 on the road June 1 and 2-1 at home July 28.

The Goats have gotten four points from their past two games, including Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Vancouver.

“They’re a much better organized team than they were before,” Schmid said. “You saw that in Vancouver. I thought they were in control of the games for good parts of the game. I thought they defended well. Their structure was good. I thought they pressured well.

“They seem to have found the pieces that they want to see play together. They’ve sort of settled on (Erick) Torres and (Julio) Morales up front. Torres has scored (six goals in seven matches). I think they’ve sort of found their approach to the game, and that makes them a much better team.”

This match begins a rush of three games in 10 days for the Sounders. They will host the Chicago Fire on Saturday and Western Conference leader Real Salt Lake on Sept. 13.

SOUNDERS GAMEDAY

CHIVAS USA (5-14-7; 22 POINTS) AT SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (12-8-4; 40)

7 p.m., CenturyLink Field

TV: Ch. 6/16. Radio: 97.3-FM, 99.3-FM (Spanish).

Head to head: Seattle leads 6-2-4 overall and 3-0-2 at home. The Sounders are unbeaten (6-0-4) over the past 10 meetings.

Notes: This match originally was scheduled for April 7, but it was postponed to accommodate the Sounders’ CONCACAF Champions League schedule. ... Seattle will be without forwards Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, who are away with the U.S. national team. The club hopes forward Obafemi Martins will return after missing three games because of an ankle sprain. The Sounders also will be without midfielder Brad Evans because of a calf injury suffered at Columbus, and left back Leo Gonzalez, who received a red card against the Crew. ... Seattle is on a club-record 10-game home unbeaten streak (7-0-3). Chivas is 1-8-4 on the road. ... The Sounders have climbed to a season-high third place in Major League Soccer’s Western Conference and rank third in the league with an average of 1.67 points per game. ... Chivas forward Erick Torres has scored two goals in back-to-back matches and has six in seven games since joining MLS. ... The Goats are last in the league with an average of 1.81 goals allowed per game. They are second-to-last in shots, shots on goal and goal differential. ... Seattle defender Djimi Traore is one yellow card away from a one-game suspension for accumulation. ... The assigned referee is Mark Geiger.

Quotable: “They’re more organized defensively. They’re more structured in their system of play. It’s pretty much a 4-4-2; sometimes (Chivas coach Jose Luis Real) comes with a 4-4-1-1. But their organization has been improved, and I think also the consistency of their lineup has been improved.” — Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, whose team last played Chivas on July 28.

Next: The Sounders’ three-game homestand continues at 7 p.m. Saturday, when the Chicago Fire visits CenturyLink Field.

Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer @donruiztnt don.ruiz@thenewstribune.com

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