Seattle Sounders FC is transitioning from a once-in-a-lifetime match to one that projects as just one more in a long 34-game season.
Last weekend, the Sounders beat arch-rival Portland before a record crowd amid the excitement of Clint Dempsey’s home debut. On Saturday, they face a more mundane match at Columbus – one that offers the same three points but under a 60-watt light instead of bright neon.
“I think that (UCLA basketball coach John Wooden) said that sometimes after a big game you have a down game that follows it,” Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said. “So it’s important for us to recover emotionally as well as physically because those derby games with Portland and Vancouver are really emotional games.”
This time, the excitement is bubbling from the Columbus side. The Crew has an 8-12-5 record and draws an average of 15,249 per game at their 20,145-capacity home stadium. However, the club announced Friday that the arrival of Dempsey and the Sounders had lifted the match to within 1,500 of a sellout – despite starting within hours of the Ohio State Buckeyes’ football opener across town.
It remains to be seen if the Sounders will be able to rouse themselves to a matching level of enthusiasm without a painful wake-up call.
“Sometimes it takes that first kick or that first shock in a game or something to happen that gets the juices flowing again,” Schmid said. “Hopefully our character is strong enough that it’s not going to take that, that we’ll be prepared and ready to go. I think our team physically is recovered, and emotionally we need to make sure we’re ready.”
If this game lacks for drama, it does not lack for importance.
The Sounders’ 1-0 win over Portland on Sunday before a Northwest-record soccer crowd of 67,385 nudged them into a tie with Dallas for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Western rivals Vancouver and San Jose could catch or pass them if Seattle doesn’t add points in Columbus.
“We need to up the ante there,” Schmid said. “And we need to win some games there on the road, especially because when we come home we’re going to be missing some players. It’s an important game, but we try to approach every game with the same attitude and the same idea of trying to win.”
Seattle should be close to full strength, with forward Obafemi Martins and midfielder Shalrie Joseph the only regulars known to be unavailable. However, that won’t last long as Dempsey, Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans leave Sunday for U.S. national team duty that will cost them two or three MLS matches.
Any additional emotional boost could come from Schmid’s return to Columbus, where he coached before jumping to Seattle.
Schmid went 44-33-25 over three seasons with the Crew, concluding with the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup in 2008.
However, that connection has never raised the Sounders-Crew rivalry to anything approaching Sounders-Timbers level, and his warm recollections this week aren’t likely to fire things up.
“I always have a good feeling there,” he said. “Obviously, I had three years there and it culminated with an MLS Cup. So there’s a lot of happy memories there. There are still a lot of people who work in that organization that I know. ... The fan’s reception has always been very good and very positive. Obviously, when the game starts, I know they are behind the Crew and they are against us. Anything I do then is up for some heavy booing. But before the game, they are always very, very good about it and what we were able to achieve in my years at Columbus.”
SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC (11-8-4; 37 POINTS) AT COLUMBUS CREW (8-12-5; 29)
4:30 p.m., Crew Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: Ch. 6/16. Radio: 97.3 FM.
Head to head: Seattle leads 3-1-3 overall and 2-0-1 at Crew Stadium, where the Sounders have outscored the home team 6-1. Overall, Seattle has outscored Columbus 14-7.
Notes: Seattle is tied for the fifth and final playoff spot in the West. ... Columbus is eighth in the East and coming off of a 4-0 loss at Real Salt Lake. The Crew started four homegrown players in that match, an MLS record. ... Columbus will be without forward Federico Higuain, who is serving the first of a two-game disciplinary suspension. Higuain shares the team goals lead (nine) with Dominic Oduro, and is tops in assists, shots and shots on goal. No. 1 goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum is out with a shoulder injury. Matt Lampson (1.40 GAA) is expected to make his sixth start instead. ... Seattle goals leader (seven) Obafemi Martins (ankle) and midfielder Shalrie Joseph (knee) are out. ... Two of the Sounders’ four all-time hat tricks have come against Columbus: by Blaise Nkufo in 2010 and Lamar Neagle in 2011. ... Columbus is 5-4-3 at home; Seattle is 4-7-1 away. ... Columbus hasn’t played to a draw since June 1. ... A Columbus win would give coach Robert Warzycha the most regular-season wins in franchise history (71). ... The assigned referee is Ismail Elfath.
Quotable: “They’re a little harder to figure out this week because with Higuain out, how are they going to change? ... Certainly (Dominic) Oduro’s speed always poses a problem. (Jairo) Arrieta is a good goal poacher and has been that for them. Defensively, Chad Marshall is a solid player, and he’s also very effective on set pieces.” – Seattle coach Sigi Schmid on the Crew.
Next: 7 p.m. Wednesday, Chivas USA, CenturyLink Field.