Sounders FC could end this day anywhere in the MLS Western Conference standings – except first place.
That top spot is firmly in control of the Los Angeles Galaxy, which visits the Sounders at 1 p.m. today.
The Galaxy already has opened enough space on the rest of the conference that L.A. couldn’t fall out of first even with three consecutive losses. And that early burst away from the pack is causing Sounders coach Sigi Schmid to consider the MLS standings in more bite-sized portions.
“We’d like to be (in) second place as we come out of this weekend,” Schmid said. “… The top two teams in the division get an automatic berth in the playoffs. Second place – if not first – means you still have home field in the first round of the playoffs. We’ll worry about trying to climb to first place much later.”
Even second is an ambitious goal, as the Sounders are tied with San Jose for fifth in the West, one point behind Chivas USA, Houston and Colorado. Because Houston visits Chivas tonight, one of them will gain three points, or both will get one.
And that means even a win today won’t necessarily move Seattle into second place for more than a few hours.
However, a win would be no small feat – something no one has been able to accomplish against the Galaxy this season.
Los Angeles is 6-0-1: 10 points ahead of the Sounders, nine points ahead of its nearest Western challenger, and four points ahead of New York for best record in MLS.
Galaxy players lead the league in goals (Edson Buddle) and assists (Landon Donovan).
“You’ve got guys who are in rich veins of form, and you’re going to have to mark them a bit tighter,” Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller said. “But it’s nothing the other teams haven’t done the last couple of games, and (Buddle) still seems to be finding goals. … I’m very fortunate to have the guys that I have in front of me, and I’ll put those guys up against anybody regardless of their form.”
Los Angeles is doing all of that without designated player David Beckham, who is expected to miss all of the regular season because of an Achilles’ tendon injury.
However, even that may be working in L.A.’s favor as Buddle said his goal-scoring barrage might not have been possible while sharing the pitch with Beckham.
“Sometimes when you have all the stars on the team, it makes things a little bit tougher,” he said. “You need to get to know one another, no matter what. … I’ve only known him for three years now. I was a little more nervous being around him.”
The Galaxy also is dominating MLS defensively.
Donovan Ricketts leads in goals-against average (0.29) and shutouts (five), while the club has allowed the fewest goals in the league (two), and has the highest goal differential (plus-nine.)
“They play with good urgency in the box,” Schmid said. “They defend well. They’ve got a good mix of experience and new guys back there, and have a fair amount of energy. And Ricketts has done well for them in goal.”
With anything less than a win today, Seattle could tumble into the Western Conference cellar because the Sounders open the day even with the Earthquakes and two points ahead of Real Salt Lake and FC Dallas – and all three play at home today.
“Right now, our goal is to get ourselves into second place to start separating ourselves from the pack,” Schmid said. “So from that standpoint, the game’s important.”
Don Ruiz: 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/soccer