The countdown to 51 begins tonight.
Each season, Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid sets a team goal of averaging at least one-and-a-half points per game, which he believes is the safe zone for making the Major League Soccer playoffs.
Over the Sounders’ first two seasons, that added up to 45 points per season; and the club has made it – and the playoffs – both times.
This season, with MLS expanded to 18 teams and the regular-season expanded to 34 games, the Sounders set sail into their third season with a goal of 51 points.
They hope to pick up the first three tonight in the MLS First Kick game against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Qwest Field.
“We would love to be in competition for the Supporters’ Shield, but our number one goal is to get to the playoffs and to do better than we did last year in the playoffs because that’s what people remember,” Schmid said. “We’ll take as many points along the way. We would like to secure our position earlier rather than to have to fight for it. It’s always easier when you get off to a good start.”
The Sounders hope of improving on last season’s 14-10-6 record (and 48 points) comes mostly through increased cohesion from a basic core group of returning players. The lineup that Schmid sent out last week for the final preseason friendly consisted entirely of players on the roster last season – and in eight cases, also the season before.
For now, all newcomers will be in reserve roles. However, depth isn’t something to be discounted over an eight-month season that not only includes four more regular-season games, but also attempts at a third straight U.S. Open Cup championship and to survive beyond group play in the CONCACAF Champions League.
“I like where we are at,” Schmid said Monday after the club’s final preseason training session. “If I didn’t like where we were at right now it would be too late to change anything anyway. ... The addition of Erik Friberg and the addition of Servando Carrasco I think gives us a little more depth in midfield. ... I think we have a little more depth up front in terms of bigger target strikers. When you look at O’Brian White, (Nate) Jaqua – who is still coming off injury, but he’ll be ready soon – that gives us some size to go along with the size we already have.”
The Sounders will instantly measure themselves against what once again is considered one of the best clubs in the league. The Galaxy won last season’s Supporters’ Shield, which marks the league’s best regular-season record. And with Landon Donovan and David Beckham back, and newcomers such as Juan Pablo Angel, Chad Barrett and Frankie Hejduk arriving, the Galaxy projects as one of the league’s contenders again.
“It’s going to be a great day, and it’s going to be a great day for football in the States,” Schmid said. “It’s a great day for people in the Northwest, and again it draws the attention of MLS to our area. It shows what we have become as a city in regards to the importance of soccer.”